Ah, Maker's Mark. What more can I say? You were one of the first bourbons I ever had. The first of many to be paired with a cigar and gently cradled in an icy glass on an old porch overlooking the lake. And you quickly became a go-to sipper whenever you went on sale.
But now... I think you've been replaced.
Not to worry though. I'm staying in the family. In fact, my new favorite corn whisky is your (barely) older brother. Maker's 46, despite it's steep price hike when compared to Maker's Mark ($47.99 vs. $24.99), is nothing more than their standard whisky aged for a few extra weeks with seared french oak staves. These staves add to the smooth, vanilla flavors of the whisky, and the searing caramelizes the sugars in the wood, increasing the sweetness and removing all trace of bitterness.
There's no such thing as a bad tripel, that's just a fact of life. So when I saw Left Coast Brewing Company's Asylum Tripel at P.F. Chang's on an outing with some of my fellow MBA students, there was no question as to what I would order. It didn't matter that I had never heard of this brewery before. A tripel, if you don't already know, refers to a strong pale ale, typically made with a yeast that originates in Belgium, and up to three times the normal amount of malt. For those more familiar with the darker Belgian dubbel's or quad's, you may be in for a surprise when you see the light colored liquid pouring into your glass. The tripel is in a family all its own.
Left Coast Brewing Company produces six regular brews, including Asylum, and four seasonals. They began brewing in 2004, and seem to be growing at a steady pace (not surprising after tasting this delicious tripel). If you ever happen to be in San Clemente on a Tuesday or Sunday, be sure to check out their Bend and Brew Yoga series in the park.
Left Coast Brewing Asylum Tripel
Asylum Tripel is an explosion of fruits and spices with a thirst-quenching creamy head that I can't recommend enough.
Nose: Whoa! Banana, tropical fruits
Taste: Banana nut bread, spices
If I could make one bourbon related wish come true, it would be to taste all the different blends and varieties side-by-side. While I'm waiting for that to happen... I did manage to do a double tasting of Bulleit and Four Roses. These are widely available bourbons that you can usually find in the $15-25 range (for the lower price, you'll have to wait for a sale), and both are quite drinkable. I'll write up my tasting notes at the end of this post, but first, a little about each bourbon:
"How can a $10 whiskey be this good?" That was my first thought upon taking a sip of this golden nectar, which was quickly followed by a second: "Why have I never tried this before?" Dipping below $17 with any liquor is always a little questionable, whether it's whiskey, vodka, tequila or something else, but occasionally you find a gem. And Rebel Yell bourbon is in that category.
Onil Chibas has a gregarious laugh. We used to work together catering parties for Pasadena's elites (he was the chef-owner of Elements Kitchen and Catering, and I worked for him). I can say without a doubt that in the fast-paced catering world of tight deadlines, over-stressed wedding planners, and creative competition, you won't find a kinder, more genuine person. Recently we met at The Market on Holly, an American Fusion Restaurant tucked away on a side-street among the quaint brick buildings, hip cafes and European bistros of Old Town Pasadena. Over an extended brunch of farm fresh omelets and bold, black coffee, we talked food, wine and the mysteries of life. Throughout our two hour meal his laugh cut through the clatter of dishes, the staccato sizzle of frying butter, and the boisterous conversations of other guests. You can't spend time with Onil Chibas without feeling better about life.
R: Let's start with the basics. What is food to you? I was talking with my brother the other day, and he put it really well when he said that growing up, food was fuel. In the Midwest culture where I came from, the rural farming community, you make hearty food that sustains you. If it's salty, it's good. If not, add a little hot sauce. But that's it. It's fuel. So how do you think about, what do you think of when you think of food? Its obviously more than that to you...
O: Absolutely. that's a terrific question. I think for me it's a lot of different things. Certainly it's fuel. But I think that when it is fuel, when it's at its basic, it should be tasty. Food is love. I also then think it's a time for people to come together. We didn't say, "Let's just go talk at the park." I mean we could have, "Let's meet at x place." But we said, "Let's meet, let's have coffee, let's get lunch or breakfast or whatever." So food plays a very unique role. It's the one thing that everybody does, from ISIS to the Pope. And every culture has some sort of ritual with food involved in it.
I've already reviewed the now-famous Not Your Father's Root Beer (here), now here's a guest post from my friend and fellow beer lover Hunter Williams, to review Not Your Father's Ginger Ale:
It's been a while since my last post, so a big thanks to everyone who has been checking in, reading old posts, and using this website while I've been away. Things have been busy here as I've been working on finishing my MBA and planning a move to Washington State. Oh yeah, there was that month my wife and I spent backpacking through Southeast Asia and Japan too... (eventually I'll be posting on some interesting Asian whiskies, wines, rums and beers).
Today it's a beautiful spring day in Southern California. The skies are blue, without a hint of the typical June gloom, and we just got home from a friend's PsyD graduation party where we sat in the backyard, ate some great food and enjoyed the sun. I can't think of a better context to be writing about two fruit beers I just discovered that will be perfect for summer.
The first beer comes from a category most readers won't be familiar with. It's called "radler." Radler is a German word meaning "cyclists," and traditionally refers to a 1:1 mixture of beer and sparkling lemonade. Legend has it that a German innkeeper who regularly supplied beer to passing cyclists (that's my kind of cycling!) realized in a panic that he was going to run out of beer on a particular busy day, and began mixing his remaining beer with lemonade. If this story isn't true, it's just as plausible that cyclists who wanted a slight buzz, but still wanted to be sober enough to continue their ride, invented the drink. Radler is more popular in Europe than the U.S., and is a subcategory of "shandy" (beer mixed with any soft drink).
The radler I tasted is sold at Trader Joe's under the JosephsBrau imprint. JosephsBrau is brewed by Gordon-Biersch, a brewery in San Jose, California founded in 1997 that also has a chain of affiliated brewpubs. JosephsBrau Radler is a refreshing mix of beer and lemon juice that has me coming back for more every time I crack open a bottle. Not because of its nuance or complexity, but because of its down-to-earth lemony sweetness. In fact, it reminds me of the lemonade served at the graduation party I was at today; one is never enough, but two might leave you feeling like you've had too much.
For the second beer, we're moving from lemons to huckleberries. UFO Huckleberrry Hefeweizen is exactly what it sounds like: a big, bold hefeweizen flavored with refreshing huckleberries (as one reviewer wrote: "What does a huckleberry taste like? A blueberry. But better"). UFO is made up of two east coast breweries, one in Boston, and one in Windsor, Vermont. They focus on wheat beers, often mixed with northern berries like huckleberries and raspberries. This is my first sighting of a UFO (ha!) beer, but I'm interested in trying the other beers they have to offer.
JosephsBrau Radler: Can be summarized in two words- Lemonade Beer. Delicious, refreshing.
UFO Huckleberry: Fruity and wheaty. If you like blueberry syrup on your pancakes, you'll like this.
It’s 6pm on St. Patrick’s Day and Trader Joe’s is out of Guinness. I should have planned ahead instead of waiting until the last minute to stock my kitchen with this dark nectar of the Emerald Island, but I didn’t. And now it’s too late. My wife is home already, pulling corned beef and cabbage out of the crock pot where it’s been stewing all day. Am I going to have to return empty handed?
Grabbing a 6-pack from one of the California craft breweries seems antithetical to the spirit of the holiday. Craft brewing is still taking off in Ireland, and in every local pub from Dublin to Dingle, it’s still Guinness, that dark Irish stout, that’s on tap.
I’m standing in the beer aisle with a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, staring at the empty Guinness spot on the shelf. Turning to walk away, my gaze falls to the bottom shelf where I see another can, the same size as one of those hefty Guinness pints. And what’s that? It has “Irish Stout” splashed across the label! I’ve never tried Murphy’s before… but I recall that in the pubs we went to in Ireland, if they had two stouts on tap, Murphy’s was always the second. Should I buy these cans, or continue my quest at other stores?
It’s St. Patty’s Day, and I can’t go home empty handed. The smell of the corned beef is probably filling our apartment. I bet our dog is pretending to mind his manners, sitting “patiently” in the kitchen, waiting for a scrap. It goes without saying that my wife has already snuck some small pieces. I have to get home. Murphy’s it is.
This St. Patrick's Day, why not try something different? While everyone else is downing pints of Guinness, branch out and try the lesser-known, but equally delicious Murphy's Irish Stout.
Murphy's isn't as popular as Guinness (maybe it has something to do with the samurai?), but it is Irish. And that means that this smooth and drinkable stout still qualifies as a St. Patty's Day thirst quencher. In fact, if your fridge is empty, chances are Murphy's is still on the shelf somewhere... long after the Guinness is all sold out.
Murphy's isn't a carbonated drink, not in the traditional sense of the word. Stouts don't travel well, and any oxygen in the can will quickly change the flavor of the beer. So Murphy's, like Guinness, contains a nitrogen widget that simulates the creamy head of a draft pour when opened. Grab an imperial pint glass, tilt it to the side, and carefully let the ice cold liquid slide into your cup. The result should look something like the two-toned perfection pictured below.
Murphy's Irish Stout
Nose: Toasty malts, faint notes of dark chocolate or cacao, with the typical stout sourness.
Taste: Full-bodied, milky smoothness. Coffee.
Recommendation: Don't give in to the peer pressure. You've already tried Guinness. Try your Irish luck and grab a 4-pack of Murphy's!
Okay readers, time for a vodka tasting!
I'm normally not that into vodka, besides the occasional martini, but these bottles were impossible to pass up. The Medea was being sold at Costco with a ridiculous flashing LED label (see the "Hi" in the picture? You can program that to say whatever you want). The idea of a light up vodka bottle seemed so gimmicky that I had to try it. I mean, c'mon... if it's terrible, the world needs to know!
Blue Ice was on the clearance shelf in the back of a Ralph's/Kroger's for seven bucks (always worth checking the clearance shelf!), so I grabbed it because why not?
Before we get into these particular vodkas, a word about vodka itself. "Vodka" comes from the old Slavic word for water (Maybe that's where the 'ol "Vodka in the water bottle" trick came from). Vodka seems to have originated in either Poland (shout out to my people!) or Russia, somewhere in the 14th century. It can be made from any type of plant that has a high concentration of sugar and starch. Examples include rye, corn, wheat, potato, molasses, soybeans, rice and beets. Vodka can be either unfiltered (more traditional) or filtered, often using a charcoal filtering process. Repeat distillation removes results in a cleaner product without flavors that are desirable in other liquors like whisky and bourbon.
Blue Ice is a potato vodka made from Idaho Russet Burbank potatoes, running about $20/bottle. It has won numerous awards, beating out many premium priced vodkas along the way, but its real claim to fame is that it is the first spirit certified "gluten free" by the U.S. government. Hopefully this gives you a moment of pause: "Aren't all spirits gluten free?" The answer is "Yes!" By virtue of the distillation process, even grain based liquors are gluten free, and this is nothing more than Blue Ice trying to gain a competitive advantage over their competitors.
Medea is a grain-based vodka from the Netherlands that runs about $30/bottle. Despite the slightly tacky flashing label, this is actually a decent bottle of vodka that has won several awards. It too is gluten free, although you won't find that on the label.
Nose: clean and light.
Taste: Mild, sweet vanilla.
Nose: warmer and rougher.
Taste: Light alcohol.
Recommendation: Both are good clean vodkas worth checking out.
Commonly Fine is a blog about great beers, wines and spirits... at great prices.