Anouncement: Beer Keg Sale

If you are reading this blog post, you are probably familiar with our month long beer sales that that have been going on for the better part of the past three months. The savings kicked off with Belgian beers in April, followed by craft beer in May, and international beer for the month of June. We thought about taking a break from the beer sales, but have decided to try something new and innovative. For the entire month of July, Binnys will be having a sale featuring beer kegs.


Basically every keg will be on sale throughout the month of July besides Bud, Miller, and Leinenkugel products. We would love to put these three brands on sale too, but reducing their already low prices is unfortunately out of the question.  Most of the more expensive kegs, such as European imports and American craft, will see an average of about $30 dollars slashed off their price. Like the old saying goes, “Go big or go home:” July will be the ideal time to get that keg that has always been on your radar but just out of your price range.


If you want to know the original and sale price of a keg, or want any information whatsoever regarding the keg sale, email, or visit for a complete list of the featured kegs. 



This is the first time that Binnys has ever focused a sale on beer kegs; we are very interested to see how this will pan out. We would love to hear from you, so, if you have any input, questions or suggestions, please leave us a comment.




A Tale of Two Weekends

 As I read professional wine blogs, one thing is starting to strike me as a theme. Is so much of wine culture really lifestyle? The lifestyle of wealth? This is especially noticeable when it comes to dining:

 The experiences in so many professional wine blogs maybe wine journalism in general seems unattainable to me. It’s fine to blog from restaurants across Tuscany, or France, or some hidden little bistro in Greece that only the locals know about, but how does that help me, a guy who lives in Skokie? Or talking about grabbing some dinner at some New York hot spot with a  great wine list, only to complain about the service. Wine journalists will mention a $25 or $30 bottle as an outstanding value. To me, that much money is an investment.

 So I can’t afford these wine culture experiences. I don’t mean to simply complain I’m very lucky to experience a lot of amazing wines and cuisine because of my involvement in this industry. But what if I didn’t sell wine? How disconnected would I be?


 I had this on my mind last weekend, when my fiancé and I  (by the way, we got engaged) met some friends in a distant Chicago neighborhood that I rarely get to. We walked around until we found a nice Italian place they like.  It was good one of those classy Italian joints where they have empties of Opus One and Banfi Brunello di Montalcino above the windows, mingling with decorative olive oil tins and wicker baskets with bunches of realistic plastic grapes. The food looked good (so much oil and garlic!), and I ordered some dish in Italian that amounts to cheese and spinach ravioli in brown butter with sage.  It was excellent. I mean, it was amazing.

 The one problem: the wine list. I couldn’t find a single bottle that was worth the asking price. The wine was so expensive (and in most cases, expensive yet uninspiring) that I simply couldn’t bring myself to purchase wine. This was a shame, of course, because the oil and fat in the food coated my palate I was practically begging for an acidic white to cut through all that oil. I just couldn’t bring myself to pay $45 for something we sell at Binny’s for $8.99.


  I also had the expensive nature of wine culture on my mind when a friend and I were hanging out a couple weekends ago. Neither of us are fabulously well-to-do, so we ordered carry-out from a nearby Mediterranean place. He got the Combination Feast Entree, which as it turns out is a big pile of meat on some rice. I got the Vegetarian Combination Plate, full of good stuff like falafel, hummus, dolma, baba ghannoug, and more.  It is delicious. We also got some delicious Baklava. The whole check was like twenty bucks, tops. We took it back to my place and ate it on the sofa. The food was pretty much as pictured here, only in styrofoam to-go containers.

 And to pair with this feast? First we opened a Pierre Sparr Reserve Riesling, a nice little Alsatian I got at Binny’s at an unbelievably low price last month. It’s not super complex, but nice and clean, with hints of lemon peel and lemon tart. After that we opened a bottle of 2005 Larkmead Firebelle, a merlot-heavy Bordeaux blend from Napa, and also something I picked up on the cheap at Binny’s. Surprisingly fruit-driven with hints of spice and anise, we were surprised at the relative lack of tannin.

 Despite the fact that we weren’t at a bistro in the French Riviera, we had a pretty good afternoon.

Dogfish Head Goes Ancient Again

Dogfish head strikes againthis time with Sahtea, a beer based loosely on a 9th century Finnish recipe.  Instead of boiling their wort using modern methods, Sahteas wort is caramelized using white hot river rocks.  Sahtea is then fermented with German Weizen yeast.  Next, juniper berries foraged from the Finnish country side are added alongside black tea, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and black pepper.



The nose of this beer is dominated by the German Weizen yeast, while the above listed spices take a back seat.  Sahtea pours a cloudy golden color with a minute creamy head; again one is reminded of a German Weizen beer.  The black tea is prevalent up front, while a hint of juniper berries is evident towards the finish.  This is a smooth beer, with some alcohol detectable, although it is well hidden overall for a 9% ABV beer.  Containing only 6 IBUs, it is no surprise that Sahtea has absolutely no hop presence whatsoever.  Sahtea is reminiscent of Franziskaner Weissbier with a horde of black tea and spices dumped into it.



Overall, this is another awfully unique and far fetching beer from Dogfish Head Brewery that is based on an ancient recipe.  The German Weizen yeast dominates the smell and taste; besides that Sahtea seems to be a fairly balanced beer when considering the complex ingredients used.  Sahtea is worth a shot if you are the adventurous type.  Just like Dogfish Head claims for all their beers, Sahtea is an off centered beer meant for off centered people.  Will you be trying Sahtea?

Focus on Beaujolais

 At the beginning of a recent seminar on the wines of Beaujolais, guest speaker and Master Sommelier Fernando Beteta asked the group of wine professionals in the audience, Who here started drinking Beaujolais in college? I sheepishly raised my hand, and then looked around to see one other hand raised in the room. A lady giggled at me.  I thought Beaujolais was a pretty common starting point for young, experimental wine drinkers. Granted, I hadn’t given Beaujolais a whole lot of thought since then.


About Beaujolais

 The Beaujolais AOC is within the Burgundy region, but lays to the South, slightly overlapping its Northern neighbor of Macon. 99% of wine from Beaujolais is made from the Gamay grape creating a lighter red wine with soft fruit and high, sometimes angular, acidity. Producers in Beaujolais often (but not always) use an extra winemaking technique called carbonic maceration, where fermentation is started within the grapes themselves. Not to get too technical, I’ll just say that carbonic maceration leads to wines that are easygoing and fruit-forward, with lots of berry, cherry, and banana flavors.

 Most wine drinkers are familiar with Beaujolais Nouveau, released on the third Thursday of November, popular for its fun nature and bright, fresh fruit. One of the themes of the Beaujolais seminar was that Beaujolais is more than just Nouveau for examples of this, we tasted wines from all but one of the ten different Crus within Beaujolais.

 While we tasted these different wines from different sub-regions, it struck me that the similarities are more noticeable than the differences. The wines fall into a consistent profile: lighter red fruits ranging from cherry candy to strawberry and tart  red raspberry, with small amounts of minerality and tight acidity holding things together, and sometimes deeper complexities like perfume or herbs.

 Also, though we were tasting examples from nine different Crus (and also the more general Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages labellings) we tasted offerings from several different producers. There aren’t strict rules regarding winemaking practices in the region, and I suspect the wines showed variation in style because of winemaking as much as the nature of the different sub-regions themselves.


Some Tasting Notes

 The entry-level Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages is a good, affordable example of Beaujolais. A onedimensional but pleasant nose of sweet cherry candy leads to a nicely acidic wine, light in fruit but with enough cutting acidity to stand up to the delicious cheeses served at the seminar. A little more complex is the Beaudet Saint Amour, with similar red fruit with notes of dried orange peel and hints of earth, with minerality poking through the tart cherry on the finish.

  The Michel Tete Julienas has a nose that I might confuse with an inexpensive Burguny, and is one of the bigger wines we tried, with more structure, some herbal qualities, and broader fruits. In addition to the typical Beaujolais fruit profile, the Burgaud Morgon shows components of yeast or baked sugars on the nose, and shows deeper raspberry and herbal notes on the palate.  The nose of the Chaize Brouilly is delicate and pretty for the price, with lots of caramel and mushroom and even a touch of mellow cheese. On the palate it is lighter than some of the others, still with plenty of cherry, but softer on the acidity.


Beaujolais: A Value, and in Season

 One point of the seminar was that these wines would be a good recommendation for drinkers of other French wines looking for a good bargain the idea was that fans of Burgundy and the Southern Rhone might find a good bargain in the wines of Beaujolais. I’d only agree with this to an extent fans of those other wines might discover an affordable alternative, but they’re not going to discover a replacement. For the rest of us, Beaujolais will remain a region of fun, refreshing, lighter reds that go down easily, are perfect in this hot weather we’re having. Softer on tannins, A nice Beaujolais will compliment spicier summer foods like barbeque, and because most are under $20, offer a great value.

The Final Week of International Craft Beer Month

As our international craft beer sale enters its final week, you will see what we like to refer to as the best of the rest go on sale.  The week of June 24th through June 30th will be highlighted by Scandinavia, but not limited to this region as places such as Japan and Spain will be recognized as well.  The sale features over one hundred craft beers from all over the globe.  We wanted to break the previous weeks themes of recommending single beers by instead suggesting two superb Scandinavian breweries.


Mikkeller Practicing quality before quantity might be an understatement.  Cases of Mikkeller can be few and far between, thus different Binnys locations may have diverse selections of Mikkeller beers.  We have never experienced an unworthy Mikkeller beer; there is a reason they have been named best Danish Brewery every year since they have been in business (2006), and have also been placed among the elite breweries on  Mikkeller doesnt discriminate when it comes to beer styles; chances are they craft something with your name on it.


Nogne- O Like Mikkeller, Nogne-O, which is the first Norwegian microbrewery, was started by two home brewers.  While achieving their goal of bringing Norwegians beer styles they knew little of such as IPA, Porter, and Amber, the brewers of Nogne-O also introduced their remarkable brews to the world.  Also like Mikkeller, Nogne-O boasts a portfolio with a wide array of beer styles.   There is something for everyone when it comes to Nogne-O.


If you wish to travel outside of Scandinavia, we recommend hitting the Aussie outback by picking up a six pack of Coopers Best Extra Stout or Coopers Sparkling Ale.  If Asia is your fancy, the Hitachino beers of Kiuchi brewery in Japan are delicious.  Italy, Spain, and various other countries will be recognized during this week long extravaganza.  Along with the best of the rest, loads of meads will be seeing price slashes.   What are you indulging in this week?


**Note:  Mikkeller and Nogne-O are popular microbreweries, thus their beers are in limited supply.  Call your local Binnys or email to check on availability of any beers.

Attention Breweries: Keep the Double IPA’s Coming!


Hop-Heads rejoice! Two popular Midwest breweries have released brand new Double IPA’s into the market. Three Floyd’s brewing has unshackled Apocalypse Cow, while New Holland Brewing has ushered in Imperial Hatter. We had a chance to experience both of these impressive brews over the weekend, and were captivated by both.


Apocalypse Cow, 10% ABV

The first thing you will notice about Apocalypse Cow is the incredible artwork on the bomber, drawn by local Chicago artist Dan Grzeca. This beer is loaded with citrus hops, with some pine flavors taking a back seat to the orange and grapefruit sensations. Besides being incredibly hoppy and pretty bitter, this beer has a sweet side to it, likely from the lactose sugar Three Floyd’s uses when brewing this “not normal” beer. Some alcohol can be detected in the taste, although overall, Apocalypse Cow has a higher than average drinkability for a 10% ABV beer. There have been whispers about Apocalypse Cow being better than Dreadnaught, which is Three Floyd’s other double IPA. This very well could be true; you be the judge.


Imperial Hatter, 9.4% ABV

Imperial Hatter is not quite the hop bomb that Apocalypse Cow is. That being said, Imperial Hatter is a very unique and balanced double IPA. It is full bodied and quite malty for the style, despite being loaded with cirtus and pine hop flavors. One thing that is evident from the inaugural sip is that the alcohol in this beer is non-existent, despite being 9.4%. Our bomber of Imperial Hatter was hastily depleted, confirming that it has an astonishing drinkability for a double IPA. This beer is not overly complex, which was pleasing in this instance. Imperial Hatter is a good value buy when juxtaposed with some other double IPA’s.



Many beer drinkers are joining the growing ranks of hop heads, thus gravitating towards hoppy beers. Breweries are recognizing this, and releasing irresistible and mouth watering hop-tastic brews. Hopefully breweries will keep up with the trend and single and double IPA’s will continue to invade the market.


**Note: Both of these beers are limited in production and attainability, especially Apocalypse Cow. Please call your local Binny’s or email to confirm availability.

Sangria Tips

I’m making Sangria, and I need a red wine. I’ve been hearing this a lot from customers, lately. A few years ago, I tried making Sangria. I used a recipe that called for a Rioja. Rioja is a Spanish wine growing region that makes mostly dry and Earthy red wines. It didn’t turn out well at all. It was funky and tasted like stale grape juice. I am lucky I had this experience.


The Earthiness of red Rioja wines get in the way of the fruitiness and freshness of a Sangria. It will also taste funky if you use an oaky red. Stay away from Cab’s and Merlot’s. Do not go expensive either. Any young, unoaked Spanish Garnacha or blend will work out great.  Click the links for recommendations.  Below is a foolproof Red Sangria.


2 750ml bottles unoaked or lightly oaked red wine (Garnacha, Pinot Noir, Beaujolais)

12 oz Simple Syrup

1 large Lemon, sliced

1 large Orange, sliced

1 pint fresh berries

4 oz. Brandy

4 oz. Cointreau


Mix the liquids in a large punch bowl, and add the fruit.  Chill at least an hour to let the fruit “marinate.” Serve on the rocks.  You can also use any fruits of your choice.  If you do not have the time to make Sangria, try the Spanish Real Sangria and add fresh fruits.




What’s in the Glass?

 I have what I consider to be a healthy skepticism towards wine-related gadgetry those devices that by their own claims would revolutionize the way we store, prepare, serve, or otherwise enjoy wine. I usually hold that those traditions we have, we have because of effectiveness.

  However, the one gimmick -  at least considered a gimmick to most wine outsiders I’ve met – that I completley buy into is the role that well-designed glassware plays in the enjoyment of wine.

 Friends who aren’t wine people come over to my place and often ask about my four different kinds of glasses (four really isn’t a lot). This, to me, is an open invitation to play the let’s compare the same wine from different glasses game. I keep some heavy, clunky, small-bowled glasses hidden away for comparison in these occasions. People probably think I’m crazy, especially when I continue to force them to swirl, sniff and sip long after they’ve proclaimed Seriously, I believe you! We’re missing the game, dude!

 Then I always go into an explanation involving the flow of wine onto the tongue, directed by the shape of the glass and the thickness of the rim. I mention the way the shape of the bowl allows the wine to breathe and focuses and shapes the wine’s aromas. I go on and on.

 A few years ago, I was lucky to sit in on a seminar hosted by the Riedel Crystal company. We tasted different wines in the four most popular Riedel Vinum glasses the Vinum Bordeaux, Montrachet, Burgundy and Sauvignon Blanc stems and also tasted the same wines from big, heavy, clunky generic glasses.

 The first lesson was obvious compared to the poorly designed, thick, chunky glasses, the Vinum stems really bring out the beauty in wine, heightening intensity and bringing into focus the qualities a taster looks for.

 The Riedel representative pointed out that the glasses don’t always make the wine taste better, that they would further expose a flawed wine’s weaknesses. In fact, I wasn’t impressed by the cabernet sauvignon being poured that night, and the Vinum Cabernet glass just pulled the flaws of the wine right into focus.

 But perhaps the more surprising lesson that I took from the seminar was the effects the different Riedel Vinum glasses had on shaping the profile of each wine. A California chardonnay tasted from one glass showed overwhelmingly present vanilla and butter, but the same chardonnay tasted from a different glass was much more centered on tropical fruit, with hints of oak in the background.

 Steve Kregling, a wine consultant at the Skokie Binny’s is a true believer in the right glass for the right wine philosophy. His basic explanation for why certain glassware works better with certain wines is that they are designed to, in essence, boost or trim back certain ranges of a wine’s profile, similar to how an EQ filter on a component stereo can boost a recording’s mids and bass while cutting back the harsh treble. Or, to be more modern, it’s like switching your iPod presets from jazz to rock.

 Steve owns 8-10 different glasses, and loves to try the same wine from different glasses, looking for the perfect glass to best show the features of the night’s wine. I’m envious, but like I said above, I only own four different kinds of glasses. This is mostly because I’m poor, and because I’ve found a few glasses that I feel offer good versatility for what I drink at home.

 And that’s the advice I’d give to a beginner who is just getting into wine, or a customer considering a glassware purchase. Every taster out there needn’t own a whole cabinet of expensive stems – try different wines from different glasses, attend tasting seminars if possible, take note of how wines are being served at restaurants. Start with glasses designed for your favorite wines, and expand you collection from there, keeping in mind your tastes and also versatility. Don’t limit yourself to the most expensive glasses Riedel produces excellent stems, but compare other producers as well I do a LOT of tastings with my trusty Schott Zwiesel Forte set (pictured in this blog entry), and with Riedel’s less-expensive Ouveture line.

 What about you?  What are your experiences with glassware? What is your favorite glass, and what is your collection like? Leave a comment below.

Week 2: United Kingdom “Must Haves”

With week one of the international craft beer extravaganza coming to an end on June 9th, our focus on German and Austrian brews will shift to the beers of the United Kingdom starting on June 10th. If you have been contemplating getting that Scottish, English, or Irish Ale, now is the ideal occasion as over a hundred beers from the United Kingdom will see colossal price cuts. As with the previous week, wed like to offer our ideas on “must haves,” that is beers that we think are to delicious to pass up at the economical price they will be at for the next week. Without further ado, here is our list of “must haves” for week two of international craft beer month.


SkullSplitter -

Brewed in the Orkney Islands of Scotland, SkullSplitter sits atop our list of the best Scotch Ales. The sweet malts followed by earthiness and hints of caramel are to die for. The 8.5% ABV is deceptively high, and well hidden behind the brilliant flavors of SkullSplitter. Available in 4- packs and single bottles, both 11.2 oz.


Youngs Double Chocolate Stout -

Perhaps the number one chocolate beer, this one has a dominant chocolate flavor but also contains a charming balance due the coffee and sweet malt undertones. If you have a pessimistic opinion on chocolate beers, this English offering is sure to change your mind. Available in 14.9 oz 4- pack cans, and 16.9 oz bottles.


Meantime India Pale Ale

Citrusy, floral, hoppy, spicy, earthy, and everything you could ask for in an English IPA. Has a solid balance of malt just as the style warrants. Available in 750 ml bottles.


OHaras Irish Stout

Brewed in Ireland using indigenous malt and hops, OHaras Irish Stout is true to the Irish dry stout style. That being said, it is also scrumptious and will make anyone Irish for a day. Available in 4-pack bottles.


These are just four of the one hundred plus United Kingdom craft brews that are going to be on sale for the next week. International renowned breweries like Samuel Smith and Belhaven are always a solid choice, no matter what style you decide to go with. Will you be enjoying a taste of the U.K. this week?


New and Notable

  Keeping my eternal search for good values in mind, here are a few wines new to Binny’s, plus one that we’ve had for a while, that are worth checking out.


Napa Station

 I mentioned the new Napa Station winery in a previous blog entry.  This week, Binny’s is receiving the 2007 Napa Station Chardonnay.  Great for this time of year (if it could just stay sunny) the Chardonnay hints at sweetness on the nose along with bright fruit. The citrus and apricot fruit complexities on the palate are balanced and mellowed with a tiny hint of oak. It’s a great value at $13.99.


Values from Australia

 New from R Wines, who brought you Luchador Shiraz, Bitch Grenache, and a seemingly endless stream of easy to drink Australian wines with clever labels, comes one more: Darby & Joan. These wines are a steal at under $10 each.

  The Chardonnay has a very clean nose with hints of peach and pear. It is easygoing and fruity on the palate, with fresh pineapple, and finishes with zippy acidity. It’s a good, balanced chardonnay.

  The Cabernet Sauvignon is a standard Aussie fruit bomb, but a little heavier with slight herbal and baking spice undertones, though the weighty plum fruit is the main focus. Both are only $8.99 Seriously!

A Sweet Bargain From Spain

 For those looking for a terrific bargain on a special Spanish red, many Binny’s locations still have the 2004 Cenit. I thought this wine was worth it when it was selling for $42.99 – This month it is listed at the sale price of $29.99, with your Binny’s card.

 Both the Wine Advocate and Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar give the 2004 Cenit 92 points. A Spanish Tempranillo, it has a nose of smoky meat and lots of deep raspberry. The palate shows cocoa, bright underripe raspberry and tight, youthful tannins. Tasting the Cenit recently, I was struck by the tight tannin and underripe nature of the fruit – I’m anxiously looking forward to seeing how the bottles I bought show after a couple more years of cellar time.