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A few times a year Seattle experiences an absolutely magical event: a beer festival at Brouwer’s Cafe in Fremont. Now, when you think of beer festivals, you probably think of a few things. Waiting in line to get your ID checked. Getting a (small) handful of tokens and a (small) glass for your beer. Waiting in lines to get each and every one of your (small) pours. Juggling your glass, a festival pamphlet, and a dozen other things while avoiding hordes of other festival goers. The festivals at Brouwer’s are nothing like this. Sure, you often have to line up outside early to get into the pub. But then you enter a beautiful Belgian style building, grab a table, and peruse a menu featuring delicious food and 64 different beers on tap. Depending on the festival, these might be sours, IPAs, or barley wines. You then order as many of these beers as you want (well, until you get cut off…), and get the lovely folks at Brouwer’s to bring them right to your table. And, did I mention that many of these beers are incredibly hard to find? Not a bad deal!

Today was the first day of Hopfest 2013. Unfortunately, it was also a Thursday on my first week back at grad school for the year. So I didn’t have time to fully partake in the festival, but I did have time to stop by and grab two quick beers. First up was the Beer Valley Black Madness. I won’t spend too much time talking about this one, but it is a bit of an interesting creation. Black Madness is basically a bottled version of a black and tan, being a combination of Beer Valley’s Black Valley Imperial Stout and Leafer Madness IPA. Quite tasty, but nothing too terribly remarkable or interesting. Most of the hops were covered up by the flavors of the stout… maybe if I really concentrated I could detect them, but not much beyond that. Still, it was a nice stout. Much more interesting was the Ninkasi Barrel Aged Maiden the Shade.

Ninkasi Barrel Aged Maiden the Shade

Ninkasi Barrel Aged Maiden the Shade

I actually haven’t been able to find much out about the Ninkasi Barrel Aged Maiden the Shade, but the unaged version of Maiden the Shade is described as a summer IPA. Made with a combination of Summit, Centennial Simcoe, Columbus, Crystal, Palisade, and Amarillo hops, it measures in at 72 IBUs and 6.8% ABV. From what I could find online, it sounds like Ninkasi uses barrels uses Ransom Old Tom Gin barrels in order to condition this special version of the IPA. The results are quite interesting. The beer has all the interesting hop characteristics that one might expect from Ninkasi, but the flavor is laced through with the pleasant taste of vanilla and oak. I personally didn’t detect any scents or flavors that betrayed the beer’s association with gin, but another friend thought she could at least smell some gin notes. Overall, though, a pleasant and very interesting product from Ninkais, and one that I would seek out again.

Founders Brewing Company was founded in 1997 in Grand Rapids, MI. According to their website the company had a rough few years, even approaching bankruptcy at one point, but the last few years have been anything but rough. In their rating of the world’s breweries, Ratebeer.com listed Founders as 4th in 2010, 2nd in 2011 and 2012, and 3rd in 2013. Their Canadian Breakfast Stout was even rated as the 4th best beer in the world this year. And, to top it all off, they have just finished remodeling and expanding their taproom to now include a beautiful new outdoor space.

Founders isn’t the only one enjoying their success though… I was lucky enough to enjoy a few very fresh beers at their reopened taproom last week. While visiting my brother in Grand Rapids, I was delighted to try a number of fantastic restaurants and brew pubs including Brewery Vivant, The Green Well, Wolfgang’s, Two Beards Deli, and the infamous Yesterdog. I was most excited, though, about Founders.

 

Inside the taproom

Inside the taproom

Close-up of the beers on tap.

Close-up of the beers on tap.

We were actually leaving town early on their first day after the remodel, so we arrived for lunch right as they opened their doors at 11am. Immediately upon entering the building (it was a bit cold outside) we were greeted with the smell of fresh wort fermenting away. Even more delightful was the sight of their extensive beer list, written out on a large chalk board above the bar. 18 different beers on tap! 6 of those available only at their taproom!

Unfortunately, I was having too much fun to take any formal notes, so I’m writing this blog from memory. I decided to narrow in on the beers only available at the taproom, and started out with an 8oz pour (in a tulip glass) of the Barrel Aged Party Stout. Velvety soft, sweet but balanced, and quite decadent all around. I paired it with some pretzel sticks and homemade IPA mustard, which was quite tasty. From there I moved on to the Opening Night Black IPA (16 oz pint), along with a cup of Dirty Bastard Bratwurst Chili. Up front, I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about black IPAs–I’ve always wanted to like them, but find that I rarely do. I like IPAs and I love dark ales. But black IPAs just never seem to hit the spot. Still, I thought I’d give the category one more try… and am very glad that I did! Their version was a bit sweeter than others I’ve tried, in a way that perfectly balanced the bitterness of the hops. Definitely a winner.

Unfortunately, that’s all the time we had for the brewery, so I had to reluctantly cut myself off at only two beers. Happily, though, my brother gifted me a mixed six pack of the Porters and Centennial IPAs, so I didn’t have to go home empty-handed. Tonight I thought I’d give one of the IPAs a try.

The Founders Brewing Company Centennial IPA, already poured into my new Founders mug.

The Founders Brewing Company Centennial IPA, already poured into my new Founders mug.

The Centennial IPA is one of Founders’ year-round offerings, and it clocks in at 7.2% abv and a respectable 65 IBUs. For comparison, the Stone IPA is 6.9% abv and a whopping 77 IBUs. But, forget the stats, how does it taste?

Color: Oops… I poured it into my new ceramic mug, and it mostly just looks dark in there! Drinking from the mug did make me feel a bit like a Medieval knight, but it didn’t help much with identifying colors. However, the beer did have a medium to light head.

Smell: Definitely plenty of hops on the nose.

Taste: Wow, really quite balanced. Sometimes, despite being a proud Northwesterner, I do develop a bit of hop fatigue. They stop quenching my thirst and become a bit of a chore to drink. The Centennial IPA prevents such a condition by cutting its hoppiness with a strong malt backbone. Don’t get me wrong, the hops still add a nice bite to the palate and some bitter citrus to the finish. But the malty tones are definitely there too, making the beer more complex and all-around more enjoyable.

Now I just have to figure out where I can get some more of these in Seattle!

Cocktail: Pisco Sour

Pisco sour, made with Amargo Chuncho bitters.

Pisco sour, made with Amargo Chuncho bitters.

I recently picked up a bottle of Amargo Chuncho which claim to be both the original Peruvian bitters and the only bitters to use for an authentic Pisco Sour. I found the latter claim particularly interesting, as most of the classic recipes for Pisco Sour use Angostura as their bitters of choice. This is the case, for example, in Charles H. Baker Jr.’s The South American Gentleman’s Companion, Gary (gaz) Regan’s The Joy of Mixology, and Jim Mehan’s The PDT Cocktail Book. This inspired me to try to dig a little into the history of Amargo Chuncho, to see how they are related to Angostura bitters and whether they were really the original bitters in Pisco Sours. Unfortunately, though, I could actually find very little about these bitters. Most websites seem to simply regurgitate the claims made by the bitters company itself:

Amargo Chuncho, or Chuncho Bitters, were named after the ethnic group of Amazon Indians that resisted the Spanish Conquistadors. They are the original Peruvian bitters and are the only bitters for a truly authentic Pisco Sour.

Chuncho is a complex and well balanced combination of over 30 various peels, herbs, roots, barks and flowers from the Peruvian forest – including Quina and Sarrapia leaves, both of which appear on the Peruvian flag – that are macerated then rested for six months in oak barrels before being bottled. The most common use is in cocktails, but these bitters can also be used across all areas of cooking.

Despite the small amount of bitters used in cocktail recipes, they have a very definite effect on the flavor profile of a drink, helping to bring the ingredients together. Don’t think that because of the name it will immediately make the drink bitter. In a cocktail, Chuncho works more like adding an herb to a sauce – it is an essential ingredient on any bar.

This, I suppose, gives us some background on the production of the bitters, but offers very little to substantiate the claim that these bitters “are the only bitters for a truly authentic Pisco Sour.” Just about the only other substantial post I can find about Chuncho Amargo was from Camper English’s blog back in 2009, when he described how several San Francisco bartenders visited Peru and brought these bitters back for their bars.

So, although I wasn’t able to figure out the history to Chuncho Amargo, I was able to do the next best thing – put it through a rigorous taste testing. I decided to taste it both on its own and in a Pisco Sour. First, placing a few drops on my hand and warming them, I noted strong herbal scents along with hints of cherry. The taste reminded me a bit of a cherry cough syrup, given the cherry and herbal notes. Not necessarily the sort of thing you want to be taking shots of. However, this herbal cherry quality did absolutely shine in a Pisco Sour. I made the cocktail following the recipe in The PDT Cocktail Book:

  • 2 oz. pisco (Capel Pisco Reservado)
  • .75 oz. lime juice
  • .75 oz. simple syrup
  • egg white (1/2 oz. egg white)
  • 4 drops Angostura bitters (Amargo Chuncho)

Right off the bat, this was one delicious cocktail – it really had me questioning why I haven’t been drinking Pisco Sours all summer long. It was deliciously refreshing from the citrus, had a luscious mouthfeel, and a light herbal taste from both the pisco and the bitters. I thought that the scent and taste of the bitters melded perfectly with the cocktail. Notes of quinine and cherry dominated in the bitters at this point.

So, I knew that Amargo Chuncho makes for a nice Pisco Sour. But how does this compare to Angostura? To figure this out I did a direct comparison, making two cocktails that differed only in the bitters with which they were adorned.

Two Pisco Sours, one with Amargo Chuncho (left) and one with Angostura (right).

Two Pisco Sours, one with Amargo Chuncho (left) and one with Angostura (right).

As you can see above, the Amargo Chuncho is much lighter than the Angostura’s dark rust color. The Chuncho also had a lighter smell, which I thought integrated more smoothly with the Pisco Sour’s citrus. In contrast the Angostura’s spice notes stood out a bit more prominently. This same difference also played out on the tongue – the Chuncho gave off fairly subtle herbal and quinine notes, while the cinnamon and the spice of the Angostura stood in contrast to the primary flavors of the cocktail. In the end I can’t say that the difference was huge; it was, after all, only a few drops of each. Nevertheless, there was a subtle difference that perhaps might be important to your enjoyment of this classic cocktail.

 

Now you may wonder, how much difference do four or five drops of bitters really make in a cocktail?

 

Pumpkin-Apple Old Fashioned

Pumpkin-Apple Old Fashioned

Now that I have a nice pumpkin liqueur, I thought that I might as well start experimenting with it. I decided to start with a variation on one of my favorite cocktails, the Old Fashioned. The easiest substitution, of course, was to swap in the pumpkin liqueur for the sugar/simple syrup normally present in the cocktail. Normally I probably would have only done this, and kept everything else the same. However, I was fresh out of rye whiskey, forcing me to improvise a bit more. Since I was in a fall mood, I reached for a bottle of Laird’s 7 1/2 Year Old Apple Brandy. I thought that the pumpkin spices would harmonize nicely with this. To pull it all together, and to continue with the theme of warm spices, I used Bittermen’s Xocolatl Mole Bitters instead of orange or Angostura bitters. The only original ingredient I left in the cocktail was an orange peel. The final recipe:

  • 3 oz Laird’s 7 1/2 Year Old Apple Brandy
  • .5 oz Pumpkin Liqueur (homemade)
  • 3 dashes Bittermen’s Xocolatl Mole Bitters
  • Orange peel

Mix all of the liquid ingredients together in an double old fashioned glass, add a large ice cube, and express an orange peel into it. This actually worked incredibly well, tasting like an old fashioned melted into an apple pie. The cocktail had a perfect mouth feel (fairly viscous from the liqueur), as well as a nice balance of booze, sweetness, and spice. You might be able to increase the amount of liqueur a bit if you want the drink spicier. It finished with tastes of fresh apple. Definitely highlights the case for experimenting with classic recipes!

 

2011 Dolinsek Ranch Heritage Red Wine

2011 Dolinsek Ranch Heritage Red Wine

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of our favorite California wineries is Bedrock Wine Co. This fall will be our third year on the list, and we’ve very much enjoyed watching winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson’s skills evolve. Thus far I’ve had a slight preference for Morgan’s white and rose wines, perhaps because they require less extensive cellaring, but the reds have been quite good as well. Case in point, the other night we enjoyed a 2011 Dolinsek Ranch Heritage Red Wine. Located in the Russian River Valley and planted in 1910, the Dolinsek Ranch vineyard is planted with 70% zinfandel, along with a mixture of Alicante Bouschet, Tempranillo, Petite Sirah, Teredalgo, and more. In 2011 the vineyard produced .5 tons per acre, and the resulting wine was fermented to 14.8% abv. While making dinner (see diced cabbage and homemade bread in the photo above!) I popped the bottle open and let it sit for about an hour. Upon pouring the wine was dark purple and the smell was very dark, full of black fruits and spice. On the tongue I got dark fruits, spice and some definite hints of smoky bacon and game meat. I love that meaty taste in a wine! There were some definite tannins to the finish, and I won’t necessarily be in a hurry to open my other bottle… this one is definitely capable of going the distance! I’ll be sure to check back in when I finally do open the other bottle.

Homemade: Ginger Beer

GingerBeer GingerBeerPoured

As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been making homemade ginger beer to jazz up some of my cocktails. I was first inspired to do so after reading through Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s post on homemade ginger beer and Dark and Stormies. I highly recommend that you take up the challenge yourself, as it is an incredibly easy (and cheap) process with fantastic results. Morgenthaler’s recipe is as follows:

  •  1 oz ginger juice
  • 2 oz lemon juice
  • 3 oz simple syrup
  • 10 oz warm water

I followed these instructions the first time around, but after a little experimentation I found that the finished product tasted much smoother if I made my simple syrup using dark brown sugar instead of granulated sugar. So, I instead recommend:

  • 1 oz ginger juice (grate the ginger, strain the juice of all solids)
  • 2 oz lemon juice (also strained)
  • 3 oz dark brown simple syrup (1:1)
  • 10 oz warm water

This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled, depending on the size of the bottle you are using. Pour everything in a bottle and add a small amount of champagne yeast. Morganthaler recommends ’25 granules’ of yeast… rather than counting, I just poured out of the yeast packet for a second or two and hoped for the best. Seal up your bottle and let it sit, at room temperature, for *exactly* 48 hours. This is when all the fermentation takes place, meaning your yeast produce alcohol and also carbonate the ginger beer. Immediately after 48 hours have passed, place the bottle in the refrigerator to stop the fermentation. Because ginger beer remains sweet and does not produce high levels of alcohol, the fermentation will not stop on its own. If it keeps fermenting and you do not relieve any of the pressure, your bottle could explore. This is particularly dangerous if you are using a glass bottle! So, keep an eye on things and be careful not to allow too much pressure to build up. Once your beer is chilled, mix it up in a cocktail or serve it with a squeeze of lime!

 

Cocktail: The Pumpkin King

I’ve had pumpkin on the brain for a few weeks now. It first started on a rather innocent trip to QFC… the wife and I were there to pick up supplies for a recent camping trip. But, as soon as I stepped in the store, I was immediately hit with the sight of the season’s first round of pumpkin beers. Not a huge selection just yet, only Red Hook’s Out of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter and Elysian’s Night Owl Pumpkin Ale, but enough to get me excited. I left with the Red Hook. More recently I’ve begun to see rumblings about the 10th anniversary of Starbuck’s infamous pumpkin spice latte. While the lattes are not yet listed on the menus at stores (trust me, I checked!), you seem to be able to get one on the sly through the use of a special code.

Anyway, all of this got me to thinking about the use of pumpkin in cocktails. At first I thought about perhaps making some sort of pumpkin bitters, which I thought might go well in all sorts of dark spirit, fall cocktails. However, a quick search for pumpkin bitters recipes came up empty. Rather than improvise on my own, I quickly became distracted by several pumpkin cocktail recipes which did appear in my search. In particular Jamie Boudreau’s Pumpkin King Cocktail, with its homemade pumpkin liqueur, excited me. If you want to make it yourself, I suggest you head over to Jamie’s site for the full set of instructions; his video, in particular, is great. Briefly, though, I’ll go over the steps I followed. First, for the pumpkin liqueur, I threw the following items on the stove:

12 oz. Red Hook Pumpkin Porter
24 oz. granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 tsp. ground allspice

I simmered this until it puffed up with foam and all the sugar had dissolved, let the syrup cool, and then skimmed the foam off the top. From here I poured it into a 750mL bottle and topped it with 6 oz. E&J VSOP Brandy. The resulting liqueur was a nice dark brown color, with delightful tastes of pumpkin pie.

Delicious, homemade pumpkin liqueur in the E&J bottle.

Delicious, homemade pumpkin liqueur in the E&J bottle.

Now, onto the cocktail itself:

1.5 oz Pig’s Nose Blended Scotch (I used Compass Box Oak Cross)
.5 oz pumpkin liqueur
.5 oz lime juice
Dash of Bitter’s Truth Aromatic Bitters (Boker’s bitters)

Shake, then pour into an ice-filled Collins glass. Top with ginger beer (I used a homemade ginger beer… more on that later!) and garnish with lime.

The cocktail was delicious, like the cocktail version of the aforementioned pumpkin latte. My one complaint is that the Oak Cross may have had slightly too strong of a profile for the cocktail… I would have liked the pumpkin spices to stand out a little more over the oak barrel notes. Next time I’ll either find a tamer blend or up the liqueur a little bit. Regardless, the lime and spices came through nicely, especially in the finish. Highly recommended for the fall!

The Pumpkin King Cocktail

The Pumpkin King Cocktail

Review: Compass Box Whisky Sampler

Well, it seems I haven’t posted on here in a very long time. I have about a billion excuses for that… moving out to Seattle, starting and finishing a Master’s degree, starting in on the PhD, getting married this summer, etc etc. More important than these excuses, though, is my resolve to start posting on here more regularly again. You see, the one excuse I can’t give for not posting is a decline in my drinking. Moving to Seattle has been one of the best decisions of my life, in no small part thanks to a great drinking scene. We have access to great West Coast beer, have a lot of microbreweries of our own, are near quite a few good wine areas, and have a world class history of mixology. Hopefully I’ll be posting about a lot of these Seattle attractions in the near future.

Today, though, I’m posting about a little something I picked up in Chicago. As I mentioned above, I got married this summer. The event took place in my wife’s hometown of Chicago, and it was an absolute blast. Prior to the big day her family threw a little backyard party, and I was in charge of picking up a keg for the party. So, I took a few friends with me and headed off to Binny’s Beverage Depot. In the end, though, we came back with a lot more than our keg of Lagunitas IPA… you see, Binny’s has an absolutely incredible selection and everything is way cheaper than what we get here in Washington state (thanks to post-privatization of liquor taxes). Anyway, one of the gems that I came away with was a sampler pack of Compass Box whiskies. I’ve heard a lot about these blended whiskies, but had never tried them myself, so I thought a sampler pack would be the perfect way to determine whether or not to buy a full bottle. As you can see below, the whiskies came in a nice black case. It included five different 50 mL vials of whisky, including Asyla, Oak Cross, Spice Tree, The Peat Monster, and Hedonism.

Outside of the sample pack.

Outside of the sample pack.

And the whiskies inside!

And the whiskies inside!

Last night I decided to crack open all of the vials and compare each of the whiskies, to see if any of them might become regulars for me. Here you can see each of the whiskies, in half ounce pours:

From left to right: Asyla, Oak Cross, Spice Tree, The Peat Monster, Hedonism

From left to right: Asyla, Oak Cross, Spice Tree, The Peat Monster, Hedonism

My thoughts on each:

Asyla (40% abv || 50% Lowland, 40% Highland, 10% Speyside blend || 100% American oak)
Color: Very clear
Nose: Sweet with some burn, this smells almost like a fine grappa. The nose gets more woody with air, but somewhat in a bad way (overpowering). With some water the nose reminded me of Woodinville Whiskey’s Rye.
Taste: Incredibly smooth, with delicate oak, floral notes, and a honey sweetness. It was perhaps a bit too delicate for me; I like something with a bit more flavor. But, definitely a quality spirit.

Oak Cross (43% abv || 60% North Highland, 20% Highland, 20% Speyside blend || 60% American oak, 40% French oak)
Color: Darker than the Asyla, no doubt from the addition of French oak. Still very light though, it’s a nice pale gold.
Nose: Very nice sweet and floral aroma.
Taste: Much more pronounced than the Asyla, this reminds me of a Glenfiddich. Oak and honey with some clove spice. It has a long honey finish. The addition of a few drops of water made it even smoother.

Spice Tree (46% abv || 60% North Highland, 20% Highland, 20% Speyside blend || 20% American oak, 80% French oak)
Color: The addition of more French oak in the aging process resulted in the darkest color of the bunch, it is a bronze/goldenrod color in the glass.
Nose: Plenty of oak spice, with a fair amount of alcohol burn.
Taste: Very similar to the Oak Cross (after all, they are the same regional blend, with only differences in the oak used to age them). However, I found this much more pleasant; it was smoother and more integrated, with a lot more spice (rather than honey) in the finish. Flavors of oak, spice, and honey overall. It’s amazing how much the type of oak affects the resulting whisky!

The Peat Monster (46% abv || 37% Islay, 34% Highland, 29% Island blend || 100% American oak)
Color: Clear
Nose: Heavy peat. Mostly iodine and barbecue smoke. Taste: This was surprisingly smooth on the tongue, given the peaty nose. There is definitely still iodine and a subtle smoke, but it is sweet rather than bracing. The finish is all smoke. Despite the name, this is not really a monster; don’t go looking to it to replace your Ardbeg, Laphroaig, or Lagavulin. It is a blend, after all, and is quite smooth as a result. I bet it goes great in cocktails. My favorite of the bunch.

Hedonism (43% abv || 60% East Lowland, 40% West Lowland || 100% American oak)
Color: Clear, with slight tinges of a very light yellow
Nose: Very sweet, floral
Taste: Reminds me of the Asyla, but with more grain on the tongue and a longer, much prettier (floral) finish. Pretty tastey. I don’t get the grating wood notes that I did from the Asyla.

Overall, some very nice whiskies. I don’t know that I would seek them out as my home Scotch (I prefer my Islay single malts), but they would be a solid choice to have around for guests and for mixing into Scotch-based cocktails. My top picks were The Peat Monster and Hedonism.

The other night my fiancee and I celebrated our four year anniversary at a new restaurant, Frank’s Oyster House and Champagne Parlor. I’ve been wanting to try Frank’s for awhile now, since it is probably the closest cocktail joint near our place, but up until now there had just been way too many places to explore throughout Seattle (and not enough money or time with which to explore them all!). Anyway, we finally made it a point to check out their happy hour, and we both came away quite happy that we did! They have delicious food and very good cocktails, and the happy hour specials make it quite affordable. Of special note, I might mention the Tufted Cowboy cocktail, which was essentially an Old-Fashioned topped up with sparkling wine.

However, my focus today is on another cocktail I had, one that combined tequila and Aperol in an absolutely delicious way. Unfortunately, after all of the celebrating we did last night, today I can remember neither the name of the cocktail nor its specific ingredients. I *think* it included tequila, Aperol, dry vermouth, and sweet vermouth, but I can’t remember what else. Nevertheless, I thought I might be able to produce a similar effect by substituting Aperol into a margarita recipe. Furthermore, I thought that mezcal might make the drink even tastier. Thus, I tried the following:

1.5 oz mezcal

.75 oz Aperol

.75 oz lime juice

.25 oz cherry syrup (2:1 ratio sugar to cherry heering)

Lime peel garnish

The results were quite delicious, and very balanced, even if it didn’t taste quite the same as what I had at Frank’s. The mezcal comes out the strongest, but it also has a nice sweet/bitter flavor to it. All-in-all, something I would make again if it were a good day for a margarita, but I had the hankering for something a bit more complex!

Soft Tail Spirits Grappa

Grappa

Sangiovese (left) and Giallo (right) grappas, in 50 mL bottles, from Soft Tail Spirits.

Since moving to Seattle over a year ago, I have found Washington state to be a paradise of exciting cocktail bars, wineries, microbreweries, and microdistilleries. Unfortunately, having also started grad school a year ago, I haven’t had much time to post on this site. Starting now, I’d like to change that at least a little. Therefore, for my first post back, I’d like to talk about the delicious products of a local microdistillery, Soft Tail Spirits.

I first learned about Soft Tail Spirits during the NW Distillery and Cocktail Festival, where they were offering tastings of their vodka and one of their grappas. Soft Tail Spirits opened its doors in Woodinville, WA, in 2008, and they focus entirely on a single vodka (distilled from Washington apples) and several different grappas (made from the pomace of local wineries). While the vodka was quite nice to sip, the grappas were what really intrigued me. While most of my experience with grappa comes from some horrible petroleum-tasting samples in Italy, I found that the Soft Tail Spirits samples were both smooth and complex (and without any petroleum notes to them!).

While I didn’t write much down during my tasting at the NW Distillery and Cocktail Festival, I happily received two 50 mL bottles of grappa for my birthday a few weeks ago. Specifically, the sangiovese and giallo varieties:

Sangiovese and GialloEven in these pictures it’s easy to see a pretty big color difference between the two bottles–the sangiovese is colorless while the giallo is a very pale yellow/gold. This difference is explained by the 6 months that the giallo spends in French oak, and not by any difference in the variety of grape used. As could be expected, the effects of the oak continue to differentiate the two spirits on the nose and on the palate.

Right out of the bottle, the sangiovese was pretty hot on the nose, but with some doughy sweetness and maybe a bit of pear in the background. With more air it actually developed a nice brandy bouquet, but with a sweet, grassy edge to it. In contrast, the giallo started off with a much darker smell to it, with more of a grape seed edge than pear. With time I also detected a strong vanilla note, and maybe even some brown sugar or butterscotch–definitely pleasant results from the barrel aging process!

Best of all, both were delicious. From the beginning the sangiovese was quite smooth and very fruity, with fresh orchard notes of apple and pears. I even got a distinct fig note in the aftertaste. The giallo had grape notes instead of the orchard fruit, and some definite wood notes–perhaps caramel? On their website, Soft Tail describes its taste as being similar to a Lowland whisky. I’m not sure whether I’d agree with that or not (more tasting needed!), but it was certainly different from the unaged sangiovese.

I am hoping that I can make it up to Soft Tail sometime in the near future (they recently had a great tour/tasting/food deal on LivingSocial), so hopefully I can follow this post up with a tasting of their full line!