Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Sacramento Beer Week: shoutouts to Folsom Brewmeister, Ed Carroll, Rick Sellers

February 23rd, 2010 Comments off

It’s Sacramento Beer Week. Check out the roster of events at the Sac Beer Week site.  Lots of great stuff and something for everybody.  On Sunday I attended the brewing demo at the Folsom Brewmeister.  The Gold Country Brewers Association (a local brewers club) brought in a mobile brewing station and brewed up 45 gallons of Wort. This was a full-grain brew; we also got to see one of the GCBA members do a five-gallon extract brew. Both demos were interesting and fun, lots of great questions and answers, not to mention the odor of brewing was incredible.

On Monday (yesterday) I went to the Inaugural Gala at the Colonial Theater.  Lots of good beer and cheer, plus Ed Carroll gave a great short presentation on the history of local breweries, and Rick Sellers (of Odonata) talked about modern brewing history.  Turns out that in the last 20 years there has been an explosion of craft brewers (anecdotal evidence abounds — lots of brewpubs opening up, retail beer shelves have devoted an increasing share to small producers).  Also interesting that Northern California played a strong role in the emergence of craft brewers.  Thanks Rick and Ed for two great presentations.

Also want to say the crowd at the Colonial was enthusiastic.  If you know what I mean.

Cheers!  Thanks for stopping by.

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Changing the world, one beer at a time

February 2nd, 2010 Comments off

I may have mentioned that I favor Belgian beers.  I tend to like Chimay Blue, but I’ve been known to drink Maredsous, Duvel, Affligem Dubbel to name a few.  Lately I’ve been drinking Kasteel Donker and Rouge.  And therein lies a story.  A story with castles, dogfish heads, IPA’s, cheeries, and intrigue.

Quite a while back I was at a local eatery called Burgers and Brew.  As you can tell from the beers I mentioned I like the bigger, heavier beers (Duvel is a bit lighter, but like the others has lots of flavor).  Now a place with the name “Burgers and Brew” wouldn’t seem to be a place that would have a great beer list, but they do.  I won’t say I’ve had every Belgian beer (not by a long shot!) but I’ve had a few so I’m a bit hard to surprise (or so I like to think).  Anyway I noticed they had something called “Kasteel Rouge” on their list; the name sounded familiar so I decided to give it a try.  It turned out to be a cherry-flavored ale, which I happen to like.  It was great.  A very big beer, port like, lot’s of flavor, dark and rich with 8% alcohol.  Good stuff.

Anyway I decided to stop in at one of my favorite purveyors of gourmet food, wine, beer and related items, which happens to be Corti Brothers. Darrell Corti is a local icon and an internationally known expert on wine, sherry and port.  His beer section is small but well stocked with some great beers.

But he didn’t have Kasteel on the shelf.  So I asked one of the managers if they could order it, and they did.  I stopped in about a week later and there it was: Kasteel Rouge. But wait, there’s more!  They ordered Kasteel Donker as well.  So I bought some of each and went on home.  It turns out the Donker is just as incredible as the Rouge — dark, 11% alcohol, big and port like, not much carbonation, malty.  Something you could have with a hearty beef stew, or a great round of bread and cheese.

But of course that really isn’t the end of the story.

A few months went by, I had forgotten about Kasteel Rouge and Donker, but I wanted a Chimay Blue, so I stopped back in Corti’s and grabbed one.  Now I should say that when shopping for beer I walk with determination and purpose.  I took hold of that beer like it had my name on it, stuck in my basket with practiced skill.  Which, as it so happens, did not go unnoticed.  I looked to my right and saw the Kasteel Rouge and Donker, so I deftly snatched them up and gently placed them in the basket next to the Chimay.  At that point I noticed a young man checking out some beers on the lower shelf under the Kasteel, using an iPhone to compare prices (or so I thought).   No matter, I went on with my shopping.

When visiting Corti I always browse the wines; I do this in much the same way people browse books at Powell’s — which is to say casually but with purpose.  I want to know what is available, I like to day dream about my next acquisition, plan my next tasting and etc.

So there I was, studying wine labels, and up walks the young man with the iPhone.  He has two beers in his hand,  a Kasteel Donker and a Maredsous.  He had seen me at the beer shelf, noticed my intensity and purpose and concluded I would have an opinion about beer.  And so I am, and so I do.

We talked for about 10 minutes.  It turned out his name was Steve, he was picking out beers for a tasting, which was also a beer brewing party (an “American Red” was the brew to be brewed), and he wanted my opinion on the two beers he had picked out.  Which of course I was happy to provide. He actually knew quite a bit about beers; and at one point he said that he did not take me for an IPA man (correct!) but given that we had talked about the relative merits of Duvel and the floral qualities of Belgian beers, there was a particular IPA that I might like.  At this point it became clear that he had been using his iPhone not to check prices, but to check beer reviews.

The IPA he directed me to was Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA.  I had heard of Dogfish Head before, but never had any of their beer.  The 90 Minute IPA comes in a 4-pack, and it’s pricey.  But “it might just be the best IPA in America” according to the blurb on the carton.  Did I mention I don’t like IPA’s? Not for about 20 years.  Too bitter.  And this IPA was expensive. But there I was, standing in Corti Brothers, one of the best grocery and gourmet food stores ever, in a well stocked and well appointed beer section, talking about great beers with a bright young man who used an iPhone to track beer reviews while shopping.  This was fate talking to me. So I bought the 4-pack.

Now 5:30 pm comes every day, right about the same time.  And right about then, I tend to starting thinking about how wonderful a glass of beer would be, or which wine I would like.  On this day 5:30 was slow to come around, because I had that Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA waiting for me.  Did I mention it could be the best IPA in America?  Did I mention it wouldn’t make much difference because I don’t like IPA?

By 5:30 the beer was gently cascading into one of my wine glasses, making that wonderful gurgling sound that beer makes when it’s time for beer.  And as much as I don’t like IPAs, this one probably is the best IPA in America.  The nose is as complex as any Alsatian Gewürztraminer you’ll ever have, the color is pale straw, and it is one big, rich complex beer.  At 9% it has a lot of body.  As expected a tremendous hoppy flavor up front, but there is also a spicy middle and a slightly fleeting sweet finish, followed up by a final taste of hops.  One of the best beers I’ve ever had, bar none.  And I still don’t like IPA.

I bought a couple more 4-packs to have and share.

Thanks to Steve for the recommendation!  And best wishes with your brew.

And thanks to all of you for stopping by.  Have a great day and we’ll see you soon.

Categories: "A" List, Life Tags:

PlumbBob goes sideways for a wine from downunder part II

December 20th, 2009 Comments off

You may recall last week I wrote about tasting the 2004 Schild Estate Barossa Shiraz.  Quite an experience.  Among the important points was that the 2004 was intense, somewhat like a Zinfandel, while also having some of the elegance of a good Pinot, with hints of Roses, Chocolate, Vanilla, Tobacco.   Like many big wines, it had a port-like feel to it.

I wanted to follow up with the 2005 while I could still remember the 2004, so my wife and I invited our erstwhile friend and tasting champion for a second go.  Same venue: good food, music, friends and wine.  This time pork tenderloin, roasted potatoes, and a salad.  I rubbed the pork with some Herb De Provance and a bit of brown sugar, wrapped it foil to keep in the flavors.  The potatoes were quartered lengthwise and basted with olive oil.  All in the oven at 380 for 40 minutes and there you have it,  toss the salad, and PlumbBob is your uncle.  And of course don’t forget the baguette and triple-cream Brie.

As last time the wine was tasted blind.  But with a difference: our friend brought along a Cabernet — Martellotto 2006 Reserve, Paso Robles.   This added quite a challenge, even though we knew in advance the identity of one wine (of course I knew both, but you’ll see what I mean).

The Martellotto is a great cab.  I didn’t look closely at the label before I tasted; by glancing briefly at the back label I took the wine to be from Italy (rather then Paso Robles).  It’s not all that rare to get a foreign wine labeled with the varietal these days,  and the wine did have that “old world” quality — not super-jammy, or candy like but more earthy, with a hint of roses, figs, and oak. Very balanced (which to me means alcohol, acidity and sweetness all come together).    At only 17 barrels produced it won’t be easy to find.  I did not ask the price.  Serving temperature was ambient (in our house that means 68 degrees F.).

After a bit of the Martellotto we poured the 2005 Schild, which I had decanted about half the bottle an hour before.  Temperature at serving was about 17 centigrade.

The 2005 Schild is a very different wine then the 2004.  By comparison it is muted, reserved, not nearly as big.  It was more like elegant — like the Martellotto.  Had I not known what it was, I would not have made the connection.  It took quite a while before our friend arrived at the Australian connection — Barberra, Sangiovese, Petite Syrah, Cabernet were all suggested.  The Barberra/Sangiovase guess was not a bad call, because around here we have some great wineries producing some very sophisticated Italian varietals (Vino Noceto, Youngs, to name two).  But eventually, the verdict was Australia.

The 2005 Schild Shiraz has the same roses, licorice, vanilla overtones, the same great balance as the 2004, but it takes a while to open up.  And that’s an important point: the 2005 actually does open up, while the 2004 doesn’t, it’s  big and stays big.  The 2005 has a bit of mahogany going on at the rim, so I’m guessing it is at it’s peak now.  I would suggest not decanting it either (the 2nd half from the bottle seemed to hold up better for me).  If I had to pick one and only one of the two Schild’s, I would pick the 2005.  I think it has a bit more finesse.  But of course that is strictly a matter of preference.

I have to admit it gets difficult to taste two really good wines side-by-side, because I find it a challenge to not over-analyze them.  Which gets in the way of actually tasting them!  By which I mean enjoying the flavors.  So we ended up with two empty bottles, wanting more.  Oh well.

Both wines were great.  I started out liking the Martellotto a bit more, but towards the end I came to prefer the Schild.  A tough call if I had to pick only one. Next day’s bottle test didn’t help, as both were still exhibiting wonderful fragrance.  But I would still go with the Schild.

Final verdict on the 2004 and 2005 Schild Barossa Shiraz: the 2004 is Zin-like, the 2005 more Sangiovase like.  The 2004 is intense, jammy (without being cloying), port-like, complex.  The 2004 is more subtle, but has the same flavors, and continues to open up throughout the evening.  Brian McGonigle at the San Francisco Wine Center says he has a few more bottles, but it won’t last.

Thanks for stopping by and Best Holiday Wishes!

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PlumbBob goes sideways for a wine from downunder

December 11th, 2009 Comments off

About a month ago a friend of mind dropped off a recent copy of the Wine Spectator.   I confess  I’m really provincial when it comes to wine: mostly I drink the local wineries, of which there are several that I think offer great value (Vino Nocceto, Terra Rouge, Revolution Wines, Boeger to name a few).  So typically I don’t chase wines, and typically my price points range is $15-$20 per bottle, with a couple of $10 wines that I think are a great value (a wine from Lodi labeled Reds, and  Sobon Old Vine Zin from Amador).  So I don’t have any particular reason to read wine magazines.

But I have in front of me right now an empty bottle, consumed last night, the nose of which is still so good, so marvelous, that it makes me happy.  Roses, Chocolate, Vanilla.  The wine is Schild Estate 2004 Barossa Shiraz.  A beautiful thing. The bottle is empty, but still very much alive with the presence of wine.  And that is my metric for measuring a wine: smell the bottle the next day.  If it’s intriguing, if it’s alluring, if it makes you hungry, now that’s a great wine.

So  my neighbor dropped off copy of the Wine Spectator.  It had a list of several hundred ratings and tasting notes, which I read casually as time allowed.  Casually, but with an eye towards opportunity,  that being the opportunity to find a wine that might interest me enough to seek it out.  Which was not likely, because like I say I stay close to home. And in any case the WS can be a challenge, as many of their higher ratings are expensive, hard to get, or both.  But buried in there were some tasting notes about a wine from Australia, Schild Estates Shiraz.  Another confession: I don’t like Shiraz, mostly it reminds me of Petite Sirah — not a bad thing, but I think there are better choices in wine .  More then that, I don’t find Southern Hemisphere wines particularly interesting, not Australia, or South America, or South Africa.  Mostly I think they are a bit one dimensional.  So you see I have some really strong bias in play here (some might say preconceived, and myopic, determinations that limit my ability to experience life).

But the tasting notes on Schild hit on every quality in a wine that find worth pursuing: Tobacco, and Cherry, and Licorice.  Did I mention I love a good Pinot Noir?  Well, I love a good Pinot Noir. I love those rich colors, herbaceous flavors, the tobacco, the tea, the leather, the cherry/cranberry, that balance of oak, fruit, and earthy qualities that  great Pinot’s have in common.  The Sierra Foothills don’t produce those kinds of Pinot’s, so I have to go further out: Carneros, Sonoma, Santa Luica, Anderson Valley, and Russian River.  Sometimes France (can you imagine that?).

So you see, when it comes to wines, I don’t like Shiraz, I don’t chase wines very far, I’m in the $10-$20 range, and I’m bit cranky.  A bit difficult to please.

But I read those tasting notes and said you know that sounds like a Pinot.  The kind of Pinot I love. And priced at $20. So I had to lend myself to the chase.  I called my usual wine shops and they didn’t have it (no surprise).  So I went to the Schild Estate webpage, which led me to The Australian Wine Connection, who told me to call the San Francisco Wine Center, aka Big Wines Inc. DBA Indie Wine Co.  I spoke with a gentleman name Brian McGonigle.  By the sound of  his voice, a young man; by his demeanor, an entrepreneur, and by his expressions,  a man who “nose” his wines.

I said, “2007 Schild Estates Barrossa Shiraz”.  He replied, with gentility, and a bit of humor, that the 2007 wasn’t in the country.  However, he had some (the last two pallets no less) of the 2004 and 2005 Schild Estates Barrossa Shiraz, which he said were incredible wines (high ninety ratings from WS).  The price was only marginally more then the $20 I was ready to pay for the 2007, so I said “done deal for the pair”.

The wines arrived as expected, well contained, and cool to the touch. That was Tuesday. I arranged for my wife and I to have dinner with a friend at our house — good food, friendship, good wine. That was yesterday.

I assumed the wine would be robust, still young, full of flavor.  I could have gone with Filet Mignon, but wasn’t in the mood for that.  So I decided on linguine with chicken sausage, a bit of garlic, some caramelized onions, with  Saffron and white wine as a base.  If the Shiraz was balanced, if it were really well conceived, the paring would work.  If not, well there was always dessert and port.

It worked.  The Schild Estate 2004 Barrossa Shiraz is still full of vigor, very young, but very balanced with licorice, tobacco, and cherry/vanilla  (in that order), and a smooth hint of cayenne on the finish. A very complete taste every time.  The nose was really enticing — roses, vanilla, cherry.  The oak cooperage really shows here.   I did not decant; I suspect a couple of hours (kept cool ) in a decanter would help the wine open up to reveal something of its future.  Temperature at consumption was probably 15 centigrade.  I would say the acid/sugar blend was correct, but this is a big wine (ripe fruit, and oak cooperage), somewhat like a port.  Now I’ve know that very “port-like”  quality (high alcohol, low acid)  in wines inspires a certain amount of debate, and frankly I think in most cases it is a flaw, but not in this case.  This is a really big wine, with lots of flavor and ambition.

As is my habit with new wines and old friends, the wine was tasted blind.  In those situations I like to ask what varietal, what region, what year, and what price point.   My friend, a man of many such tastings, nailed it right off: he said Zinfandel, which is really very close to what it tastes like. So to advance the game, I said what country, which was a dead-giveaway it was not a Zin, and he said Australia (on a hunch, keep reading), and my wife (who had not ever tasted the wine yet) said, well then it’s a Shiraz.  Had I was!  So I asked, what year?  My friend had recently been to Australia, and understood 2004 to be a good  year, so he said 2004.  He knew me well enough to know $20 or thereabouts was the price point. So now I was completely uncovered.  Nothing left but to enjoy the rest of the evening.

Which we did.  And as I write this, the empty bottle still smells true to it’s past.  Did I mention I still have a bottle of the 2005 yet to drink?  Exactly so.

Best wishes, and thanks for stopping by.

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RecallCheck Version 2 and Beyond

December 9th, 2009 Comments off

Well it’s been a while since my last post.  A very busy Summer, to say the least.  Lots of professional and personal happenings.  Many life events, small and large.  Too much for one post.

For now let’s apply our vertical toolset to RecallCheck and see how it looks.  The first version provided an elegant, if simple, solution to the problem of finding out if any given food item is subject to FDA recall.  Scan a barcode, and query the FDA website.  Easy, fast, and convenient.  The drawback? That version did not give a succinct “yes/no” answer; what it did give back was links to FDA notices (based on searches using a parsed UPC), or a message saying no pages returned.  Simple, but not as useful as it could be.  PlumBob says: a few degrees off of vertical.

So we redesigned RecallCheck, and version two is now supported by a very robust database and a very extensive data set.  We parsed through hundreds of 2009 FDA recalls, extracted thousands of data points, did our own research to track down data missing from the FDA notice, and created a new interface.  PlumbBob says: vertical!

Check it out on the Google Android market.  More details are available at TruNorth, and Agorasys.  And stay tuned, more to come.

Thanks for stopping by!

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