Central City Brewing En Route

Central City Brewing Company, brewers of the Red Racer line of beers, will debut at out stores next week.  The British Columbia based brewery will unveil two of their beers, Red Racer IPA and Red Racer Lager, both of which will be presented in 4-pack cans. 

 

Central City has come along way during their youthful 7 year brewing history.  They were recognized as the 2010 Canadian Brewery of the Year at the Canadian Brewing Awards, edging out other Canadian brewery heavyweight favorites such as Unibroue. Their Red Racer IPA took home the gold medal for best American IPA at the same event. 

 

The Central City beers will begin shipping to our stores next week, and will be available at the majority of Binnys locations. 

 

What is your favorite Canadian brewery?

Spit

 It is almost November. For us in the business of selling wines and spirits and beer, this is the season where we get geared up for the holiday sales crunch. For you the enthusiast, it means tons of tastings opportunities to try the latest and greatest in the world of the liquid arts. Here’s the obligatory plug: check out upcoming events at a Binny’s Beverage Depot near you on our events page.

 I hope that you attend all the tasting events you can, and I hope you taste every single wine (or spirit or beer) you want. And of course, I hope you find lots of new favorites. Here is my one piece of advice: 

 

 Spit.


 I know it might seem weird, an alien concept, but trust me. Spit.

 Some days, I’ll taste as many as thirty wines. If I didn’t spit everything, I would be a sluggish mess by noon. The same is true for any big tasting. At a scant one ounce pour, drinking twenty five samples is the same as slamming a bottle of wine. 

 Don’t worry about your spitting technique or precision. I have this ceramic coffee mug on my desk, my permanent spit cup. It gets messy sometimes, and I’m a pro. Just lean over the spit bucket and let it drop. Napkins help, too.

 You’ll get better with practice, it will feel less weird, your mind will stay sharp. And you can always grab a glass or two of your favorites when you’ve tried everything first.

 Not beer, though. When you taste beer, you have to swallow.

Napa/Sonoma Crush ’10: 2008 Vintage Report

   Napa is home to about 450 different labels with bottle prices ranging from $10 to $800. The climate in Napa is fairly consistent. It varies much less than wine growing regions in Europe. Although, for the 2010 vintage, most producers are one month behind in their harvest due to record cold weather. Looking “ahead” to the the releases of the 2008 vintage, it is stellar for big Napa reds.

   In April of 2008 in Napa, there was a cool spell that caused frost after bud break. This damaged 20 to 30 percent of the newly formed clusters around Napa. Many great producers actually drop clusters in order to ensure the best quality grapes are produced by the vine. With nature taking care of dropping fruit for winemakers, low yields equals better wine.

   In tasting the same wines from 07 and 08 from a particular producer, the 2008 vintage has always outperformed the 2007. We all know how good 2007 was as a vintage in Napa by looking at the ratings and tasting notes. 2008 as a whole (Bordeaux varietals especially) are richer, bigger and more complex. It’s hard to believe, but every 2008 I’ve had from Napa has been great.

   Kapcsandy is a great little producer making Bordeaux-styled wines from their single vineyard in Yountville. Lou Kapcsandy’s mission statement is to make wine that outperforms the first growths from Bordeaux. He sure has them licked as far as pricing goes, but how about the wines? We have a couple of the 07′s, and the 2008′s I tasted are beyond belief.  The 2009 Rose, 2007 Endre and 2007 Estate Cuvee are available at select Binny’s locations.

2009 Rose – 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and the rest Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. This is stainless steel fermented and is made by using the Saignée or bleeding method. It is also aged on its lees for 9 months, giving it a richer flavor. Producers in Bordeaux do make rosé; unfortunately, it is hard to find. This blend has a ripe, mineral driven nose, showing tart strawberry, citrus and toasty flavors. Big for a rosé in the mouth, it has bright acidity, but it is rounded out due to the lees aging. This will be poured for Thanksgiving in my home. It is wonderful and unique wine from Napa.

2007 Endre – 48% Merlot 40% Cab Sauv and the rest Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. For a second label, this is extremely solid. Vintners making Bordeaux-styled blends would be happy with this as their first label. Nose of warm Earth, cassis, dark chocolate, black cherry and fresh flowers. In the mouth, firm tannins, very ripe, but balanced acidity and Earthy tones. Beautiful effort.

2008 Endre – This wine is an indication how good 2008 is going to be in Napa. The nose shows deeper, richer and riper flavors than the ’07 Endre. In the mouth, bigger and more fruit, with beautiful, underlying Earthiness. Cannot wait until this is released!

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Vin – This is my second time having this wine; the first after the 100 point Parker rating was released. This wine is extremely special, and more than anything, it needs time. It shows deep coffee and mocha flavors in the nose, which also shows cedar, cassis, blackberry and warm Earth. In the mouth, perfectly balanced, with toasted wood flavors and a caressing finish. What a bottle. It’s pretty darn hard to come by, too.

2007 Estate Cuvee – 46% each Cab Sauv and Merlot, the rest Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. Even though it’s around $140 per bottle, this wine has value. It’s better than the big name Bordeaux-styled Napa blends. Nose of ripe cassis, cocoa, dusty, woody aromas and dried herbs. In the mouth, beautiful texture, ripe and berry flavors with a super long finish. It’s a great bottle.

2008 Estate Cuvee – How could they get it better than the ’07? Lower yields played a big part. The 08′s richness, power and finesse make this THE best blend I’ve ever had. This, to me, was the wine of the day. Can’t wait to get my hands on some!

   Below are some other high-end Napa wines I got the chance to taste:

2007 Joseph Phelps Insignia – Shut down at the moment. The nose isn’t showing much. However, the texture is silky and despite not showing much fruit, this will be a good bottle in several years. Binny’s just received this, get it while you can.

2007 Lail “Blueprint” Cabernet Sauvignon – Another “value” Cabernet of 07. This has 25% Merlot as well. Big nose of tart blueberry, cassis, licorice and vanilla. In the mouth, big, fruit forward, nice tannins with a super long finish. IMO, this and the 2007 Lewelling are at the top for ’07 Napa Cabs under $50.

2007 Lail Cabernet J. Daniel Cuvee – Big, mineral driven and herbaceous nose with cassis, vanilla, licorice, blackberry and black cherry. In the mouth, rich, mouthcoating tannins, stony minerality and nice ripe ’07 fruit. Solid wine, here.

2007 Plumpjack Cabernet Sauvignon – Herbaceous and powerful nose of cassis, sour blackberries and wet stone. Firm and tannic in the mouth. Fairly disjointed at the moment. This needs a long decanting if drunk within the next few years.

2007 Larkmead Cabernet Sauvignon - All estate grown fruit near Calistoga. Super-ripe nose showing cassis, sweet cherries, blackberry liqueur and vanilla. In the mouth, ripe and velvety. Tannins are present, but not astringent. Another great ’07 Napa Cab!

2007 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill – This has a nose of scorched Earth, coffee, mocha, sweet blueberries, cassis and dark cherries. Full bodied, with very ripe and dark fruits, along with toasty wood and vanilla flavors on the palate. This is a standout Cabernet.

 

Please contact your favorite Binny’s location for availability of the underlined wines above.

Are Domestic Syrah Styles Too Extreme?

 From the mid 90′s through the first part of this decade, Australian wine was all the rage, increasing in sales more than any other wine import in almost all categories. It was fueled in large part by value brands such as Yellow Tail, but expanded to include higher price points, mainly due to the huge popularity of Shiraz and Shiraz blends. As their popularity increased, the wines became bigger, thicker, more powerful and intense. Big, extreme wines tend to stand out in tastings, and often receive high ratings from wine critics. Then, a few years ago, Robert Parker gave Mollydooker Carnival of Love 99 points and Enchanted Path 96 points. The wines were so in demand stores had to take waiting lists for the wines, and Australia was on its way to taking over the wine world.

   But a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation. Slowly at first, but then increasingly a backlash started against these fruit bombs. Among the complaints were that the wines were too alcoholic and lacked freshness, were one dimensional, out of balance and did not go with food. Certainly all Australian wines are not like this, but with Mollydooker as the poster boy for big, over-extracted wines, Australian wine sales plummeted. So what happens when you are losing your market share and even cutesy names like Laughing Magpie and Blue Eyed Boy don’t help? Well, I guess you are left with “look what happens when you shake my wine!”

   At the recent Hospice du Rhone tasting in Paso Robles three of us from Binny’s were able to taste many California Syrah and Syrah blends. For the sake of argument, lets devide these wines into three styles.

Syrahs that were old world in style, medium bodied, with good balance and complexity. Qupe’s lineup of wines seemed a good example of this style.

Syrah that was powerful and new world in style, but not over the top. These wines, while big, still had nuance and style, and would go with a hearty meal. I would include Foxen, Beckmen and Stolpman in this category.

Wines that are extremely powerful, thick and alcoholic, lack freshness and would not go well with food. Many of these wines are very popular right now, they stand out in tastings and tend to get high marks from wine critics. In California, they call them rock stars.

   A winery that seems to be a rock star in the making is Booker, and we visited them while we were in California. The wines were definitely fun to try, and we bought a bottle of 2006 Alchemist (85% Syrah/15% Cab) to bring to dinner that night . It is listed at 15.5% alcohol, rather high for wine. At dinner we opened the Alchemist, and also ordered a 2004 Rhone that would retail for about half the price. We all ordered a beef dish, and sat down with the French Rhone (this one was mainly syrah) and the California Syrah. As tasty and fun as the Booker was at the winery, for me it just didn’t work with the meal. The wine seemed heavy and monolithic, as opposed to the Rhone, which was nicely balanced and complemented our dinner.

  To be fair, not everyone at the dinner had my problem with the Booker, and wine and taste is always subjective. There is plenty of California syrah in every style to go around, and on the whole the overall quality is excellent. Consumers should also know that there is more quality California Syrah under $30.00 than Napa Cab or Sonoma Pinot Noir. This trend should continue as long as winemakers remember wine is made to be drunk, not to win wine tasting contests.

Widmer & Redhook Unveil Limited Release Beers

   Following in the footsteps of Cherry Oak Dopplebock and Prickly Pear Braggot, Barrel Aged Brrrbon is the third release in the Widmers Brothers Brewing Reserve series line.  Barrel Aged Brrrbon is a result of taking Widmers winter seasonal beer Brrr (which Widmer has not yet offered in the Chicago area) and aging it in Kentucky Bourbon barrels for four months.  The outcome is a 9.4% ABV beer that will warm the soul in the cold winter months with its flavors of oak, vanilla, caramel, and of course bourbon.

 

   Also new to our shelves is Redhook Brewings Eisbock 28, which is part of Redhooks Limited Release Series.  Redhook is currently one of the only American brewers brewing an Eisbock, as the ice processing technology and the ability to age the beer at temperatures well below freezing for several months severely limit the amount of breweries that can craft this unique style.  Clocking in at 11% ABV, the complex Eisbock 28 is not for the novice beer drinker.  It is loaded with caramel malts, with a slightly bitter aftertaste.  It is a bit hot with alcohol, yet still surprisingly drinkable given the elevated alcohol content.

 

   Both of the above mentioned beers are available at just about every Binnys.  Which style peaks your interest more, a bourbon barrel aged winter warmer or an American brewed Eisbock?

Grand Teton Brewing Company Arrives

Positioned at the base of the Teton Mountains in the town of Victor, Idaho is the Grand Teton Brewing Company.  Grand Teton has been crafting unique beers since 1988, and this week they have finally made their way to Binnys.  Not only can we thank the brewery for their delicious beers that are now available at our stores, we can express gratitude towards them for saving over 1 billion cans and bottles from going to the trash every year.  This is because Grand Teton is credited with inventing the modern growler.

Our interests were peaked when we saw what Grand Teton was sending to our stores.  Only one of the five beers available is part of their everyday lineup (which consists of 6 beers).  Two are seasonal brews, one is part of their Cellar Reserve series, and one is part of their Big Beers in a Big Bottle series.  Below is what you will now find on our shelves:

Bitch Creek ESB:  ESB usually stands for Extra Special Bitter in the beer world, but Bitch Creek calls itself an Extra Special Brown.  A colleague called this the best ESB he has ever had.  Looks like many beer festivals have agreed, as Bitch Creek has taken home gold medals at several beer festivals, including the Great American Beer Festival.  The interesting part is that it has been awarded medals for being both an ESB and a brown ale.

Lost Continent Double IPA:  This seasonal offering is a recent concoction for Grand Teton, as it was brewed for the second time this year.  This hoppy brew is loaded with grapefruit, tangerine, and zesty fruit flavors.  It is an easy drinker for being 8% ABV.

Black Cauldron Imperial Stout:  Like the above mentioned beer, Black Cauldron is a seasonal brew, and 8% ABV.  This thick and menacing brew is loaded with caramel, coffee, and chocolate flavors.  It is brewed to recognize and honor the women in the history of brewing.

Trout Hop Black IPA:  The production quantity of beers in Grand Tetons Cellar Reserve line are extremely limited, and Trout Hop Black Hop falls into this category.  It has the color of a deep and thick malty brew minus the thick body.  The body is instead laden with piney and spicy hops.

 

Sheep Eater Scotch Ale:  This offering is part of Grand Tetons Big Beers in a Big Bottle series, and is literally in a uniquely large one liter bottle.  Brewed with peat smoked malt and gently hopped, Sheep Eater is sweet and awfully drinkable.

The majority of our stores have several of the Grand Teton offerings.  If you wish to see if any of the aforementioned beers are available at your local Binnys, email Kyle@binnys.com.

Collesi: Craft Beer From Italy

Not to long ago, an Italian craft brewery by the name of Collesi appeared on our shelves.  We always wondered what was inside the bottles that if you dont look closely at, can easily be mistaken for wine bottles.

First to hit our chalices was Nera, a creamy and sweet stout with a big fluffy cappuccino head. Nera tasted as if it was fermented and bottle conditioned with Belgian yeast.  Classic roasted and chocolate flavors were evident, with a hint of bitter coffee on the finish. 

Next was Chiara, which didnt give us much information regarding its identity as it only referred to itself as an “ale” on the bottle. It definitely reminded of us of a saison, with its floral and tropical fruity flavors.  It was spritzy, with a good amount of carbonation, and a drawn out dry finish.

Also available from Collesi are Rossa, a red ale, Ambrata, an amber ale, and Bionda, a blonde ale.

The Collesi beers were delicious, and thanks to this they can probably be kept out of the overpriced Italian craft beer category, even though they may be a bit on the expensive side.  What are your thoughts on the Italian craft beer segment?

Napa/Sonoma Crush ’10: Value Wines

  I found a lot of value priced wines in Napa and Sonoma. This time of year is busy and stressful in wine country with grapes coming in for crush. It was great to see grapes coming in. They are sweeter than I thought they would be when I tasted them. Tasty little treats, though.

   Cuvaison was my first stop in Napa. Most of their grapes come from Carneros in southern Napa, though they do source some Cabernet and Zinfandel from Mount Veeder. The Cuvaison Carneros Chardonnay is well priced and very well made. It is classic Napa Chard, remaining clean and not overly oaked. Cuvaison was featuring the 2007 and 2008 Carneros Pinot Noir side by side. The ’07 is very ripe, with cherry and sweet berry flavors. The ’08 has a little bit more guts and structure. Both are good value Pinot Noirs.

 

Cuvaison’s Carneros Estate


   Elyse was a great visit. The 2006 Morisoli Vineyard Zinfandel does not drink like your standard Napa Zin. Tasting this, you can tell it is a single vineyard. It has this briery, Earthy flavor along with a nice amount of ripe fruit that is hard to explain. You’ll just have to try it! The ’07 Barrel Select Petit Sirah shows bright, rich and dark berry flavors. It is very complex for a $30 bottle and will play nicely with a hearty Autumn meal.

   Besides finding value wines in Napa and Sonoma, which I did find, I wanted to seek out well made Rhone varietals. Copain in Sonoma met both of my needs. They led off with their 2009 Viognier from the Anderson Valley. A lot of California Viognier can get overly big to the point where the wine bites back. Not the case from Copain. This has ripe stone fruit flavors in the nose and in the mouth. It is very clean and would be great on your Thanksgiving Day table. Next was a Roussanne from the James Berry Vineyard. Unfortunately, they only made a couple hundred cases. This was the only white wine I purchased during my trip.

   On to the 2008 Copain Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. Anderson Valley suffered a big wildfire in 2008, just before harvest. We tried the 2008 Duckhorn Decoy Pinot Noir, which has a little smoky note to it. It isn’t terrible, however. The Copain is a little bit heavier than most similarly priced Pinots. It has dark cherry, raspberry and cola flavors. This is a tough Pinot to beat around $20. I tried two different Syrahs from them as well. The entry level 2008 Syrah is very well made, with Earthy, peppery flavors. The 2007 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah from Mendocino is underpriced at $33, in my opinion. It has bright fruit flavors of Bing cherry, chambord and fresh black pepper, and is well balanced. This wine can pair with anything off of the grill, but I’m going to try it with roasted leg of lamb. Copain is a surprisingly value driven producer, very impressive.

   Another value driven brand you can find at Binny’s is Burgess Cellars from Napa. The view from their estate on Howell Mountain is scenic to say the least. The entry level wines we carry include the Merlot ($18.99), Cabernet Sauvignon ($21.99) and Syrah ($18.99). The Merlot drinks better than most in the same price range: well structured, balanced and not wimpy. The Cab is very nice as well, with good fruit flavors, considering the cooler 2006 vintage. Again, well balanced and well made for a bottle under $25.  The Syrah is put together nicely as well, with dark fruit and Earthy flavors. I cannot say enough about how well priced these wines are.

   The treat from Burgess is their 1996 Library Release Cabernet. Burgess holds back 500 cases of their Cabernet for re-release. Not many producers (if any) hold their wine for later sales. I did not expect to taste a 14 year old wine during my trip. Upon looking at the wine and tasting it, it didn’t look like a 14 year old Cabernet, nor did it taste like one. The Howell Mountain fruit source, plus good storage conditions, gives the wine a little bit more longevity. Burgess was bringing in some Cabernet Franc grapes as I walked around the vineyard. The owner (Mr. Burgess, I called him) was on a forklift, lifting up a container of grapes being poured into a de-stemmer. I guess this is how Burgess keeps its prices so low.  

 

Burgess Cellars Howell Mountain Estate


   Next time, the opposite end of the spectrum. There were a lot of mid-range and higher-end wines I tasted and enjoyed. (It is Napa after all)  I will also report on the 2008 vintage of Napa. All I have to say is start saving up!

   The above wines are not available at every store.  Please contact your local Binny’s for availablility.

Smuttynose Debuts at Binny’s

This week Smuttynose Brewing Company from Portsmouth, New Hampshire brought their beers to Binny’s, making our stores the westernmost place they distribute beer.  Smuttynose was available in Chicago years ago, and reintroduced the following five acclaimed beers this week:

 

Old Brown Dog -  A full bodied American brown ale that is much more heavily hopped than an English brown ale.

Shoals Pale Ale – Smuttynose’s rendition of an English pale ale, although it is quite a bit hoppier than most things from across the pond.

Star Island Single A light and drinkable offering, brewed with honey malt and fermented with Belgian yeast.

Finestkind IPA A 7% ABV IPA exploding with citrus flavors from the Simcoe, Santiam, and Amarillo hops used to craft it.

Robust Porter Full bodied yet sessionable, brewed to mimic the first examples of the style originally found in 19th century London.

 

We can also look forward to seasonal beer from Smuttynose, hopefully starting with their Winter Ale, a Belgian style dubbel fermented with Trappist ale yeast.  Smuttynose also features a big beer series consisting of high gravity beers in 22oz bottles, which they will hopefully introduce to the windy city in the near future. 

 

If you would like to sample the Smuttynose lineup, head to our Downers Grove store on Saturday, October 23rd from 1:00-3:00pm for a free tasting.  Which Smuttynose beer are you most looking forward to getting your hands on?

This Week At Binny’s: New Releases

Charles Smith Wines & K Vintners

   Select Binny’s stores will be getting the range of high-end wines from Charles Smith Wines and K Vintners from Washington state this week. These wines blow me away every year, and though they can be pricey, it’s hard not to get excited. Rockstar winemaker Charles Smith makes knockout syrah, wines packed with intense fruit and rich complexity. Based on the jaw-dropping scores Robert Parker gave these C.S. 2007′s, I doubt these will last long on our shelves…

   …which is why the K Vintners wines are so exciting. Also from winemaker Charles Smith, but in slightly larger quantities and roughly half the price, the K Vintners Syrah lineup shows why this producer has been so hot in the last few years.

 

2009 Rhone

   Sometimes it seems like I hear best vintage EVER from the wine press almost as often as there are vintages. This is the case for the Rhone in 2009, and we’re just starting to get the early 2009 Cotes du Rhone wines now. New 2009 arrivals this week include selections from Domaine les Grands Bois and Domaine les Aphillanthes, both perennial favorites.

   The last best vintage EVER! in the Rhone was 2007, a year of fun if heavy, highly-extracted wines. One thing that struck me about the 07′s was that even the inexpensive, entry-level Cotes du Rhone reflected the character of the vintage well, and it was easier to find a great value than not. I’m hoping this will be the case with 2009, too. Binny’s does still have plenty of the excellent 2007 vintage Rhones as well.

 

Opus One 2007

   I tried this one a couple months ago from a barrel sample, and it blew me away. It is a reminder of why Opus One is an iconic Napa wine. I started out with a skeptical mindset, and the wine peeled back my cynicism. This is a concentrated wine in a classic California style, with big notes of coppery blood, anise and other herbs, meat and powerful tannins along with the red fruit and cinnamon and clove spices. If you haven’t had Opus in a while, this would be a good vintage to start.

 

That Time Again, Already?

   We’re getting a big shipment of St Christopher Gluhwein this week. Along with the yellow and orange leaves on the ground, this is an annual reminder of the season.

 

Upcoming Weekend(s) At Binny’s

   October is a month of New Releases in our Weekend At Binny’s tasting, a free, staff-pick tasting held each Saturday from 1-4 pm at almost all Binny’s locations. This weekend’s theme is California: Best New Releases. Should be fun.

   Coming up in two weeks is Scary Wines for Halloween. That sounds like fun, but also sounds puzzling. What constitutes a scary wine?

   Seriously, though, I want to know. Tell me what scary wines you would pour in the comments section below.