Hidden Gems at River Grove

We paid a visit to our River Grove location yesterday, and were surprised to see so many rare beers still for sale. We hastily made the following list of some sought after beers lining the shelves here:

 

Allagash Fluxus, 2010
Allagash Interlude, 2009
Bell’s Hopslam, (13 cases) 6-pack
Cantillon 2006 Lou Pepe Kriek, 25.4oz
Cantillon Kriek, 12oz
De Cam Oude Lambiek, 25.4oz
De Dolle Bos Keun, 11.2oz
Dogfish Head Burton Baton, 4-pack
Dogfish Head Worldwide Stout, 12oz
Duvel Triple Hop, 25.4oz
Founders Double Trouble, 4-pack
Founders Harvest Ale, 4-pack
Goose Island Madame Rose, 22oz
Goose Island Nightstalker, 22oz
Jolly Pumpkin La Roja, 25.4oz
Lost Abbey Angel’s Share 2009 Brandy Barrel, 12.68oz
Lost Abbey Angel’s Share 2010 Bourbon Barrel, 12.68oz
Port Brewing Older Viscosity, 12.68oz
Stone Vertical Epic 10.10.10, 22oz
The Bruery Coton, 25.4oz

 

Most of these items will be available on a first come, first serve basis (We are looking at your Madame Rose).  Stop into River Grove, and you will be sure to find something to fit your fancy.

Perfume and Popcorn

   This first bit will probably sound familiar: A pet peeve that I share with most people who consider themselves wine geeks is the smell of cologne or perfume at wine tastings. I like perfume, it’s just that its main purpose is to smell like something, and not the wine I’m supposed to be smelling.

   I remember this issue from a Champagne tasting years ago. Somebody was wearing perfume. Nice perfume, sure, but strong. It eclipsed not only the intricate nuances of the wines, but pretty much everything else, too. I remember it because the offender wasn’t a fellow taster. She was one of the pourers, a girl in her early twenties who I’d guess was placed at the event through a modeling agency and who didn’t really know the expectations.

 

   The Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri tasting was earlier this week at the Great Hall at Chicago Union Station. What a great collection of some of the best wines from Italy. What can I say? Too many good wines. Rockstars from Barolo, Barbaresco, Amarone, Bolgheri … even some affordable stuff. Rivetti Spinetta Barbaresco Starderi is awesome (and the Langhe Nebbiolo isn’t bad, either). My usual Bolgheri favorites are great, especially the ’07s. Tua Rita’s 2008 Redigaffi is amazing. Fontodi’s Chianti Classico Riserva Sorbo is beautiful. And on and on.

   So I’m at this great tasting in this great location, and I have a great glass of wine in my hand. My friend is standing there as I sniff the glass, and I look at him and I say, “This wine really smells like popcorn.”

   And he says, “This whole room smells like popcorn. There’s a popcorn place over there.”

   Apparently the popcorn place makes a fresh batch as the afternoon commuters roll in, and it just floods the station with the delicious smell of freshly popped, lightly buttered popcorn. Which happens to be one of my favorite smells, ever. And it pairs excellently with wine! Try popcorn and chardonnay some time, or popcorn and Champagne. Though it’s a great smell, it’s distracting and  inescapable and kind of a problem at a big wine tasting. Kind of a bummer.

 

   A happy ending: later, on the way to the train, I found myself with a few friends at a local watering hole, nuzzling a Half Acre Gossamer Ale with a hand full of popcorn, fresh from the popper just a few feet away. Smelled great, and it was perfect with my beer.

Shaggin’ In The Wood

Tyranena’s brewers have a tendency to go crazy when it comes to their series of Big, Bold, Ballsy Beers.  The Lake Mills, Wisconsin based brewery’s Brewers Gone Wild Series features unique and extreme beers that come complete with wacky names. Previous beers in the series have included Hop Whore Imperial India Pale Ale, Dirty Old Man Imperial Rye Porter, Doubly Down N’ Even Dirtier Barrel Aged Chocolate Vanilla Double Stout, Benji’s Smoked Chipotle Imperial Porter, La Feme Amere Wisconsin Belgique-Style IPA, and Bitter Woman In The Rye. While we will see some of these releases again over the coming year, it is the current release that has us excited.

 

Shaggin’ In The Wood is Tyranena’s latest Brewers Gone Wild offering, and it is beginning to hit our stores.  Have you ever tried Tyranena’s winter seasonal Sheep Shagger Scotch Ale? If you are a fan of that brew, then you are in luck:  Shaggin’ In The Wood is the same beer as Sheep Shagger, except that 70% of it is aged in bourbon barrels.  Expect Shaggin’ In The Wood to harness the same big caramel malt notes and smokiness that made Sheep Shagger delectable, with added elements of bourbon and wood.

 

Previous releases in Tyranena’s Brewers Gone Wild series are next to impossible to find not only because Tyranena doesn’t brew very much of them, but because they are extremely popular.  Shaggin’ In the Wood will follow in their footsteps, and will only be available for a limited time.

The Publican

   I had a mini-vacation this past week. Watching the Chicago episode of Anthony Bourdain’s: “No Reservations” helped make my decision of where to go a lot easier. He visited with Chef Paul Kahan, the owner of Blackbird, Avec and The Publican. The Publican’s menu was too good to pass up. Its tagline is The celebration of pork, oysters and beer. Done deal!

   The Publican’s beer list is quite extensive, and all of the servers are well versed in beer. To start, I had an Avery IPA. It played nicely with the oysters my friends and I devoured. The Avery IPA is one of the most balanced IPA I’ve had. It’s not overly hoppy or overpowering, and it’s very food friendly. I helped a couple of my friends pick out a glass of wine as well. The Hermit Crab by d’Arenberg is a ripe, crisp and food friendly white. It played nicely with our Oysters as well.

   The five of us ordered a several things to share. Starters of homemade pork rinds and house cured duck proscuitto and beef fat fried French fries with a fried egg on top made us go gaga. After a mix of Belgian microbrews and unbelievable food, (Blood Sausage!!!) I saw a whisky I really wanted to try.

   They had the Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year Old Bourbon. It smells like maple syrup, honey, cinnamon, vanilla and caramel. It packs a punch, but a splash of water and a few swirls calmed it down. I really enjoyed it, and I am considering buying a bottle here at Binny’s. It was a wonderful evening and I cannot wait to go back. Like all of our different versions of Pappy Van Winkle, the 20 year is highly limited. Please call your favorite Binny’s for availability.

Why Wine?

{TAB}It’s a simple question, really, as the best questions always tend to be. I am intensely curious as to your reasons, my fellow wine friends. Was it a single moment? A special bottle? Were you in a foreign land soaking in the romance of your circumstance or were you weaned on the fruit of the vine from an early age? Did you grow up watching loved ones at the dinner table with your vision obscured by wine bottles or did you embark on this wondrous journey on your own, one bottle at a time?

{TAB}What first attracted me to wine, dear friends, was the romance. There is an intrinsic beauty to wine. If you don’t believe me, I encourage you to visit a vineyard. Any vineyard will do. Of course, there are some vineyards abroad that will quite literally take your breath away with their vistas and sheer improbable locales, but you don’t have to travel nearly as far as the Priorat region in Spain, where the vineyards are mainly harvested by hand simply because the terrain is so steep and so extreme there doesn’t yet exist machinery that is up to the challenge, to have your mind blown. You can take a day trip to Michigan or Southern Illinois and still be amazed by the beauty of these more modest vineyards. It stirs the soul to gaze at the rows of vines and imagine the end product in bottle. Romance, guaranteed.

{TAB}There is also an inherent tragedy in wine, and let’s be honest, there can be no romance without tragedy. I speak, of course, of wine’s organic nature. You see, wine is alive, and as all living things, it too shall pass. Wine lives, folks. It can (and in some cases, must) be nurtured and protected. It evolves, changes and matures. Eventually, it too dies and therein lies the tragedy. Every vintage, wine makers and farmers the world over harvest their grapes and proceed with the magic that is wine making. Every vintage offers its own unique experience both in the vineyard and in the bottle. Mother Nature, ever fickle, has her way and each bottle becomes a time capsule, an agricultural slow motion button, so to speak. Once all the wine from said vintage is consumed or aged beyond its ability to be enjoyed, that is the end. That finality, that finite nature of wine, its inherent mortality is what makes it so precious and thusly, so romantic. You see, as we love wine, we are doomed. That is, much like a Cubs fan, until next year. 

{TAB}I do so love the intellectual aspect to wine, as well. It provides one with a lifetime of research opportunities and travel destinations. I have recently read an article which states that in order to truly understand a wine, one must visit the place the wine is from. This is an argument I can and will defend. Now, don’t anyone get all upset with me. I said  to truly understand a wine. We are perfectly capable of appreciating wine from the comfort of our own homes and restaurants. I do it quite frequently. My girlfriend and I are both fanatical about Champagne without ever having been there. There are many aspects to Champagne that I am perfectly capable of appreciating from home, such as: its variety, its quality, its consistently surprising pairing ability (try it with a quality baked ham sandwich and you will see what I mean) and the satisfaction it provides when enjoyed on its own or as an aperitif. However, that appreciation can only turn to true understanding if I can actually tread upon the ground shared with the vines. There is a geological culture, terroir being a part of it, that must be experienced to fully comprehend what is in the bottle. However, until that day, I suppose Champagne Sundays will have to suffice. Alas, life can be difficult in that way, but I do my best to soldier on.  

{TAB}Then, of course, there is the final point: the finished product. There is no elixir quite so sublime as wine. Believe me on this one, I’ve spent much of my youth researching this thesis. The sheer variety allows for a wine for all occasions. I have yet to encounter a scenario or dish that I could not pair a wine to with some success. Go ahead, test me. . . Anyway, it is difficult to argue with the beauty of a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the charm of a cru Beaujolais, the subtlety of Burgundy, the depth of Napa Cabernet, the nervy deliciousness of German Riesling and the list goes on. . . {TAB}

{TAB}So, there it is. My answer to the Why Wine? question. Although, it seems like the question shouldn’t be Why Wine? as much as it should be Why Not Wine?. This development doesn’t surprise me as I was a Philosophy major and learned that with most truly philosophical pursuits, one usually tends to not find answers, simply different questions. 

{TAB}So, I open the floor to you, fellow oenophiles. As this is my first blog entry, I am, as I have stated many paragraphs ago, intensely curious. What is it, precisely, about wine that you love most? I ask all of you, connoisseur and casual drinker alike. Wine professionals and weekend warriors alike. . .why wine?     

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This Week At Binny’s: Big Values and Big Hitters

A Couple Big Values …

Pennywise Petite SirahSteltzner Claret   “The Other Guys” is a subsidiary of the Don Sebastiani wine portfolio, a group great at creating and marketing brands. Sometimes they come up with great value wines in the process. The 2009 Pennywise Petite Sirah includes a big chunk of Lodi juice (a region known for heavy fruit extraction) and another big chunk from Paso Robles (known for balance). It all works out to a modern, fruit-driven wine that may not shake the Earth, but can still be a good time for under ten bucks. Also, the package is smart.

   Another recent arrival that sings in the value category is the newest vintage of Steltzner Claret. I tasted this perennial favorite at a big trade tasting a few weeks ago, and was once again surprised at how well it stands against similar wines at double or triple its price. Instead of rolling into a new vintage as we usually do, we’re taking in a big purchase of the 2008, so I’m guessing somebody up there likes it as much as I do. It’s a great example of the Bordeaux style from California, using merlot and cabernet franc to flesh out the wine, making a blend better than any of its parts.

 

… And A Couple Big Hitters

TignanelloBeringer Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve   2007 is rounding out as a notable vintage all over the world, and two more big swingers just hit our shelves. The 15% cabernet sauvignon is quite apparent in the 2007 Tignanello, lending the wine a lot more heft than its bulk of sangiovese would offer otherwise. It might have been extra noticable when I tasted the Tignanello following a classy Brunello di Montalcino and a focused Chianti Riserva. This potential collector’s piece shows round cherry and blackberry framed in great acidity, more or less qualifying for the descriptor “seamless.” I’m told Tignanello will show even better with time.

   Also just in and from 2007 is the Beringer Private Reserve. The critics have taken note of this one, comparing it to past favorites like the 2004, 1997, 1991 and others. I haven’t tried the 2007 yet, but I want to. Coincedentally, Binny’s just recently purchased a large back catalog of Beringer Private Reserve bottlings, so if you want to try those back vintages that always get referenced, now is your chance. We took in just one or two bottles of each vintage per store, so they’re spread kind of thin and in extremely limited quantities.

Lost Abbey: Innovation Spans Beyond Beer

Lost Abbey BarrelsLost Abbey is one of the most innovative breweries out there, especially when it comes to barrel aging. The brewery is jam-packed with Heaven Hill barrels that house delicacies like The Angel’s Share, which is aged in both brandy barrels and bourbon barrels. The Angel’s Share is just one of several beers taking up barrel space, as beers like Serpent’s Stout, Deliverance, 10 Commandments, and Gift of the Magi can be found in barrels at the brewery.

 

However, there are products of Lost Abbey’s barrels that aren’t big bold and dark ales. The sour beers that Lost Abbey barrel ages are world class. Red Poppy Ale is one of the best sour beers to ever hit our lips, and we were ecstatic when the face of Lost Abbey, Tomme Arthur, informed us that Chicago will be getting this beer for the first time in a few weeks. Tomme was also kind enough to let us sample a sour ale that was headed for a local festival, but didn’t make the cut. This particular sour ale was delicious, but Tomme decided not to send it because it looked like a pink milkshake.

 

Port Brewing is essentially the same brewery as Lost Abbey. The brewery labels all their American style brews under the Port Brewing tag, and their Belgian and barrel aged brews under the name Lost Abbey. Chicago beer enthusiasts have enjoyed Port Brewing’s double IPA, Hop-15, since the brewery first debuted in the Windy City over two years ago. Soon to replace Hop-15 is another double IPA by the name of Mongo, which simply put, is a better beer. This is saying a lot, given Hop-15′s reputation as one of the premier double IPA’s found on our shelves. Hop heads will no doubt fall in love with the tasty, tropical, and extremely hoppy Mongo.

 

Enough about the beer though– we could go on and on about how scrumptious the beers of Lost Abbey and Pizza Port are. The innovation at the brewery stretches beyond the impressive barrels, fermenters, and other brewing equipment that churn out world class beer. Connected to the brewery is a tasting room where you can sample the fine ales of Lost Abbey and Pizza Port. You won’t find furniture here though, as California law prevents tasting rooms from having any kind of furniture. Instead we were seated around the bar in makeshift seats, crafted from empty kegs with giant bags of sugar on top. These were surprisingly comfortable, and a helpful employee was quick to make us a brand new seat at the end of the tasting room, as Lost Abbey was a bit crowded that day. Tables near the bar were really Heaven Hill barrels, with the improvised seats around them. If you are ever in the San Diego area, be sure to stop at this one of a kind brewery for a pint.

 

Lost Abbey Bar Stools Lost Abbey Table

Updated Whiskey Hotline

   Check out our newly updated version of The Whiskey Hotline. This update includes a preview of our 2011 Hand Picked Casks program, a focus on aromatic bitters and their use in cocktails, new releases and insights into the current climate of the spirits industry. We expect more updates soon, so be sure to check back in.

   As always, you can reach The Whiskey Hotline via email at spirits@binnys.com – by phone at 888 817-5898 – or by leaving a comment right here on the Binny’s Spirits Blog.

 

The Godfather

   For many years the name Ernesto Perez-Carrillo was synonymous with La Gloria Cubana cigars and the El Credito factory in Miamis Little Havana neighborhood. Even after General Cigar bought the rights to produce La Glorias in the Dominican Republic, that little factory on Calle Ocho continued to roll a small number of cigars for the patrons that would visit it. A few boxes would be made available to retailers here and there, and I remember the frenzy the Miami made cigars would cause when even a couple would arrive. General Cigars increased production of the brand allowed everybody in the country to experience the smokes, but the goal of anybody familiar with La Gloria was to always try and get their hands on those made at the factory on 8th Street. Everybody always felt that the Miami made version was better than its Dominican counterpart when the fact of the matter was that they were actually the same cigar, just rolled in two different countries on two different scales. Could this love of the Miami made version have been the beginning of the Boutique cigar revolution back when there was no such thing as a Boutique cigar? I certainly believe so, and many others in the industry feel the same way about those first La Glorias earning Ernesto his title as Godfather of the Boutique cigar.

   Ernesto left that little factory and the brand that put him on the map to start a new venture with his son, Ernie, and daughter, Lissette. His new company, E.P.C., released its first cigar, a limited edition, in 2009 to rave reviews from consumers. He followed that first release with a Short Run line that consisted of three sizes containing exquisite tobaccos from Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, and Ecuador. This past trade show, their Core line made its debut along with a very special cigar, the 2010 Edicion Limitada.

   Every cigar that Ernesto has introduced under the E.P.C. banner has been welcomed by cigar enthusiasts with open arms. Hes doing what he has always done: producing great cigars. This time its different. This time hes making Boutique cigars with his son and daughter in an era that recognizes the term. To Ernesto, nothing has changed but the times. It is important to point out who the real Godfather of this style of cigar making is and always has been. Ernesto Perez-Carrillo.