Posts Tagged ‘Sissy’

Review: Flag Hill General John Stark Vodka

About a month ago I got an email from Flag Hill Winery & Distillery. I’ve been on their mailing list for quite awhile, having done their Harvest Fest before, and visited again last year with the Lady Friend, Sissy, and the Mother of the Lady Friend. They tasted the wine, I tasted the spirits.

Anyway, this email was a bit of a distress call. Literally. It was titled “S.O.S.: Save Our Spirit.” Due to low sales, their General John Stark Vodka is due to be removed from the NH State Liquor Store shelves. Which would be a shame. It’s a pity when small craft stuff gets squeezed out of the market, and it happens especially often with vodka. The vodka game is flooded because it’s one of the easier spirits to make, and is currently the most popular spirit in the US. Most distilleries make a vodka, since you don’t have to be as concerned with flavors; distill a spirit and filter everything out of it. But it’s very difficult to make any craft product from quality ingredients when the big brands can undercut your pricing.

Personally, I love having smaller, unusual brands on my home bar. It starts a discussion when someone asks “What is THAT? Where did you get it? I’ve never heard of it.” I didn’t have any Flag Hill products at the time of the S.O.S. email, so I sent a reply to their marketing director to see if I could do a review of their vodka, and help spread the word to get their sales quotas met, keeping a local product on the shelves. They agreed, and sent over a bottle for freebies. Yay for free booze!

Bam! Booze!

It showed up in space-age packaging from the future. I didn’t know shipping materials like this existed, and it was like the bottle had a suit of inflated armor. Plus, the FedEx box had a great warning sticker. Once I tore past the spacesuit, I got a good look at the bottle. Nice square shape, but with faceted corners, an overall nice look. The official name is Flag Hill’s General John Stark vodka. It’s made from apples sourced at the appropriately named Apple Hill Farm in Concord, NH. A unexpected result is is a gluten-free product, made from just distilled apples: no grain whatsoever. Strangely, the bottle lacks a pull-tab to remove the topper. A minor detail, but oddly overlooked in the overall design. No matter… I just hacked it off with a wine opener. Still, pretty much every other bottle of liquor I’ve opened has included a pull-tab of some sort (except for screw tops). Perhaps it’s because Flag Hill is primarily a winery. Under the plastic-y topper is a metal screw top, another unusual move. I’m not sure why I was expecting a cork, but… I was… so the metal cap threw me off again.

How do I get that goodness inside of me?

Before we get into the tasting, you should know about the namesake: General John Stark. He was born in Londonderry, NH, and fought during the Revolutionary War. Thankfully, he was on our side, because this dude was like Chuck Norris, Rambo and King Leonidas all rolled into one. He was captured by Abenaki Indians in 1752, and while held prisoner, decided to grab a club and attack one of them. Apparently this earned him some street cred (forest cred?), and the Abenaki adopted him into the tribe. He took part in the French-Indian war, and then followed that with some action in the Revolutionary War. He started that fight in 1775 at Bunker (Breed’s) Hill in Boston (Charlestown), ordering his troops to hold their fire until the British were nearly on top of them. He famously saw action at the Battle of Bennington in 1777 in Vermont (actually NY), leading a decisive victory for the Colonial forces (30 dead, 40 wounded while the Brits had 207 dead and 700 of their troops captured) and screaming that they would win the battle “…or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow!” This victory became a turning point in the war, and Stark was commended as “The Hero of Bennington.” In 1809, Stark was unable to attend a celebration of the anniversary of the battle, instead sending a letter in which he wrote the phrase that would be adopted as the New Hampshire state motto: “Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.” This pretty much makes NH better than any other state. Just sayin.

Onto the tasting. It should be noted that I sampled this neat, at room temperature. Most people assume that keeping vodka as cold as possible (stashed in the freezer for example) is the best bet, and this may be true of big brand bottles. However, the recent push in craft spirits follows the mindset of treating it as any other artisan liquor, and keeping it at room temp. Cold hinders both aromas and flavors, which can be advantageous for a mass-produced product, hiding the less-desirable cogeners, the culprits of unpleasant smells and tastes. However, you’d never sample a nice whiskey at freezing temps, so let’s give the vodka a chance as well. (The same can be said of beers… a macrobrew adjust lager will taste better when it’s as cold as possible, masking the overall cheapness of the ingredients. A craft IPA, on the other hand, should be taken out of the fridge to warm up for a bit before tasting. It makes a world of difference.)

Nose: Sweet. Apple sweet. Now, I know this is made from apples, but vodka is supposed to be pretty neutral… no real flavors or aromas. The last time I did a Flag Hill spirit tasting, I was left with the same impression of a fruited aroma. Not that it’s bad, in fact, I prefer it. But it would most likely interfere with recipes calling for a neutral ingredient. However, it could also add a little something to it, like a flavored vodka would. I wondered if I was imagining it, so I poured a sample of Bully Boy’s vodka, and nosed them side-by-side. The Bully Boy is much more astringent, and doesn’t smell of much except alcohol. There is a definite apple presence in the Flag Hill offering.

Maybe it’s all in the nose… time for a taste.

Taste: Good mouthfeel… smooth and coating, but not syrupy. There is indeed a hint of sweetness, but the alcoholic burn takes care of that pretty quickly. Not a terribly hot burn, which is always preferable. Once the booze evaporates, I’m again left with a distinct, ghosted apple flavor, juicy and sweet. Not a tart apple, but very nice.

Let’s try it in a cocktail. Perhaps a Kamikaze.

Ok, I know what you’re thinking, but this isn’t amateur night at the local dive doing body shots with tipsy sorority girls in their late teens. At least, not that the Lady Friend knows about. This is the Kamikaze as a legit cocktail… craft spirit, fresh lime juice and even name brand curaçao. We keep it classy here. Sometimes.
When the Lady Friend is around.
Which is a lot.

The Kamikaze

– 2 oz vodka
– 1/2 oz Cointreau
– 1/2 oz fresh lime juice

Nose: Naturally, there’s little else but a lime aroma to this one. Probably since I garnished it with both a lengthy lime twist, and a big ol’ lime wedge. But there is another sweetness underneath… apples and oranges. Makes perfect sense, with the orange Cointreau and the apple notes of the Stark.

Taste: Lime. Triple sec dryness. The vodka makes its precense known at the finish, with a meek alcoholic burn, but it’s well-blended with the lime and orange flavors. The Stark doesn’t seem to put up much of a fuss, but also doesn’t get buried behind the tart lime. Which I suppose is a roundabout way of saying it mixes very well. Yum.

Well, overall I enjoyed it, but after I reconciled a few things. I do have to nitpick with the fact that I got apple sensations in both the nose and the flavor. I’m not sure if this is intentional or not, but for me, vodka is all about neutrality. There should be no aroma, and no flavor. Vodka becomes dependent on mouthfeel and hotness of the spirit. So as a strictly defined vodka, Stark falls outside the guidelines. However, I really don’t like vodka for precisely those reasons. There’s nothing to smell, nothing to taste, and you have to judge it by how horribly it burns your mouth. Not only was the Stark pleasant to smell, it also finishes with a lovely apple essence that I really enjoyed. I won’t say it tasted like an apple spirit, but rather it was a spirit with a hint of apple. Two different things. According to me. But the Flag Hill was tasty, even if it wasn’t a strict neutral vodka.

Go get some.
Keep a local craft product on the shelves.

Where to buy:
– NH State Liquor Stores
Use their product locator to see which stores have it in inventory

– MA Liquor Stores
This one is trickier, since NH is state-controlled, and MA is not, so it’ll vary store-to-store.
To find where the product is carried, you can contact the wholesaler here:
Sun Wholesale
Michael Hechler
Office: 617-232-7776

Squirrel Farts is now accepting solicited product reviews! Send me a bottle and I’ll take a pretty picture and talk it up in the amusing tangential manner you’ve come to expect. Beer, spirits, mixers, whatever. Contact here for details. Note: I will mention that the review was solicited, hell, I’ll even brag about it. Free booze? Damn right. But The Man says I have to say I got it for freebies. I’m excited about free stuff, so whatever. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ll like it, or that I’ll give it a good review. But chances are if you read this blog, then we’ll get along.
Put it to the test: send me your booze!

Sunset Grill and Tap. Mostly tap.

Too many beers.

That’s the only way to describe Sunset Grill and Tap in Allston.
Their website claims 112 taps and 380 bottles.

It’s out of control.

Not that it’s a bad thing.

Sunset at sunset.

I don’t pretend to know much about Allston-Brighton. It’s over on the Green Line, and takes FOR-EV-ER to get to, because the T makes about 73 stops along Commonwealth Ave for all the little Boston University snowflakes. Some of these stops are honestly about 100 feet away from each other. They only mode of transportation that have shorter distances in between stops are school buses. These behemoths seem to stop at each little dumpling’s individual house, and take 45 minutes to travel a half a mile when I just need to get to work and am stuck behind the yellow monster contemplating the engineering required to affix a battering ram to the front of my car. Or a rocket launcher.

Don’t think you’re going to drive over to Sunset either, as parking in the area is notoriously scarce and “permit only” for about 97% of the streets. If you park at Rite Aid, they will certainly tow you. So I don’t make it out to Allston much, with the exception of a pub crawl here and there.

We learned soon after this that tequila shots have no business on a 9-hour pub crawl.

Naturally, the Irish Lad is a big fan of Sunset, though the allure has kind of worn away, as now a trip to Sunset is usually followed by a visit to Do Re Mi Karaoke around the corner so Wifey and her friends can sing the most horrible songs in pop history. Loudly. Wifey can actually sing quite well, but her friends seem to think that volume = talent. Not the case. The Irish Lad does not sing. Evar. So for him to sit through these events is like an aural form of waterboarding. He keeps ALMOST going deaf, but never completely, because that would bring relief. Do Re Mi doesn’t allow alcohol, so generally a stop at Sunset is necessary for some Dutch Courage before venturing into the horrors of “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” sung at Pratt & Whitney decibels. However, he suspects that he’s being conditioned to associate Sunset with pain, because Wifey doesn’t like beer, and as such, is not the biggest fan of a place that prides itself on 100+ taps.

I see no problem here.

Happily, on the last visit, it was the Lady Friend and Sissy, back from Cali for the holidays, who accompanied me to this Palace of Pilseners, Armory of Ales, Fiefdom of Fermented Fun. We snagged Sissy fresh off the plane at Logan, and headed directly for the bar. Being Sunday, we actually found the rarest of the rare: a free parking spot in Allston. Once inside the bar, I perused the list, while they each went with pre-determined samplers. The Lady Friend got the “Stick in the Mud” consisting of four, 5oz glasses of darker brews: Clown Shoes Pecan Pie Porter, Berkshire Brewing Company Coffee-Haus Porter, Fisherman’s Pumpkin Stout and Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout. Sissy started with the “New England Happy Camper” as being on the West Coast gave her a craving for New England beers. Plus, I suspect it’s hard for the hippie environmentalist in her to pass on something called the “Happy Camper.” That one loaded up the Magic Hat Ravell Porter, Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale, Jack’s Abbey Hopnius Union (India Pale LAGER) and Woodstock Inn’s Autumn Brew.

Meanwhile, I was having my usual problems with Sunset’s extensive list. I’ve come to learn that I have to choose three beers: my first choice, a backup, and a backup for the backup beer, since they NEVER seem to have my first choice, and occasionally, don’t have my second pick either. This occasion threw a new twist into the mix. I spotted Boulder Beer’s Mojo IPA on the list, a favorite of mine that I hadn’t seen in stores for awhile. The waitress assured me it was in stock, and she brought back a brew that was a much darker hue than the expected amber orange of an IPA. “This is Mojo IPA, right?” I was assured once more that it was. It had a thick head, and nosed of sweet malt, with vanilla, as if barrel-aged with a touch of bourbon. The taste was a mildly syrup sweetness, with a roasted/toasty malt characteristic. This was not Mojo IPA. When the waitress returned, I asked her to check what the tap was, and she reported back “Mojo Killer.” Well, that doesn’t actually exist, but the “killer” gave me enough of a clue to determine that it was actually Boulder’s Killer Penguin barleywine, nowhere near the hoppy delight I was expecting.
Le sigh.

Artsy pensive picture.

The Lady Friend was driving us back, so she nursed her first sampler, while Sissy moved on to an Allagash White witbier. Apparently Maine wheat beers aren’t terribly common in the wilderness of California. Slightly disappointed by my Boulder kerfuffle, I hesitantly dared to order the legend: Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA. Strangely enough, they actually DID have it. This sucker is beyond 100 IBUs, and clocks in somewhere in the range of 18-20% abv. It varies depending on the year. Last year there was a drought of 120min due to some problem at the brewery that led to the entire batch being dumped, but apparently it’s back. Nose: Hop. Wet, dank bitter, with some floral notes. The taste? Whoa. Wait a sec. Whoa. Syrup. Hoppy, but unlike any other. Malt, then an alcohol medicinal finish. It’s a boozy one. Apparently Sissy was starting to feel her beers as well, since she got rather chatty, and let several amusing quotes slip. She lamented living with a messy roommate claiming “Our [messy] bathroom is pretty much like her face,” and said that Lady Friend’s phone “…looks like Nintendo. It doesn’t look like a grown-up phone!” Ok there, Sissy. Time to get you home for some cocktails.

The Lady Friend drove. After that Dogfish 120, everything was kinda awesome and shiny.

So. Sunset is awesome. IF they have the beer you want. The actual space consists of two rooms, and a downstairs (I don’t think I’ve ever been down there). Big City, a sister restaurant lives upstairs with pool tables and some kinda cool retro styling. But you have to go to Allston to partake of the wonders. It’s kind of like CBC in that manner… a great place, but many perils await. Thar be dragons. And tow trucks. BEWARE!

The Monday Hangover: Dec 17-18

The Monday Hangover:
Other drink adventures of note from the weekend.

Why is the sun setting before 4pm?

Ugh. It’s about time for the days to start getting longer. I’m tired of driving home in the dark.

Friday night was, as per the usual, Rule 37 Cocktail night. The Lady Friend made up her own, the Maurad, and I had an Angel’s Tit. And a cocktail. Zing. From there, we had several other drinks… I’m pretty sure she switched over to tequila, and I had myself a Double-term Presidente, using some tasty Roaring Dan’s Maple Rum from Great Lakes Distillery in Milwaukee. I brought it back after a trip out there last year. It’s pretty damn tasty. We did a tour and tasting at the distillery, while I nursed one of the worst hangovers I’ve had in a long long time. Spirit tasting was rough, but I was impressed enough with the rum to buy a bottle. They named it after “Roaring” Dan Seavey, because every rum needs a pirate.

And every trip to Milwaukee needs a horrible hangover.

I felt like we should get something accomplished on Saturday, so we hopped the T up to Kendall Square in Cambridge for lunch at Cambridge Brewing Company. It had been awhile since I went to CBC, but it was as tasty as always. There was a large tv up in the corner, which I really wish bars would stop putting in. It’s insanely distracting. At least for me… it doesn’t matter what’s on the tv; I can’t ignore the flickering siren song. In this case, Elf was finishing up as we sat at the bar, which went into The Land of the Lost. The bartender changed the channel and it went to Anchorman. Apparently Will Ferrell is the king of weekend afternoon movies. Following our CBC tastings and lunch, we headed over to the recently-opened (well, April) Meadhall, which boasts 110+ taps. Whoa. After a couple more brews there, it was back to SFHQ and then out to a holiday party in Weymouth. I had a glass of the cranberry champagne cocktail (vurry tastilly tart) and helped myself to an Otter Creek Wolaver’s IPA. Not bad, but nothing mindblowing, a decent, solid hoppy ale.

Sunday’s main event was the return of Sissy to the East Coast for the holidays. We snagged her from Logan and immediately absconded to Sunset Grill and Tap in Allston. Like Redbones, the Lady Friend had never been here before, so it was a visit long past due. They’ve got 100+ taps and I have notoriously bad luck choosing a beer. I’ve gotten into the habit of choosing three beers at a time, since they’re inevitably out of my first two choices. This time was different. I ordered a Boulder Beer Mojo IPA, which was strangely in the Double IPA section (Mojo Risin’ is their dIPA). I was assured that they had it, yet when the glass came, it was oddly dark. Mojo IPA is a nice orangey amber; this was deep nut brown. It smelled malty, without the citrus hop I was expecting. Again, I was assured that it was Boulder’s Mojo. Tasted it… nope. Way too malty. Not bad, but not Mojo. I asked the waitress again if she could find out exactly what “Mojo” it was. She came back with a blank face saying it was “Killer.” That’s all the information she could gather. Turns out, it’s Boulder’s Killer Penguin barleywine, which is a tasty beer, but not at all what I wanted. Ugh. I love Sunset, but it’s always a battle there. I don’t understand why I can’t just get the beer I want.

I followed up with Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA. Because it was on tap, and there wasn’t any available last year. And it’s 120 IBUs. And 18% abv. Yes, eighteen.

After Sunset (the Lady Friend drove us… I was in Happyville, USA after the Dogfish) we returned to home base, the SquirrelFarts Cocktail Cave. Sissy finally got the full drink experience, having never made it to a cocktail night at SFHQ before. I started the two of them off with a round of Rum Stone Sours using the very vanilla tasty Sailor Jerry spiced rum. This drink is like chick crack… fruity, sweet, and full of 92 proof spiced navy rum. I started off with a Jack Rose for myself. By then, they were demanding something different, having happily slurped down round one, so I went with a Flamingo: 1.5 oz white rum, 1.5 oz pineapple juice, .25 oz lime juice, .25 oz grenadine, .25 oz simple syrup. I whipped out the Bully Boy for this one, and with all that juice and sugar, it was a big hit.

From there we had quite a variety, throwing whatever I could think of into the mix. While the femmes had a Paloma (one of the Lady Friend’s tequila cocktails) I had a nice little Old Overholt Whiskey Sour, followed up by an Income Tax, or, Bronx with Bitters. There are cocktails named for all the New York boroughs (the most famous is likely the Manhattan) and the Bronx is a decently easy-going tipple. However, it really picks up some flavors with a couple dashes of bitters, and becomes much more interesting. This version is from Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails:

The Income Tax (Bronx with Bitters)

– 1 1/2 oz gin
– 3/4 oz dry vermouth
– 3/4 oz sweet vermouth
– 1/2 oz fresh-squeezed orange juice
– 2 or 3 dashes of Angostura bitters

Shake/strain/serve. It’s ok on its own, but really nice with the bitters.

From Ted:
“It was the Bronx Cocktail to which the Income Tax merely added a couple dashes of Angostura Bitters. In fact, if you wanted to feel particularly film noir, you’d lean over the dark bar you found yourself in and growl, ‘Bronx with bitters, and make it snappy!'”

Also, be sure to make this one with FRESH-squeezed orange juice. It makes all the difference.

Somewhere in there we ordered a pizza, but I couldn’t tell you at what point. I think Sissy had a Tom Collins, complete with Old Tom gin but the timeline started to get loose. The Lady Friend had made some potato skins, which were doing a wonderful job of soaking up the booze, giving us more mixing playtime. Up next for the sisters were a double Sidecar for Sissy, and a Kamikaze for the Lady Friend. I had her try to guess what it was, but since I rarely use vodka, she couldn’t even pin down the base spirit. It’s essentially a Margarita with vodka switched out for the tequila. At any rate, it was amusing (for me) to watch her guess liquor after liquor trying to figure it out.

As a nightcap, they switched over to a couple of Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPAs that the Lady Friend had purchased earlier, and I finished off with a lovely Negroni, showing Sissy the fun of flaming an orange peel. We chatted about who knows what, though Sissy did share her thoughts about the Squirrel Farts Drink Blog. Apparently she doesn’t necessarily read it, but squealed “I skim for my name… there’s a lot of words in your blog!” making sure to defend herself by noting “I look at the pictures!”

So as long as her name is in here, and there’s pretty pictures to look at, I’ve got another satisfied reader.

Soused in SanFran – Part 7: Bear Republic Brewhouse. Oh yes.

This here is Part Seven of the Grand Caliventure of November 2011.
For Part 1, make the clicking to here.

Oh Jeebus.

With the wine day finally vanquished, it was time for some BEER. And not just any beer, but a favorite of mine: BEAR FREAKIN REPUBLIC. It’s readily available on the East Coast and includes some heavy hitters as Racer 5 IPA, Hop Rod Rye Ale, Red Rocket Red Ale, and Big Bear Stout. Yowza. And here I was, where these beers were BORN.

It almost made up for stopping at six wineries earlier that day.

Sidenote: This fits in very nicely with another set of edicts for the proud dipsomaniacal lifestyle. I’ve already mentioned the source of Rule 37 as Modern Drunkard Magazine, and this list comes from their inebriated writings as well: 40 Things Every Drunkard Must Do Before He Dies. This one was Number 18: Visit the source of your favorite beer, wine or liquor.

“Make a pilgrimage to the headwaters.
Follow the river that’s fed you joy to its source.
Stand amongst the vats and barrels and absorb the knowledge
that this is the spring from which the good times flow.
Drink as many free samples as they’ll give you.
It might mean a trip to Dublin or Tennessee,
but from that moment on you can gaze into your glass and think,
‘Lad, I met your mother.'”

While Bear Republic isn’t my MOST favorite (I don’t think I have a most favorite) it’s certainly high on the list. The Lady Friend can keep her silly vineyards… for me it’s the distilleries and breweries where magic happens.

So, we put our names in as there was a bit of a wait for a table. I busied myself with snapping some shots, which worked well as BR has a lot of crazy crap on the walls. Bits of race cars (they sponsor some racecars), signs, snowboards and murals hung all over the place, boldly emblazoned with various BR logos and beers. The Lady Friend and Sissy snagged beers at the bar, and shortly after our table was ready. Sampler time! There are two flights of beers to choose from… the house ales and the specialty brews. The house sampler contains six of the well-known beers, like Racer 5, Big Bear, etc. I’d had all those before, so it was the nine-beer specialty sampler for me. Whoa. They don’t even fit on the serving paddle. THIS is going to be FUN.

Bring it.

Cher Ami Belgian Single
Nose: Nice malty grain aroma, slight yeasty fruit.
Taste: Tastes like malt extract. Some wheatiness, but NOT typical banana-clove. Clean, wet finish.

El Oso Mexican style lager
Nose: No discernible aroma
Taste: Water fountain (or “bubblah” if you’re in New England) water. Slight metallic taste, but not in a bad way. Not the copper sting of some red ales. Chewy. Finishes with a cereal sweetness.

Late Harvest Lager Octoberfest
Nose: Fruit! Cranberry! Cereal malt.
Taste: Nice sweet cereal malt. Not much to it, but finishes fruit sweet. Bitterness comes in later, fading in after the initial tastes have diminished.

Lucha Libre Lager Lager
Nose: No aroma. Darker copper color, unusual for a lager.
Taste: Sweet malt, slight bitter, but finishes with a cereal grain taste.

Jack London ESB Extra Special Bitter Ale
Nose: None. Well, a very slight malt.
Taste: Clean, watery and malty. Refreshing. Slight fruitiness from the malt.

Rebellion SMASH brew
Ok, this was a SMASH (Single Malt And Single Hop) brew. They made two batches and changed only the hop. This version used Palisade hops.
Nose: Slight citrus, but weak.
Taste: A nice bitter grapefruit citrus, with some slight pine. Nice. A bit of a roasted flavor from the malt as well.

Rebellion SMASH brew
See above. This was the Calypso hop version.
Nose: Very light. Citrus?
Taste: Sour start. Mouthwatering. Sour citrus. Watermelon. Really gets your saliva glands going. Very cool.

Café Racer 15 Golden Double IPA
! ! ! SWEET! Racer 5 is tasty, but I had a hankering for BR’s Apex dIPA which I tried at a craft beer fest earlier in the year. They didn’t have Apex around, but they DID have Racer 15 in the sampler. 100+ IBUs and ooooooooh so tasty.
Nose: Fantastic. Delicious hop citrus wonder. (That’s what I wrote)
Taste: Slight syrup mouthfeel. Bittersweet hop. Malty finish. Wonderful balance. A+ If only I could find it in MA.

Extra Delux Tripels Alley Belgian Tripel
Nose: Belgian wheaty. Slight banana.
Taste: Banana. Belgian wit. Clove, but eases away leaving banana sweet taste.

At some point during all this craziness, we were joined by my buddy, Murs, who was living in Healdsburg and working as a harvest intern (grape slave) for two local wineries, one of which was Mauritson, which we had visited that afternoon. I first met Murs a couple years ago for a surprise going-away party for the infamous Trevtastic, who lived in Boston at the time. We met again in the magical metropolis of Milwaukee, where he was roommates with ‘Tastic, complete with a doormat reading “Bust a Move.” Earlier this year, he scooted off on a wine adventure throughout France with Bybee and Ke$hia Ho (read about it here. Bybee’s version is over here. And don’t forget Ke$hia Ho’s). Returning to US soil, the three of them made their way to SFO/Sonoma to work in the wine industry, and see what it’s all about. Murs and Bybee went to work as grape slaves, while Ke$hia Ho became a cocktail slinger at Blu Restaurant.

So we caught up and he told his tales of grape slavery. Basically, it’s cleaning. Lots and lots and lots of cleaning. Cleaning everything the grapes could possibly come in contact with, then cleaning it again. Then three more times. With heavy duty corrosive, caustic, scorch-the-Earth-so-nothing-may-grow chemicals. Yikes. It seems one of the least important things about making wine is actually making the wine.

Somewhere in there some food was served (the Lady Friend had prime rib, and apparently it was excellent), but I was more concerned about getting a full pour of the Racer 15. OMFG. Heavenly. Just fantastic. Sweet, West Coast citrus hoppy, but not too malty, something I’m shying away from these days. I don’t remember what anyone else was drinking… I was in boozy oblivion. Pretty sure Murs had a pour of El Oso. All I recall is that my food was tasty (and made an awesome mini-meal when we got back to the hotel room) and my belly, and brain, were full of happy beer.

When I die, bury me at Bear Republic.

Soused in SanFran – Part 6: Wine Day. Ugh.

This here is Part Six of the Grand Caliventure of November 2011.
For Part 1, make the clicking to here.

Saturday started bright and early with the arrival of Sissy. She had driven into SFO from whatever God-forsaken wilderness camp she teaches at. Apparently it was snowing there that morning, while the weather in SFO was around 60°. We packed up, since we’d be staying overnight, and headed down the street to Sissy’s Honda CR-V.

Just like Reservoir Dogs. Only not at all.

I was the chauffeur for the day, with the agreement that I wasn’t going to be the driver for beer day. We headed out of the city (SERIOUSLY, gigantic hills) an across some silly bridge that people make a fuss over. The plan was to grab the 101 (in NH it’s called 101, in CA it’s THE 101) north-ish to Sonoma County where we’d be spending the day winery hopping. JJ took over camera duties while I drove (Sissy neglected to tell me until we got there that her left rear tire was practically flat. 12psi isn’t going to cut it) and about an hour later we arrived at destination number one, Rochioli Vineyards & Winery.

OooooOOOOOOoooh! Purty.

My buddy Bybee was working at this place as a harvest intern (grape slave), and it was by coincidence that the Lady Friend chose it as our first stop. However, he was actually down in SFO for the weekend, so we didn’t get to catch up. We went into the tasting room and the girls dove right in. During the chit chat, it was discovered that our server was actually from Marblehead, MA. Interesting. After the tasting, we went outside for some photo ops, and a fluffy cat came ambling up the walkway. Though we all crouched down to pet him, he wasn’t really interested in any of the attention, and proceeded to push his way through the group. Later on, we found him sitting on a table watching us, and he croaked out a few weak grumbles as we walked by. The others thought he was growling, but he just had a gravelly voice, and this time seemed to appreciate the patting I gave him.

Moo cows!

The next stop was Arista Winery, which was a reccomendation from the woman at Rochioli. There was a fire burning in the fireplace, which certainly took the chill off, since it was rather dreary and damp outside. The server here was very friendly and joked around quite a bit making the experience generally more fun. Even though I wasn’t tasting, I enjoyed this place, since they didn’t take themselves quite as seriously as most wineries. Breweries are usually somewhat easy-going but something about wine makes people think it’s deadly important.

Sissy at Arista.

Next up, John Tyler Wines. This place had a German Shepard (I think) that JJ wanted to bring home. I munched on the breadsticks they had just sitting there in wine glasses waiting to be nibbled. It was here that Sissy decided to tell me about the nearly-flat tire. Not tasting the wines really doesn’t give me much to say about these places. This one had more tourist crap for sale than some, but having a pet around is usually good for some points in my book.

Danjur! Poizin!

Armida Winery was our lunch destination, but the tasting was first. I really liked the packaging/label design of these wines… a bit more bold and graphic than the other places, with wax-dipped bottlenecks and skull-and-crossbone logos. The bottles, labeled as “poizin,” come packaged in coffins. Cool. Apparently the name was no joke, as JJ took a sip of the chardonnay, made a face, and declared “This tastes like my ______.” …well, it was a term for a bodily orifice, and not the girly happy one. The other one. The one in the back. I stared at her, unable to speak, as about 37 horribly inappropriate comebacks instantly flashed through my mind, and all jammed trying to get out of my head at the same time. All I managed was “Oh?” She went on to clarify “Not that I KNOW what my *orifice* tastes like. But this wine tastes like my *orifice*” The tastings started catching up with the group at this point, as the Lady Friend and Sissy were talking very animatedly, with hands flailing about, just what you want around glasses of wine. Neither seemed to hear JJ’s revelation, though I found it endlessly amusing. Quote of the day. We ventured outside to a deck overlooking a winery vista, and had a picnic lunch of french bread, cheese, and fruit. It would have been lovely on a nicer day, but the stiff breeze really made it not-so-pleasant.

Pictured: vista.

It started to pour, and we made our way to J Vineyards & Winery. The gps told us to turn left, when it really meant turn right, so we went about three miles in the wrong direction. Lovely. We banged a U-ee and found the place. J is known for their sparkling wines, so I was actually going to join in on the tasting for this one. JJ, however, wasn’t feeling great, (maybe it was the *orifice* wine) and took a time-out in the back seat while the Lady Friend, Sissy, and I dashed from the car to the entrance. Unfortunately, when we got there, a gaggle of screeching harpy women (some sort of bachelorette party) was clustered under the overhang staying dry, while effectively blocking the door from us. These hags were all in their mid-30s and older, but dressed like they were going to the prom. Look missy, your prom was in 1984, it’s time to let it go. I’m guessing they were already a couple wine tastings deep, as their banshee howls pierced my eardrums whenever one of them made an apparently amusing remark and the others showed their amusement with shrieks that woke up every dog in a seven mile radius.

We finally got in and managed to sneak ahead of the spinster brigade. The tasting started upstairs with some sort of, um, white, wine, then proceeded down the hall and over a walkway flanked by rows upon rows of enormous fermenting tanks. There was a… red… wine… at the end there, and we tasted until the seagull screeching women started heading our way. We made a hasty retreat and went downstairs to the main lobby/ giftshop/ tasting area. This is where the sparkling wines were poured, and had a very glitzy looking wall behind the bar with sparkly stones embedded in it. There were three sparklings, though they sold for like $90 per bottle, so we didn’t purchase any. Apparently it’s so expensive because they are aged for like 10 years, and that’s pricey real estate; sitting around taking up space for years and years is a rather large investment for the winery, so they pass the markup onto YOU. I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between their $90 bottles and a decent $30 bottle, so I wasn’t too impressed with their setup. It was more showy and touristy than the smaller places we had been visiting that morning. We snuck back to the car and got a pic of a surprised JJ waking up from her nap. She’d do horrible things to me if I published it here, so below is a pretty picture of some grape vines.

Grape vines, as promised.

The final (thankfully) stop of the day was Mauritson Wines, where another buddy of mine, Murs, is also a grape slave. We didn’t discover this until Murs met us later on for dinner. Mauritson was pretty uneventful, as the group started falling apart. I wasn’t tasting, and JJ had thrown in the towel. We amused ourselves by watching the two yellow labs constantly beg for cheese and breadsticks at the bar. They were relentless. The Lady Friend and Sissy did their tasting, and were even considering swinging by ANOTHER winery, but I was kind of done by this point. Six is more than enough, thanks.

So, it was back to “downtown” Healdsburg to check into our motel. JJ was cold and damp, and insisted on cranking the heat up, while I felt like my innards were being slow-roasted, and stripped off as much clothing as was possible in mixed company. We bounced around on the beds a bit, and snacked on some cookies (because being a grownup is AWESOME) before grabbing a cab into the center of town. The original plan was for us to simply walk there, since it was MAYBE a mile away, but the pouring rain made that decision unlikely. The cab came to about $5, and dropped us off at our dinner location, BEAR. REPUBLIC. BREWHOUSE.
Now it’s time for some fun.

Soused in SanFran – Part 1: The Pregame

This here is Part One of the Grand Caliventure of November 2011.

The Lady Friend and I had been discussing a trip out to California, for a number of reasons. She has a friend living in San Francisco, and Sissy moved out to some God-forsaken wilderness camp in Sonora, which is in the Sierra Nevada range. The Lady Friend loves Sonoma wines, and there are a number of legendary breweries in the area, so we made the plans and left Boston on Wednesday evening.

We parked next door to an old friend. Should’ve stopped for a quick preflight IPA.

We had some time to kill in Terminal C at Logan before the flight, and there happened to be a Boston Beer Works location right near our gate. Why, yes, a tasty beverage would be lovely before the flight, I though to myself, and helped myself to a Back Bay IPA, followed by a chicken sandwich and fries for dinner. When the bartender handed me the beer, she said “Have a nice flight,” and I pulled a Brian Regan by saying “You too!”

Yeah. Starting the trip off like an idiot.
Back to beer, the first of the voyage:

Back Bay IPA
Boston Beer Works

Nose: Mild hop bitter. Light cereal grain sweetness.

Taste: Hop bitter – piney. Sharp start, but eases off quickly. Clean, but dry hop resin finish makes you thirsty for more.

While sitting in the crowded restaurant, a group of three thirty-somethings shuffled in and parked at the table next to us, and set off one of my biggest peeves: ordering proper drinks. Keep in mind, we’re in Boston Beer Works, a small, local franchise of brewpubs that make some tasty beers. With a suspected hometown of Malden, Revere, or Lynn the first girl, clad in a green Red Sox hoodie, asked what the lightest beer was. Sigh. “The Pub Light,” was the waitress’s reply. Her male counterpart ordered a blueberry beer, and the second girl ordered a Pinot. There was an awkward pause until the waitress prompted her for more clarification “Pinot…?” “Grigio,” was the decision. Yes, Malden, there’s more than one kind of Pinot. Thanks for the info. After a few minutes, the fourth member of the group joined, and initally asked for a White Zin, prompting a visible shudder from the Lady Friend, (she’s a red zin drinker, and white zin is kind of her kryptonite) before having a Reisling. You know what? Here’s a vodka and Sprite, since apparently you just want sugary alcohol.
So, you’re at Boston BEER Works, and you’re ordering white wine. I understand that selections are limited at the airport, but there were several other restaurants they could have gone to without invoking my anger at hearing a light beer, a fruit beer, and two white wines ordered at a brewpub franchise. Here’s the deal: get on that plane, and don’t come back. There’s plenty of other douchebags just like you in Everett. Or Chelsea.

After a long, dark flight, where I exhausted my entertainment possibilities (including a masochistic viewing of “Engineering Disasters”) after about 45 minutes and elected to just put my head facedown on the tray table, we finally arrived. We taxied to the apartment where we were staying, which belonged to Lady Friend’s friend JJ. They met on their French winey trip some years ago and have visited and traveled together since. JJ is une petite fille blonde originally from West Virginia. Like Country-Roads-Take-Me-Home-type West VA. She had visited SquirrelFarts HQ earlier this year for a small cocktail party, and christened me with an appropriately Bacchanalian pseudonym, so we were previously acquainted. She has a soft, southern lilt that amusingly comes out only after a glass or two of wine. Over-hyphenation irritates her. Her husband is in dental school, and graciously allowed the Lady Friend and I to crash at their apartment for our trip. This would be SFHQ in SFO. Time to hit the futon and prepare for the adventures to come; the imbibing would begin in earnest on the morrow.

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