A Sleeping Giant or Living in the Past?

There’s a stirring Down Under. Earlier this month Wine Australia, a new division under the Australian Government, gathered 250 key retailers, restauranteurs, wine journalists and beverage directors in Adelaide to pick, poll, quiz and conference. The objective: find out from the “front lines” what Australia needs to do to re-engage the wine consumer. The conference schedule was full and each was packed with Australian winemakers, marketers, and importers eager for perspective.

 

 

Panels included a great mix of retail, press and trade representatives. Subjects didn’t pull any punches. I especially liked the one titled “Retailer – Friend or Foe” (what?). After three full days of talking, it was time for wine country immersion. That meant winery visits, vineyards tours and “master classes” by coalitions of the top winemakers of each region – Barossa Valley, Eden Valley, Clare Valley and McLaren Vale.

 

 

Oysters were great with these classy dry rieslings.

 

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Beer Buzz Hits The Road: Michigan

On a recent trip to Michigan, 34 Binny’s employees embarked on a beer education adventure. With visits to Greenbush, Dark Horse, Arcadia, and Saugatuck, we walked away with a new and profound knowledge of what these breweries have to offer- and only just a little bit of a headache.

 

Beer Buzz extraordinaires, Kyle Fornek and Pat Brophy also break down exactly what beers the crew enjoyed most during the trip!

 

Our mode of transportation

Our mode of transportation


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First Stop: Greenbush Brewing
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New to the Illinois market and to the shelves of Binny’s, Greenbush Brewing Co. is a popular brewery living by the motto “Good Beer Wins.” We toured their facility as well as their soon-to-be used 15-barrel brew house. Greenbush is taking the necessary steps to adapt to their consumers… by making more beer.

 

Greenbush2Here are our top two brews from the visit:

 

Anger – This could very well be the best black IPA on our shelves. Somehow it seems to perfectly harness everything we love about a good porter like flavors of chocolate and brown sugar, with hop aromas and flavors still balancing wonderfully due to the addition of Columbus, Amarillo, Simcoe, and Cascade hops. Despite what the name tells you, this beer will make you happy.

 

Brother Benjamin Double IPA – This beer is incredibly well balanced, huge maltiness up front with a drying bitterness on the finish. The alcohol is very well hidden. We could have drank a lot of these, but there was a ton of other great beers to try!
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Second Stop: Dark Horse Brewing Co.
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Imagine a playground for adults. That’s exactly what Dark Horse Brewing Co. is. They have a stage where local bands play weekly, a skate shop, a sand pit, an outdoor and indoor bar… do we need to keep going? It’s well worth the three hour drive up to Marshall, Michigan.

 

Brews we enjoyed the most at Dark Horse:

 

DHblog2Reserve Special Black Ale – Upon first glance it looks like an Irish stout with its creamy tan head and black as night color. However this brew is packed to the gills with chocolate and caramel flavors, with a hefty amount of sweetness that balances nicely with an underlying citrus hop taste.

 

Falconers Flight Single Hop Crooked Tree IPA – Falconers Flight is a fairly new hop and this is the first we’ve tried of it. Kind of a weird mix of tropical fruit and pine, but it works with the medium malty profile of Crooked Tree.
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Third Stop: Arcadia Ales
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Arcadia was the third stop on our day, so it was awesome when they greeted us with a fantastic meal, good company and of course, great beer. We ended the night with a tour of their brewery. Fun fact about Arcadia: they still use a direct fire brew kettle to brew their beers. This gives some beers a heavy, caramel flavor.

 

The two brews we enjoyed most at Arcadia:

 

arcadiablog2Whitsun – Very flavorful, sessionable beer. It had a nice balance to it; not too heavy on the orange, not too much coriander, not too “wheaty.” Wonderful summer beer.

 

Cocoa Loco – We had a chance to sample the cocoa nibs that go into this beer, and boy are they bitter and just about unpalatable! But once the brewers at Arcadia have their way with them during the crafting of Cocoa Loco, the end result is flavors of chocolate cake and molasses with only the slightest bitterness.

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Fourth Stop & Brew Day: Saugatuck Brewing Co.

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hopfinder

Saugatuck invited us to come brew at their brewery. It was a great experience for so many of our employees as many hadn’t brewed before. We took Saugatuck’s Pathfinder Pale Ale and added Citra, Simcoe, and Nelson Sauvin hops to it. We then dry hopped it with hard to find Mosaic hops. We’re looking forward to its release, soon!

 
Here are the beers we enjoyed most on draft at Saugatuck’s brewpub:

 

sbblog2Pathfinder Pale Ale - This is what makes Saugatuck Pathfinder Pale Ale different from most other American Pale Ales: it is not overly bitter or hoppy, it is under 5% ABV, it is more malt forward, it is very earthy, and generally speaking, it is relatively mild and drinkable. If there can be a such thing as a session pale ale, then this is it.

 

ESB Amber – This beer is all about subtlety of flavor. Biscuity malts and a lighter hop profile help this one go down easy. Yes, it’s not an extreme IPA or barrel aged stout, but there is still a lot of complexity to be found in this brew.

 

Be on the lookout for Hopfinder in stores soon!

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Keep up with other Beer Buzz adventures here or shoot us an email at beer@binnys.com if you have any questions or just simply want to talk brewskis.

 Dark Horse Group Pic

Have you visited any of these breweries? Let us know what you thought in the comments section below!

A Tour of Scotland Distilleries

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I was recently in Scotland on vacation with my girlfriend Kimberly, and we were able to visit a few distilleries. We started off in Edinburgh where we visited a place called the Scotch Whisky Experience. They have a fun interactive tour that shows you how whisky is made. After the tour they bring out samples of whiskies from Speyside, the Highlands, the Lowlands and the Islands to show the difference in taste between these regions. Then they bring you to a room that holds the Largest Bottle_bloglargest Scotch Whisky collection in the world. This collection was built by whisky connoisseur Claive Vidiz. It took over 35 years to build and holds 3384 bottles of Scotch Whisky. Needless to say, this puts my collection to shame. Then we finished the tour in the tasting room where they have the largest bottle of whisky on display. This bottle stands 4 feet 9 inches and holds 105.3 liters (about 150 bottles).

 

Our next stop was in the Scotch Whisky capital of the world, Dufftown. First stop Aberlour. We tried samples of the Aberlour a’bunadh, Aberlour 12 year and Aberlour 16 year. The 16 year in particular stands out for me. This was well rounded and has a nice complexity from both the ex-bourbon and sherry casks.

 

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Wine Hotline Hits the Road: Ribera del Duero

A small group from Binny’s visited Spain’s Ribera del Duero. Bill Newton reports from the road:

 

Ribera del Duero

 

Spain’s Ribera del Duero is beautiful and rustic. On one hand, the region is home to world-class wine producers such as Vega Sicilia, Pingus and Pesquera. On the other hand, nobody acted surprised when a herd of sheep blocked traffic to cross the road.

 

The guys at Vega Sicilia don’t leave room for surprises. They want complete control over every aspect of their wine making process, including making and toasting all of the barrels used at the winery at their own on-site cooperage. Coopers everywhere char the insides of their barrels, determining the flavors that barrels instill in the wines they hold (just like with spirits, or even beer).

 

Toasting Barrels

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Binny’s Beer Buzz Hits the Road: Final Days in Beligum

Our journey is on its final stretch. Catch up with parts one, two and three.

 

We spent day six with the Van Steenberge brewery. As usual, this brewery has been in the same family for generations and produces some top notch Belgian ales including favorites such as Piraat, Gulden Draak, and Augustijn.

 

Van Steenberge Sign

Van Steenberge Sign

 

The brewery itself is very large and sprawls around several acres and has its own water source. They have been on this same property since 1784. Van Steenberge pioneered conditioning beers (carbonating naturally) in kegs and has a lot of space dedicated to conditioning rooms which hold bottles and kegs at slightly higher temperatures to allow the yeast to reactivate and carbonate the beers. Currently Van Steenburge produces about 65,000 barrels a year, of which 75% is exported. This is done on an impressive 100 hectoliter brewhouse that turns out six batches a day.

 

Halve Maan Brewhouse

Van Steenberge Brewhouse

 

What impressed me most at the Van Steenberge brewery was their yeast management program. They use seven different yeasts and only use yeast for three generations. They use two different yeasts for bottle conditioning, one for flavor and one to remove oxygen. Yeast management is crucial when so many of your beers tip the scales at over 10% abv.
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Binny’s Beer Buzz Hits the Road: Belgium Days 4 and 5

If you haven’t been following along, Nate Hadley and myself have been traveling through Belgium tasting beer, sight seeing and learning all about the culture! This is day four and five of our journey.

 

Hop Farm in Poperinge

Hop Farm in Poperinge

 

We spent day four with the Van Ecke brewery, makers of Poperings Hommel, among others. Our first stop was a hop farm in the town of Poperinge. This was by far my favorite stop of the trip to this point. It was a small, family farm called ‘t Hoppecruyt. We toured the fields, which were just past the initial sprouting phase and the vines were starting to climb.

 

Hops Growing

Hops Growing

 
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Whiskey Hotline Hits the Road: Scotland Days 4-6

Coleburn Distillery

 

Been a while. Day 4 was a travel day, but we got some stuff done early. Drove the A95 to near Fogwatt and discovered the small drive that leads to Coleburn distillery. A distillery from 1897 until 1985, it was important for production experiments for DCL (now Diageo) but lost as so many others were to the economic downturn and sinking popularity of whisky in the 80′s. It’s now being renovated as a B&B/Restaurant/event space for live music by a Scottish musician called Mark Winchester. The grounds will make a beautiful resort, alas, no distilling will take place.

 

Next we went to Aberlour, a pretty place set at the Aber (east coast Gaelic for “opening”) of the river Lour, where it flows into the Spey. This reminded my just how good a’Bunahd (original) is. Drove all day after that to Ayr.

 

 

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Beer Buzz Hits the Road: Belgium Days 2 and 3

We spent day 2 of our journey through Belgium exploring the city of Antwerp with our friends from Troubadour. The biggest news of the day was Nate Hadley’s arrival. Our poor Naperville beer manager was bumped on his flight over due to the flight being overbooked. The flight he was hoping for standby on was also overbooked and then cancelled due to mechanical problems. He spent a night in Washington DC and finally got to us today. His luggage, however, did not. At least he’s here!

 

troubadour

 

Troubadour beers are outstanding across the board. They have a Blond, Obscura (a light stout), Magma Triple IPA, Westkust (a black IPA), and an imperial stout. It’s great to see a Belgian brewery embracing US Craft brewery ideas and creating hop forward beers in a country typically completely devoid of them. If you haven’t had Magma, do yourself a favor and pick one up. There also may still be some of the limited edition Sorachi Ace Magma floating around at some of our stores.
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Wine Hotline Hits the Road: Walla Walla, Washington

A group of Binny’s wine staff visited Walla Walla, Washington. Jon Kaiser reports from the road:

 

Long Shadows Barrels

 

Most of the Walla Walla wineries we visited, with the exception of Woodward Canyon, source their grapes from the Columbia, Cascade, and Yakima Valleys. The vineyards in Walla Walla have to be in elevation above 600 feet to avoid damaging frost when the vines start to bud. A primary characteristic of these valleys that create such rich and full bodied Cabernet Sauvignons, Syrahs, and Cabernet Francs is that during the warmer months the valley floors get very warm but the vines enjoy drastically cooler nights. The sun warms the soil during the day so that it radiates heat throughout the night, keeping the vines active even when the temperature cools. Average rainfall in Walla Walla is only 17 inches per year, so most of the agriculture in the area is dry farmed wheat while vineyards utilize drip irrigation.

 

Several of the wineries we visited in Walla Walla are located on the property of the Walla Walla Regional Airport. It was an Army Air Base during World War II where pilots learned to fly B-17 bomber aircraft. While the airport still flies small commercial planes, The Port of Walla Walla overtook ownership of the property in 1989 and the older barracks, firehouse, hangars, and buildings associated with the base are now home to 20 plus wineries including three of the biggest. We got a chance to visit Tamarack Cellars, Buty, Dunham. The quality of product and volume of production coming out of these small facilities is astounding, with production on the scale of both very large and very small. From 100,000 case production wines to just a few thousand. We tasted barrel samples at many of the wineries we visited, and one of our favorites was at the Long Shadows vineyard. Customers will love Michel Rolland’s 2012 Pedestal Merlot when it finally hits the shelves at Binny’s – in a few years.

 

Long Shadows Fermentation Tanks

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Beer Buzz Hits the Road: Belgium

We started our day with a little sightseeing in Brussels. We hit the usual spots, including the Atomium, which is a remnant from the 1958 worlds fair. It’s over 100 meters tall. Pretty cool, especially considering that all we have leftover from the worlds fair in New York is some rusty flying saucers in Jamaica Queens. ( There is also a significant remnant from the 1939 New York World’s Fair in Richmond, VA. It is now the Belgian Friendship Building at Virginia Union University, and it is a National Historic Landmark. -ed.)

 

 

We also checked out the iconic Mannekin Pis. It’s very small, maybe 20 inches or so, and not much to look at. So I did what any forward thinking beer nerd would do and popped into Mort Subite for a glass of their house blended lambic, whose deliciousness words cannot describe.

 

 

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