Beer Style Highlight: The Oak, The Barrel, The Funky

by Kayla

Traditionally, brewers who wanted to make specialty wood aged beers, used oak casks and barrels to take their base beer and put a unique twist on it. Using things like a foeder (pronounced food-er), a larger vertical or horizontal oak barrel that beer can be aged or fermented in. It’s a simple way to infuse a level of oakiness in beer that’s less intense and achieved at a slower rate than barrel aging. Historically in Europe they used french oak, or cypress to make the foeders. Today in the US, they use American white oak with a blend depending on the preferred flavor outcome. Portage Brewing Company from Walker Minnesota collaborated with Bent Paddle Brewing from Duluth Minnesota to make a oak fermented Maibock called Tallest of Trees. They use traditional European Pilsner, Munich, Vienna and Carefa 3 Special malts from Weyermann® Czech Saaz, Hallertau Mittelfruh hops, house lager yeast and American white oak foeder. This combination gives the classic Maibock a unique twist. Tannins from the wood are balanced from the biscuit, toasted bready malts and the earthy, herbal, and slightly spicy notes from the hops, giving this beer a refreshing finish. 6.9% ABV in 16oz 4pks for $13.99

If the brewer wanted to incorporate a charred then, much like roasting malt it depends on the type of wood and how long it’s charred. Flavors of vanilla, caramel, butterscotch, coffee, ect will come through and those types of flavors are best used in barrels that contain alcohol, like wine, port, sherry, madeira, bourbon, rum or tequila. These types of barrels benefit from beers with a fuller body and higher alcohol that use malts having chocolate, roasty, coffee, toasted break with the addition of oxidation to enhance the levels of both the base beer and the barrel. Revolution Brewing from Chicago, Illinois makes an Imperial Oatmeal Stout aged for 1 year in American bourbon barrels named Deth’s Tar. The use of English malts in the beer brings flavors of vanilla, toasted coconut, and caramel candy for a full body but silky mouthfeel. At 14.8% this beer is almost too easy to drink during those cold spring days when we’re looking forward to summer coming. 12 oz can for $6.99

Inspired by Belgian wild fruited ales, like Flanders red, Oud Bruin, Gose or Berliner Weisse with fruit addition, modern US craft brewers are making their own interpretations. using wild ale yeasts and microorganisms like Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and Brettanomyces. With the addition of fruit, herbs or spices it really helps bring uniqueness to the beer. Funk Factory Geuzeria in Madison Wisconsin makes a Blackberry Meerts fermented in french oak foeders with wild yeast. They take second runnings of a Lambic and use Pilsner malt, raw wheat, Saaz hops, using a turbid mash and a long boil before the foeder fermentation and finally, fermenting it on blackberries for 2 months before bottle conditioning. The beer has a brightness from the fruit, with a clean, dry finish that balances out the beer perfectly. This sour is 4.5% and comes in a 750ml bottle for $17.99

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Untitled design (38)

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.

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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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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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