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  • Visiting A Couple Craft Breweries in Rockville, Maryland

    Posted: 2018-01-15 09:53
    This past September Saints Row Brewing joined 7 Locks Brewing and Gordon Biersch Brewery as the only two craft breweries in Rockville -- the third largest incorporated city in Maryland. I write only, because the area could support many more if you add surrounding areas of Germantown, Gaithersburg, and Bethesda, the I-270 Corridor comes close to Baltimore in population size. That is what Saints Row Brewing is leveraging while serving unique and delicious beer. Start with the Little L Belgium Pale Ale which nails the profile and follow with the On Baker Street English Brown Ale. I generally avoid this style as many are highly malted for my tastes. Not the On Baker Street. It finds the correct balance between toffee malt and bitters - nicely done. And for sour lovers, there should always be something funky on tap with the Sweaty Pineapple Pants Wild Pineapple Sour the current offering. The citrus is subtle but not the tartness; quite nice. The brewery is also well integrated with Untappd so you can explore current and future offerings.


    The senior 7 Locks Brewing is a happening place with a playroom, small bandstand, cornhole, and abundant other games to entertain visitors. There's also a plethora of craftbeer options from IPAs to lagers but start with the Sahti Farmhouse Ale if available. This is based on a Finnish style first brewed by peasants in the 1500s where the mashing occurred in wooden barrels which was then scooped into a hand-carved wooden trough (kuurna) with a bed of juniper twigs that acted as a filter. I also savored the Surrender Dorothy Rye Pale Ale and the Reserve Series Rye on Rye. This barrel aged beer is excellent where the whiskey notes meld with the rye flavors. You can also experiment by blending different amounts of Surrender Dorothy to the Rye on Rye. Makes for added entertain. Cheers and as always, you can find these breweries using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder.
  • When Its Cold Outside Reach for Port - Here's Two from Warre's and Graham's

    Posted: 2018-01-08 07:00
    This winter the buzzword appears to be bomb cyclone, which replaced polar vortex, which replaced Alberta Clipper, which sometime in the past replaced the simple cold front of my youth. Regardless of these marketing weather gimmicks, when its cold I reach for Port - a fortified wine produced from grapes grown and processed in the Portuguese Douro demarcation and fortified with neutral grape spirit.

    There are over a hundred sanctioned grape varieties eligible for Port, but in general, expect the use of these five: Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional. There are also several categories of Port: White, Tawny, Ruby, Reserve, and Vintage. (See The Wine Coach for specifics.) Aged tawnies come in ten year increments that reflect a port house's style and not a minimum, maximum, or average age. Thus a 10-year-old or 20-year-old Tawny port is a taste that is reflected in oak aging, racking and blending. Ruby Ports are aged in large vats for two to three years before bottling whereas Vintage Ports are from a single harvest designated as an exceptional year and aged additional years in the bottle. The Reserve Port category was created by Cockburn's (founded in 1815) to bridge these two styles where the wine is aged longer in large barrique casks. The goal was to create a wine similar in quality to the Vintage Port but drinkable early like the Ruby Port.

    Warre's Warrior Port ($19). Warrior is the oldest continuously bottled Port brand (1750's) as Warrior has been branded on the casks of Warre’s finest Reserve Ports since the earliest days of the firm. The grapes are drawn from Quinta da Cavadinha and Quinta do Retiro, Warre’s best quintas in the Pinhão and Rio Torto valleys that also produce Warre’s classic Vintage Ports. The wine is fruity and chewy, lot's of texture, with another long lingering finish. Apparently the higher altitudes and cooler climate lead to this ripe fruit character. For a full bodied, yet fresh, easy drinking Port wine, start here.

    Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny Port ($56) is a blend from all five Graham quintas – Malvedos and Tua, Vila Velha, Lages in the Rio Torto and Vale de Malhadas in the Douro Superior. It is pure tawny in color as well as showing layers of rich dried fruit, oranges, and nut flavors. The wine finishes very smoothly with a boost from elevated acidity. This 20-year-old Tawny Port is an elegant wine - excellent for all occasions - particularly during cold winter weather. Cheers.
  • Visiting Tall Pines Distillery in Pennsylvania Ski Country

    Posted: 2018-01-05 06:00
    If you are heading to the southwestern PA ski resorts like Seven Springs Mountain Resort and Hidden Valley Resort then stop by Tall Pines Distillery - the first legal moonshine distillery in Somerset County Pennsylvania since prohibition.  You will most likely be met by Dozer, the very friendly black lab or owners Daniel Fay and Keith Welch. The distillery is located three miles north of the Mason Dixon line at 9224 Mason Dixon Highway (Route 219) in Salisbury. The operation specializes in flavored moonshine, fruit brandy, and whiskey.

    In the distillation area, the process looks as if it was run out of a barn - albeit with modern equipment - but with a thump keg (which enables a second distillation) and a worm box filled with cool water.  In general  the moonshine in sells for $34 per 750ml bottle or $18 for a 375ml bottle. The Cafe Mocha was a nice take on coffee liqueur but I opted for the Peach and Lumberjacked Apple brandies. The Peach is a little heavier than my preferred Eastern European palinka, but lighter than schnapps. Savor that peach flavor.  The Lumberjacked Apple is made from distilled apple cider and the apple flavor lives long past the slight burn. Besides neat, I envision the apple brandy mixed with hard cider and a shot of rum. Looking forward to our next ski trip and as always you can locate Tall Pines Distillery using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers.
  • Remembering the 2017 Maryland Winter Wine Showcase

    Posted: 2018-01-04 15:27
    I just registered for the 2018 Winter Wine Showcase, an annual tasting at the B&O Railroad Museum where Maryland wineries feature two of their top wines. During the 2017 event I was very impressed with the quality across the board, but two Albarino wines stood out. These were the Boordy Vineyards 2016 South Mountain Vineyard Albariño ($20) and Port of Leonardtown Winery 2015 Maryland Albariño ($20). I had been saving both in order to conduct a comparative tasting with a few from Riax Baixas (Albarino's native homeland in Galacia Spain) but was instructed to open each sooner rather than later. That still is in insteresting concept considering that neither of the Maryland wines exhibit the minerally driven character associated with Riax Baixas Albarinos. Instead the Maryland wines are more stone fruit forward, with creamy depth, and finishing with plenty of acidity. Somewhat Viognier-ish. They are both delicious wines. Cheers to 2017 and best wishes for 2018.
  • New Years with Vilarnau Brut Reserva Cava

    Posted: 2018-01-04 15:15
    In 2017 Catalonia independence was a dominant topic in European news, but the province is also a notable wine region particularly with Penedes Cava. The Catalan word cava refers to "cave" or "cellar" and this sparkling wine is traditionally made using indigenous Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel·lo grapes. But regardless of the blend, all Cava D.O. wines must be made using the champenoise traditional method.

     One small Catalan producer is Vilarnau, a Cava house that has been operating just outside Barcelona since 1949. I received two samples of their Brut Reserva with both honoring the winery's Catalan roots by reflecting the imagery of Antoni Gaudi and the "Trencadís" mosaic. This technique was used in the modernist artistic movement in Catalonia, created from tiny fragments of broken ceramic tiles, roof tiles or crockery. Very impressive bottling. Cheers to 2017 & 2018, Cava, and a thriving Catalonia.

    Vilarnau Brut Reserva NV ($14.99) - a blend of 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, and 15% Xarel·lo and aged more than 15 months in bottle. A tremendous bargain with a creamy green apple and lemon flavor, tiny bubbles, and refreshing acids. Highly recommended.

    Vilarnau Brut Reserva Rosé NV ($15.99) - a blend of 85% Trepat and 15% Pinot Noir and also aged more than 15 months in bottle. Fruit forward profile of creamy strawberries, a little less effervescence, but noticeable acids.  Another nice value.

Featured Visit

White Oak Vineyards & Winery; Healdsburg, California - Thursday, July 03, 2008
Since we enjoyed the drive through Alexander Valley, we decided to return to Napa via that route and if possible visit another winery. We had previously spotted White Oak Vineyards & Winery and its Mediterranean-style buildings and arrived just minutes before closing. The tasting room employees merrily greeted us and as we tasted the wines, we learned more about the winery’s history. After a career as a building contractor and salmon fisherman, Bill Myers relocated to Healdsburg in the 1970’s. He purchased a vineyard from proceeds from selling his fishing boat and purchased a vineyard in the Alexander Valley. Winemaking soon followed. Over time he gained a reputation for producing quality Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc. In 1997 he expanded his vineyard capability by aligning with Burdell Properties, who purchased vineyards in Napa Valley and the Russian River Valley. A little later the existing tasting room was built, surrounded by seventeen acres of Zinfandel vines first planted approximately eighty years ago.

Although we were hoping to try an Alexander Valley supplied wine, we started out our tasting with two Russian River Valley whites, their Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Finally, some white wine. The Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc is now the winery’s signature wine; it is a refreshing wine with nice acidity and citrus flavors. This is your wine for a hot afternoon. And priced at $16 well within our budget. The Chardonnay has more of an apple flavor with a slight oaky finish. This is a good wine – it should fare well alone or with a meal. The first round of reds were big wines from Napa Valley grown grapes: a Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines were all very good, but we preferred the Merlot above the others. It had a cherry-chocolate flavor and a tail that lasted through the next sip. And at $24 it is very reasonably priced – maybe the best bargain in the area. Since we were hoping to taste an Alexander Valley wine, our courteous reps poured us samples of the 2005 Estate Zinfandel and the 2004 Estate Reserve. BTW, this is a very relaxed group. They came out to play with our son and were overjoyed when a couple strolled in with their two small dogs. Getting back to wine, the Estate Zinfandel was very smooth – slightly spicy – but smooth. Although it had a full-bodied fruit flavor it was also a bit earthy; another great Zinfandel. White Oak Vineyards & Winery was a great final stop for the day. Great wines, good company, and a fountain to play in.

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