Category Archives: beer

What goes into a Judges’ Rating?

How do you rate?

Recently, a reader wrote to me about judges and wine ratings and who to trust when looking up new wines. And also what websites, books and magazines could give the most accurate information? One friend “whips out his iPhone and uses an app that gives him “instant” ratings as he scans wine labels in the store. I couldn’t agree with most of those ratings that I saw.”

Experienced wine and beer writers, sommeliers, cicerones and judges have elaborate descriptions and usually use the 100-point system. As a former wine shop owner, I can tell you that higher ratings do sell better than one that is not rated.

Higher ratings also naturally make a difference in the awareness of the product and probably the enjoyment. It really shouldn’t, but it does. Can you trust that a 90-plus point wine is as good when you taste it blind not knowing its score? It all comes back to tasting experience, reading and knowing what you like.

As a lauded wine expert, I have blind-tasted a bunch over the years. It’s a wonderful opportunity to taste something and decide whether I like it or not. When that decision is finally made, the pedigree of the bottle is revealed along with the price. Sometimes I agree with the rating, sometimes I’m certain we’re not talking about the same wine.

Recently, I was asked to play the guess-what-this-grape-is game. I’m good deciding if I like a beer or wine, but not so good at this. Recalling the last 10 minutes of dinner conversation regarding Rhone-style wines recently purchased, I guessed a Rhone-style blend. Nope, it was a Sangiovese from a Washington winery that I greatly admire and has garnered many 90-plus point wines.

The moral of this story — will you still trust me in the morning, or will you search for beverages highly rated by other experts? And if so, how do you know the other expert is any better at this guessing game than I am? Does a rating or description factor into your bottle-buying habits or does some other influence work for you? All puzzling questions for an industry that gives objective ratings on a subjective subject.

With the internet, there has been a rise in amateur critics to choose from — Yelp, Ratebeer or Vavino to name a few. These and other sites allow those with the time and elucidation to opine (witticism intended) about their favorite — or not so favorite — products. Many of these ratings are from people that have a modicum of tastings under their belt.

Professionals have a broad experience, tasting hundreds, even thousands of product in a day or a month. With that broad experience, you have a better understanding of what to expect from a producer, style or region. They can deduce a lot about a product just from reading the label.

I remember the day I blind tasted over 80 red wines in one day. I was judging for the Puyallup Fair’s amateur wine competition. My job was to taste, score and award the best wines. Seventeen other judges and I sat at tables of three and scored each wine brought to us on the traditional 20-point system, which quantifies aroma, color, palate and overall impression. I was assigned the red wine table. Even after spitting out every wine I tasted, by lunch my tongue was black, my teeth purple and I wanted a cold beer with my sandwich.

After lunch, it was back to the judging. I was not looking forward to this, but low and behold, the best wine of the day was presented to our table that afternoon. It was a beautifully balanced blend of blackberry and merlot. I can still remember the taste.

That experience and many others like it have shaped how I choose a bottle of wine or beer. I do utilize some of the ratings and I confess that a 90-plus wine or beer does have a certain appeal. But who does the actual description or rating is of great importance. Because of years of experience, I’ve come to know some of the critics’ palates and how they align with my likes and dislikes.

That’s one of the keys to choosing a bottle of beer or wine. A trusted producer or critic or favorite grape or region influences my decision in addition to the many tastings over the many years. So trust me when I say that a 90-plus rating, pretty label or flowery description should not be the singular reason to buy that bottle.

The 100-point rating system began in the early 1980s, when Robert Parker, a lawyer turned wine critic, developed a scale that has dominated the rating system. His 100-point scale is 96–100 – Extraordinary; 90–95 – Outstanding; 80–89 – Above average to very good; 70–79 – Average; 60–69 – Below average; 50–59 – Unacceptable.

Ratings are a subjective score given to a particular batch of wine or beer or cider. Ratings could be assigned by a critic or team of critics and would be based on quality as determined by each individual critic.

During the scoring process, wines, beers and other libations are tasted blind; tasters have no knowledge of label, price or lack of pedigree other than it may be a Cabernet, an IPA or a cider. Their tastings are performed blind, although reviewers may know style, variety or region but never the producer or price.

Imagine a group of tasters reviewing more than 15,000 wines each year in blind tastings before publishing anywhere between 700 to 1,800 reviews a year. Using the 100-point rating system, this international magazine has built a following over the years. There is a big difference in this rating system: it’s a group of tasters that changes every so often. A collective palate rather than one individual palate is harder to gauge.

So the key to deciphering a wine rating is finding a critic you can trust. Keep in mind, the best way to find a wine critic you trust, is to try a few different wines and see which critic you agree with the most. Until you find a critic that you trust, take all wine ratings with a grain of salt, continue to read and choose bottles you think are good. Blind taste them and take notes!

Blind tastings are educational, for novice and critic alike. Never stop reading — books, magazines and newspapers, and websites contribute to the knowledge about the who, what, why and where of that tasty beverage in your glass. Cheers!

Aged Beers and Craft Breweries

With all the holiday and birthday celebrations, a veritable cascade of craft beers flowed into my glass: Some aged, some hopped, many rich, many malty and all made by craft brewers.

Craft brewers are small, innovative brewers. Small is defined as an annual production of 6 million barrels or less. Craft beer is usually made with the traditional ingredients of malted barley, yeast and hops for a variety of different styles, but employing interesting techniques and innovative ingredients creates even more styles to choose from. Think bourbon barrel aging or adding maple syrup or raisins.

In 2017, there were a record number of craft breweries in the United States – over 6,000. As of July of this year, there were 6,655 United States breweries, the most in history. This surpasses 1873 — yes, 1873 — when there were 4,176 breweries in the 37 United States.

European craft breweries are still ahead with over 8,500. Statistics show 6,071 craft breweries in seven leading countries in Europe in 2017. The United Kingdom has the largest number with over 2,000, followed by Germany with 1,295.

As a result, most of us live within 10 miles of a craft brewer or two or six. And if each craft brewer made six beers, well, you get the picture. There are many beers in this world. Each made with a different combination of malted grains, hops and yeast.

There are hundreds of yeast varieties. In 1841, yeast was identified as the prime engineer of fermentation. Since then, yeast strains have been cultivated and redesigned for their unique aromas and flavors.

In the beginning, styles of beer were driven by climate. For instance, colder regions used yeast that could ferment at colder temperatures. Today, craft breweries use clean cultures of yeast for better control of fermentation. Wild yeast is everywhere and can cause off-aromas and flavors. However, there are some breweries that use wild yeasts with great success, predominantly in the Lambic beers of Belgium.

In the beginning, there were the noble hop varieties of East Kent Goldings, Fuggle, Hallertauer, Saaz and Tettnang. Now, some of the trendiest hop varieties are, like cultured yeasts, cultivated for unique aromas and flavors.

Hops are used in four ways: bittering, aroma, fresh and dual. Bittering hops, most likely in IPAs, tend to have a high amount of acid and the accompanying bitter flavor. Aroma hops have less acid and more complex aromas. Most brewers use both at different stages of the fermentation process.

Fresh hop means the beer was made from hops that were harvested less than 24 hours before the beer was brewed. Naturally, these beers are brewed during harvest season. Dual hops have high levels of alpha acids (bitterness) and ample aromas.

Hops are the spice of craft beers. Some are tropical, others piney, some earthy, some floral and some hops have more alpha acids, which contributes to bitterness.

Traditional hops originated in Germany and England. Others were bred in the last century, such as Centennial bred for its aroma, Nugget, a resiny bittering hop, and the popular American-bred Willamette.

These days, designer hops have become fashionable — like Mosaic, Citra and Simcoe. And new hop varieties are continuing to be bred resulting in brews that may taste and smell of tropical, lemon, blueberry, tangerine and grapefruit. Others have pronounced piney, spicy, rosy, herbal or even a bubble gum character.

At a recent beer geek birthday party, eight of us tasted a bunch of beers. Most of those beers came from cellars and the resultant tasting was mind-boggling. Many of these beers come in small bottles of 8 or 10 ounces. Here’s what we tasted:

Although not aged in a cellar, Rogue’s 8 hop (8.88%) and 10 hop (10.10%) IPAs are richly brewed from hops grown on Rogue Farm. In the 10 Hop, Liberty, Independence, Revolution, Keven, Adair, Rebel, Newport, Yaquina, Freedom and Alluvial hops were used.

Belgian beers are favored by this group of craft beer fans. Sound Brewery Tripel Entendre (9.9%) and Entendez Noel, a Belgian Style Pale Quadrupel (11.8%), were pulled from the cellar.

Brouwerij Lindemans Cuvee Renee was a beautiful Oude Kriek Lambic ale made with cherries and wild yeast that was lost in someone’s cellar for a few years. Another masterpiece was Liefmans Cuvee Brut, an aged ale made with cherries and cherry juice, barley malt, sugar and wild yeast.

Dogfish Head Raison D’Extra, pushing the Belgian yeast to 15%, is brewed with “an obscene” amount of malt and raisins. 

And the hilariously-labeled-but-totally-delicious He’Brew the Chosen Beer Jewbelation, a Sazerac Rye Whiskey barrel-aged ale, is a Hanukah brew similar to a Christmas or Winter beer style.

Another wonderful winter beer was a 2015 Silver City Bourbon Barrel Old Scrooge (9.6%), and the Austrian Samichlaus Helles, a malt liquor of 14%.

Sam Adams 1995 Triple Bock — brewed with malted barley, noble hops and maple syrup — was aged in whiskey barrels. A first, back in 1995.

The Orkney Brewery’s Skull Splitter, named after Thorfinn Einarsson the 7th Viking Earl of Orkney, comes in a 330 ml bottle, which is a good thing for this rich, sweet dessert beer with an ABV 8.5%.

Not only was this a wonderful celebration of a couple of holiday birthdays, but watching the Seahawks clinch a berth in the playoffs made for hearty cheers!

Oktoberfest begins in September

Fall seasonal beers are beginning to be released. Fresh hop ales, made from freshly harvested hops and soon the ubiquitous pumpkin flavored beers will be showing up on the shelves. It’s also the traditional time for king of festival beers – Oktoberfest.

Before refrigeration, beer was often made from autumn into spring. Summer fermentation was too chancy. Beer made in March (Märzen), was the last practical month for brewing and it was lagared in ice caves and ready for consumption in late summer. By the time cooler fermenting weather came about sometime around Oktober, the harvest of hops and grains were ready too.

These lagers were dark (dunkel), made exclusively with a kilned malt that really defined their bier. Today, that malt is used around the world and known as Munich malt.

Oktoberfest is a signal that lighter summer beers are shifting to a beer with a little more heft. A beer with amber hues, lightly kilned malty flavors, medium body and the body of a lagar.

This is no crisp hoppy IPA, hops in an Oktoberfest beer are restrained, and decidedly of the noble German variety. These beers are perfect matches for bratwurst, schnitzel and other hearty harvest fare.

All this leads up to the world’s most famous beer festival in Munich. Oktoberfest, the festival, is an annual event that celebrates harvest, beer and food.

In heaven there is no beer, because it’s all drunk at Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival which begins in September not in October. During the 16-day event in 14 big beer tents and a dozen smaller ones, over 3 million visitors drink 11 million liters of beer, munch on pig’s knuckles, roasted oxen (60 in 2016) and chicken (22,000 in 2016). There are parades, shooting galleries, crossbow competitions and, of course, lots of music.

It all started back in 1810, when a couple of Bavarian royals got married and invited the whole city of Munich to come to the celebration. Today, the Munich Oktoberfest continues the tradition of opening 15 days before the first Sunday in October.

As you can well imagine, things get lost at the world’s largest beer festival. Here’s the official list from Oktoberfest 2016 lost and found office: 350 pieces of wardrobe, 350 passports, 120 wallets, 110 smartphones, 211 pairs of glasses, 100 umbrellas, 85 keys, 35 bags and backpacks, 30 pieces of jewelry, 10 cameras, one flugelhorn, one Napoleon-hat, one monk’s robe, one limited edition Oktoberfest mug (price tag: 120 Euro), two wedding rings (both engraved), two paddles, two blood sugar analyzers and a pair of red high heels.

Other cities around the world have Oktoberfest celebrations that are modeled after the original Munich event. If you can’t afford the airfare, Oktoberfest in Bavarian modeled Leavenworth is the next best thing to being in Munich.

This year, four venues serve up German and Washington beer, bratwurst, schnitzel, and pretzels. There is live entertainment and free shuttles in Leavenworth and affordable shuttle routes all the way to Wenatchee.

The Keg Tapping Ceremony happens each Saturday at 1:00 pm. This Bavarian tradition has Leavenworth’s Mayor tapping the first keg just like in Munich.

It begins Friday, October 5th and runs each Friday and Saturday until October 20th. Friday’s are 6pm until midnight and Saturday’s run from noon until 1am. Tickets are $10 on Fridays and $20 on Saturday. Food and drink can be purchased inside the festival with either cash or plastic.

More details here http://www.leavenworthoktoberfest.com/

Washington’s Largest Munich-style Oktoberfest takes place the weekend of October 5, 6 and 7 indoors at the Washington State Fair Events Center in Puyallup.

Two Festhalles, the Munich Festhalle and Bavarian Festhalle dish up authentic food and bier. Bavarian Bier-lympics entertainment includes Hammerschlagen®, a Brat Toss – think football toss only with a bratwurst, Stein Holding – how long can you hold a full stein, arm extended, and a Keg Rolling contest.  Hammerschlagen® is a Pacific Northwest bar game. The goal is to drive a nail into a cross section of wood faster than your opponents.

The 11th Annual Running of the Wieners starts at 11:00am on Sunday the 7th. Dachshunds compete in various races and competitions. The races benefit local rescues chosen by race organizers NW Wiener Races. Visit their website for more details: https://www.oktoberfestnw.com/

Oktoberfest Weekend at The Hub in Gig Harbor begins this weekend and runs through October. Harmon Brewing is behind the fun and games. This festival has  live music, games, and beer. A stein holding competition grand prize winner will win a trip for two to Leavenworth’s Oktoberfest. And there is the HarmonSchlagen, a brat eating contest, an Oktoberfest Trivia contest, Tapping the Firkin Keg and Sunday’s Hangover Breakfast.

These guys really want you to succeed! They’ve even published a training manual for Stein Holding. You can read about it and other info here: https://www.harmonbrewingco.com/oktoberfest/

Fremont’s Oktoberfest 2018 happens on September 21st through the 23rd at NW Canal Street and North 35th Street in Seattle. This weekend of beer features a wide variety of microbrews and German beers, live music, and chainsaw pumpkin carving contest.https://fremontoktoberfest.com/about/how-it-works/

 

Probst!

Raising a Stein to Homebrewing

In the early 1980s, a craft beer boom sprouted. This was largely the result of Congress approving a resolution that legalized homebrewing — a resolution our founding fathers didn’t see the need for, I would like to point out, since beer, cider and wine were always part of their everyday meals.

Today, beer-making is now as popular as it was in 1787 when the Constitution was drafted and signed – in a tavern.

There were a few beer explorers that catapulted this recent beer-making boom. One of the most influential is the legendary Charlie Papazian, a nuclear engineer, home brewer and author. Papazian founded the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) in 1978 and wrote the bible of homebrewing, “The Complete Joy of Home Brewing,” in 1984. Throughout this book, you will read Papazian’s famous homebrewing motto: “Relax. Don’t Worry. Have a homebrew.”

The American Homebrewers Association’s 47,000 members brew beer, cider and mead. The AHA estimates there over a million homebrewers in the United States. Of those homebrewers, an astounding 40 percent began homebrewing within the last four years.

And the number of licensed craft brewers has skyrocketed from eight in 1980 to over 6,000 in 2018. Many of these licensed brewers started out in their garages experimenting with hops, grinding grains and cooking up some pretty unusual brews like pumpkin porters, oyster stouts and grapefruit weizen.

AHA also founded and organizes the Great American Beer Festival, Homebrew Con, the World Beer Cup and Big Brew. These events provide a platform for homebrewers to compete and hone their fermentation skills.

Big Brew is BIG! Homebrewers worldwide gather to brew a batch of beer and raise a stein to toast both Papazian and their passion for homebrewed beer, mead and cider. Thousands participate in the simultaneous toast, which happens Saturday at 10 a.m.

This year’s official recipes — Rocky Raccoon’s Honey Lager and Dusty Mud Irish-style Stout — were chosen by Papazian.

On the Kitsap Peninsula, Big Brew is an annual event for the West Sound Brewers . Last year, eight groups began brewing around 9:30 in the morning and by 3 p.m. had made 55 gallons of beer. While watching their kettles boil, they relaxed with a homebrew and discussed systems, hops and recipes.

Since May 2, 1992, this homebrew club, conceived by Silver City’s award-winning brewmaster Don Spencer, has been dedicated to promoting the homebrewing hobby and an appreciation of the many styles of beers.

It’s a great group to join if you’re interested in learning or improving your beer-making. Spencer is not the only West Sound Brewers member to go professional. The Thomas Kemper Brewery, which closed in 1996, was the experiential learning ground for some early club members. Spencer started there. Former Thomas Kemper brewer and founding WSB member, Don Wyatt, opened Hood Canal Brewery in 1996. Club members Mark Hood, Brad Ginn and founding member Alan Moum launched Sound Brewery in Poulsbo.

Other notables include Rande Reed, Tom Chase and Pete Jones. Rande Reed and Pete Jones moved to Pyramid in Seattle and Tom Chase brewed Fish Tale Ales in Olympia. Reed later moved to Snoqualmie Brewery.

Big Brew is just one of the 12 themed monthly meetings hosted by club members. Wood Fest, Cask Fest, Octoberfest and January’s Barleywine meeting will give you a taste of what this club is brewing.

Everyone is welcome to this craft beer club whether you brew or not. Join the club by signing up on the website, www.westsoundbrewers.org.

Mary Earl has been educating Kitsap wine lovers for a couple of decades, is a longtime member of the West Sound Brew Club and can pair a beer or wine dinner in a flash. She volunteers for the Clear Creek Trail, is a former member of the Central Kitsap Community Council and a longtime supporter of Silverdale.

Craft Brewing began in Belgium

In Belgium, craft brewing was probably launched in the 13th century with the emergence of guilds and regulations. Brewers began adding fruits, herbs and spices to the fermenting batch of brew. Beer was aged in barrel and fermented multiple times, much like a sparkling wine.

The connection to wine began when Burgundy’s extensive realm at one time included Belgium. The influence on the beer industry can be seen today in beer bottles with corks and bale, aging in wood and blending aged beer with freshly made batches.

Modern-day France and Belgium are both known for their food and drink. In fact, if you are particularly fond of your food and beer, Belgians may call you “Burgundian” rather than gourmand.

To ferment a basic beer, all you’ll need water, malt and hops. That’s how it was done in the middle ages when beer was also known as liquid bread. Back then wild fermentation was relegated to the religious orders who also happened to house the hospitals and hotels of the day. Like wine, beer was healthier to drink than water since the nasties were fermented out of the water. This is the reason why saints and abbeys are still seen on many labels.

How did a small country renown for fantastic fries, celebrated chocolate and exquisite lace come to be a world leader in beer? The answer lies in Belgium’s hybrid history and culture.

The country has three distinct regions: Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north, French-speaking Wallonia in the south and a German-speaking community to the east. Beer is produced in just about every city and village across this nation of 11 million plus people.

The beers from each region also have a wide range of flavors, from sour to fresh and fruity to big in flavor and octane. Many Belgian-style beers are bottle-conditioned or re-fermented in the bottle. Herbs such as coriander and licorice, spices such as pepper and ginger and apples, cherries and raspberries are de rigueur in the north and south regions of Belgium.

This wide range of beer styles includes abbey beers, an array of wheat beers and pilsners, brown ales, red beers, strong golden and brown ales, saisons and other regional specialties such as Karmeliet and Cantillon. Most unique are the austere, wild yeast Lambics, a relic from the time before yeast was cultivated.

Let’s fast forward to craft brews: take two. In the early 1980s, a California microbrewer started adding stuff to the homogenous light yellow lagers, rules changed, more stuff was added and craft brewing was all the rage. Thirty-some years later, there are over 350 craft breweries in Washington alone with over 6,000 jobs producing thousands of brews and raising $1.65 billion in revenue, according to the Washington Beer Commission.

The Washington Beer Commission’s 9th annual Belgian Fest had 40 Washington craft breweries serving over 100 Belgian-styled beers. There were tripels, dubbels, saisons, blondes, wits, sour and strong ales.

Being wine-biased, I naturally gravitated to brewers that had been aging their beers in wine barrels. Bale Breaker’s Joindre Dubbel spends time in Cabernet Franc barrels. Black Raven poured the Les Oiseaux saison, La Mort Rouge strong ale, and 5×6 sour cherry, all of which showed immense complexity and balance.

Spokane’s Iron Goat Brewing went to a lot of work for their Brett d’Or du Claret. The complexity of this one comes from blending a 2 and 4-year-old golden ale, then fermenting again in Barrister Merlot and Cab Franc barrels with crushed grapes. The beautiful rose-colored beer is layered with fruit, tart and crisp.

Fremont’s Biere de Garde is aged in French oak for seven months, and Mount Vernon’s Farmstrong Brewing’s Wild Farmhouse Ale is aged in a Betz family barrel. Paradise Creek out of Pullman aged its Daily Dubbel in French oak for two years. This single barrel beer had nuances of brett, tartness and balancing sweetness.

Silver City Brewery poured its Giant Made of Shadows, a blend of the 2016 aged in bourbon barrels and the 2017 aged in port barrels. This strong ale is a hefty 10.5 percent alcohol balanced by dark fruit and caramel aromas and flavors. Please pass the Belgian chocolates.

Another style unique to Belgium is the sour beer. The introduction of lactic acid in the brewing process imparts a sharp and acidic tart taste. Sour beer, typically a red beer or oud bruin (old brown), is an acquired taste. But, sour beers are among the most versatile beers to pair with just about any dish because of that tartness.

Silver City poured its Luminous Libation tripel, a Chardonnay barrel aged beer with lots of apple and spice character and refreshing crispness. Also aged for two years in a Chardonnay barrel was the Charming Disarmer peach sour that is subtly tart, crisp with a little vanilla on top of its peachiness.

Matchless Brewing in Tumwater brought a taste of its Blueberry Sour, a 100 percent Munich malt sour ale made with 100 pounds of blueberries. Thick, rich with blueberry sweetness to balance the tartness.

From Seattle, Lantern Brewing had the most beautiful rose-colored sour wheat ale with beets and other fruit flavors. Beautiful!

And lastly, one of my favorite Belgium beer styles – Saison or Farmhouse Ale. Traditionally made with surplus ingredients and poured for laborers, it has evolved to have some of the most interesting flavors in beer. Anacortes Peppercorn Saison is made with four types of peppercorns — savory to say the least.

Diamond Knot’s gin barrel-aged saison was aged in Copperworks Northwest gin barrels. Very botanical. Figurehead Brewing was a not to be missed 1710 Saison with lavender and rosemary that also has that botanical nose, was light bodied and was very refreshing. Another gorgeously colored saison from Matchless Brewing: Pink Moon saison.

You may want to catch the Washington Beer Commission’s eighth annual open house on Saturday, Feb. 24 from noon to 5 p.m. More than 140 Washington breweries will open their doors and offer rare and unique beers, behind-the-scene tours and a chance to talk beer with the brewers.

 

Red Wine and Chocolate Events

There are many opportunities in the next couple of months to taste and learn. February has a plethora of Red Wine and Chocolate events around the state. These tastings lead into March designated as Washington Wine Month and culminating in the grandest grand tasting of Washington wines in the nation.

But first, one of my favorite listen, taste and learn events is the Belgian Beer Fest organized by the Washington Beer Commission. The 9th Annual Festival will take place this year at the Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion where there will be over 100 Belgian Beer styles crafted by Washington breweries.

Belgian beers are unique in the beer world. This amazing beer region has a myriad of styles including Saisons, Wits, Lambics, Dubbels, Tripels and Abbeys. Many are made with wild yeast, fresh fruit and aged hops. Traditional brewing methods blending new with aged and aging in neutral oak for a couple of years.

Way before bourbon barrel aged stouts, Oud Bruins (old brown) were aged and blended old with new. They tend, in my opinion to be more wine like than beer like. For years, I could convert a wine only aficionado or at least have them concede that a Belgian Lambic was almost as good as a sparkling wine.

This is truly a new adventure for IPA fans but you could still sport the standard beer fest accessory – a pretzel necklace. The event is Saturday, January 27th, at the Fisher Pavilion in the Seattle Center. There are two sessions, the first from 12-4pm and the second from 5:30-9:30 pm. Tickets are $37 in advance or $45 at the door. But you take your chances at the door where limited tickets are available. The later session always sells out.

Admission includes a tasting glass and 10 tasting tokens. Each taste is 4 oz. so a tasting companion is a good idea. As of this weekend, there are 4 food trucks and about 40 breweries for your tasting pleasure. You can check out who’s bringing what here: https://washingtonbeer.com/festivals/belgianfest.php

Next on the fun and exciting things to do calendar is Wine on the Rock. Wine on the Rock is a two-day wine and chocolate affair held at each of the seven Bainbridge wineries.

This year, Amelia Wynn, Bainbridge Vineyards, Eagle Harbor Wine, Eleven Winery, Fletcher Bay Winery, Perennial Winery and Rolling Bay Winery will pour their wines and serve up tasty tidbits of chocolate, February 10 and 11, from noon until 5p.

Tickets are good for both days for one visit per winery if you wanted to check all seven out and includes a commemorative wine glass and a wine tote to take your treasures home with you. Purchase your tickets here: https://www.bainbridgewineries.com/special-events

And if you want to venture a little further afield, there is a Red Wine, Cider & Chocolate tour on the Olympic Peninsula February 10th and 11th, and 17th and 18th from 11:00am to 5:00pm. Tickets include wine glass, wine tasting and chocolate samples at all nine OPW Wineries & Cideries. Online tickets are $40 and remaining tickets will be sold for $45 at participating wineries, on a first come basis. A $10 wine tasting fee will be charged at each winery for non-ticketed visitors.

Beginning in Port Angeles, you’ll find award winning wines at Camaraderie, located at 334 Benson Road and check out one of my favorite Washington wineries, Harbinger on the west side of Port Angeles. They serve up award winning wines, local beers on tap, and handmade chocolates every day.

Founded in 1979, Olympic Cellars was Washington’s 15th bonded winery. It was founded by Gene Neuharth who planted an experimental vineyard next to his winery in Sequim. The vineyard and winery were later relocated to Port Angeles in a 100+ historic barn.

Their Dungeness Series is a nod to Neuharth and the winery’s first name. They also produce Working Girl wines, a nod to the three women who work hard at this award winning winery.

Around Port Townsend, FairWinds Winery will be pouring tastes of Lemberger and other hearty reds. They are the only winery in the state that I know of that produces a little known white grape called Aligote’, a native of Burgundy. Other rare finds are the Fireweed Mead and the Port O’Call, a wine made for chocolate.

Eaglemount Wine and Cider has moved to Port Townsend at 1893 South Jacob Miller Road. The new digs have plenty of room for dinners, dances and receptions and a guest house.

In 2006, Eaglemount started making ciders from over 30 varieties of heirloom apples on their 1883 homestead orchard. Grapes for their red wines are sourced from eastern Washington and processed at the winery. Their red wines and hard ciders have won double gold, gold, silver and bronze medal at numerous competitions.

The main focus at Wind Rose Cellars is Italian varieties, primarily Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Primitivo, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese and Orange Muscat. Orange Muscat is definitely a chocolate match even if it’s not red.

The oldest AVA in Washington state also has the oldest running Red Wine and Chocolate event. The weekend of February 17th and 18th over 40 wineries in the Yakima Valley AVA will be pouring tastes of fine wines and nibbling on decadent chocolates from 10:00am until 5:00pm.

Wineries from Yakima, Zillah, Prosser and Red Mountain will be offering a weekend of divine decadence with the Premier Pass, which gives you a variety of specialty food pairings, library tastings, and tours not available to the general public. Premier Passes are available for $35 at the door at select wineries during the event weekend. For more information, www.wineyakimavalley2@msn.com

And finally, Taste Washington is the most decadent of wine events. Exclusive pours from world-class vintners, gourmet bites from great restaurants and private food and farm tours are events you don’t want to miss.

It’s impossible to sample everything at the Grand Tasting, I know, I’ve made valiant efforts. Thank goodness there are two days to enjoy the very best Washington State has to offer. More info: http://tastewashington.org/wineries-2018/

Beer & Wine can be part of Health Resolutions

In the new year, we sometimes make resolutions. We’ve all done it at one time or another — deciding to get fit, diet or enjoy life to the fullest. It’s a tradition that dates back to the Babylonians who made promises to their gods they would return borrowed objects and repay their debts.

Other religious traditions required one to reflect upon one’s wrongdoings over the year and both seek and offer forgiveness. The concept of resolutions, regardless of what religion, is to act upon self-improvement.

After the indulgences of the holidays, it’s time to be a bit more disciplined. Practicing a regimen with foods that contain the right amount of nutrients, antioxidants and fiber can be delicious — especially when it involves a healthy glass of red wine or beer.

Red wine may have a significant effect on cholesterol levels (“may” because studies have shown good results but …) On top of lowering bad cholesterol, polyphenols, which are the antioxidants in red wine, can help keep blood vessels flexible and reduce plaque forming in your arteries.

Antioxidants are believed to fight infection and protect cells against the effects of free radicals, which may play role in diseases. The skin of red grapes is a rich source of a polyphenol called resveratrol, which may (there’s that word again) help regulate blood sugar and systolic blood pressure. Resveratrol may also be the key to keeping your memory sharp.

The hops, yeast, and grains in beer contribute to health with a small amount of B vitamins, potassium (strong bones and teeth), phosphorus and folate. Beer also is one of a few significant dietary sources of silicon, which research shows may help prevent osteoporosis. That silicon in your pint is an essential mineral for bones.

Another study that I’ve been hearing about for a few years is that beer can keep bacteria from forming and growing on your teeth and gums. Biofilm (gelatinous masses of microorganisms capable of attaching to virtually any surface) promote tooth decay and gum disease. Never fear, just have beer!  Beer is at its best blocking interaction between bacteria, slowing its growth. My kind of mouthwash.

Hops also have anti-inflammatory properties. Being an essential ingredient in most beers, hops have been found to interfere with inflammation. Forget the ibuprofen, pop me an IPA.

Living in the great Northwest where beer, wine and salmon are readily available, gives us our first nutritious meal. Steamed salmon with ginger and scallions. There are lots of Omega 3s in the salmon, powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in the ginger, and scallions have calcium, iron and vitamin A, C and K.

To accompany this delicious dish, I recommend an Alsatian Gewurztraminer, which is fragrant, dry and full-bodied. Another wonderful pairing would be Harbinger’s La Petite Fleur another aromatic wine that is a blend of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling. It’s the perfect match for seafood. For a beer pairing, go with the Pyramid Apricot Wheat. It’s fruity and crisp in all the right places.

“Buckwheat is sweet, relaxes the nerves, eases irritability and helps clear out the stomach,” a 1697 Japanese nutritional text reportedly proclaimed. Soba noodles are made from buckwheat, which contains rutin (a compound that lowers cholesterol) and thiamine, an enzyme used by the body to metabolize food for energy and to maintain proper heart and nerve function. Another nutrient in soba, choline, is good for the liver, which may be why this soup is good for you after a night out on the town.

Soba noodle soup with mushrooms, onions and chicken would warm you up on a cold winter’s night. If you top it with diced serranos, a bottle of Sound Brewery’s Dubbel would pair nicely. Or you could skip the serranos and open a bottle of Ponzi Classico Pinot Noir because mushrooms and Pinot Noir are a classic pairing.

Heart-healthy, lentils contain protein, B vitamins and soluble fiber and much like mushrooms, they attract the flavors and aromas of the spices in the pot. Cumin and ginger aid digestion, and turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties. And don’t skimp on the garlic! It’ll keep the vampires away.

Even though its strong aromas can last a while, garlic has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. Its disease fighting instinct comes from its sulfur compounds, which act as antioxidants, providing many of its cardiovascular benefits. Garlic acts as a blood thinner, reducing the formation of blood clots and your risk of heart attack or stroke.

Another hearty and healthy winter soup is made from lentils, spinach and garlic. Please pass the Syrah. Lentils are healthy and budget-friendly with loads of protein and plenty of dietary fiber, iron and high in folate, a nutrient that supports reproductive health, the cardiovascular system and the brain.

Add spinach to your soup to protect your eyes from macular degeneration. With its high concentration of vitamin K, spinach can help maintain bone density. The green stuff is also a source of potassium and magnesium as well as folate, all of which can keep blood pressure low.

For snacking or a sweet treat, blueberries have — like red wine — anthocyanins that protect you from heart disease, age-related blindness and memory loss. And they are delicious with dark chocolate. Without the sugar, dark chocolate is an extremely healthy snack packed with the same antioxidants that are also found in red wine.

From disease-fighting antioxidants to heart-healthy fats, these delicious and nutritious dishes, beverage suggestions and the health benefits are here to help you improve.

The best part is drinking a bottle of wine or beer tends to be a group activity, which makes everyone happy and that has its own amazing health benefits. So, cheers to the new you.

Holiday Traditions and Memorable Dinners

The holiday season has its traditions. For some, it’s putting up twinkling lights, last-minute shopping, and celebratory parties. For me, it’s memorable dinners.

My holiday wining and dining kickoff is at Seaview’s Shelburne Inn. The Wild Mushroom and Pike Brewing Dinner, now in its eighth year, has one common ingredient in each course — wild mushrooms. And more often than not, a splash of Charles and Rose Ann Finkel’s accompanying brews.

A few of the memorable dishes over the years were a cedar planked salmon with Man on Horseback mushrooms, lemon confit and pine nut relish; a duck and Porcini mushroom pie; Canary, Delicioso and Red Russula mushrooms, squash and white cheddar gratin; a luscious deconstructed Lobster mushroom lasagna; and an incredible elk shoulder pastrami bruschetta with Anjou pear and King Boletus mushrooms.

Sometimes, even the dessert has mushrooms. Sounds sort of weird, but the house-made Pike Stout ice cream in a Porcini Florentine cookie topped with pumpkin caramel and Porcini brittle was so decadent, I might have licked the plate.

This year, we sat down to a cream of wild mushroom soup with a touch of cayenne perfectly paired to Pike’s Hive Five Honey Ale. For this ale, Pike Brewing collaborated with the Salish Lodge. On the hillside above the famed lodge are their beehives and their honey used to make this gold medal-winning ale.

Perfectly paired with the Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale was a pretzel sandwich stuffed with a pork and wild mushroom sausage, peppers and more mushrooms. Next up was a pan-seared king salmon with sautéed wild mushroom and a huckleberry demi-glace accompanied by Pike’s Monk’s Uncle, a Belgian tripel-style ale. Then an elk sirloin with a wild mushroom risotto partnered with Pike’s Entire Imperial Russian Stout 2016.

A longtime fan of wine, I asked if we could enjoy a bottle of wine with these wonderful mushroom dishes. The salmon and the elk and mushroom risotto were outstanding with Knudsen’s Pinot Noir.

Another pre-holiday tradition is a harvest potluck with friends. For that occasion, it was another Oregon Pinot that stole the show.

We began with a Kitzke 2011 Red Mountain Nebbiolo, salami and cheese. Nebbiolo is the late-ripening grape of the Barolo and Barbaresco regions of northwest Italy. Traditionally, Barolos can be long-lived, 15 to 25 years; Barbarescos, the more approachable, in 5 to 10 years.

Before Barolo can be released, it has to have been aged three years, two in cask and one in the bottle. This was because Barolo tended to be very high in tannins as a result of the traditional three-week fermentation on the skins.

That was the traditional way. The new generation is more inclined to produce a wine with an “international” profile that doesn’t need to age as long. This controversy has sparked the Barolo Wars.

The Nebbiolo was showing its age, in a good way — light in color, a slight brick rim and a silky mouthfeel. With only 30 months in neutral oak, the aromas and flavors showed traditional rose, faint cherry and a bit of tar.

Next, Raptor Ridge’s 2016 Chehalem Mountains Grüner Veltliner was a beautiful match to the Geoduck Carpaccio with Shichimi Togarashi citrus vinaigrette. An unusual find in the Pacific Northwest, Grüner Veltliner is a refreshing, peppery white wine with stone fruit flavors.

Chelan’s Cairdess Northern White accompanied the chicken white chili. This Rhône-style blend of Marsanne and Roussanne from Boushey and Lawrence Vineyards was packed with peach and mineral flavors.

The crowning glory of the dinner was the sous vide tri-tip steak. Sous vide (French for under vacuum) is a new kitchen gadget that’s like cooking in a hot tub. The meat evenly cooks in a baggie in a water bath for much longer time than normal. This ensures all the moisture is retained. The Tri-tip came out very rich, tender and silky.

We had two very different wines with this course. The first was the Domaine Drouhin Louise 2007 Pinot Noir. Not a great year for some producers, much depending on when the grapes were picked.

The 2007 spring came off without a glitch; summer was cooler than most without any heat spikes that could disrupt the growing season. Everything was great going into harvest — and then it rained.

Some picked early to get it in before the rains, but the grapes weren’t really ready. Some harvested between the rain events, hoping for some usable grapes even if they had not fully ripened. But those who waited while gnawing on their nails fared the best.

The Louise opened to tart cherries with a bit of leather and dust, the acidity was good and the color youthful for a 10-year-old wine. It was a very nice bottle.

Next, we poured a 2015 Yakima Valley Sheridan Cab. The difference was night and day, one elegant with age, the other elegant in its youth. Big and rich, ripe plums and pencil lead, this wine knocked our socks off. We were all grinning over the awesome aromas of plums, cassis and pencil lead.

But the pièces de résistance was the Domaine Drouhin Oregon Louise 2007, the “Rolls Royce of Oregon Pinots” according to our host. I agree. The Louise cuvée had the most compelling perfume.

From the Red Hills of Dundee, the grapes were handpicked, sorted, de-stemmed, and then slowly fermented. For each vintage, DDO focuses on a few favorite barrels that, once nurtured and blended, will become the Louise. Typically in barrel for 15 months, it maintains balance because they use only 20 percent new French oak.

The lesson learned is not to dismiss rainy vintages. Winemakers working with what Mother Nature gives in a cool vintage, have higher acid levels and lower alcohol levels than usual, and with patience, producing some of the most lovely, fragrant wines.

Cheers and happy holidays!

Bremerton Summer Brewfest

The 6th annual Bremerton Summer Brewfest will expand to two days this year! Located on the on the scenic Bremerton waterfront , just a hop, skip and a jump from the ferries, this Washington Beer Commission event features around 30 Washington breweries pouring more than 100 craft beers.

To celebrate summer, Washington brewers will be focusing on fruit-infused beers as they did last year. Remember the randall? Join the revelry at the Bremerton Summer Brewfest to learn from expert brewers while you enjoy live music and local food.

Dates & Times
Friday, July 15, 4pm-9pm
Saturday, July 16, Noon-6:30pm

Location
Bremerton Boardwalk

Tickets

$20 advance tickets/$25 at the door while supplies last ($15 for Military with valid ID)
Admission includes a commemorative tasting glass & six 5 oz. tastes; additional tokens – $2 each or three for $5. Washington Beer Lover members receive two bonus tokens with their passports

$20 tickets also available at these ticket outlets:
Cash Brewing in Silverdale
Der Blokken Brewer in Bremerton
Downpour Brewing in Kingston
Pike Brewing in Seattle
Silver City in Bremerton
Sound Brewery in Poulsbo

Roll out the Barrel Aged Beer

While browsing the Washington State Visitors’ Guide recently, an amusing thought occurred to me. We all know where wine country is but where is beer country?

In this visitor’s guide, fun trips for visiting family and friends included boom towns, bike trails, fairways, volcanoes, heli-skiing, islands, rain forests and wine country but nothing about beer country.

So I did an online search for beer country. Nada. No where. Another search for hop country was darned fascinating. There is no such thing as hop country but there is Hick Hop Country which is a concept pertinent to beer in unique ways.

When you think about Wine Country, you envision vineyards, barrel rooms and tasting bars. You know this is where they grow great grapes, ferment and age fabulous wines. Federal Law actually requires the wine labels to inform you where the grapes are from be it Barossa Valley, Burgundy or Bainbridge Island. And this helps you understand the importance of wine regions where the wine grapes are grown to the wine’s quality.

But most beer labels are woefully sparse on the origins of the grains and hops and how they’re treated in the fermentation process that will affect the final product. It doesn’t make sense that where grain and hops are grown doesn’t contribute to the quality of the brew, especially when you consider how much hops and grain are grown in Washington State.

Washington State produces 77% of the United States’ hop harvest. Washington hop growers raise both aroma and alpha variety hops. The majority of the hops produced in Washington are alpha and super alpha varieties. Alpha hops are designer hops, used as a bittering agent in your IPAs and other brews.

Traditional aroma varieties, Willamette, Cascade, and Mt. Hood have been grown in eastern Washington – aka Wine Country – for generations. The economic impact of the Washington beer industry contributes greatly to our state’s economic vitality. Revenue generated was in excess of $6 billion in 2014.

While many of us are proud of the wonderful award winning beers produced here in the Kitsap Peninsula, we are clearly behind in per capita consumption. In 2012, the United States drank 77.1 liters per person, with some doing more and others clearly not doing their part.

We rank 14th in per capita beer consumption behind the likes of Finland, Panama, Slovenia, Venezuela and other more obvious stein sloshing nations like the Czech Republic, Poland, Ireland and Germany. Astonishingly, IPA’s namesake, India, drinks 2 liters per capita which is the equivalent of 5.6 six packs.

Wine on the other hand, is an equally intriguing story. Not surprisingly, the majority of the highest ranking wine consumption countries are in Europe. Surprisingly, it’s the country of Vatican City that utterly dominates every other country, with 73.38 liters per capita in 2012. That is amazing considering there are only about 800 Roman Catholic adults in this country. France clocks in at 44.12 liters per capita. And Italy? 37.54 liters per capita.

Even Canada (11.70L) quaffed more wine than the United States, at a mere 10.33 liters per capita. The take away from this news is we, as a country need to give more beer and/or wine gifts.

We can start with our Christmas lists. Cross off sweaters and such and give a thoughtful gift of Eleven late harvest Viognier, Rolling Bay Syrah or Amelia Wynn Merlot.

On the beer side, I would highly recommend a barrel aged beer. Barrel aged beer is more complex, richer and concentrated. For thousands of years, beer was not only aged but brewed and transported in wood. Today, they’re boiled in copper kettles, fermented in stainless steel and for the most part, then bottled. But several years ago, the bourbon barrel made its grand entrance into the brewing world.

The law dictates that bourbon makers can only use a barrel once. After that first use, the expensive barrels are re-purposed. Bourbon barrels are sent around the world to age Scotch, Irish Whiskey, Sherry, and most recently, big beers.

Bourbon barrels aren’t the only containers brewers are using, either. Those creative folks also use sherry, wine, tequila, and rum barrels. At a recent barrel aged beer tasting, I tasted beer aged in bourbon, brandy, sherry, tequila, Viognier, Muscat, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay barrels. One beer was even made with grains, Grenache Blanc and Chardonnay grapes and fermented with both lager and champagne yeast.

deschutesHere are a few barrel aged beers that would make great stocking stuffers:

Deschutes The Abyss is imperial stout, partly aged in Bourbon, Pinot Noir, and new oak barrels.  Almanac’s Barrel Noir is a stout aged in tequila barrels. And Port Brewing Santa’s Little Helper is a quintessential bourbon barrel aged imperial stout, full of chocolate covered caramel flavors

Firestone Walker’s Anniversary Ales are always a blend of bourbon and brandy barrel aged beers. Most years the blend can be from as many as eight separate barrels of their Parabola, Stickee Monkee, Bravo and/or Velvet Merkin. The result is a masterful blended beer that is highly sought after and prized.  The perfect gift.

Scaldis Prestige NuitsScaldis Prestige de Nuits is a Belgian strong ale that’s aged in Burgundy barrels from Hospices de Nuits Saint Georges. This prestigious French Burgundy barrel caught my attention. The beer takes almost a year to produce and is fermented a total of three times. Once in tank, then in the wine cask, and finally in the bottle. And it’s a third of the price of a bottle of Hospices de Nuits Saint Georges.

Cheers!