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Try This on New Years: Malheur Brut Reserve

When it comes to champagne styled beer, two breweries from the small town of Buggenhout, Belgium reign supreme. Last year for New Years we recommended that beer drinkers enjoy a bottle of Deus, a delicious champagne style beer brewed by Bosteels Brewery. Only miles away in the same small town is Landtsheer Brewery, brewers of Malheur Brut Reserve.

Malheur Brut Reserve starts its life as a base beer of another of Landtsheer beers, Malheur 10.  But unlike the Malheur 10, Malheur Brut Reserve goes through a process very similar to what fine champagne goes through.  First it is packaged into a French champagne bottle with a plastic stopper inserted into the neck of the bottle.  It is then warm conditioned at the brewery for two months.  The bottles are rotated to different positions over a period of several weeks, with their final resting place in the upside down position.  Then, like Deus, the bottles are trucked 200 miles away to France.  The bottle neck is then frozen at -35 degrees Fahrenheit for five minutes, causing the plastic stopper and yeast to pop out of the bottle.  The bottles are then cleaned, corked and caged, labeled, and shipped out to distributors.


   So what flavors can you expect from a beer subjected to this pain staking process?  The champagne characteristics shine through in the mouth feel.  It feels like you are drinking champagne, mostly from the heavy carbonation and bubbles.  It also has the dryness that brut champagnes are known for.  But when it comes to the main flavor components of this brew, there are no mistakes:  Malheur Brut Reserve is a finely crafted Belgian ale.  Big yeast flavors coupled with a hearty dose of malt leave no doubt as to this beers roots.  It clocks in at 11% ABV and is deceptively easy to drink for such a strong beer.


   Malheur Brut Reserve and Deus are the closest thing in our beer sections to champagne, and you will be hard pressed to find any other beers on our shelves that can warrant a comparison.  What are you drinking on New Years?

Snow Phoenix has Risen!


   At the beginning of December, we got a number of requests for Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix, which was being released in Europe to much hoopla. At that time the information we were getting was that none was going to be released to the US. Like the phoenix rising from the ashes (or in this case the whisky rising from the collapsed warehouses) it turns out our information was not accurate. We are pleased to announce that Binny’s will be receiving an allotment of Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix.

   For those who don’t know about this bottling: in December 2009 and January of 2010 much of Scotland was absolutely pounded by a massive snow storm, especially concentrated in the Speyside whisky making region. This storm was followed by extremely cold temperatures which turned the snow into ice and collapsed the roofs of many building in the area. A number of whisky aging warehouses collapsed because they weren’t built to withstand this once in a century occurence, including several at Glenfiddich. To pay memory to this crisis and the swift reaction of those employees of the distillery who had to clean up the mess, Glenfiddich Malt Master Brian Kinsman created this bottling using casks of varying ages, both ex-Bourbon and ex-Oloroso Sherry casks, that were exposed to the weather. Further inspired by the lifesaving work performed by the regional Cairgorn Mountain Rescue Team helping the local citizens, Brian involved them in the creation of the bottling and the distillery made a donation for their efforts.

   Preliminary tasting notes indicate this is a classic Glenfiddich, all apple, pear, honey, light chocolate and hints of sherry spice. Snow Phoenix is bottled at 47.6% abv and will retail for $89.99/750ml.

Top Ten Beers of 2010

22oz Bottle 
The 10.5% ABV Double Bastard is the big brother of Stone’s most popular brew, Arrogant Bastard. It has a tremendous malt bill to go along with a ridiculous amount of hops. This beer is definitely not for the faint of heart. Are you worthy of this aggressive brew?

6/12oz Bottles 
One of the gems of the east coast, Smuttynose Brewing Company, debuted in out stores in October. Their Robust Porter is everything you could hope for in a porter, and more. It has a coffee and espresso like bitterness, along with flavors of chocolate and caramel.

22oz Bottle 
Night Stalker is a monster of a beer, clocking in at 11.2% ABV and 60 IBU’s. It is on the hoppy side for an imperial stout, as it is gushing with Simcoe and Mt Hood hops. The “midnight” color of the Night Stalker is derived from the six different types of malts used during the brewing process.

6/12oz Bottles
Emmett’s Brewing Company has been crafting beer locally at their brewpub and restaurant in West Dundee since 1999, and have since added locations in both Downers Grove and Palatine. McCarthy Red has a nice toasted malt flavor and a slight hop bitterness. It is easy drinking and has great balance.

25.4oz Bottle 
This beer pairs aggressive American hops with Belgian yeast. But rather than the hops taking away from the Belgian yeast characteristics, they add complexity. Flavors of fruit, grass, and spices such as clove paired with assertive hops make for a very interesting and intricate brew.

25.4oz Bottle 
Some of us had the chance to sample this beer at the Belgium Comes to Cooperstown beer festival, and it stood out among the hundreds of beers we tried. We were elated when it debuted in our stores a few months later. It is floral, fruity, easy to drink, and definitely one of the premier saisons on our shelves.

18.6oz Bottle 
This traditional English Strong Ale is aged in oak barrels that previously held cask-conditioned ale. It is also bottle conditioned, and these two attributes unite for a rare combination. Flavors of caramel, dark fruit, oak, and toffee make up this 8% ABV brew.

25.4oz Bottle 
Brooklyn decided to use their bounty of the rare and coveted Sorachi Ace hop variety to craft a saison. This beer pulsates with a lemon citrus aroma, backed up with some herbal spices and yeast. The flavor is packed with more lemon, spice, and a bit of that funk that seems like a staple for saisons. The finish is mildly bitter but extremely refreshing.

4/11.2oz Bottles 
Magma is a decorated beer, having won top honors at Zythos, the biggest as well as the premier beer festival in Belgium. Magma is brewed with Belgian yeast, and dry hopped with American simcoe hops, resulting in a Belgian IPA that clocks in at 9% ABV. Flavors of strawberries, citrus, and yeast are apparent. The hoppiness is pleasant and not overwhelming.

4/12oz Cans 
Central City has come a long 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.


Gift Ideas: Whisky Stones & Absinthe Spoons

   Here are a couple quick holiday gift ideas for the spirits enthusiast who has (pretty much) everything:


Teroforma Whisky Stones

     Keep Teroforma Whisky Stones chilled in your freezer, pull out three to cool down your glass of sippable spirits without the dilution that comes from melting ice.

   New to Binny’s, these stones are carved from soft but dense soapstone, making them safe to use in most standard glassware. Don’t expect them to make your glass frosty, though. They’re made for bringing a finger or two of whisky down to a good sipping temperature, but they won’t chill larger beverages.

   Teroforma Whisky Stones come in a pack of nine stones and include a muslin storage bag.


Absinthe Spoons

   Absinthe has made its comeback here in the US. Since 2007 (which saw a relaxation on the ban of absinthe) our shelves are flooded with excellent examples of the herbal spirit, imported classics and new creations by American artisan distillers alike.

   It doesn’t take too many shots of straight absinthe to learn that the best way to enjoy the stuff is the old-fashioned French method. This involves diluting the absinthe by pouring cold water over a lump of sugar held on a special slotted spoon. The water and dissolved sugar soften and sweeten the drink, opening up delicate flavors and aromas while herbal components in the absinthe cloud the mixture.

   We have had absinthe spoons included in gift packs before, but now offer a spoon on its own. The spoon is elegant in its simplicity. It is sure to be a valued addition to any home bar tool set, and would make a great stocking stuffer for any artisan spirits enthusiast.

Hot New Vintages From France (That Aren’t Bordeaux)


   For several months the 2009 Bordeaux en primeur campaign consumed the spotlight. Now that the fervor has died down, we can again focus on French wine that mere mortals can afford (meaning me … French wine that I can afford). The good stuff:


2009 Cru Beaujolais

   I’ve been pleasantly surprised by all the press Beaujolais has been receiving lately. The region holds a special place in my heart despite (or because of?) the fact that it has this uncool quality with wine snobs. Outside of Beaujolais Nouveau and Villages, there’s some really interesting wine coming from the region.

   2009 was a pretty amazing vintage throughout France, Beaujolais included. The warm and sunny summer allowed the gamay grapes of the region to fully ripen, balancing gamay’s signature acidity with full fruit notes. One of our esteemed wine guys describes the vintage: A game changer. No one has had gamay as good as this in ages.

   We do have a fair number of the ’09s in now, and expect more when they’re available. Will the 2009 vintage save the region’s reputation? Probably not, but you still don’t want to miss out on these exceptional wines. Compared to the monolithic, heavy, tannic wine coming from so many other regions around the word, Beaujolais offers something fresh and new, or at least tremendous values to rediscover.


2008 Burgundy

   Also hot in the wine press and just arriving at Binny’s are the 2008 Burgundies. A scary vintage at the time, 2008 started with a rainy spring that stretched into a rainy summer. Mold growth threatened the grapes until a dry Indian summer, offering plenty of time for grapes to ripen late into the fall. The result? When 2008’s are good, they’re great.

   I’ve only been able to taste a few, both red and white, mostly from Louis Jadot. These wines are spectacular, showcasing complex herbaceous notes (in the reds) with tight fruit and focused acidity (in both the reds and whites). The reds show tightly wound red raspberry fruit and brambly, drying herbaceous qualities integrated with medium tannins and acidity. The whites are monolithic, focused like laser beams. I’d love to tuck away a few bottles of the amazing Gevrey Chambertin les Estournelles Saint Jacques or Corton Charlemagne, but with my budget, the Cote de Beaune Villages and Santenay Clos de Malte Blanc both offer great insight into the vintage’s personality at more affordable prices.


By the Way

   Though the energy of the campaign has passed, we do still have select 2009 Bordeaux futures available. So if anybody out there is asking about my wish list this year, futures would be a pretty cool stocking stuffer. Just sayin’.

Why is Rye Still Hot?

Why is Rye Still Hot?

   Cocktails, silly!

   A history lesson: If rum was America’s original dram of choice, it was quickly replaced by Rye Whiskey. We had the material, we had the distilling knowledge, we could make it bigger, better, stronger faster! 


   Wait, that’s the Bionic Man.

   Nonetheless, the facts were true. Given that one of the earliest distillers in the colonies was a guy named George Washington, there was credibility and propriety around rye production as well.

   Enough with the history lesson; we’re more interested about what makes rye tick.

   If Bourbon is a sipping dram, Rye is a cocktail staple. Why? The biggest reason is dry, astringent spice character that rye grain brings to the table. While it’s a key component in most bourbon (rye adds layers of pepper and baking spice to the fat sweetness of a majority corn mash) it can get shrill and sharp when turned up too high.

   However, the addition of other sweet, fat flavors in a cocktail makes that sharp spice character an asset again, a layer of bright, complex flavors popping through the sweetness. We aren’t saying Rye is undrinkable on it’s own; anyone who has sipped Sazerac Straight Rye, WhistlePig, High West Rendezvous, Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve, and on and on and on … knows this already.


What’s With High Rye Recipe Ryes?

   That’s a mouthful. Here’s the deal:

   The traditional Ryes we are most familiar with are much like bourbon, except the proportion of rye and corn are flipped. Bourbon has a minimum of 50% corn with rye (or wheat) and malted barley as compliments. Straight Rye has minimum of 50% Rye, with corn and malt added as the compliments, with generally no more than 60% rye.

   Things are changing, and we like it. A few Canadian distilleries are producing rye that contains 70% to 100% rye. A few of these are actually starting to see the light of day, most notably the sublime WhistlePig (100% rye) produced in Canada and bottled in Vermont. On our side of the border, the highly allocated Old Potrero whiskies (100%) and the newly introduced Redemption Rye (95%) are following suit.

   We’re glad to see this trend. We expect more to come, especially from microdistilleries, such as our friends at Koval.


   We asked our ace mixology team at the South Loop Tasting Room to create signature cocktails featuring Rye. Check out the Whiskey Hotline Holiday Edition for cocktail recipes and more news from the world of designer distillates.

Visiting Tuscany


   A handful of Binny’s people recently traveled to Tuscany. We spent our nights in Florence, our days touring wineries throughout the region. My impression of Tuscany: rolling hills lined with vineyards and olive trees, multiple-course “light” lunches, two-hour dinners that don’t even start until half past eight, and a sea of locals who remain uniformly young and fit despite living this lifestyle.

   The architecture of the area is traditional yet modern. The style breaks down to basic geometry: brick and plaster walls, square windows, ambivalence for right angles. Simple elements come together to create something classic, timeless.

   This mindset is reflected in the food and in the wine. Pasta and wild boar (cinghiale) come together in an enduring dish. The wine shows pure fruit, acidity, minerality touches of wood streamlined, classic in proportion yet modern in style. There’s this simlicity that lends a timeless quality.


click the pictures for larger images



   On a low hill outside Chianti is the medival town of Vico, home to Fattorie Marchesi Torrigiani. Binny’s is a major US clearing house for these wines, and there is a reason we sell so much. They show reverence for the land with an emphasis on the sangiovese traditionally grown in the area, but with touches of merlot and cabernet sauvignon that add elegance and weight.

   While touring the winery, we were able to taste some of the ’09 varietals from the barrel. The sangiovese is focused but big, with lots of floral notes and raspberry and acidity; the cab and merlot are darker, balancing chocolate, dark fruits and peppery herbaceous notes. It will be interesting to see how these blend at bottling, and how they will open with time.

   The 2008 Chianti is more modern than I expected, with heavier fruit and coconut up front and herbal notes pushed to the back. At $8.99 (on sale now for $7.99) this stuff is an incredible value and a good point of entry for anyone curious about Chianti. We also tasted several vintages of Torrigiani’s Torre de Ciardo and Guidaccio from newer and older vintages. I have to say that I favor the older stuff; extra bottle age gives these wines time to calm down. Both the 2003 and 2004 vintages are showing quite well. 

   This estate is noteworthy for their breathtaking values. Tusany is becoming known for combining traditional Sangiovese with Bordeaux varietals, but seeing truly thoughtful wines in this category in the low teens, even at $25, is increasingly rare.



Tua Rita 

   After a short car ride South from Bolgheri, near the town of Suvereto, we found Azienda Agricola Tua Rita. The vineyards here are much more flat, gently sloping away from the Mediterranean coast. Binny’s hasn’t carried many of these wines lately. They are marvelous, and worth seeking out. The theme here is pure, vibrant fruit. These wines balance freshness with structure and acidity in a very monolithic way.

   Our tasting began with the 2009 Rosso dei Notri. Though this is an entry-level wine, it reflects the theme we would taste throughout the lineup: pure, beautiful fruit. The nose is bright, fresh, super-fruity. The same on the palate, the 2009 has notes of bing cherry and orange peel, almost like sangria, but balanced with racy acidity. Binny’s currently has the 2008, which I tasted just yesterday it’s much darker, with heavier notes of raspberry and plum. I hope the ’09 stays fresh on its journey here.

   We also tasted the 2008 Tua Rita Perlato del Bosco, Giusto di Notri and Redigaffi. These wines all show notes of fresh and sweet fruit, with increasing acidic and tannic structure. These are lean, sleek, racy wines that are absolutely stunning for their pure fruit. I hope that Binny’s can offer more from the Tua Rita portfolio in the future.



   Thanks for reading.

Coming Soon: 10 Year Old De Cam Lambic

After much anticipation, we will finally see the works of Master Blender Karel Goddeau of Brewery Geuzestekkerij De Cam in Gooik, Belgium here at Binny’s.  Karel is regarded as one of the premier blenders among Lambic enthusiasts.   Keep an eye out for Karel’s innovative De Cam Lambic to be appearing on our shelves over the next few weeks.  This amazing brew has already gone through ten years of maturation–  including 3 years in oak casks before being bottled in 2003.

So what can you expect from a beer with so much time and effort invested into it?  Flavors of herbs, vanilla, wood, leather, and butter, to start.  These flavors may be atypical when it comes to most beers, but De Cam Lambic is far from ordinary.  In fact it drinks more like a fine white wine than a beer.

This extremely rare, extremely delicious beer will be available at  a handful of our stores, but not all of them.  Be sure to inquire at your local Binny’s to see if they are one of the lucky ones to get their hands on this renowned beer.  Have you drank a beer over 10 years old before?

Cocchi Americano is Back!

   A legendary aperitivo from Italy, this Asti native has been made continuously since 1891. It slipped out of broad distribution for years here in the states, leaving cocktail enthusiasts to hunt down this sought after liqueur.

   Cocchi Americano starts with a base of Moscato wine, which is then fortified with brandy and infused with gentian, cinchona bark, citrus and a handful of botanicals in a secret recipe known only by the Cocchi family. It then rests a year in wood prior to bottling. The result is a complex, light and lively combination of traditional bitterness and sublime sweetness. Americano is most commonly consumed simply with a little ice, soda water and a citrus peel or wedge.

   Cocchi Americano is widely believed to be the only thing remotely close to the original Kina Lillet. The classic bitter formula for Lillet was altered in the mid-eighties, dropping the cinchona bark (a bitter Peruvian bark that supplies quinine) and Kina from its name. The result is the softer, and many would say more benign, version of Lillet Blanc that you will find on shelves today.

   Because of its similarities to the retired Kina Lillet formula, Cocchi is now the only proper aperitivo to use in a Corpse Reviver #2, a gin-based drink that features complex and intriguing herbal and citrus flavors. Give it a try:


Classic Corpse Reviver #2

   1 oz gin
   1 oz Cointreau
   1 oz Cocchi Americano
   1 oz fresh lemon juice
   1 dash absinthe

   Mix all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice, stir until very cold. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange peel twist.

Go Big When it Comes to Bottles of Beer

Looking for a beer gift that is sure to be a big hit this Christmas?  We have the answer: A massive three liter bottle of beer.  This beer format is very popular this time of year, whether it is for a gift, or for a family to share during the holidays. They also make a nice display piece for any wet bar or man cave.  Binnys has several options if you are planning on going large when it comes to beer.

Double Bastard 3LTwo Brothers Heavier Handed This imperial version of Two Brothers popular wet hopped IPA is aged in Two Brothers massive French oak foudres.  This incredibly bitter beer would make a perfect gift for the hop head in your family.  $63.99 / 3L

Stone Double Bastard This is another imperial version of a popular beer served up in an imperial sized bottle.  The 10.5% ABV Double Bastard is the big brother of Stones most popular brew, Arrogant Bastard.  This swing top bottle comes complete with a padlock and key attached to the top, ensuring that you alone will hold the power to open it.  A very limited supply of these came to Illinois this year; act now if you are interested.  $97.99 / 3L

Chimay Grand Reserve What better way to celebrate Christmas than with a beastly bottle of this legendary Belgian Trappist Ale?  Any beer lover would be happy with three liters of one of the most delicious dark Belgian beers in the world.  $106.99 / 3L

Duvel Is there a better Belgian Golden Ale than Duvel?  Dont be fooled by the drinkability of this style defining beerit is 8.5% ABV.  $84.99 / 3L

In case a 3L bottle is a little too much for you, Chimay Grand Reserve and Duvel are also available in 1.5L bottles, in addition to their 750ml and 4-pack everyday packages.  Some stores also carry Altenmunster Winterbier in uniquely crafted 2L swing top bottles, for the economical price of $13.99.

Not all of our stores will be carrying the above mentioned beers this holiday season.  Call your local Binnys or email to see if these beers are in stock at your neighborhood Binnys.  What is the biggest bottle of beer you have ever drank?

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