This guest post is by Roger Adamson, Beer and Spirits Specialist at Binny’s Willowbrook. Roger is both a homebrewer and mixologist and is using his background in history to research and write a book on classic cocktails.
I recently had the good fortune to escape the bitter Chicago cold and make a visit to the Spoetzl Brewery down in Shiner, Texas. Shiner is about an hour and a half drive from Austin but the scenery from the bus does not disappoint. The landscape was dotted with cattle ranches, oil pumpjacks, and prickly pear cacti. Before I knew it we arrived in Shiner, where the Spoetzl Brewery stands tall a short distance from the charming downtown.
Ask any of the beer-loving Binny’s employees about this year’s Great American Beer Festival, and they’ll answer with one word: Incredible. From tequila barrel aged lagers to an unbelievable number of sours, they tasted everything they could to really experience GABF. With a few quick stops at local Colorado breweries, here is their take on GABF.
On our latest wine adventure, we went south to Peru, IL for a unique experience exploring the best sparkling wine we’ve tasted from the midwest. August Hill Winery, which grows grapes for Illinois Sparkling CO. is owned and operated by Mark and Teri Wenzel. They take great pride in their work and don’t narrate the typical “this winery has been in our family for 12 generations…” story. Rather, they are two hardworking winemakers with a passion for Champagne and sparkling wine.
Ever heard of Swisher, Iowa? It’s home to Cedar Ridge Vineyards Winery & Distillery and most importantly, where we picked our latest batch of Handpicked bourbon barrels. Yup, plural. We just couldn’t pick one. But more about Cedar Ridge first.
Owners Jeff and Laurie Quint have built quite the distillery/winery. Located in eastern Iowa, it’s just a short drive from Cedar Rapids or Iowa City. Jeff serves as Master Distiller and Master Winemaker. In addition to crafting award winning small batch spirits (like our Handpicked barrels), Cedar Ridge produces wines from their own estate-grown grapes. Fun fact: Cedar Ridge is the first licensed distillery in the state of Iowa since the age of prohibition.
Pictures and more after the jump! Read more
Just returning from Italy, on a trip to experience and discover and bring that energy back to you, Barb S, Binny’s Des Plaines Wine Manager, reports from the road:
The variety across regions is striking. Starting in the south, the region of Puglia has almost tropical heat humidity, yielding forward wines that are juicy and jammy and just a little rustic. But as we went north to Chianti in the heart of Tuscany, the heat became arid and dry. Then, on the west coast in Bolgheri, the air cooled with a nice breeze from the sea.
We came back with an overwhelming impression of the charming hospitality and incredible scenery. Even if you don’t care about the wine (which we do!) the sweeping landscapes, the color and beauty of the countryside are an incredible experience. We also came back suffering prosciutto withdrawl.
A small group from Binny’s visited Bordeaux, tasting samples of the 2013 vintage and more, with stops at chateaux and negociants. Find the rest of the trip here. Binny’s Wine Guru Steve Reiter concludes with day four:
Not everything is about the 2013 vintage. Our first stop is with Francois Thienpoint. While we taste a couple 2013’s, our focus here is more on previous vintages, mostly 2010-12, that are now bottled and ready for sale.
A few stand outs include the 2011 Roques de Jean Lice which offers nice dark plum, dried herbs and clay notes with a light spicy oak on the finish. The 2012 Manoir de Gravoux is equally nice with plum, hints of black cherry, light cocoa and soft tannins. The 2011, 2010 and 2005 La Violette are wonderful, exhibiting warm flavors of black cherry, cola, clay earth and light clove. But the best by far is a barrel sample of 2012 La Gravette de Certan, the second wine of Chateau Vieux Certan. With a heady perfumed nose of blue and purple flowers and fruit, hints of clove, followed by lush blue and black fruit, all balanced and round. This is what Bordeaux offers that no one else can!
A small group from Binny’s visited Bordeaux. They tasted samples of the 2013 vintage, with stops at both chateaux and negociants. Find previous reports here. Steve is back with more:
Day three starts with an appointment at Pichon Baron to taste and have lunch. We also have the distinct pleasure to taste with the winemaker, and to tour this lush and iconic chateau. Just check it out:
A team from Binny’s visited Bordeaux, one of France’s most famous wine regions. They tasted samples of the 2013 vintage – now available en premier – visiting chateaux and negociants. Read yesterday’s report here. Steve is back with more:
Day two and we’re on the right bank in St. Emilion and Pomerol. Vineyards spread out along the countryside, but upon reaching St. Emilion, the city is right on top of the vineyards. In fact, Chateau Ausone is on a hillside above their vineyards just 500 meters behind town. Just like we saw on the Left Bank yesterday, the local population and the vineyards are completely interwoven. Towns have grown as a result of the success and history of the wine region, which again is so different from the other regions I’ve visited. St. Emilion especially is a gorgeous old commune straight out of a fairy tale. Old with buildings staggered over steep hills, narrow passageways, vineyards enclosed by stone walls. A tourist destination and certainly worth the visit.
Binny’s Wine Managers Steve Reiter and Chris Speir joined Wine Buyer Barbara Hermann on a trip to one of France’s most famous wine regions, Bordeaux. They tasted barrel samples of the 2013 vintage – now in the early stages of its en premier campaign – visited Chateaux and negociants. Steve reports from the road:
I expected the city of Bordeaux to be large (the 9th largest in France) but not quite the expanse that it is. We’re staying in a charming, modern sprawl radiating from the river with a modern, urban feel. However, the “Centre” or old part of Bordeaux, is just as large, and definitely has the rustic feel I expected. With stone buildings, colored shades of earthy white, grey, orange and green, it reminds me a lot of Venice. Old churches and architecture dot town squares where people pass time. We wander a few hours through the alley-like, brick-layered streets. I would hate to have to park here. No wonder there are so many bikes.
Binny’s Wine Buyer, Bob Calamia traveled to Jerez to seek out Spain’s top sherry and learn a thing or two about this timeless region. Bob reports from the field:
World headquarters for sherry is Jerez in Southwestern Spain. Two things make sherry unique – its proximity to the Mediterranean and the high level of chalk in the soil. The chalk gives sherry some of its characteristic mineral flavors, but the soil’s biggest contribution is its ability to retain moisture. Jerez gets most of its rain in the fall and winter, and the chalk sustains the vines in the dry spring and summer. The climate is warm enough to ripen palomino fino – the primary grape of the region – and when grown in the chalky soil, it achieves a quality found nowhere else.
More photos and info after the jump!