Craft: Spirits & Beer, Miami, Saturday, November 9, 2013

What is craft? What does it mean to ply one’s craft? These were questions that would be asked throughout the Craft Spirits & Beer event held in November at Soho Studios, in Miami.

Craft, in the strictest sense, is defined as an activity involving skill in creating things by hand. During this inaugural event this idea was evident in the distillers and brewers in attendance. Complementing the craft beer and spirits were chefs and food purveyors that also embraced that ideal.

Over 30 artisans attended the event, though it never felt overly crowded in the warehouse space.  It was a treat to sample some of the stellar and rare offerings.

In addition to the tasting portion of the event, there were panel discussions, bringing experts in the field of beer brewing, distilling, as well as the bar and restaurant industry.  We attended a panel discussing the idea of craft and what the future holds for the craft ideal. Craft is a highly subjective term that means many things to many people, but this panel focused on what they defined as craft as it relates to their particular industries. Is it quality over quantity? The artisan creating something unique in a world of cookie cutter products? These questions may not have an easily defined answer, but the conversation is worth having.

Although it may not have been the intention of the organizers (perhaps it was due to lack of advertising) but the event was not a crowded affair. We were able to try samples at each booth or table without a long wait. This gave us an opportunity for more personal interaction with the representatives.

We’re hoping that the crowd present was at least enough to give event organizers a reason to hold it a second year. Maybe craft is too subjective a term to define in black and white, but we’re eager to learn (and try!) more.  Cheers to the artisans who epitomize the true essence of craft.

13 Even Wilton Manors

According to the superstitious (i.e. neurotic), 13 can be an unlucky number. For the owners of 13 Even located in Wilton Manors, it is anything but unlucky.

In fact, most nights if you’re lucky enough to drive down Wilton Drive and pass by 13 Even there’s a good chance you’ll see most, if not every one of its tables and bar, filled with eager patrons enjoying a glass of wine amongst friends; a fine craft beer; one of 13 Even’s signature small plate dishes – or a combination of all the above.

It is not a large establishment. And that’s a good thing. Where many gastro pub/bistro wine and beer bars can be noisy affairs, 13 Even is a little haven away from the hustle and bustle.  Nestled quietly among other small shops, at the far end of Wilton Drive, 13 Even sits waiting to be discovered.  

Having opened less than six months ago, we were both eager to try it out after checking out their fairly extensive wine, beer and food menu on-line.  The first time we went to 13 Even was during a late-afternoon, early evening walk into Wilton Manors.  We were only planning on have a glass of wine but temptation overruled and we decided to share the pork belly and watermelon salad followed by the BBQ chicken, gouda and jalapeno flatbread.  We were hooked at first bite.  The pork belly melted in our mouths and the flatbread, although lacking the expected spice from the jalapeno, was also quite good.

On our next visit, after perusing over the menu we finally decided on the patatas bravas (roasted potatoes in a spicy red sauce topped with a sunny side up quail egg) and the chicken empanadas.  We could have had several of the garlicky, spicy patatas bravas – and for a moment considered licking the bowl clean of the sauce. The empanadas were light and flaky on the outside and savory within.

13 Even is a friendly, charming place with something to satisfy every palate. Whether you’re in the mood for a red or white wine, maybe something a little sparkly, or if you’re looking for a good craft beer, chances are you’ll find just what you’re looking for on the menu. The prices are reasonable; the staff is friendly and will treat you like you’re a regular, even if you are a “newbie.” Oh, and if you’re dropping in to have a drink, chances are you’ll be justifying having a second one.

 

 

New Belgium Brewing Trippel Belgian Style Ale and “Lips Of Faith” Series

Craft beer drinkers in our area are celebrating because New Belgium Brewing (Colorado) beers have finally made their way to South Florida. Sure, we’ve enjoyed New Belgium’s signature Fat Tire Amber Ale on numerous occasions, but most hop heads would agree: In the world of American craft beers, the Fat Tire is serviceable, at best…a nice stand by ale with a familiar flavor and headiness you like. This isn’t a knock on the Fat Tire, but  a compliment on how consistent New Belgium is in creating an accessible craft ale year in and year out. However, New Belgium’s specialty ales and seasonal offerings are worth checking out.  We sampled several of the big bottle offerings in New Belgium’s “Lips Of Faith” series (love that name) as well as their signature Trippel.  Availability in South Florida limits us to only a few of New Belgium’s ales that we can try, but these are well worth trying if you can find them:

Heavenly Feijoa Tripel Dieu du Ciel! (ABV 9.4%)

The mad scientists at New Belgium brought together two innocuous flavor profiles to create one unique ale. The Heavenly Feijoa Tripel combines hibiscus flowers with Feijoa (pineapple guava). The melding of tart sweetness and exotic tropical flavoring makes for a unique, aromatic drinking experience. Like any Belgian-style Ale, the aromas and flavor came alive once it neared room temperature. The Heavenly Feijoa Tripel gets a 4 out of 5 bottle rating due to its flavor, color and complexity (5 being the highest rating on the Wanderlushes beer scale).

Trippel Belgian Style Ale (ABV 7.8%)

The Trippel Belgian Style Ale is a veritable hop lover’s delight. But despite how much hops you throw into the mix, a Trippel is a Trippel. The Trippel has a strong mouth feel, yet its unique Belgian yeast strain counterbalances the strong hop notes with a soft, fruitiness.  We could definitely pick up the traces of coriander that added just a hint more spiciness. The New Belgium Trippel gets a 3 out of 5 bottle rating.

Cascara Quad (ABV 10%)

This sweet, complex ale is brewed with dates and get this…coffee cherries. We weren’t sure what coffee berries were until we did a little research into and then it all made sense. The Cascara Quad is dark and it is strong, but it is also a delicate ale, believe it or not.  Malt is front and center with a bit of banana present in the quaff, as you’d expect, but there are also strong hints of clove, fig and caramel…especially when you let it warm up a bit in the glass. We were very impressed. The NBB Cascara Quad gets a 5 out of 5 bottles rating on the Wanderlushes beer scale.

Paardebloem Ale (ABV 9.0%)

After enjoying Heavenly Feijoa Tripel Dieu du Ciel and the Cascara Quad, the Paardebloem Ale was probably our least favorite of the Lips Of Faith series we tried. Brewed with dandelion greens for bitterness, New Belgium collaborated with Red Rock Brewing (Salt Lake City, UT) to create this Belgian-style ale. The wild Belgian yeast is evident at the beginning and middle – yet even with some wood-aged beer and grains of paradise added in, this ale fell short of our expectations. It’s not a bad ale by any stretch (any craft beer maker would be proud to create an ale like this), but it does lack complexity. The Paardebloem Ale gets a 3 out of 5 bottles Wanderlushes rating.

Pluot Ale (ABV 10%)

A plum and an apricot got drunk, hooked up and had a love child they called pluot. Sounds weird, right? But this hybrid fruit actually exists and is the basis for the New Belgium Brewing Pluot Ale. The aroma is unmistakably fruity. Combine this with Belgian ale yeast and you have an exotic little combo of flavors going on. The Pluot wasn’t our favorite of the Lips Of Faith series thus far, but it is by far the most complex and is worth trying. This could work as a dessert beer to be paired with slices of fresh apple or pear. The Pluot Ale gets a 4 out of 5 bottles Wanderlushes rating.

 

 

 

Sonoma Wine Country Visit May 12, 2013

It’s been a while since our trip to California Wine Country but the experience has stayed in our minds; the memories still fresh.  We last wrote about Napa, which was the first area we had a chance to explore.  We began our next day with the plan to explore Sonoma.

As with our Napa adventure, we had to seriously narrow down our plan to visit just a few places.  Looking at our massive list we had no idea where to begin.  Thankfully we had some help in the way of a local connection who pointed us in the right direction.

Recommendations and plan in hand, we started by heading to the northern most point we planned on visiting, Healdsburg.  Once we got off the highway we were immediately driving through farm country and vineyards were everywhere we looked.  The weather was beautiful and the scenery was breathtaking.

Our first stop was Mazzocco Winery, known for their Zinfandels, located up on a hillside. We entered the quiet tasting room where we were greeted and offered our first taste of their portfolio immediately.  No pretense here at Mazzocco; just plain and simple wine tasting.  And taste we did!  After going through several of their wines we decided to purchase our favorite (2011 Seaton Zinfandel) and head on down the road. 

Next up was the Hawley Tasting room in downtown Healdsburg.  The Hawley Tasting room was a small warm space filled with artwork and woodwork created by various Hawley family members.  We learned this from Dana Hawley, the winemaker’s wife and local artist, who walked us through the tasting and the history of Hawley wines.  It was a truly unique and lovely experience.  Again, we narrowed our purchase down to our favorite (Dry Creek Valley Petite Sirah) and left to wander the town a bit.

After visiting some of the local antique stores and markets we got back in the car and drove to Iron Horse Vineyards in Sebastopol.  Getting to the actual tasting room was challenging. Off the beaten path would be an understatement.  However, after driving up the single lane, bumpy, dirt road and arriving at the top, we could truly appreciate that it was worth the trek. Looking out across the rolling hills and into the valley covered with vineyards was awe inspiring.

Iron Horse is known for their sparkling wines and we were lucky enough to be there on a day when they had The Oyster Girls on hand, a traveling oyster bar serving freshly shucked oysters.  Oysters and sparkling wine = perfect day!

At the end of the day we convinced ourselves that we needed to move to Sebastopol, buy a farm, raise goats and grow our own vines.  Who knows? Maybe one day we will…

Hall Winery Rutherford Tasting & Tour May 11, 2013

Napa Valley is a place where wine lovers can happily get lost. Stray off the familiar path of the Silverado Trail or CA 29, and you can find yourself in unfamiliar, yet exciting places. Hall Winery, in Rutherford, is truly off the beaten path – and definitely a good place to find if you’re looking for a small, intimate wine tasting experience. 

Hall Rutherford, unlike their larger production winery in St. Helena, is dedicated to creating rare and single vineyard wines. The main building sits far above sea level, offering spectacular vistas of Napa Valley. Hall Rutherford boasts 14,000 square feet of caves (which were designed by Friedrich Gruber of Gutenstein, Austria). Making our way into the tasting room we noticed a rapid temperature drop (from near 90 degrees to 61) and the striking handmade reclaimed Austrian brick walls and ceiling.  We were told that the Austrian government had one stipulation for Hall Winery repurposing the bricks; that the Habsburg name and family seal, which are etched into each individual brick, could not be displayed and therefore were installed backwards. Of note is the fact that Kathryn Hall served as the US Ambassador to Austria under Bill Clinton. The Vienna Boys Choir performed live at the grand opening of the winery!

Once inside the tasting room, the first thing you notice hanging magnificently over the large tasting table is a chandelier designed by Donald Lipski and Jonquil LeMaster, comprised of hundreds of Swarovski crystals, that simulates the roots of a tree coming through the ceiling of the cave.  When we began the Hall experience touring the vineyards, our host pointed out a Meyer lemon tree at the top of the hill and told us to keep it in mind.  It turns out that the sculpture sits directly below the actual tree.  We didn’t ask how much this hanging artwork cost, because if you have to ask, well…never mind.

Then it was on to the wines! The first Hall wine we tasted was the 2012 Hall Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc (a crisp, refreshing SB with hints of citrus and green apple – excellent) which was given to us upon our arrival.  As we waited for other guests we were able to wander the main building and terrace.  For the tasting itself, we were treated to some of Hall’s signature Cabernet Sauvignons, including the 2007 Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon; 2012 Jack’s Masterpiece Cabernet Sauvignon; and as a special treat, the 2009 Segassia Vineyard Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. All are deeply complex, fruit-forward Cabs that taste amazing now, but can be cellared for a few years to soften the tannins a bit, according to our host. Hall wines are lush and delicious, and if you have an opportunity to experience any of these high-end bouquets, do so.

Sure, there are many other large-production “mega wineries” in and around Napa Valley, but if you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone and lose yourself, you’ll be rewarded with an incredibly rewarding wine tasting experience. Hall Winery, in Rutherford, is a pretty good place to end up.

 

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