This past weekend, our glorious nation was awash in green beer. I meanwhile found myself tasting a pink ale. Before you judge—hear me out.
I was making my way through the grocery store, cart overflowing with jugs of milk, Goldfish crackers, string cheese, and all the fine eats a father of four could be expected to purchase. My three-year old was relentlessly pleading for me to get him a doughnut from the bakery. So. Much. Winning.
Admittedly, the bright pink color gave me pause, but I was desperate.
What a pleasant surprise. This saison ale (5% alcohol by volume) is dry and pleasant, and the cherry juice they used adds only a gentle fruity aroma. A treacly beer Old Ox Festivale Cherry Saison is not. I bought a four-pack of the 16-ounce cans.
Pink beer is not the only interesting beer I have stumbled on to recently. Bell’s Oarsman Ale was a pleasant surprise. I have enjoyed their stouts and hearty ales, and this “tart wheat beer” (4% ABV) is a peach that will be especially enjoyable once the mercury gets above 70 degree.
After reading so many doom and gloom predictions about Sam Adams’ future, it was nice to see the folks at Boston Beer Company bring out a new brew that is receiving acclaim. Sam ‘76 (4.7% ABV) is billed as a cross between lager and ale. I bought a 12-pack for $16, and enjoyed it so much that I nabbed another.
Speaking of well-known brands doing something different, Guinness offers a Rye Pale Ale. As best I can tell, folks either love it or hate it. This light-bodied beer (5% ABV) is a touch sour, herbal, and definitely shows the rye. Most peculiar!
Last among my recent beer-ventures is Grand Teton Brewing Company’s Double Vision Dopplebock. I’ve previously raved about other Grand Teton beers, but I tried not to set my hopes high before I took a sip of this brew. Which proved needless, because… Oh. My. Goodness. This potent, dark lager (8% ABV) from Montana floods the mouth with chocolate and coffee notes. The more Double Vision warms, the richer the flavors become.
No to rock-hard fruitcakes. No to hideous neckties that match nothing in one’s wardrobe. No to useless contraptions like the Ronco inside-the-egg scrambler. And no to more electronic gadgets that pester and scatter the mind with pings, bleeps, and jangles.
Go for drinky gifts instead, which cannot fail to delight and provide hours of levity in these weird times of creepy willy-wavers in America and belligerent lunatics on the other side of the globe.
Thirty years ago, the best beer I could find in most groceries was Michelob or Lowenbrau. How times have changed in our grand land. These days, you can throw a rock in any direction and it has a high probability of hitting a good bottle of beer. Which makes shopping for brews easy.
Icky sweet apple ciders in 12-ounce bottles are common in U.S. grocery stores. Skip them and grab a 750 milliliter bottle of old style cider. Le Lieu Cheri’s Cidre Fermier and Cave de la Lotterie (imported by Wine Traditions Ltd) are dry, light, and decidedly earthy ciders ($10-$12). The aromas arising from these sparkling beverages are sour and mushroom-y. I served these ciders as whistle-wetters before our Thanksgiving dinner. At a mere 5 percent alcohol they can be enjoyed without getting you loopy.
Bourbon, whiskey, and rye
Never has it been a better time to be a whiskey drinker. Newer brands like Angel’s Envy Bourbon (aged in port barrels and $50 a bottle) and the splendid Filibuster Dual Cask Bourbon (finished in French oak barrels and $40 a bottle) are among the brands that have reconceptualized the flavor profile of bourbon without abandoning its essence: sweet and fiery. Traverse City Whiskey Company’s flag ship straight bourbon whiskey (86 proof; $35) gives the tippler a sense of what the whiskey century ago must have been like: a thick with charred barrel flavor and a little hot on the swallow.
Iowa’s Cedar Ridge Distillery, which won the American Distilling Institute’s distillery of the year award, offers the whiskey lover a veritable smorgasbord. They make a wheat whiskey, a bourbon, a malted rye whiskey, two single malts, and an unaged whiskey. All retail for $40 to $60. Smallish (200 ml) bottles of five different Cedar Ridge whiskeys come in the oh-so-givable American Whiskey Explorer package ($70).
Rye, as everyone knows, has made a yuge comeback. To get a sense of old rye versus new, consider giving someone a bottle of Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Rye (100 proof; $27) and a fifth of Filibuster Dual Cask Rye (90 proof; $45). The former tastes of grain, black pepper, and a little apricot. The latter is gentler, slightly sweet, and offers apple and floral notes. I love each of them. If you want to impress a rye aficionado, pony up $110 for WhistlePig 12-year old rye (86 proof).
Wine and fortified wine
Hands down, the best wine I tasted this year was also the priciest: Ken Deis Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($60 most places; $25 via NakedWines.com). This red tasted like a cross between Bordeaux and a new world fruit bomb. It was utterly succulent, and showed faint blueberry and cedar notes. I nearly wept when the bottle was empty.
If you want remarkable bang-for-the-buck, wrap up some bottles of Jose Maria da Fonseca wines (imported by Palm Bay International). These Portuguese red wines have remarkably diverse flavor profiles. Da Fonseca’s Ripanço ($12) reminds me of beauojolas nouveau. It is light bodied, floral, and only a little fruity. The Jose se Sousa 2015 ($17) is very old world—it is dry, vegetal, and shows a clove note. Meanwhile, Da Fonseca Periquita Reserva 2014 ($15) is very new world. It offers immense fruit and vanilla notes and all but screams for pairing with steak, roasted vegetables, and gooey or salty cheese. For those with deeper pockets, the $40 Domini Plus 2014 would make a welcome gift for a wine collector. This inky red wine is very fruity, tannic, and dry, and will age well. Da Fonseca, I should add, produces terrific fortified wines. The Alambre Moscatel de Setubal 2010 ($17) would appeal to those who enjoy port. It has floral and peach notes. Yum.
For the person who loves to read of drink, there are abundant choices. Alexei Damon Murray and Stephen Sorrell’s Alcohol (Fuel, 2017) carries eye-popping photographs of Soviet anti-drink posters from the 1960s to 1980s. The government produced bazillions of them, but the downtrodden citizenry kept boozing. Steven Grasse’s Colonial Spirits (Abrams Image, 2017), as I previously wrote, is a wild and amusing romp through early American drink.
Robert Simonson’s A Proper Drink (Ten Speed Press, 2016) is a lengthy, deep-dive report on how America’s cocktail scene revived over the past 30 years. As someone who was in the thick of the whole New York City drink scene in the 1990s, I can attest that Simonson got much of the truth. Those of an antiquarian bent might enjoy receiving a copy of Sherry Monahan and Jane Perkins’ The Golden Elixir of the West (TwoDot, 2018). It is filled with amusing old yarns about American whiskey.
Friends and family who like to DIY can be given Emma Christensen’s Modern Cider (Ten Speed Press, 2017), a pretty tome that teaches how to make various fruit ciders, shrubs, and wines.
And those feeling charitable to the industrious hack who has written innumerable columns for your eyes, you can help feed his family and fishing habit by filling stockings with his slim tomes on whiskey and moonshine.
Some years ago, I lived in New York and had two friends recently arrived from Ireland. Neither of them thought well of America’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Considering the tsunami of green garb and schlock, Siobhan asked bemusedly, “What does any of this have to do with Ireland?” Dermot was less generous. “If I see another f****** shamrock, I’m going to kill someone.” Neither wanted anything to do with the raucous Manhattan parade or hordes of sodden boys and girls with clovers painted on their cheeks.
That does not, however, mean one should hide inside and pretend it is not March 17. It is what it is, and one should embrace this spring-heralding holiday.
To this end, there are some very basic don’t and do’s for having a decent St. Patrick’s Day. Don’t affect an Irish accent. Don’t say “lassie” or, god forbid, “Begorrah.” Suppress the temptation to put on an emerald green plastic derby, or hang a cardboard cut-out Leprechaun on your wall or window. And, perhaps most critically of all, don’t get stupid drunk. It’s embarrassing. Continue reading “Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day Right with Irish Drinks Old and New”→
We long have been enamoured of Guinness Stout. So soft and creamy it is… Why just the other day at lunch we had not one but two pints. We could have gone for a third but did not care to spend the afternoon snoozing.
Our eyes popped a week ago when we heard that Guinness Foreign Extra Stout was hitting America’s shores. It has not been here since Prohibition. Two 11.2 ounce bottles arrived at Chez F. Sit Fitzgerald, and we quickly got them chilled. The pour was impressive—it filled a pint glass by sporting a 2+ inch thick head that was a lovely, light black-brown color.
On first sip we liked what we tasted, but then we forced ourselves to wait. By our estimate, you want to have this beer at 50 degree Fahrenheit. Once the interminable period passed, we sipped again. Whoa—it was raosty, way more potent than the standard Guinness. We are not big fans of standard Guinness in bottles, but this is pretty good. (One cna only dream of how delicious it must be n tap!) It nicely blends both sweetness and bitterness, and its finish is long and tongue-smacking good.
Guinness Foreign Stout—welcome back to America. (Rating ****1/4)