Touring a Couple Little Guys: Greg Goes to Wisconsin

  It was a couple weekends ago that my fiancee and I were planning a trip into Wisconsin. Some friends and friends of friends were having a little get-together at a cabin up there somewhere and we were invited. We figured that while we were in the neighborhood, we might as well hit up a brewery or two. And as a possible counterpoint to Kyle’s recent trip to Anheuser-Busch, we planned our drive with stops at the Minhas and New Glarus breweries.

 

Minhas Craft Brewery

  The first stop of the day was the Minhas Craft Brewery, which boasts being the oldest working brewery in the Midwest, and second oldest in the nation (10 beer cred points to the first to name the oldest in the comments, and no Googling). The brewery complex sprawls across a block and a half of Monroe, Wisconsin. Along with their line of Minhas craft beers (mostly exported to Canada), they also own the Huber label, local brews like Mountain Creek and Rhinelander, and Blumer’s soda. Minhas also does a lot of contract brewing for Berghoff and others.

  Despite the word Craft being in the name, I’d place Minhas somewhere between a craft brewery and a big production facility. They’re not at the output level of the big breweries, but from what we tasted at the finish of the tour, a lot of their products seem to be inexpensive mass-produced beers for the local market and export to Canada (70% is exported).

  The Minhas Billy Bock, 1845 Pils and Lazy Mutt were highlights, mostly in comparison to the other beers. The Lazy Mutt, a Farmhouse Ale, seemed very popular. I had never had a Farmhouse Ale before light, fruity, and easy to drink (and a little boring) apparently the style is big in Wisconsin. Tour highlights included a massive brew kettle, bottling line, Pasteurization oven and storage warehouse, and of course the tour ends in a big tasting room and gift shop with plenty of beers to taste and chotchkies to buy. They sent us off with a 5-pack of beer and a souvenir glass.

 

New Glarus Brewing Co.

  The next stop was the New Glarus Brewery’s brand new Hilltop location, right outside of New Glarus, Wisconsin, which just opened in June. The whole facility is as brand new, clean and modern as a brewery can get. Already running late for the party at the cabin, we decided to skip the free self-guided brewery tour (everyday, 10-4) and headed straight for the tasting room.

  As we tasted, the long room filled up with a line of people leading to a tasting counter. A tip for anybody heading to New Glarus: The best strategy seems to be to get a sample of beer, carry it the back of the line, and enjoy it while waiting in line for your next sample. This will minimize the amount of time spent beerless. It got pretty busy on that Saturday afternoon.

  These people know how to make beer. Personal highlights included: the Coffee Stout, heavy and deep and dark; the Dancing Man Wheat, a lightly spiced and refreshing weizen; the Fat Squirrel Nut Brown Ale, with wonderfully balanced Hazelnut and baking spice notes. The Wisconsin Belgian Red is a decent cherry wheat but was simply too sweet for my tastes. New Glarus’s most well known beer is the Spotted Cow, another Farmhouse Ale. This one, like the Lazy Dog from Minhas, is light, vaguely fruity, and easy to drink, but pales in comparison to the other fantastic, much deeper and more intense beers on hand. None of the New Glarus beers are available outside of Wisconsin, but if you’re heading to the neighborhood, it’s worth a visit.

A Question of Etiquette

  A funny thing happened to me recenty, and I’m surprised it had never happened before.

  A friend invited me to a concert at Wrigley Field, only the tickets weren’t for Wrigley but for one of those rooftop bleacher sections across the street. Included with the seats came an unlimited buffet and beverages. Included in ‘beverages’ were several different wines, none of which I recognized. I tried the California chardonnay (it tasted like bubblegum but was drinkable) and the California merlot (it tasted like merlot but was drinkable) and the South American red blend (it tasted like merlot but was drinkable).

  Our view of the concert itself was less than ideal all we could see was the back of the enclosed stage so our attention drifted until we were talking to the folks around us. A young couple sitting behind us joked that the next time we got up for drinks, we should grab them some beers too. I promised I would, and they promised they would, and before I realized it, one of them handed me a glass of wine.

  Actually, she handed me a red plastic keg cup. It was full of red wine and ice. It was sweating, like how a frosty beer sweats on a humid day. I sniffed it and took a sip, the chill masking all flavors but dirt. She said They had the bottle out on the counter. It seemed way too warm, so I had them put it on ice, and then she smiled.

  So here’s my question regarding etiquette: What do you do when somebody hands you a drink that you’re sure you won’t be able to choke down? Especially from a well-meaning friend or host? And I don’t mean a bad drink; I mean an unthinkably terrible drink.

  Keep in mind: the one thing I’d always like to avoid is the dreaded label of wine snob. I suspect that appearing detached and unreasonable isn’t a good trait for a guy in the wine business.

  I’ve been at parties where I’m given a lousy glass of wine, and I’m usually able to weasel out of commenting about it. If my host is smiling at me and looking for a response, I’ll try to offer a quick, vague yet honest observation like smells like almonds or it’s got quite a pinkish orange color for a chardonnay or boy, that is sweet, isn’t it? I’m blessed with a terribly short attention span, and it’s easy for me to forget where I put my drink and to get back to the gin or bourbon or whatever.

  But there, stuck in my seat on the rooftop, I didn’t have any other options. Here’s what I did: I thanked her for the wine. I mentioned that it’s not customary to serve red so cold. I took another sip, gave up on it, and strained the wine into another cup with my fingers. In the process, I spilled a fair amount onto my lap. Soon, I was rescued by my friend, who had arrived with another load of fresh drinks, and by the distractions a conert can offer.

  So I pose the question to you again: What do you do when somebody hands you a drink that you’re sure you won’t be able to choke down?

New and Notable

 Our buyers have been busy this month, bringing in lots of new wines (and lots of new values).  Here are a few bottles new to our shelves that you might want to check out.

 

New From Italy

2008 Farnese Sangiovese – $7.99
 This isn’t a huge red, but it has fantastic balance.  If you’re looking for a delicate Tuscan red, try this Sangiovese from the Abruzzo region.  It’s got sangiovese’s signature strawberry and cherry fruit, and just a hint of herbs like tobacco and tea leaves, and is harmoniously balanced with soft tannins from time aging in wood barrels. At this price, the Farnese Sangiovese is an excellent value.

 If you’re looking for something a little bit bigger, give the 2008 Farnese Montepulciano d’Abruzzo a try; it shows less finesse but packs in the layers of rich fruit.

 

New From Spain

2006 Dominio de Tares Baltos – $14.99
 The rustic nose of this Spanish red recalls a more classic Spanish winemaking tradition, and is reminiscent of the wines of Ribera del Duero. Earthy and complex on the nose, this 100% Mencia wine shows loads of blueberry and cherry candy fruit with deep running spice and a fantastic, smooth finish. It’s an exceptional value for a taster looking for more complexity from their Spanish red. This is the newest vintage of this value, which Binny’s has carried for years.

 

New From South Africa

2008 Paul Cluver Chardonnay – $14.99
 For fans of oaky California chardonnay, this South African chardonnay offers quite a punch for the price. The oak shines through in the nose as vanilla and marzipan, melding with dried apricot and tropical pineapple. On the palate the wine offers layers of baking spices like cinnamon, vanilla and brown sugar, on top of the peach-like fruit, leading to a long and elegant finish. Highly recommended, and a great value.

 Also new to Binny’s shelves from Paul Cluver is the 2008 Paul Cluver Sauvignon Blanc. This one is the opposite of the Chard – it’s all about fresh lemon and lime, clean bright acidity, and just a hint of funkiness that seems to me like textbook South African white. And at $10.99, it’s another great bargain.

Numanthia y Tapas

  I was lucky enough to attend a wine dinner early last week hosted by Numanthia Termes, a great winery in the Toro region of Spain. We ate tapas at a tapas restaurant. I had never had tapas before.

  What a dinner! But first, the wines. We tasted the 2006 vintage across the whole Numanthia lineup Termes, Numanthia and Termanthia. What is there to say? The wines are fabulous, each bigger than the last. All are quite modern, with heavy use of oak which the Tinto de Toro (the local version of tempranillo) boldly stands up to in support and body. All show huge raspberry, blackberry and plum fruits with layers of cocoa and vanilla, with rich tannins. These are wines that I couln’t possibly recommend enough to anyone with any interest in Spanish wine. In general, Toro is a growing region deserving attention.

  To round out the night, we tasted from a magnum of the 1998 Numanthia, their first vintage, which is almost as big as the 2006. Time hasn’t stripped any of the fruit or tannin, though it has exposed extra layers of toasted graham cracker or waffle cone, vanilla and brown sugar.

  If I have one bit of criticism of the Numanthia Termes wines, it is this: while the very expensive Termanthia ($190) is absolutely fantastic, the comparably reasonably priced Numanthia ($55) and comparably cheap Termes ($25) are almost as big and almost as good. Don’t get me wrong: everybody should taste the Termanthia if they get the chance, it is wonderful. But when you make less expensive wines this good, you’re shooting your flagship wine in the foot.

  As a side note, winemaker Manuel Louzada was loaded with lots of interesting stories. He told us about how the soil around some of the vineyards in Toro is so arid that the vines still grow on their original rootstock, having never been infested with phylloxera, the aphid-like infestation that ravaged the vineyards of Europe in the mid-19th century. He also told us about how he has worked as a winemaker on two different vintages in one year finishing one in the Southern Hemisphere and then going to the Northern Hemisphere to start on the second. These are delightful antecdotes for us wine nerds.

  As I mentiod above, I had never had tapas before. It went like this: lots of us sitting very closely together passed small plates of food around. For one course, I ate an olive. It was a very good olive. Later I had a slice of cheese on a slice of apple. All in all, eating tapas feels a lot like going to a movie theater, watching all the previews, and then leaving before the movie starts. Maybe I’m just conditioned to eat like an American.

  The dessert plate was excellent, but the coffee was lousy. The wines were fantastic. I had a great time.

Touring a Giant

Anheuser-Busch has long been the target of scrutiny by beer geeks. Being a beer geek myself, I will admit having some biased feelings towards craft beer. But after taking the beermaster tour at the AB St. Louis brewery, any ill feelings towards the brewing giant quickly evaporated. Upon completion of the beermaster tour, we learned that AB is not just about the beer, but is a hefty part of American history.

 

The first stop on our tour was a cold room that houses massive stainless steel vessels. The sheer size and capacity of these holding tanks, which are stacked 6 high and spread throughout the entire building, is startling. If you drank a 24 pack of beer every day of your life, it would take you 137 years to consume the contents of one of these tanks. These vessels are where AB beers are kraeusened and put through the famous beechwood aging process. A common misconception in the beer geek community is that the beechwood aging speeds up conditioning to reduce lagering time and ultimately save money. While the ultimate goal of the beechwood aging is to create a greater surface area for the yeast to cling to and in theory could speed up the lagering process, this doesnt change the fact that beechwood aging is one of the most expensive brewing processes in the world. The biggest reasons that AB continues to beechwood age their beer is to ensure that the history and tradition of their beers will live on.

 

 

The second stop on our tour was the historic brew house, which is perhaps the most technologically advanced of its kind. Everything is electronically monitored to ensure quality and consistency. For example, a large state of the art plasma screen keeps track of what hops have been added to a batch already, and lets the brewmasters know when they have to add another load of hops. A computer houses all the hop recipes used for every AB product. Comparing the hop recipes used for Bud Light with that of 94 IBU rye IPA that AB brewed for a local fair shows that an incredible amount of money, time, and effort goes into the hopping of beers.

 

 

We then made our way to the Bevo packaging facility and took several escalators up to one of the many bottling floors, where we had the pleasure of seeing 24 pack bottles of Bud Select flying at seemingly astronomical speeds down the bottling line. On this floor the beer is pasteurized, bottled, labled, and set to rest in its final package before making its way to Binnys. Sound waves are sent throughout the facility in an effort to locate bad or under filled bottles, while a camera rotates hundreds of bottles a minute to ensure that every label is lined up the same way on every bottle. AB would be unable to produce the vast amount of beer needed please the masses without the advanced technological processes implemented at the brewery.

 

Next up was the iconic Clydesdale stables. These were outside and open to the public, and groups gathered and marveled at these beautiful horses. A Dalmatian freely milled around with his horse friends, almost reminiscent of a live commercial. While we oohed and aahed at the wondrous beasts, our tour guide filled us in on some history of the stallions. After prohibition was repealed, in which AB sold things like bakers yeast and soda to keep the brewery afloat, the Clydesdales burst through the front doors of the brewery on a cross country quest to deliver a case of Budweiser to every politician who helped abolish prohibition, even stopping at the white house and presenting then president Franklin Roosevelt with a case beer. It is historical moments like this that make people think of AB when they see or hear about Clydesdales. The implementation of Clydesdales as the face of Budweiser by Adolphus Busch was nothing short of marketing genius.

 

The last stop and perhaps the most memorable was in a immense 34 degree cold room with more of the above mentioned colossal stainless steel vessels holding Bud Light which was waiting to be pumped to the bottling line. Our tour guide attached a beer thief to a nearby tank and Bud Light proceeded to fill our tasting glasses. I dont know if it was the atmosphere or the fact that this was the freshest beer I had ever tasted, but at that particular moment the Bud Light that was just about freezing my hand off tasted like one of the better beers that I have yet to consume. Even a non beer drinker in our tour group was enjoying the fresh brew. We were immersed in the moment, lost in the American history of the momentous brewery, and enjoying our visit to much for the beer to be anything less than fantastic.

 

 

I urge anyone to visit this historic brewery. You know you will be in for a treat when you first lay eyes on the buildings,  which are reminiscent of a college town or small city instead of a brewery. I honestly can say that none of the previous brewery tours I have partaken in can really compare to that of Anheuser-Busch. What is the greatest brewery tour you have been on?

 

 

 

 

Take a Trip to Sherwood Forest

Robin Hood and his gang are infiltrating Binnysin the form of beer. Sherwood Forest Brewers is the latest brewery to join the ranks of Binnys ever expanding beer portfolio. Hailing from Marlborough, Massachusetts, Sherwood Forest Brewers will feature four flavorsome brews at Binnys. Each six pack will retail at $8.99, and, when compared to some other six packs, can be considered stealing from the rich.

 

First up in the Sherwood Forest Brewers line is Maidens Blueberry Ale. If fruity beers are your style, then this one is for you! Big blueberry essences and flavors on the nose and palate coincide with pale malts. This one is not overly sweet and overboard like a number of fruit beers, and has a pleasant dry finish. If your are a fan of beers like Wild Blue or Seadog Blueberry Ale, then Maidens Blueberry Ale should be all over your radar.

 

The next beer in the Sherwood Forest line is for the hop heads. Sheriffs India Pale Ale, named for the “devious fellow with a certain affinity for women and hops,” is obviously named for the Sheriff of Nottingham. Perhaps on the sweeter side for an IPA (due to its decisive malt backbone), Sheriff India Pale Ale still contains tangy and citrusy hop flavors. A definite must try if you are an IPA junky.

 

Friars Belgian-Style White Ale is the next offering served up from Sherwood Forest. If you are a fan of wheat, cloves, coriander, Belgian yeast, citrus, etc. then this one is for you. Beers like Allagash White, Blue Moon, and Hoegaarden can be classified alongside this light Belgian style beer. Now is the perfect season for this easy to drink summer sipper.

 

Last but not least is Archers Ale, obviously named for Robin Hood. The Flagship beer of Sherwood Forest Brewers is an English Style Pale Ale. Plenty of sweet and caramel malts dominate this brew, but it does have enough hops to result in a finely balanced beer. This full bodied local favorite is another relatively easy drinker, and an admirable example of the style.

 

Despite what some may consider gimmicky names, the Sherwood Forest beers are absolutely worth a shot. They are slowly making their way into Binnys, and are not available at all locations yet. The reason for this is that they are distributed by one of the smaller distributors around, and consequentially, our in store beer buyers may only see them monthly instead of weekly like the bigger distributors. If you are wondering if your local Binnys has the Sherwood Forest Beers in yet, please email kyle@binnys.com. Will you be stealing from the rich and giving to the poor anytime soon?

Two Good People in the Wine Business

It’s not everyday you get to meet owners wineries. I’ve met three in July, alone. First was Joel Gott as Greg Versch mentioned, here. Then I met David Clark of Milton Park and Thorn Clark in Australia. This past week I met Gunther Schlink, as well. It is really exciting to meet down to Earth wine makers and vineyard owners.

 

First off, if you have not tried any Thorn Clark wines, I would suggest doing so. Even their entry level label, Milton Park produce great $10 bottles of Shiraz and Chardonnay. Before meeting David, the Thorn Clark Shotfire Shiraz is my favorite Shiraz under $25. I told him this and have gave me a big smile and thanked me. Here are the notes from what I tasted.

 

 

2008 Thorn Clark Terra Barossa- They are starting to make these liter sized bottles for economic purposes. I think it is a great idea. Bright and fruity nose, with blackberries and pepper dominating. Bright and refreshing in the mouth. Very solid QPR.

 

 

2007 Thorn Clark Shotfire Shiraz- Nose of vanilla, tart blueberries, plums and licorice. Medium to full bodied, huge amounts of fruit and a long balanced finish.

 

 

2008 Thorn Clark Shotfire Shiraz- Wow! David said the 2008 was one of the best Shotfire’s they have ever made. It was bottle 3 weeks before I tasted it. Ripe nose of Chambord, vanilla and baking spice. Full bodied, young, mouth coating tannins and almost sweet in the mouth. Fantastic.

 

It was great to meet David and talk with him about his wines. 

 

I was alone in the wine department last week, and a distributor representative, said, I have someone for you to meet. This is Gunther Schlink.

 

I was quite surprised.  Binny’s has recently received a few lower production wines from Gunther Schlink. They include a Dry Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, Dornfelder and a great Pinot Noir. The beautiful thing about these wines is you can drink them any time of year, they are food friendly and most of them are around $10 per bottle.  Here is more information, here. 

 

In these harsh economic times, a lot of people in the wine industry are out and about promoting their wines.  It’s a good thing to see.   

 

Getting out of a Wine “Rut”

When you shop for wine, are you set in your ways? Do you only drink one particular brand of California Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio? How about you Cab and red blend drinkers? Have you ever tried a Bordeaux? If you only drink one type of wine, I want you to do something for me the next time you visit Binny’s. I want you to try something new. We have all tried wines we didn’t like. Do not write off that particular type of wine. I sure did, and I really wish I didn’t.

 

When I started drinking wine, (and before working at Binny’s) I wanted to try as many different wines as possible. I started off with the sweet stuff and then ventured into dryer whites and reds. The more I tasted the more I got used to dryer wines. I was reading about how Spain was making incredible wines. I went to my local wine shop and randomly picked up a Spanish red. I got it home and popped it. It smelled like burned rubber, tar and bandaid’s. It didn’t taste much better, either.

 

This experience made me avoid Spanish wine until I started working at Binny’s. The Spanish wine I had was just bad. There are bad wines made in all countries, and unfortunately I picked a bad one. Now, my favorite wines come from Spain. There are a lot of wines that drink much better than they cost; especially from Spain.

 

If you are a Pinot Grigio drinker, try a Sauvignon Blanc. If you are a Sauvignon Blanc drinker, try a Torrontes from South America, Hungarian Furmint or a Spanish white. If you are a Chardonnay drinker, try a White Burgundy or a Viognier.

 

For reds, if you drink Pinot Noir, try a Spanish Grenache, Cru Beaujolais or Red Burgundy. If your drink Merlot, try Spanish Monastrell. If you drink higher end Cab’s, try a higher end Bordeaux.

 

The next time you’re visiting Binny’s, don’t do your usual bottle. Talk to a wine consultant, (we’re friendly) and we will help you out.

 

Spotlight on Joel Gott Wines

 Winery owner Joel Gott presented his portfolio of wines to a group of Binny’s employees recently it was good to be reacquainted with these wines. I’ve always considered the Joel Gott wines to represent a good value; the whole lineup retails at Binny’s at under $15, and they sure pack a lot of stuffing for the price. They’re able to make these good yet inexpensive wines by sourcing from producers who have excess juice, then blending different lots to fit a desired profile. Seems to be working well.

  The whites I tasted are all very fresh and fruit-focused. They are aged in stainless steel tanks to maintain vibrant fruit qualities and precise acidity. The 2008 Sauvignon Blanc balances grassy freshness with citrus fruit for a refreshing and bright wine; pleasant if not overly complex. The 2008 Washington State Riesling (which isn’t available at Binny’s right now) has a sweet nose but is heavy and dry on the palate, showing good green apple fruit.

 The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon 815 is a value-focused cuvee. A slightly perfumed and herbal nose leads to a wine with good depth the plum fruit and tannic structure are in harmony for a balanced but not huge Cab. We also tasted the 2005 Gott Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced entirely from Napa (also not available at Binny’s right now). It’s a little more intricate, showing good use of oak to balance with the big plum and cassis fruit.

  The Gott portfolio has always had a focus on Zinfandel we tasted the popular California Zinfandel as well as a few of the regional Zins that go into the cuvee. I’m not sure if they’re widely available as individual bottlings, and I’d tend to recommend the California blend itself as a great value. The whole range is textbook California zin plush fruit with peppery undertones and dry herb complexities. Retailing every day on Binny’s shelves at $14.99, this month the California Zinfandel is on sale for $12.99.

 Recently, Joel Gott Wines entered into a distribution partnership with industry giant Trinchero (known best for brands like Sutter Home and Folie à Deux) a group he’s had experience with before in his involvement in Three Thieves. The hope is that with the Trinchero sales force, Gott (and his winemaking wife Sarah) can focus more on sourcing and blending great wines for their growing brand. He says that while production is sure to increase, the quality of the wines they make will remain great.

New Brewery: Fort Collins Brewery

Binnys is excited to announce that another new brewery is hitting our shelves. Fort Collins Brewery, which shares the town of Fort Collins, Colorado, with New Belgium Brewing, is bringing a portfolio of seven beers along with them to Illinois. We had a chance to try a few of their beers, and cant wait to try the others. Without further ado, we would like to give you a look into the seven new beers that will be hitting our shelves.

 

Major Toms Pomegranate Wheat

A couple of us tried this atypical fruit beer while hitting the links. It is light and refreshing thus making it a good session beer. A tart and fruity aftertaste tops off the clean finish. This one is a fine beer to try if you are a fan of wheat beers or fruit beers.

 

Rocky Mountain IPA

The dry hopping of this IPA adds an intense floral aroma that coincides with the strong malt backbone.

 

Kidd Black Lager

This one is a schwarzbier, and this excites us since this style is fairly limited in todays market. A schwarzbier is a German style black beer that very light despite its dark and menacing color. A “dash” of smoked malt is added to create complexity.

 

Z Smoked Amber Lager

This one is a German styled rauchbier, perhaps an even rarer style than the schwarzbier. Apparently more than a “dash” of smoked malt is added to this brew. This beer compliments a meal, as it is brewed to be “smoky and palatable.”

 

Rocky Mountain IPA

The dry hopping of this IPA adds an intense floral aroma that coincides with the strong malt backbone.

 

Retro Red

Retro Red is brewed using English malts and German hops; therefore it is quite different from American red ales. It is toasty, nutty, and moderately hoppy.

 

Chocolate Stout

This one is pretty light when considering stouts, as it clocks in at just under 5% ABV. This chocolate flavored brew is slightly bitter with an extremely high drinkability for the style.

 

Barrel Licked Bock

This is the one that we have our eye on. Fort Collins Brewery set aside a batch of their Great American Beer Fest award winning dopple bock to be barrel aged. After aging the beer in their cellars, the dopple bock was transferred into Stranahans Colorado Whiskey barrels and aged in these for an additional eight weeks. This beer will not doubt be limited and we recommend getting your hands on it soon if you wish to try it.

 

If you want to experience all of Fort Collinss enticing brews but dont feel like picking up a six pack of all of them, we have good news. Fort Collins will also be releasing a lunchbox, which contains 2 each of all the beers above excluding the Barrel Licked Bock. Will you be endeavoring Fort Collins anytime soon?