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  • Why is Saint Nicholas the Patron Saint of Brewers?

    Posted: 2019-12-06 06:00
    St. Nicholas giving dowry gold
    © Elisabeth Ivanovsky
    And that is not a rhetorical question, I honestly do not know why Saint Nicholas is considered one of the many patron saints of brewers? Today, December 6th is the feast day for this Greek saint who eventually morphed into the Nordic Christmas legend. Nicholas was born in the Greek city of Patara in the late 3rd century to wealthy parents and was raised in Myra - a port city now known as Demre, Turkey. Tragically his parents died during an epidemic and Nicholas was raised by his uncle - the Bishop of Patara.

    The youngster vowed to distribute his inheritance through works of charity and his most well-known effort led directly to his reputation for giving gifts and indirectly to a possible claim for being the patron saint of brewers. Here is Catholic Online to describe the traditional story of the Gift of Gold for the Three Daughters.
    An opportunity soon arose for St. Nicholas and his inheritance. A citizen of Patara had lost all his money, and needed to support his three daughters who could not find husbands because of their poverty; so the wretched man was going to give them over to prostitution. Nicholas became informed of this, and thus took a bag of gold and threw it into an open window of the man's house in the night. Here was a dowry for the eldest girl and she was soon duly married. At intervals Nicholas did the same for the second and the third; at the last time, the father was on the watch, recognized his benefactor and overwhelmed Nicholas with his gratitude. It would appear that the three purses represented in pictures, came to be mistaken for the heads of three children and so they gave rise to the absurd story of the children, resuscitated by the saint, who had been killed by an innkeeper and pickled in a brine-tub.
    Saint Nicholas
    © Elisabeth Ivanovsky
    Afterward, Nicholas would be ordained a priest and be elected Archbishop of Myra where he was tortured, exiled, and imprisoned by the Romain authorities. He was eventually freed with other Christians when Constantine converted to the faith and Nicholas served the remainder of his life as Archbishop of Myra. During that time so many miracles and good deeds were attributed to his intercession that he became known as the Wonderworker. After Nicholas passed on December 6, 343 he was buried in Myra's cathedral church where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. According to the St. Nicholas Center, "this liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas". For close to 750 years his remains served as a pilgrim destination. But, depending on your point of view, on May 9, 1087, his relics were stolen or rescued after Constantinople fell to the Saracens. The thieves or liberators were sailers from Bari. In that Italian city, Nicholas' relics were buried in a new church: the Basilica di San Nicola.

    From Bari, both the factual and legendary stories surrounding Nicholas spread throughout Europe. The resuscitation myth led to paintings of Nicholas surrounded by children which in itself led people to conclude he was the patron saint of children. And combined with his gift-giving, St. Nicholas Day became an early advent fixture in European countries where behaved children's boots were filled with candy and toys. On the other hand, naughty children received a visit from the Krampus and a literal tongue lashing. In America, the Dutch Protestants of New Amsterdam turned the saint into the Nordic magician - Santa Claus.

    Great story, but what about brewers? None of the classical authors associate Nicholas with beer or brewers. One modern discernment concludes that the images of Nicholas shown with a barrel led people to conclude that he was the patron saint of brewers. Flimsy. Maybe even too flimsy to raise a beer in his honor. Instead, sip a Turkish Arak, the distilled spirit made from grapes and aniseed or a glass of wine from Puglia perhaps the Gioia del Colle DOC. In any case, cheers to Saint Nicholas.
  • Follow the Old Valley Pike to Box Office Brewery

    Posted: 2019-12-05 13:56
    Looking for a Hallmark Christmas destination that has the one important feature that these movies lack? I'm referring to a craft beverage establishment like Strasburg Virginia's Box Office Brewery.

    Craft beverage establishments have been repurposing abandoned buildings in small towns throughout the U.S... In the Shenandoah Valley, the owners of Box Office Brewing renovated the defunct Strasburg Theatre which was originally built in 1918 as the Strand Theatre. They reused both internal and local materials including a 1930s Lucky Strike bowling lane for the main bar.

    As for beer, the Old Valley Pike American Pale Ale is solid and is named after US Route 11 that runs in front of the building. The road was previously the Old Valley Pike, a dirt road originally used by the local Indians then predominantly by troops during the Civil War. The German styled Prohibition Pilsner is also exactly what one would expect.

    But if you are really lucky the Curtain Call Coconut Porter is still on tap. The name speaks for itself. Cheers.
  • Cotton & Reed: DC’s First Rum Distillery

    Posted: 2019-11-25 06:00
    This month Cotton & Reed Distillery celebrated its third anniversary as DC’s First Rum Distillery. One of their many celebration activities included a release of just 102 bottles of 102-proof Sherried Cask Strength Rum ($50). The process starts with their White Rum ($29) made from Lousiana grown raw cane syrup and blackstrap molasses (6,000 pounds per batch) and fermented with a Rhum Agricole yeast strain and a Chenin Blanc yeast strain. The rum is then aged in used bourbon barrels just like their Mellow Gold Rum ($29). Afterward, the aging rum is transferred to PX Sherry-seasoned casks where PX refers to Pedro Ximénez grapes aged in a solera system where the grape brandy undergoes oxidative aging for an Oloroso. This process involves bottling some of the oldest casks, then refilling with grape brandy from younger casks. Cotton & Reed will follow a similar approach with their Sherried Cask Strength Rum augmenting their first cask with rum from a younger cask.

    In addition to their very unique Dry Spiced Rum ($29) that is infused with mostly gin inspired botanicals like juniper instead of baking spices, their Despaccino 2018 ($29) is delicious. The coffee beans come from Counter Culture which are then cold-brewed from Junius Coffee. The rum is also infused with rhubarb, dehydrated orange, and cacao all contributing distinct rich characters.

    Finally, don't neglect their cocktails.  I chose a light and refreshing Rumba Palumba made from their White Rum, mezcal, grapefruit, and lemons.  Excellent.
  • #ThankfulForVino with Argentinian Chardonnay & Pinot Noir

    Posted: 2019-11-23 13:27
    Be honest. When you think of wine from Argentina you think Malbec.  That's what I thought, that is, until this week during a  #ThankfulForVino tweet-up moderated by Master of Wine Christy Canterbury. The chat focused on new frontiers beyond Malbec particularly since that grape accounts for only 21.4% of plantings in Argentina. Chardonnay & Pinot Noir are two of these new frontiers and are particularly attractive during the Thanksgiving holiday.

    Starting with two important facts -- Argentina is the world's 8th largest country and the 5th largest wine-producing country in the world. According to Canterbury, grapes were first planted in the 16th century when Spanish colonizers brought over vines to produce sacramental wine. More recently the wine industry has grown exponentially as the export value grew from $24 million to $821 million and production from 25 million liters to 275 million liters.

    There are four main grape-growing regions: the North, Cuyo (Mendoza's home), Patagonia and the newest, Atlantic. In general, precipitation is low, even in El Niño years with Patagonia and the Atlantic regions receiving more annual rainfall than the North and Cuyo. Day-to-night temperature variations (diurnal) are some of the most dramatic on the planet. These temperature fluctuations vary as much as 20C/36F degrees with the swings due to altitude as in Mendoza or high latitude as in Patagonia. See Wines of Argentina.

    During this tweet-up, we sampled five wines - three from Mendoza and two from Patagonia.

    Catena Alta Mendoza Chardonnay 2017 ($18)
    "Alta" means high in Spanish and refers to the two high altitude vineyards from where the grapes are sourced and this cool climate and porous soils are "the promised land of Chardonnay".  The Adrianna Vineyard (80%) is located at almost 5,000 feet in the Andean foothills and the vines are planted in calcareous soil.  The Domingo Vineyard, Lot 7 (20%) is situated at "only" 3,675 ft with alluvial and gravelly soil with limestone deposits in the topsoil.  The wine is simply delicious with soft citrus and green apples, textured, and refreshing acidity.

    Mascota Vineyards Unanime Chardonnay ($15)
    The grapes for this wine come from the alluvial calcareous soils in Gualtallary Uco Valley, Mendoza, another high altitude and cool climate site at 4,200ft.  Canterbury remarked that Uco Valley wines are very fragrance driven and that describes this wine with its strong floral aroma. On the palate, it is citrus-driven with a slightly buttery and creamy texture, and spices linger with lifting acids. Four hours of skin contact bolster the aromas whereas fermenting in concrete eggs and large French oak foudres create the creamy texture.

    Bodega Tapiz Wapisa Pinot Noir 2017 ($19)
    The Los Acantilados Estate (San Javier, Atlantic Patagonia, Río Negro) is located very close to the Atlantic Ocean and at only 328 feet above sea level receives plenty of maritime cooling. It is also noted for its lime clay soils that lack organic matter. The proximity to the ocean is reflected in the drawing of a whale's tail on the label.  The wine is initially fruit-forward with red-berries then texture mid-palate finishing with firm yet approachable acids.

    Alfredo Rocas Finacas Pinot Noir 2018 ($12)
    Sourced from the Finca Santa Herminia vineyard in San Rafael Mendoza, which is lower in altitude but because of the south-facing slopes, cooler than comparable vineyards. But still at 3,000 ft above sea level. The winemaking approach allows the grapes to speak which shows delicious red berries, sweeter spices, some chalk and dust, and a long finish of easy tannins.

    Schroeder Family Saurus Select Pinot Noir 2017 ($18)
    The vineyards of Familia Schroeder sit in the San Patricio del Chanar valley, a new region in Patagonia. Canterbury believes this will be the next important wine region to emerge from Argentina due to its attractive grape growing attributes: light stony soils, irrigation from pure melt-water, intense sunlight, and a substantial diurnal temperature difference. And lots of wind. The Saurus label is named for the 75 million years old fossilized dinosaur bones that were found near the winery site. The wine itself is complex with dusty cherries, chewy tannins, and fresh acids. A great finish to the evening.
  • St. Martin of Tours, Croatia, & Komarna Wine

    Posted: 2019-11-26 06:45
    On the days preceding and subsequent to Monday, November 11th, Europeans and Catholics celebrated the Feast of St Martin -- in honor of the patron of the poor, soldiers, conscientious objectors, tailors, and winemakers. One of these celebrations occurred at the Embassy of Croatia in Washington D.C. where Croatian Premium Wine Imports poured several wines from the newly designated Komarna appellation to honor St. Martinje.

    Saint Martin of Tours was born in Pannonia (present-day Hungary) in either the year 316 or 336 AD.  His father was a high-ranking officer in the Imperial Horse Guard and a pagan, but at the age of 10, Martin converted to Christianity as the gospel expanded throughout the Roman empire.  Roman law required full participation in military affairs so, at the age of 15, Martin followed his father into the cavalry corps were tradition claims he served in Gaul, Milan, and Trier (Treves).
    Courtesy of Catholic Online

    His inspirational moment occurred while still young when he encountered a beggar in Amiens, France. The beggar was practically naked and freezing so Martin cut his cloak in half with his sword and gave one piece to the beggar and retained the other half for himself. That night, Martin had a vision in which Christ appeared to him and said: "Martin, a mere catechumen has clothed me.". A catechumen is one who undergoing the long process of instruction in the Christian faith but Martin was well aware of Matthew 25:45.

    Afterward, Martin made clear to his superiors that he would no longer fight because of his Christian conscience. He refused his military pay and announced he would not join in future combat, thus becoming the first recognized conscientious objector in recorded history. He was accused of cowardice but Martin countered that to prove his sincerity he would ride into battle unarmed.  Fortunately, a truce was signed shortly before an upcoming battle and Martin was subsequently released from military service.

    Courtesy of Catholic Online
    He traveled to Tours where he began studying under an eventual doctor of the Church, Hilary of Poitiers. Over time he brought his Mother into the church and became a defender against the Arian heresy which denied the divinity of Jesus. He was forced to flee to an island in the Adriatic where he lived as a hermit for a while but eventually returned to Tours after the Council of Nicea. In 371, the faithful called Martin to the office of Bishop which he reluctantly accepted and served until his death in 397.

    During his years as Bishop, Martin nurtured an immense love for wine and began blessing the beverage in order to make it more popular among laypeople. Throughout Europe, this tradition has continued with winemakers giving thanks to St. Martin for a good harvest. In Croatia, Martinje celebrates the day that must, or young wine matures into wine fit for drinking.  But before indulging the wine must first be baptized and turned into chaste wine, since must is considered impure.

    At the Croatian Embassy, the community celebrated St. Martinje and the indulgence of Croatian wine though the Croatian Premium Wine Imports (CPWI). Their portfolio consists of wines from the Komarna winegrowing area where the vines were first planted in 2008 with a formal appellation designated in April 2013. The region is located in South Dalmatia between Split and Dubrovnik where the vines overlook the Adriatic Sea -- sometimes on 30-degree slopes. The grape varieties are primarily the indigenous Plavac Mali and Pošip with lesser amounts of international varieties Syrah, Chardonnay, Tempranillo, Cabernet, Viognier.

    There are currently seven wineries in the Komarna appellation, and most unique, all seven are certified by the EU for organic production. This development was accelerated because the wineries starting near the same time and were able to leverage the same resources when surveying plots, planting the vineyards, and building out production and tasting room facilities. Economies of scale in action. Their youthfulness also allowed them to adopt the latest in technological advances pertaining to vineyard management and winemaking chemistry where even some laboratories are utilized by Croatian state wine officials.

    During the St. Martinje Celebration, we sampled six wines from four of these winemakers: Saints Hills, Rizman, Volarević, and Terra Madre.  Starting with the later winery, the Terra Madre selection consisted of a Pošip 2018, Plavac Mali Rose 2018, and a Plavac Mali Premium 2015.  Besides being unique in offering a rose, this winery is known for adding a small percentage of international varieties into their indigenous wines. They added a little structure using Chardonnay with the Pošip and roundness using the Cabernet Sauvignon with the Plavac Mali. In fact, the four Plavac Mali were all completely distinct in style with the Rizman Plavac Mali 2016 being elegant with elevated fruit and the Volarevic Plavac Mali 2016 being complex with a fruit on the tongue and spices and tannins dominating the tail. Finally, the Volarevic Plavac Mali Gold 2013 is a bolder, full-bodied wine which consists of 30% raisined grapes and the wine aged 24 months in oak and four years in the bottle before release.  Think raisins and figs and structured tannins.

    The CPWI online store will be available very soon and will be augmented with Croatian wines from Istria shortly. Cheers to St. Martinje.

    Update: The Croatian Premium Wine Imports online store is now available.

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