Let It Breathe

  Toward the end of the work day yesterday, the California wine buyer asked me if I would like some wine for the night, and set an open sample bottle of Axios 2004 on my desk. Outstanding, I thought. Then I noticed that a coworker across the hall had the Axios 2006 on her desk. Time for a side-by-side comparison.

 So I ended up with two glasses of Axios sitting in front of me. These are expensive wines, and the 2004 didn’t receive very positive press, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The 2004 had a nose of very tight fruit with little else. The fruit was bigger on the palate, with licorice layered in, but then the wine thinned towards austerity on the finish, with a sort of coppery minerality. The 2006 had an even thinner nose, with some funkiness, and more herbal undertones. Both wines seemed angular, almost austere, with big tannins.

 I then poured a small amount of the ’04 into a much larger glass and let it breathe for 45 minutes. Maybe it was the glass, or the time, or just me, but the fruit seemed a little more present. Still, the wine remained herbal and tannic and angular.

 It made me think about how I taste wine; about mouthfeel, and about separating the skeleton of wine (acidity, tannin) from the flesh (fruit, oak, alcohol).

  Which was something I had on my mind already, since attending a White Burgundy seminar on Tuesday. It was an opportunity to try a great range of wines, to experience the similarities and the differences of the white wines from across the legendary French region. (Plus the speakers were good and knew their stuff.) The highlight (though not the favorite) of the seminar was the 2006 Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne. The wine was surprisingly austere, not what I expected at all very quiet nose, very little fruit, just a monolithic mouthfeel and acidity.  It was explained that this wine isn’t about aroma it’s about texture. Texture and development with age.

 Again, the guys that gave the seminar were just great. Total class acts. Just fantastic. Handsome and charming, too.

 I was again thinking about this as I poured the 2004 Axios for the third time, at home, with dinner. The barley soup I had been dreading turned out to be a delicious Italian-style blend of barley, broth and bulk-buy canned organic tomatoes with tiny bit of garlic and onion, served with a delicious grilled Vermont cheddar sandwich. The wine got better and better; with time the black cherry and plum fruit filled out in the nose and palate, still balanced by herbal qualities like tea leaves and a hint of menthol, without losing the tannic power it had before.

 Is the Axios worth the asking price of upwards of $125? Hardly. My fiancee guessed it at about $20 and didn’t believe me when I told her the MSRP. I’d peg it more in the $35-$40 range.

 Maybe it’s all subjectivity. Maybe it was the wine’s exposure to air.  Maybe it was the fact that the food was fantastic, I was home and comfortable and had Frank Black playing on the stereo. Maybe it was because I actually started to swallow the wine once I got home. At any rate, what I experienced was a wine that improved throughout the day, getting better with each taste.

Wheat Takes a Front Seat

We recently had the opportunity to sample two new summer brews, both of which fall into the wheat beer category. Abita Satsuma Harvest Wit was the first to hit our lips, followed closely by Sierra Nevada Kellerweis Hefeweizen. Although both of these savory selections are made predominantly from wheat, they share many differences. The Satsuma Harvest Wit goes along the Belgian wit path with its profound essences from spices like coriander, while the Kellerweis Hefeweizen takes a German weiss path with its yeasty banana soul.



Abita Satsuma Wit

This one is more true to the wit bier style than we thought it would be. Satsuma Wit has the typical Belgian yeasty and spicy notes on the nose. Spices like coriander govern the palate, while the anticipated mandarin like satsuma flavor takes a back seat. There is a faint tang and bitterness from the wheat and hops. A smooth and crisp finish tops off this easy going and highly drinkable beer. Satsuma Wit is an enjoyable alternative to wit beers such as Hoegaarden and Blue Moon; we would consider it a must try if you are fans of either of these beers.



Sierra Nevada Kellerweis Hefeweizen

Sierra Nevadas last offering of Torpedo Extra IPA was an immense hit, and they without a doubt scored again with Kellerweis. Kellerweis has everything going on that a first tier Hefeweizen should. Lemony zest, spices, cloves, bananas, yeast, and citrus are all detectable in this masterpiece. Its crisp and tart with a clean and refreshing finish. Kellerweis definitely opened the eyes of us who were biased towards American style wheat beers when juxtaposing them with German Hefeweizens. At $8.99 a six pack with a sale point of $6.99, Sierra Nevadas latest offering should be on everyones shopping list.



Rest assured you will not be disappointed with either of these flavorsome brews. While the Sierra Nevada Kellerweis Hefeweizen is slated to be offered year round, the Abita Satsuma Wit is a seasonal and will only be available for a modest amount of time. Will you be relishing some wheat this week?

Dancing With the Devil

This week may be the only opportunity of the year for you to dance with the devil. No we are not referring to religion in anyway; instead, we are referencing a beer from Founders Brewing Company. Devil Dancer is one of Founders rarest and most sought after beers, alongside greats like Kentucky Breakfast Stout and Founders Harvest Ale. The combination of being both rare and sought after gives you a window of about a week if you are looking to try this world class beer, and that window is opening now.



Devil Dancers status as a Triple IPA makes it a rare breed. Upon drinking this beer, you will be shocked to learn that it is 12% ABV; the alcohol in Devil Dancer is as hidden as they come. Supposedly this hop bomb of a brew is dry hopped for 26 straight days with a combination of 10 hop varieties. Translation: Devil Dancer has 112 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), and should only be consumed by the most diehard hop heads.



Devil Dancer will overload your palate with pine and citrus aromas and flavors from the 10 hop varieties. Devil Dancer isnt all about the hops though; it does have a pleasant creamy caramel malt backbone, resulting in an adequate balance between hops and malt. These traits create a beer that is bittersweet and to die for.


If you consider yourself a hop head, then Devil Dancer should be all over your radar. This is truly one of the biggest and boldest IPAs out there. It is also one of the hardest to find, so, as mentioned before, get into Binnys before it is too late. Will you be dancing with the devil this week?


An Impromptu Blind Vodka Tasting

  Early this afternoon I was sitting in my office doing item data entry (the boring part of my job) when by boss looked in and invited me to a blind vodka tasting (the exciting part of my job).  He said, You can blog about it. That’s all the invitation I need.

  The Binny’s vodka buyer’s office was already full of people spirit company representatives, mostly so I stood in the hallway, with four styrofoam cups, one marked A, one marked B, one marked C, and one marked SPIT. They told me to put them in order of cost.

 I sniffed, sipped, and spat the three samples. Vodka A had a fair amount of chemical in the nose and palate, with a relatively clean finish.  Vodka B had a much cleaner nose, and slightly more dimension on the palate. Vodka C had an equally clean nose with a noticeably thicker mouthfeel. I guessed that C was the most expensive, followed by B, and named A as the cheapest.

 It turns out I was right.

 The other blind tasters knew the three brands, and were just trying to guess which was which. Aside from a little confusion here and there, they were mostly right. The most expensive was a new luxury vodka called Diamond Standard Vodka, ringing in at about $80, which boasts a Diamond Filtration process.  I can’t even imagine that.  The vodka in the middleof the price range was another new one called Death’s Door Vodka, from Door County in Wisconsin, which will sell somewhere in the mid-30′s. And least expensive was Burnett’s, which I have to admit was much, much better than I would have guessed, though it seemed obvious as the least expensive (It’s $12 for a 1.75L).

  My boss asked us all how we could tell which was which. We all threw in pretty much the same response tasting vodka is mostly about purity, lack of chemical overtones on the nose and finish, and maybe about texture and flavors if they’re in there. He then asked us if we’d still be able to tell the difference if each vodka were mixed into a glass of orange juice.  That’s a lot harder.

 I told them about a vodka I had purchased recently, a certain new organic vodka. I told everybody about how it completely ruined any drink it went into about how the drink would taste fine until the finish, and how the vodka would just leave an absolutely appalling medicinal aftertaste.

 The representative for that particular new brand of organic vodka was in the room, and immediately pointed out how consumers at tastings held at various Binny’s locations have responded positively to that particular new organic vodka, and gave me a sheet of statistics a list of stores, the number of customers who tasted the vodka at each store, and the number of bottles those customers purchased. The information is very thorough. I have to admit that consumers are responding quite positively to that particular new organic vodka. He pointed out that I probably analyze the vodka more than the average consumer.

 He’s right, so I only protested a little. I told them about this time that I was going to a concert (drinks are too damned expensive at concerts) and that we stopped at a Taco Bell to get some Frutista Freezes to mix the vodka in for the walk across the huge parking lot to the front gates of the arena….

 Wait, what? My boss said. What’s a Frutisian Freezer?

 It’s like this sort of slushy thing you get at Taco Bell, I said. It’s like, um, mango and pineapple or strawberry. They’re really super sweet. Anyway, we mixed that with the organic vodka and it still tasted like chemicals.

 My boss smirked and said, See, that’s a blog post right there.

 I guess it is.

A Smokin’ Summer Beer

Spoetzl Brewery, brewers of the popular Shiner beers who share their name with the small, off the beaten path town in the heart of Texas, have released a new summer beer. No, the new Shiner beer is not a wheat beer or kolsch like so many summer beers are. It is also not the growing in popularity summer saison style either, rather, Shiner Smokehaus is a refreshing Helles-style lager.


At 4.89% ABV, Shiner Smokehaus is an easy drinker meant for a steaming hot Texas summer day. It has a fair amount of carbonation to go along with its golden straw color. Smokehaus has a smoky flavor, hence the name. This smoked flavor in a beer is considered an acquired taste and may not be for everyone, but we recommend trying a lighter smoked beer like Shiner Smokehaus rather than diving right into a heavy, dark, German smoked rauchbier.


It is always pleasant to see a brewery succeeding when trying something new. Shiner Smokehaus is the second new beer that Spoetzl Brewery has put out so far this year; the latter being a dopplebock going by the name of Shiner 100 Commerator. At $6.99 for a six-pack, Shiner beers are an economical choice and give some bang for the buck. If you are looking to experience more of the Shiner beers, another value buy is the Shiner 12-pack sampler.


Does anyone have any comments regarding smoked beers?