Perry vs Pear – A Tale of Two Ciders

by Melissa

I recently had a customer who came in and asked for a pear cider. When I asked if they wanted a pear cider or a perry cider, they were confused. That made me realize that others might be confused as well. Fear not, I am here to end that confusion for you!

A perry cider, also known as Poire cider, comes from 100% pears. No other fruits or adjuncts with it. Most makers use “perry pears” which are small, walnut like pears. These pears are terrible for eating and very temperamental to work with. They are also very difficult to grow here in the United States, which is why you will see most perry ciders we carry are from France where the climate and terroir is better for these challenging little pears.

A perry cider usually has dry, tannin components as well as high acidity. However, the residual sugars take the bite off and give it a gentle mouthfeel. Since it is made with pears and not apples, it can’t really be compared to a cider made with apples. It has a taste profile of its own. (It is like trying to compare red and white wines.) When you taste a perry, you need to open your mind to a different experience than you have had with apple ciders.

We do our best to have perry ciders in the cooler, but it isn’t always easy since most do come from France. We currently have stock of Bordelet Poire, Drouin Acide Sour Poire, Drouin Poire, and Le Pere Jules Poire. True perry ciders from the US exist but aren’t widely distributed. If you cross the border into Wisconsin, you can sometimes find an Oriole Orchard Perry from AeppelTreow Ciders.

A pear cider is a cider made with pears and additional fruits or adjuncts. Most frequently, makers blend pear and apple cider for a pear cider. When it comes to pear ciders, there are many and they all vary in flavor profile since each maker uses different additions to make their cider. They range from sweet to dry as apple ciders do but have more prevalent pear characteristics.

Pear ciders are more common to find throughout the United States because makers can use any pears they want to blend with other things to create the flavor profile they are looking for. Wyder’s has a Dry cider and a Reposado barrel aged cider that we carry. A personal favorite of mine is Restoration Cider Company’s Normandy Pear. It reminds me of eating a fresh pear right off the tree.

If you haven’t had a chance to try a pear cider or a perry cider, now is a great time to do it because we will be offering all perry and pear ciders at 10% off for this weekend. Let us know what you think about them!

PS Be sure to look in for new arrivals when you are in the store!

Cabin Crushin’ Beverages

As the weather heats up and cabin life begins, we find ourselves craving drinks that are refreshing, lighter, and portable! Here is what we will be drinking this holiday weekend and this summer to keep cool! 

Cazadores Canned Margaritas - Hailey

Call me basic if you want, but I’ll drink a margarita any day. Cazadore’s 4-pack Canned Margaritas are perfect whether you’re camping, up at the cabin, or just hanging out at the beach. I’m a big fan of their Spicy Margaritas — they have a delicious jalapeno flavor without too much of a kick. Stick them on ice in the cooler and bring your fav coozie!

Junkyard Grandpa Bill's Pils 4pk Can - Bill

It’s hot!  I want Pilsners to drink. And this all Citra Hopped Pils has been my favorite for the last 2 months. We just stole more from the North Dakota allocation and even that’s almost gone!  
Easily one of my top picks of the year so far.  It’s everything I love about craft beer!

Itxas Harri Canned Rosé - Josh

One of my favorite rosés is now in a can! This dry, light, and fresh Basque rosé is everything I want when sitting near some body of water during this hot MN summers. The demand and availability of really good canned wine has exploded in the past few years and I couldn’t be happier about it! Grab a bottle can today!

Fever Tree Light Cucumber Tonic Water - Ryan

Ever wish someone would bottle the bracing shock of jumping off a rope swing into a cool river on a 95 degree day? They did, and it’s called Fever Tree Refreshingly Light Cucumber Tonic. I drink it on its own with some ice as a rejuvenating afternoon cooldown, but it of course makes a perfect partner to your favorite vodka or gin.

Minneapolis Cider Co. Orchard Blend - Melissa

My go-to Cabin Crusher is Orchard Blend from Minneapolis Cider Company. It is well balanced and refreshing. Its even fun to mix with orange juice for a cidermosa as a lower ABV brunch beverage. 

Ghia Non-alcoholic Aperitif - Karina

I’m riding the NO/LO bandwagon this summer. Balance is key! Ghia was my first love in this popular category. The ginger and bitter botanicals are great for digestion after too many brats and brownies, but it’s equally delicious in a low proof negroni (just add gin)!

Bell's Oberon - Aaron

If you’re looking to combat the hot summer sun, look no further than Bell’s Oberon. This delightful wheat ale is a perfect reward for mowing the lawn on a scorching day, and at 5.8% it’ll pack a punch!

Hi-Neo Chu Hi Yuzu Highball - Tom

YOU NEED TO TRY THIS! It’s seriously insane how declicious this is.

Highballs are a simple concept: base spirit, fruit juice, and sparkling water. This Japanese Highball is made from a shochu rice based spirit, yuzu fruit juice, and bubbly. Its crazy crushable refreshing patio drinker. I’ll have a few on the pontoon this weekend!

Escapada Vinho & Birrificio Tipopils - Stephen

I’m submitting two because I am an overachiever. 

This wine is best chilled! Mildly effervescent, citrus notes with grapefruit in the spotlight, 9.5%, and ridiculously refreshing! Pairs well with patios, docks, and perhaps a even a garden gazebo. 
 
Do ya like Pilsners? Do ya like herby earthy flavors with very mild bitterness? Do ya like Italian goods? You do? Excellent. I have the beer for you.  One of the OG Italian pilsners, you’ll be through your first one before you can say “Ciao Bella”

Heineken 0.0% & Superior Lemon Switchel - Tashi

We took a 12 pack of Heineken 0.0% cans canoeing and camping this past weekend and I was pleasantly surprised at how crushable they were, and the price didn’t disappoint either!  Light, refreshing, and honestly you can’t even tell it’s NA.  Not into beer?  I recommend Superior Lemon Switchel.  It will quench your thirst, keep you feeling refreshed, and has the same bubbly feel as a beer or seltzer.

Hamm's - Rob

Just because my answer to every ‘staff-pick’ blog is the same doesn’t make it any less true. And let’s be honest, there is only one right answer for a crushable cabin beverage, and that answer is Hamm’s. It has been said that Hamm’s is the most refreshing liquid ever. Plus, now that our cases of Hamm’s have the throwback packaging, they taste even better. 

Summer Ginspiration

by Tom

Looking for some Ginspiration? We have you covered!

The weather is finally warm, the sun is shining, and gin season is in full swing. We’ve all got our stand-bys, go-tos, and classics for gin cocktails, but if you’re looking for something different to spice up your gin game, we’ve got a few fun ideas…

Hakuto Japanese Gin

Japan has emerged as a prominent location for a few of our best selling gins. A few follow very similar botanical builds: yuzu peel, sansho pepper, green tea, and cherry blossom. Two things separate The Hakuto: Japanese Nashi Pears and the intensity of the yuzu peel. The nose has huge citrus zest and the pear comes across afterwards cooling it off a bit. It works great with lime and a splash of tonic or soda but where it really shines is in a negroni. The citrus and fruit show up well wile being accented by a lighter bitter like a Cappelletti or Negroni Aperitivo. Here’s a recipe:

The Hakuto Negroni

  • 1oz Hakuto Gin
  • 1oz Fot-Li Spanish Vermut
  • 1oz Negroni Apertivo (similar to Aperol, but better!)

Stir with ice, strain into a coupe or rocks glass, and add a twist of citrus peel.

Bimini Coconut Gin

Bimini is a gin distillery out of Maine making a fresh take on American gin where they are toning the juniper down while enhancing flavors of grapefruit, coriander, and hops. Bartenders took notice of the gin’s citrus-forward flavors and began substituting it for light rum in tiki drinks, leading the company to make a coconut fat-washed version of their gin (essentially, the gin is combined with coconut oil and strained).  This is not a coconut bomb, no fake flavorings or additives have been added. It is fresh and tropical but still very much gin. It makes killer classic cocktails, gin and tiki alike. Here’s a recipe for an Army Navy, a gin riff on a Mai Tai:

Bimini Army Navy

  • 2oz Bimini Coconut Gin
  • 1oz Lemon Juice
  • ¾oz Liber & Co. Orgeat (basically almond simple syrup)
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters

Shake with ice, strain into a coupe glass, and garnish with a twist of grapefruit peel.

Cotswold Old Tom Gin

Old Tom Gins have a complicated and storied past, but to boil it down, they date back to the 18th century when England was consuming boatloads of poorly-made gin. Many were sweetened with a pinch with sugar or licorice root just to soften their rough edges, but the sweetener also nicely balanced the citrus and juniper flavors. The name “Old Tom” now can connote a wide range of styles, including some that are barrel-aged, but almost all are richer and slightly sweeter than your typical London Dry. Cotswold is a fresh take on an old classic, using licorice to lend a soft sweetness, a bit of fresh ginger, orange citrus and classic cardamom. It’s perfect on its own but it also makes a stunning gin and tonic and a super refreshing Tom Collins. Our pick is the ultimate old-guy drink, gin and bitters:

Gin-n-Bitters

  • 2oz Cotswold Old Tom Gin
  • 4 dashes Angostura Bitters

Combine ingredients in a rocks glass with a large ice cube.

Summertime, and the Livin’ Is N/A

by Tashi

This past weekend I went camping at a music festival and brought along an entire mocktail bar set up to share with fellow attendees.  I learned a lot about what people are looking for in their N/A options, and came up with some fun and creative recipes I’m going to share with you!  My mocktail bar was a huge hit and I am going to continue to do this for other festivals and camping trips I have planned this year.  I truly believe in the importance of offering NA options at festivals, events, and bars and hope this endeavor brought about more awareness about the need to offer non-alcoholic options to truly be an inclusive space.

I got this idea after seeing store reports recently when we discovered that our non-alcoholic sales have doubled in the past year!  This means more and more customers are either going alcohol free or choosing more non-alcoholic options to cut back on their alcohol intake, and we are here for it!  I’m taking a break from alcohol myself as well, but don’t worry, I’m still tasting our products and can lead you around the liquor aisles no problem.  Sometimes we just need a break to reset and that’s okay!  I’ve been working hard to research new N/A products to carry, and we will be offering some new and exciting options soon.  In the meantime, I’ve remixed the non-alcoholic sampler kit with different products that will satisfy those summertime vibes.  This box will be perfect to bring to your next campfire or BBQ, and of course includes two of each product so you can share with friends.

First we had to have some summer beers.  I’m super excited to have my favorite N/A beer in this kit, Untitled Art’s Florida Weisse – an N/A sour beer that will not disappoint!  We also added Athletic Brewing’s Upside Dawn, a light golden ale easy for drinking.  We’re still obsessed with Töst so we included their other flavor, which is made with white tea, white cranberry, and ginger.  Lyre’s in one of the newest additions to the N/A liquor section that I am absolutely obsessed with so I had to include their Dark ‘N Spicy premixed drink.  Their take on a dark and stormy made with two of their non-alcoholic rums, ginger beer, and lime zest.  This is absolutely delicious and my fridge has been stocked with them since we brought them in!  To round out the kit we’ve included Raspberry Superior Switchel.  Switchel is an apple cider vinegar based drink that’s carbonated, good for your tummy, and incredibly refreshing.  Switchel also makes for a good mixer if you’re not totally alcohol free.  I think you’ll really enjoy the summer remix sampler kit, and be sure to keep your eyes peeled for new products in our N/A section over the next few months!

Lastly, as promised, I want to share some of my personal creations for you to use as inspiration over the summer.  These were huge hits at my mocktail bar.  Cheers!

LITTLE HOPPY SHRUB

1 bottle Lagunitas Hoppy Refresher

1 oz Sharab Shrub of your choice

Fill your cup with Hoppy Refresher and add your favorite flavor of Sharab Shrub to taste.  I personally love making this with their Blueberry Poblano or Raspberry flavor.

 

MOCKTAIL MAVEN ORIGINAL

Coconut Aloe Vera Juice

Cranberry Juice

Tonic Water or Club Soda

Put ice in a cup and fill halfway with Coconut Aloe Vera Juice, a fourth with cranberry juice, and top with your choice of tonic water or club soda.  Use this recipe to play around with your favorite juices and flavor combos to come up with a sparkling mocktail of your own!

The Ultimate Easter-Passover Pairing Post

Ah, the inevitable Passover/Easter pairing post. What does go with Easter ham? What even is Kosher wine? Does the Pope sip in the woods? These and many more questions we’ll try to answer, while doing some very scientific, highly-researched, definitely not off-the-cuff opinion-based reporting on the best wines, spirits, and beers to pair with your holiday meal. To guide you through the morass, we’ve assembled two experts in everything related to springtime feasting:

Playing for the Jews, it’s Sam Weisberg — wine and spirits specialist, Slivovitz enthusiast, and former theater kid who definitely loved Passover the most out of all of the other holidays because of all the singing he got to do at the dinner table.


On Christ’s team, we’ve got Josh Timmerman — wine specialist, social media mogul, fan of cocktails with less than three ingredients, and that guy from church who built his own deck and always seems really friendly but you can never remember his name.


* A final disclosure; not all of the products we are going to recommend are certified Kosher or Kosher for Passover. If you keep strict kashrut, we do carry a small selection of dry Israeli wines which make that cut, plus the obligatory Manischewitz. Ok, let’s get going!!

ROUND ONE: WINE

Passover

Easter

Georgian wine has always made sense to me for Passover pairings. Maybe it’s the similarities between Georgian cuisine and the traditional Seder table mains (lots of spiced meat?) or maybe it’s just my made up sense of wines from the “Ancient World” being closer to what my ancestors might’ve had on their table. Either way, this savory, apricot-like amber wine is a knockout with a huge range of foods, especially chicken dishes.

This Israeli Cab is a great choice for those keeping strict kashrut, as it is both normal-Kosher and Kosher for Passover, but it also is a delicious wine in its own right. Produced on the slopes above the Sea of Galilee, it’s a fresher, lighter style of Cabernet than California drinkers might be used to. 

Nebbiolo, with its occasionally rusty color and heady aromas, seems like the perfect wine to use for a holiday that does a lot of (metaphorical!) conflating of blood and wine. For a Passover brisket, you’d be hard pressed to find a better pairing than Angelo Negro’s Roero, a killer deal for Piedmont Nebbiolo. If you need a bottle to bring to a religiously-mixed celebration, it’d probably go quite well with Easter ham, too.

This rose of Grenache is plush, ripe, and bursting with strawberry fruit. Its got enough weight to stand up to the heavy-hitters on the Easter table–ham, turkey, and the like–but it’s still fresh and light enough to give a definite summertime-is-here vibe. From an awesome producer in Central California, Cruess, this is a great domestic rose that would be the perfect way to start off your Sunday supper.

This unique white blend from Southern France is made by an organic producer called Maison Ventenac. Located in the middle-ground between Southern and Southwestern France, the winery works with an eclectic mix of grapes that go into highly unique blends. This Colombard-Chenin blend is one such example; yellow apple and subtle chamomile notes mingle here to create an absolutely delicious white that is bright, fresh, and full of simple joy. 

A great wine, from a great winemaker, from a great region, from a great vintage can be exceedingly difficult to find, especially less than $50. The Tondonia is an exceptional wine and has long been one of my favorites, period. Though it is over a decade old, it’s still unbelievably vibrant and vivacious. Its rustic dark cherry and plum notes play well with traditional Easter ham or lamb, but it pairs well with a shockingly wide range of dishes. 

ROUND TWO: SPIRITS

Passover

Easter

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If you have any Eastern European heritage whatsoever, Jewish or not, slivovitz probably graced your holiday table at some point in history. A bracing distillate of plums, this clocks in at 50% ABV and makes you feel very well equipped to be “living in unprecedented times.” With its alluringly tasty almond-tinged flavor and surprisingly strong, burns-all-the-way-down texture, it’s straight-up Biblical. Jelinek, based in the Czech Republic, has long been known for its Kosher booze, and makes a sterling example.

I drink slivovitz neat, and recommend you do as well. However, it’s also got potential in a few different martini variations, and makes a nice highball. Most important, however, is that it’s consumed in very small glasses with very beloved people.

Although there isn’t a traditional liquor for Easter, the Empress 1908 Gin embodies the season well. It’s citrus, blossom, and ginger characteristics offer a modern take to the more traditional juniper-driven style of gin. The stunning purple-blue color is naturally derived from the Butterfly Pea Blossom, and when combined with citrus the gin changes color to a lovely lavender-pink. This blend of colors is reminiscent of dying easter eggs as a child (Who am I kidding? I still dye eggs). It’s the perfect ingredient to add a colorful (literally) take to a classic French 75 for your Easter lunch. Try like this:
  • 1 oz Empress 1908 Gin
  • 1/2 oz Lemon Juice 
  • Simple Syrup to taste (couple dashes)
  • 2 oz Sparkling wine (Flora Prosecco would be great)
Add gin, lemon juice and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker and shake well. Strain into Champagne flute and top with sparkling wine and a lemon twist. 

ROUND THREE: BEER?

Passover

Easter

+1 for Easter! Crisp, clean, with a pleasant hoppy bitterness, Fair State hit it out of the park on this one. Why would you need anything else??? 

Single Barrel Season: On the Bourbon Trail with Tashi

by Tashi

Column still at the Angel’s Envy Distillery

In March I took my first France 44 trip to Kentucky with our liquor buyer, Tom, to help pick out two single barrels for the store.  I was super excited for the opportunity to experience the bourbon trail and get some insider knowledge, so I tried to pack in as much as possible (much to Tom’s annoyance, I’m sure).  We started with a vegan lunch in Louisville as soon as we landed, and had what ended up being a private tasting at Old Forester – always gotta love when no one else shows up and you get some one on one time with the experts!  Then we went to Angel’s Envy for a tour and tasting which was the first time I had toured a distillery of that size, and everything I’d studied in my WSET Spirits 2 Certification finally all clicked into place.  Taking my spirits test two weeks before this trip made March quite the month for me!  Then we bopped around for a bit to kill time while we waited to get picked up by the Libation Project crew.  We ended our evening with dinner and drinks with everyone that had traveled from Minnesota with Libation to pick barrels.

Barton Distillery

Day two we started bright and early with a tour of Barton Distillery.  This was my favorite tour because Barton has been around for a long time and their campus is huge and lived in and gives you a real taste of how long whiskey has been around.  We carry 1792 and Very Old Barton from the Barton Distillery, and were able to sample a couple other products that are only available at the distillery, including a Bourbon Ball Chocolate Cream liqueur!  Fun fact, no one knows why the owner named the distillery Barton.  It isn’t a family name, but rumors say he lost a bet to a Barton but this is unconfirmed.  The coolest part about this tour was being able to sample neutral spirit right off the still!  It was sweeter than I expected and a really cool learning experience, but it was a little too early for me to sample more than a little sip.

After a quick lunch we were off to [redacted] to pick out two single barrels.  We got a tour of the distillery and they took some neutral spirit off the still for us to smell.  If you rub your hands together really fast with the neutral spirit on them you can smell all the unique characteristics of the grains, and sanitize your hands!  After the tour we got set up with our samples.  We had three barrels of [redacted] to pick from, and five barrels of [redacted].  I used the tasting techniques I learned in my WSET class and was apparently too slow for Tom because he was always waiting for me to finish and give my opinion!  When I tried the third sample of [redacted] I knew it was the one.  I even told Tom that’s the one but I’ll finish the five samples anyway!  He agreed with my pick so I’m incredibly excited to share that our [redacted] pick was mine! What a cool journey working at France 44 has been! Last stop we had for the day was a tasting at Heaven Hill.  We carry a lot of Heaven Hill which includes Rittenhouse, Elijah Craig, Mellow Corn, Bernheim, Larceny, Pikesville, and Evan Williams.  I wish we could have gotten a tour of the grounds but unfortunately that did not work out, but we did take a little stroll to look at things.  And we were blessed with some good clouds.

Heaven Hill, feat. CLOUDS
Here we are at [REDACTED] distillers!
Barton exterior
The Brough Brothers distillery

Our last day in Kentucky we headed back to Louisville bright and early for a tour of  Brough Brothers Distillery, the first black-owned distillery in Kentucky!  I got us hooked up with a tour during the week when they normally aren’t offered, and we lucked out with a tour from Bryson, one of the brothers himself!  It was really cool to learn about their mission and see what they’ve been working on.  Their goal is to make bourbon more approachable to the younger crowd, and lead their community to show that anything is possible when you set your mind to it.  Bryson had us try their bourbon with lemonade, and said it was his favorite summer drink – especially while mowing the grass.  I fully plan on drinking this all summer myself, it was very refreshing!  Not to ruin any surprises, but we will hopefully have a new product of theirs on the shelf late spring!  So keep your eyes peeled for a funky new addition to the Brough Brothers lineup.

 

 

The Doggos in question

After our tour we had lunch with our Libation Project rep, Jon, and headed to the airport.  Please enjoy this picture of the best doggos hanging out on their stoop a few doors down from our lunch spot.

This trip was an amazing learning opportunity for me.  As I mentioned, the timing of this trip right after I had studied for my WSET Spirits Level 2 Certification was perfect.  I was able to take everything I studied in text form and see it happening in real life.  I was able to retain more information from the tours, use the proper tasting method to learn more about what I was sampling, and help make two really tasty picks for our single barrel selections!  It’s crazy to think we didn’t make it even halfway through bourbon trail even though I filled our itinerary with as much as possible.  I can’t wait for more adventures and learning opportunities on the horizon with France 44!

 

 

 

Stocking Your Bar: New Mixing-Priced Spirits

By Sam

I’m always thrilled to talk about spirits that represent a bang for your buck. After all, most of the hard liquor produced in the world is destined for the bottom-shelf of a liquor store or the well of a bar. Getting a bottle of whiskey down to dive-bar prices requires either a massively efficient distilling operation and/or bargain-basement-priced raw material. Sadly, in either case, the quest for a cheap(er) bottle of booze can lead to subpar quality.

But! Sometimes distillers really make magic happen, crafting a bottle (or bottles) that manages to hit the sweet spot of high-quality booze at a reasonable price. Those bottles are the prize jewels of bartenders everywhere, who rely on them to create craft cocktails that are not horribly overpriced. Bottles like these have a place on the home bar too: they’re perfect for the Daiquiris, Manhattans, and whiskey-sodas that make up so many simple, at-home happy hours; ready to be deployed when you don’t really need to splurge, you just need a good drink.

Here are a couple great-value bottles that have recently landed in our spirits section.

EtesiaRyeWhiskey_Small
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Etesia Spirits

Produced by Don Ciccio & Figli, a Washington, D.C.-based operation known for their riffs on classic Italian liqueurs, this line of affordably priced whiskey, gin, and vodka is going to be my new go-to when making cocktails for a crowd. The rye whiskey and vodka are particularly good, both showing fabulous value for their category. The whiskey has clear spicy, rye character (albeit on the sweeter, softer side of things) and would certainly stand up well in a Manhattan. The vodka is maybe even more impressive, a wheat-based, neutral style that has surprisingly clean, smooth character for being in the sub-$20 range.

 

 

Clairin Communal

Clairin is the most popular spirit of Haiti, made from raw sugarcane juice that is left to ferment over a long period, then distilled on rustic pot-stills. It is still very much an artisanal product, made village-by-village by individual distillers whose production is mostly sold locally. In some way, you could think of it as the mezcal of the rum world—a highly culturally-specific distilling tradition that is just now becoming popular outside of its area of origin. For the past few year, La Maison & Velier has been importing a selection of single-producer clairins to the U.S. market, and their latest feature is Clairin Communal—a blend made by combining multiple producers. It’s less funky and intense than some of its single-producer cousins, and it’s bottled at slightly lower proof. All in all, it’s a more affordable, mixable version of an incredibly unique spirit, and would be absolute fire in a Daiquiri.

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5cb20bc53a6ef

 

 

Brandy Saint Louise

I’m always skeptical of a cocktail that calls for Cognac in the recipe. I’m not an English aristocrat; why should I splurge for fancy-brandy in my Sidecar when I’m just going to be drowning it in lemon juice? Of course, cocktail fiends everywhere will disagree with me, claiming that Cognac lends an oh-so-subtle dried fruit and spice character that simply can’t be matched by the swill brandies produced elsewhere. Fine. Whatever! I’ll get myself a bottle of Brandy Saint-Louise, a new product—formulated by and for bartenders—that has bravely sallied forth into this morass to deliver *not quite Cognac* to the masses. What is it? Well, it’s French, it’s made near Cognac, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a difference in the production process between the two. I thought it was lovely, delicate, and stood up just dandy in a Sidecar.

 

 

Drapo 50ML Vermouths

I love Vermouth. A lot. I have absolutely no problem getting through a full bottle of the stuff before it spoils. (And it does spoil! Put it in the fridge, now!!) My Achilles’ Heel, however, is dry vermouth. I have no less love for it, but I don’t move through it quite as fast. And, when my hankering for a murderously-cold Martini comes around about once a month, I don’t want to pretend that I’m going to go through even a half-bottle of dry vermouth—I just want the one cocktail. Luckily, Drapo—an Italian vermouth brand—has begun producing adorably-tiny 50ML bottles of their sweet and dry vermouths. They are perfectly delicious, and ideal for satisfying that dry Martini cravin’.

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At the Foot of the Mountain: Piemonte’s Nebbiolo

by Hailey

More so than almost anywhere else in the world, Italian wines are hard to understand. With over 355 grape varieties grown in the country, and some of the oldest wine regions in the world, it doesn’t take long to become overwhelmed with information. Yet when we think of Italian wine, Piedmont is one of the first words to come to mind. 

The region holds a special place in Italian history as having played a leading role in the Italian unification process throughout the 18th century, as well as being the origin of the Italian Industrial Revolution that began at the tail end of the 1800s.  It’s also one of the most well-known and renowned regions within Italy: not only does it hold vinous supremacy thanks to its vast number of fine and prestigious wines (a whopping 17 DOCGs and 42 DOCs), but also in its diversity and quantity of wines produced. Nebbiolo takes the crown here, at least in the number of high-quality wines produced – but wines made from this grape vary quite significantly throughout Piedmont. 

The word Piedmont roughly translates to “foot of the mountain,” a nod to the topography of the region. It’s surrounded on all three sides by mountains: the Alps form the boundary with France on the West, and Switzerland and Vallee d’Aosta to the North; in the Southern part of the region, the Ligurian and Maritime Alps separate Piedmont from France and the Ligurian region within Italy. All of these mountains and hills make up a series three concentric rings (predominantly on the Western side of the region, with the Po Valley nestled in the East), and these mountains and hills are not only a defining characteristic of Piedmont itself, but also play a key role in which grapes are grown where, and how wines from each area of Piedmont present themselves in our glass. It’s the middle band, though, where most vines live. Planted between 500 – 1300 feet in elevation with sun exposure coming in all directions, it’s kind of like heaven on earth for Piedmont’s grapes, with each variety planted in the precise spots in the hills that will suit it best. The last, and most inner band, is the plain, which you can find along the Eastern side of Piedmont. Here, the principal crop is rice, not grapes, as the soil is too flat and fertile to suit quality vine growth. 

Okay, here’s where things start to get more convoluted… Piedmont is organized into four major sub-regions, and within these subregions are clusters of hills. The most important in relation to Nebbiolo are the Monferrato hills, the Langhe hills, the Roero hills, and the Novara and Vercelli hills. To make things even more confusing, the hills are further divided into provinces, which are divided into districts and DOC(G)s.  

The most Northerly of these provinces are the Navara and Vercelli Hills. Here, Nebbiolo goes by a different name: Spanna. The climate is milder, thanks to Lake Maggiore’s and Lake Orta’s moderating influences, and cool air from the alps swoops down to create super austere, high acid wines, while a wide diurnal range allows grapes to fully ripen. In relation to Nebbiolo, there’s two DOCGs to look out for from Northern Piedmont: Gattinara and Ghemme.  

Gattinara and Ghemme are the two most Northerly DOCG’s for Nebbiolo, and the former boasts incredible natural grape growing conditions. The combination of perfect sun exposure, ideal altitudes, and soil mix create deliciously bright and aromatic wines, and thanks to these conditions, Nebbiolo (a very finicky grape!) does well here. Gattinara wines contain a higher percentage of Nebbiolo, a minimum of 90% with the other 10% of the blend being either Vespolina or Uva Rara. The combo of full tannins and high acid means that these babies are a bit crunchy and can take a while to mature. They’re full of all of the classic Nebbiolo notes of tart cherry, strawberry, tar, spice and violet, and are incredibly bright and a bit lighter in color than Piedmonts from more southerly areas of Piedmont, with a lighter body and slightly lower alcohol levels as well. 

The Langhe and Roero hills, within the subregion of Alba, are found in the Southern part of Piedmont. This is where the bulk of France 44’s Piedmont section hails from, so if you frequently scan those shelves these words are probably ringing a bell for you. Besides wine, this part of Piedmont is also well regarded for hazlenuts, white truffles, and chocolate (this is where Nutella was invented!). The Ligurian Sea flanks the Southern part of Piedmont, so the conditions aren’t as brutal here and as a result the wines are much more consistent from year to year, with a fuller body and more alcohol than the wines of Northern Piedmont. Temperatures swing quite a bit between day and night in Alba, meaning the Nebbiolos of these parts are able to retain their signature acidity and are especially aromatic with notes of rose petal and violet bursting from the glass.  

Within the Langhe Hills are the two appellations that are most closely associated with Piedmont: Barolo and Barbaresco. The winemaking philosophy of these regions is often compared to that of Burgundy: these are single varietal wines, with huge importance placed on the village origin of each wine. Most of the time, they are single-vineyard wines that are estate bottled. Vineyards are divided into tiny parcels, and these itty bitty lots of land are generally owned by multiple growers. For all of these parallels, Burgundy wine is nothing like that of Barolo or Barbaresco in character.  

Barolo is known and loved for big, brooding power, but it actually wasn’t until the 1850’s that Paolo Francesco Staglieno created a dry style of Barolo. Prior to this, the area was known for sweet wines. As the drier style became more commonplace, they established themselves as the favorites of aristocrats throughout the area, earning the nickname “king of wines and wine of kings.” These wines do vary from bottle to bottle, though, and it’s mainly due to the type of soil they’re grown on (younger and more fertile Tartonian soils of Western Barolo, producing highly aromatic, elegant, fruitier, and more immediately drinkable wine; or the older, poorer Serravallian soils of the East, which produce way more powerful, robust, structured wines) or the style they’re made in (modern, with more fruity characters and more noticeable oak usage; or traditional, with more austerity and neutral, Slavonian oak usage). The Fantino family’s 2013 Barolo Bussia Cascina Dardi is a great example of a Barolo with both power and fruit, with hints of tobacco, leather, and a distinct richness added into the mix. Decant it and it’ll wow you with a surprisingly medium body and beautifully integrated tannins, or let it rest in your cellar and let the flavors morph more into dried fig, dried rose and violet, nutmeg, leather, game and meat.  

Like Barolo, Barbaresco wines are 100% Nebbiolo. Elevation is lower here, and the Tanaro River is also closer, so the climate is a bit warmer than Barolo and grapes ripen fully with more ease and consistency. Beyond that, the terrain itself is more homogenous, so wines from commune to commune don’t vary as significantly as in Barolo. While both Barolo and Barbaresco are full of power and have lots of ageing potential, Barbaresco tends to be just a touch lighter, less austere, and more immediately approachable than many Barolos. If you’re looking for something immediately drinkable that still has some persuasive tannic body, Barbaresco is a great direction to go. The 2018 Luigi Giordano Barbaresco ‘Cavanna’ in particular is a staff favorite, so if we haven’t tried to sell you on it yet, you ought to give it a try! This is another one that you could drink now or cellar for half a decade or so, but drink it now and you’ll find a deliciously herbaceous dried sage quality alongside crushed red flowers and spicy, tart red fruit.  

Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC wines are also varietal wines, pulling from over 30 communes on either side of the Tanaro River, excluding Barolo and Barbaresco. They’re full of wild strawberry, floral aromatics, and a bit of tar or bitter earth, but think of these are the baby sibling to Barolo and Barbaresco. These are lighter, less austere, and much less structured versions of Nebbiolo — perfect for you to get your Nebbiolo fix without breaking the bank too badly. Try the 2018 Bruno Giacosa Nebbiolo d’Alba and you’ll find an elegant, subtle wine with surprisingly fine tannins and notes of fresh black currant, raspberry, and cranberry. 

Last but certainly not least, the Langhe Nebbiolo DOC is used by Barbaresco and Barolo producers looking to release more approachable expressions of Nebbiolo, with less restrictive rules than would be required in their respective DOCGs. The DOC requires only 85% of the stated varietal to be included in the bottle, so there’s more versatility in blending, with less ageing in oak and bottle. These are some of the most budget friendly bottlings of Nebbiolo, and are great for everyday drinking! My go-to weeknight Nebbiolo is the 2019 Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo — it shows the perfume and aromatics that I love so much about this grape, and while it’s easy-drinking and definitely a fruitier style of Nebbiolo, it still has a decent amount of complexity. Black currant, wild mountain berry, lavender and rose petal are the shining notes here, with hints of blood orange and macerating strawberry on the finish.  

Drink on, friends!  

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Tom’s Irish Whiskey Picks

Tom

by Tom

Saint Patrick’s Day is right around the corner, and we’ve got some brand-new Irish Whiskeys to unveil for the occasion! Two outfits with local ties; Kieran Folliard of 2 Gingers fame is at it again and Brian Nation, one of the most world-renowned master distillers in the whiskey world, moving here to make whiskey right in Minneapolis. Throw some historically accurate peated whiskey in and we’ve got ourselves a party.

Let’s start by introducing Brian Nation. Brian Nation spend the last seven years in Ireland as the Master Distiller of the famed Midleton Distillery. Midleton is known for many whiskeys, prime among them is Jameson, but products like Redbreast, Green Spot, and Power’s are where they really hang their hat. Let’s just say Brian had a heavy hand in the creation of these powerhouses. Brian moved here to spearhead the new O’Shaughnessy Distillery near Surly Brewing. Their first project is Keeper’s Heart, a special blend of an Irish Single Grain, an Irish Single Pot Still, and an American Rye together. Bringing two countries together as one, while jumpstarting the other whiskey projects they have coming down the pipeline. Keeper’s Heart has rich vanilla and orchard fruits with a delightful backbone of sweet spice from the rye whiskey component. A sipper bother American drinkers and Irish drinkers can appreciate.

Rod Locks is the newest foray into whiskey making by none other than Kieran Folliard. Kieran has owned many bars and restaurants around town before giving them all up to launch 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey to remarkable success. After being bought up by Jim Beam and awaiting his time, his newest whiskey is 80% maize (corn) based and sees a litany of barrels, but predominantly Ex Bourbon barrels and some virgin oak. This leads to heady caramel char, vanilla, and green apple. Meant to be sipped or mixed.

Lastly, let’s talk about Silkie Irish Whiskey. Silkie has two distinctive bottlings with one thing in common: Peated barley. Peat is more known on the Scotch side of the isle but there are many peat bogs around Ireland and dried peat was used to malt the barley. Their blue label in their legendary series is mild with the peat, more forward with orchard fruit, orange zest, honey and a whisp of smoke. Their black label start off stong wit peat but after traditional triple distillation the peat goes from 55ppm, phenol parts per million, to 22ppm. That is like going from a big smoky Islay scotch like Ardbeg to a more tobacco sweet smoke more akin to Highland Park. Add that sweet smoke to come salted caramel tones and you have yourself a winner.

We have all theses in stock and more coming, our Irish Whiskey section is certainly starting to boom right in time for Saint Patrick’s Day.

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The Even Wilder, Wonderful-er World World of Rum (Part 2)

by Sam

Pre-Pandemic (oy) I wrote a popular blog post about the really incredible rums that were appearing on our shelves at France 44. Those bottles were (and are) fabulous, but they mostly stuck to the more well-trodden locales of rum production—Barbados, Guyana, Cuba, Jamaica, and a smattering of other Caribbean locales.

For this blog post, I wanted to highlight a few amazing rums from some more off-the-beaten path rum producing countries. Many of these are still in or near the Caribbean (sugarcane only grows in so many climates, after all) but they all offer something new and unique to even the most advanced rum tippler.


 

Uruapan Charanda Blanco Rum | Technically this isn’t rum: it’s charanda, a sugarcane distillate from Michoacán, Mexico with protected status (just like Champagne!)Uruapan Charanda Blanco Rum — Bitters & Bottles, but this is splitting hairs. What’s important is that this Mexican sugarcane distillate (don’t censor me, rum gods) has a hard-to-pin-down style that almost tastes like a tequila-rum hybrid. The raw material here is a mix of both fresh sugarcane juice and molasses, with the former contributing fruity and grassy aromas to the aroma. Fiery, with some definite burn on the first sip, the palate eventually mellows into a drying, vegetal finish that tastes a lot like a tequila or non-smoky Mezcal. This would be killer in a very un-traditional Margarita.

 

Rhum JM 110 Proof Rhum Agricole Blanc | 1 L Bottle

Rhum J.M White Rum | Rhum Agricole is a category of rum that persists in many of the French-speaking nations of the Caribbean. What sets it apart from other rums is its use of fresh sugarcane juice (in lieu of molasses) as the raw material. These rhums all have a distinct set of grassy aromas that are unmistakable, lending a lovely brightness to all kinds of drinks. Rhum J.M, a historic producer from Martinique, released this 110-proof bottling of their flagship product just a few years ago. It’s bold and aromatic, with huge hits of pineapple, fresh-cut grass, jalapeño pepper, and overripe papaya. The best way to experience it is in the traditional drink of the region: Ti Punch.

 

 

Cave à Rhum - 100% Haïti, rum cellarAny Bottle of Clairin | Thanks to the enterprising work of La Maison & Velier, a joint Italian-French spirits company, a raft of clairins have become available in the U.S. that have previously never been seen outside their home country of Haiti. Clairin is an agricole-style rum made from fresh sugarcane juice that is produced in rustic pot-stills in villages around Haiti. Despite the small-scale production that defines its production, clairin is a lot more than just Haitian moonshine—each bottle on our shelf is a distinct expression of a single producer. If you are already a fan of funky Jamaican rum, clairin should be your next adventure. Some show overripe fruits and caramel notes, while others veer into savory notes of green olive and fresh herbs.

 

Hamilton Beachbum Berry's Zombie Blend Rum — Bitters & BottlesHamilton ‘Beachbum Berry’s Zombie Blend’ Rum | Ed Hamilton is a Minor God in the world of rum, having leveraged his travels around the Caribbean into an ever-growing line of rums which he meticulously sources from distilleries around the region. His rums have garnered the love of bartenders across the country, to the point where he often makes custom blends for specific bars that want a particular rum style for a particular cocktail. This is one such innovation, a blend of three different rums that was expressly made for bartenders looking to re-create Beachbum Berry’s (a Major God in tiki cocktails) Zombie recipe. It works for that recipe beautifully, but this also subs in anywhere you might need a rich, full-bodied dark rum for mixing—it’s unctuous and smooth, full of spice, caramelized banana, and roasted toffee notes.

Privateer Navy Yard Rum | Total Wine & More

 

Privateer ‘Navy Yard’ Barrel-Proof Rum | New England rum was once one of the cornerstones of American booze production. The history behind this is dark, and deeply entwined with the Atlantic slave trade (not to mention the de-forestation of much of New England, which was a convenient source of rum barrels). Privateer Rum—a small distillery led by distiller Maggie Campbell—takes this complicated history in stride, aiming to turn the massive ship that is the international rum industry back towards high-quality products made by thoughtful producers. Their sugarcane is ethically-sourced from farms in the Caribbean, and then distilled in Ipswich, Mass. Bottled without any colorings, sweetness, or filtration, this is real-deal American rum at a whopping 55% ABV. This is a seriously satisfying sipper.