Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Four Guys and Some Beer: The Able Ebenezer Brewing Company

When four guys decided to get together and start their own brewery, the Able Ebenezer Brewing Company was born. That might sound like a huge risk, and no doubt it is, but thankfully, they have the brews to back it up.

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to attend the brewery’s first official tasting at the home of Carl Soderberg, one of the Able Ebenezer founders. Here, the brewery is currently in its pilot program phase, with beer currently being made in three to five gallon batches in Soderberg’s garage. Next year, the guys plan to open a tasting room in Merrimack and will be upping production to 310-gallon containers to support growlers and local distribution.
While the guys work on securing everything else needed to move forward from the home brewing to brewery phase, they are putting the finishing touches on four beer recipes and currently have two more “pipeline products” currently in the research and development phase.

“There is a story behind everything we do,” Soderberg said, from the pine tree in the brewery’s logo to the names of the beers themselves.

The brewery was named after Ebenezer Mudgett, a New Hampshire colonist who was involved in the Pine Tree Riot back in 1772. After the British claimed large white pine trees for shipbuilding purposes, several sawmill owners in Goffstown and Weare rebelled, later flying a pine tree flag.

“We liked the local history and the spirit that embodies us,” Soderberg said. “We are able, we want to accomplish things and stand on our own.”

The four founders met on different occasions years ago but came together recently to open the brewery. Zach Rand, nicknamed “the glue that holds the group together” and Jim Wilson met at Plymouth State University, while Rand and brew master Mike Frizzelle met while they were in the same platoon in the Army. Later, Rand and Soderberg met in the Army in a different platoon. Some years later, Rand and Soderberg connected while working at the same company. After discussing the possibility of the brewery, they reconnected with Frizzelle, who recently moved from the West Coast to brew beer in New Hampshire. Rand, Soderberg and Frizzelle all now live in New England, while Wilson, the brewery’s social media and marketing guru, lives in Texas.

Soderberg said they designed their current selections to appeal to a “full spread of tastes.”
The first beer on the tasting menu was Auburn, an Irish red named for the town where it’s currently being made and fashioned after Red Trolley, a beer from California. This beer is smooth and crisp with some subtle sweetness and notes of caramel and honey. It is recommended for brunch but is also a beer for any occasion.

The next beer on the menu, Emma Wood, also has West Coast influences. A Belgian specialty, this beer is a cross between a Belgian white and a hoppy wheat beer and named after a beach in California. As a home brewer, Frizzelle first shared this beer with family on Emma Wood beach.

As a Belgian white fan, I really enjoyed this beer and its flavors of orange and lemon zest. It would also be good with an orange slice.

Next we tried Homecoming, one of the brewery’s pipeline products. This beer is described as a “robust harvest ale.” It is made with real pumpkin but is unlike other pumpkin beers on the market, made with specialty malts, cinnamon, citrus and nutmeg. This beer was a bit too heavy for me, but Oktoberfest fans will love it. One of my friends also suggested trying it with Guinness as a black and tan. It was named not only for the fall season but the homecoming experience of people being home for the holidays like a reunion.

The next beer, named Notorious Offender under its working title, also carried some weight. Described as a “New Hampshire strong ale,” this beer doesn’t really fit into an established category. Frizzelle combined dark malts with a wide array of bittering and aroma hops. The result is a beer that is “intentionally offensive, but strangely fulfilling” according to the brewery description.

Burn the Ships, a smoked India pale ale, is actually the brewery’s heaviest beer, brewed with smoked specialty malt and dry-hopped to give it a unique smoke-filled conclusion. This beer is “surprising as it is revolutionary,” named for the founders’ experience of opening up the brewery and burning their own ships in this endeavor.

“Our ships have been burned,” Soderberg said. “We want our beer to be an experience. It’s something to talk about; there’s a story behind it.”

The final beer we tried was Tabula Rasa, an American Amber style ale that is slightly sweet with caramel, honey and fruit flavors. This beer is “designed to confuse the senses while warming the soul,” according to the brewery. Rand named this beer after a concept from John Locke. Its name means “blank slate,” usually used to describe a birth, when a person is at their freest.

Overall, I was very impressed with the Able Ebenezer beers I tried and think others will really like them too. Once their Merrimack location is open, they will have tastings, tours and growlers available for purchase. They are also hoping to be on tap at several locations around the Manchester area. 

To stay up to date on the brewery’s progress, visit the brewery website at ableebenzer.com, or follow them at: facebook.com/ableebenezer and on Twitter: @AbleEbBeer.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Gift Guide: NH Wines for Everyone on Your List

Wine is a great holiday gift, especially when it comes from a New Hampshire winery and supports local businesses. Here are some suggestions sure to please every wine lover on your list.

Coffin Cellars in Webster makes an Apple Wine that celebrates one of fall’s favorite fruits and utilizes apples that would otherwise only be acceptable for cider or compost. Using fruit from Carter Hill Orchard in Concord, the Austins have created a wine that is crisp and smooth, perfect for white wine drinkers. At only $15 a bottle, it is also a very affordable gift. You can pick up a bottle at the winery, open year round on weekends from 1 to 5 p.m. or at many local retailers, including the Concord Co-Op, Korner Kupboard and River Hill Market, all in Concord.

For the port or dessert wine fan, Hermit Woods Winery recommends their 2012 Deep Blue, an intense after dinner treat loaded with blueberry aromas and flavors. This wine is not only delicious, but contains antioxidants and nearly a pound of low bush blueberries in each bottle. This wine was just released this year
Earlier this year, Bob Manley, Hermit Woods co-owner, described this wine as a “party in the mouth” and suggested trying it drizzled over blueberry pie and ice cream.

At $32 a bottle, this wine is worth the splurge. Hermit Woods Winery is currently closed for the season before they open in their new location in Meredith next year, but this wine is available at Oglethorpe’s in Meredith. There, you can pick up a handcrafted gift to go along with the wine.

Zorvino Vineyard’s number one selling wine, Fragole Z, also makes a great gift for a variety of wine lovers. “Fragole” means strawberry in Italian and this wine is loaded with luscious fruit aromas and flavors without being too sweet. At $14.99, it is affordable and can be found at the winery in Sandown or at many gourmet shops and wine retailers.

In addition to an impressive selection of many grape and fruit wines, Zorvino’s tasting room also includes a variety of gift items, including cork holders, gourmet foods and clothing.

Jewell Towne Vineyards in South Hampton recommends their Seyval, an off-dry, crisp white wine with hints of pear and apple. The grapes are grown right in the on-site vineyards, which span across the border of New Hampshire into Massachusetts.

According to owner and winemaker Peter Oldak, “Seyval is a white grape variety which does very well in the New Hampshire terroir. It makes a wine that is excellent with poultry or fish or as a sipping wine. It would be a nice complement to a Christmas dinner.”

Like Zorvino, the Jewell Towne tasting room also contains a selection of great gifts for wine lovers, including handy branded tote bags perfect for carrying wine to holiday gatherings.
If you know a white wine fan who likes something light and sweet, get them a bottle of Sweet Baby Vineyard’s Niagara. According to owner and winemaker Lewis Eaton, “This wine is perfect for the holidays and pairs with ham, turkey and a wide range of desserts.”

It can be purchased at the Kingston winery or at several other retail locations. Niagara is a cousin of the Concord grape that originated in New York. It produces wines that are slightly more ‘grapey’ but still very drinkable.

This wine is available at the Kingston winery or at several retail locations. They recently redesigned their labels, which are eye-catching yet sweet. Pair a bottle of wine with a set of their stemless glasses as the perfect gift set.

If you are in the southwestern part of the state, pick up a bottle of Barnett Hill Blush from Walpole Mountain View Winery. This semi-sweet blush wine is a blend of eight grapes with aromas of spicy orange and sweet tea and tart kiwi flavors.

According to owner and winemaker Virginia Carter, this wine pairs well with a turkey dinner with all of the fixings, complementing sweet and savory dishes because it isn’t too sweet or dry, with some fruit. As it is a blend, it is also a good choice if you aren’t sure if someone likes red or white.

All of the grapes in this wine are grown right in Walpole Mountain View’s vineyard and is available for $16 at the winery and in area stores. Stemless glasses are also available in the tasting room.

New Hampshire wines make great gifts because they support local businesses, and in many cases, local farmers as well. If you can’t get to one of the wineries, look for these wines at several supermarkets like Shaw’s, Hannaford and Market Basket and in N.H. Liquor and Wine Outlets.

In addition to glassware, these wines can be paired with a variety of accessories, including decanters, wine charms, toppers and chillers.

Monday, November 25, 2013

3rd Annual Lakes Region Barrel Tasting Weekend

This past weekend was one of my favorite events: the third annual Lakes Region Barrel Tasting weekend at seven wineries. This gives guests an opportunity to meet the winemakers, take a tour of their winery and taste wines right from the barrel or tank before they are done aging.

On Sunday, several wineries were reporting an outstanding turnout, with attendance numbers way up over last year, even with the weather being less than ideal. I made it to five of the seven wineries this year. Unfortunately, I was not able to visit Newfound Lake Vineyards in Bristol or Sap House Meadery in Center Ossipee. I did attend Newfound Lake Vineyards soft opening last weekend and was able to try owner Heidi Cojean’s Wicked Good Red, Sauvignon Blanc and some Carmenere still aging in the barrel. I can’t wait to see what else she produces in the future but I know it’s going to be great. My friend Carol and I had a great visit with her and her family and enjoyed their hospitality. I also heard that Sap House Meadery had their fabulous vanilla bean mead available for tasting, which is perfect during cool fall days.

On Saturday, my mom and I went to Haunting Whisper Vineyards in Danbury. Downstairs in their winemaking area, we tried vignoles that was ready to be bottled and a young syrah. Young marechal foch and carmenere were also available.

Upstairs, we tried their new apple wine, made with cider apples from Apple Hill Farm in Concord. This recipe has some cinnamon added, resulting in apple pie in a bottle. This wine is so delicious. It would be perfect for a cool fall day, warmed in the crockpot.
Another new wine I tried was Misty Bog, a sweet port-style cranberry dessert wine. This wine was intense but delicious, perfect for Thanksgiving dinner. It could also be mixed with sparkling wine for a great cocktail.

On Sunday, a group of us planned out our route and headed to Coffin Cellars in Webster first, where we tried a couple of different wines, including their latest batch of cranberry pomegranate from the tank. This has always been one of my favorite Coffin Cellars wines and is currently sold out, but the wine from the tank was delicious.

I highly recommend their kiwi berry wine. It was made in a small batch but it is sweet, fruity and delicious. Get some before it is gone.

Also back in stock is their jalapeno wine. This wine may not be for everyone on its own, but it would be great in a bloody mary.

Our second stop was Hermit Woods Winery in Sanbornton. First, we headed upstairs where owner Bob Manley told us all about the great wines the winery has made this year. We tried a few 2012 wines, including Kiwi, Knot Mead, Petite Blue and Deep Blue.

The Deep Blue, a port-style blueberry dessert wine was my favorite. It is intense and flavorful. Manley called it a “party in the mouth” and recommended trying it with blueberry pie, vanilla ice cream and a slight drizzle of this wine on top. It is easy to see why this wine received a rave review from a wine expert.

Sadly, the winery sold out of their very popular crabapple wine, but Manley said he was excited for this year’s batch, calling it “the best crabapple yet.”

Downstairs, owner and head winemaker Ken Hardcastle let us sample the 2013 Blue right from the barrel. Once complete, this wine will be a deep, dry red similar to a pinot noir. The skins are left on the blueberries a little bit longer and the oak helps concentrate the flavors. This wine will also age well.

After Hermit Woods Winery, our group headed to Stone Gate Vineyard in Gilford, where Peter Ellis greeted us with a taste of Marechal Foch straight from the tank. Sadly, the winery is closing this month after many great years of winemaking. But, Haunting Whisper Vineyards will make their grapes into wine and Peter and Jane will get a much-deserved break and time with their family.

Our final stop on Sunday was at Gilmanton Winery in Gilmanton. First, we met John Jude, winemaker, where we were able to try peach and blueberry wine right out of the containers that had been going through first fermentation for about two weeks. They were cloudy in color but fruity.

Outside, we tasted a couple other wines including Seyval, Malbec, Graces and the House Wine-an intriguing blend with chocolate flavors.

Overall, this event was an even bigger success than last year. Even unfavorable weather does not keep wine lovers from hitting the trail. 

Thanksgiving Wines

This week one of the most indulgent days for many of us of the year arrives: Thanksgiving. No table is complete without a couple bottles of wine, with red and white choices to keep everyone happy. But you don’t have to stick to those alone.  There are some great fruit wines that pair well with Thanksgiving dinner and many are made right here in New Hampshire with seasonal products.

Cranberry Wine
Cranberry wine, like cranberry sauce, is a great complement to the Thanksgiving meal and with its rich red color, will look very seasonal in your wine glass.
Zorvino Vineyards in Sandown offers two distinctly different cranberry options: CranZeeno and Cranbreez. The CranZeeno is a lighter, fruity wine blend that even non-wine lovers will like. The Cranbreez is much more tart and may bring a slight pucker to your lips. As a great option, the Cranbreez can be mixed with Prosecco, Champagne or sparkling wine to make a festive cocktail.
Haunting Whisper Vineyards in Danbury also offers two cranberry options: a semi-dry cranberry wine and new this year, Misty Bog. The cranberry wine has great fruit flavor and some tartness to it, while the Misty Bog is a sweet, holiday dessert wine. This wine could also be mixed with sparkling wine if you wanted to cut down on the sweetness, or just enjoy it as is as an apertif.
Another option is the cranberry wine from LaBelle Winery in Amherst. This wine is slightly sweet and tart, made with New England cranberries.

Apple Wine
Apples are a fall staple and many wineries take advantage of their abundance, using cider apple varieties from local farms.
Sweet Baby Vineyard in East Kingston offers an apple wine that is semi-sweet, clean and crisp, with a nice balance of acidity. This wine has a velvety texture and is made with local fruit.
Hermit Woods Winery’s Harvest Apple wine, also made with local fruit, is light, crisp and captures the essence of apple juice. Because it pairs well with a variety of foods, it is a good choice for Thanksgiving dinner.
Also supporting a local farm, Coffin Cellars in Webster uses cider apples in their apple wine. This wine is smooth and tangy, with hints of green apple, melon and honeysuckle. Enjoy these wines well chilled, or try apple wine mulled in a crockpot with spices as an extra treat during these colder temperatures.
For something a little different, try Kurt’s Apple Pie from Moonlight Meadery in Londonderry. This is one of their best-selling meads, made from local cider and Madagascar-bourbon vanilla and Vietnamese cinnamon spice. It is like apple pie in a glass and if you don’t want to drink it, try it over vanilla ice cream as a great dessert.

Pumpkin Wine
Pumpkin fans will enjoy Jumpin’ Jacks Pumpkin Dessert Wine from Zorvino Vineyards. The winery staff spends hours working on this wine, cutting up hundreds of pounds of pumpkins by hand. While this wine is more expensive than most, it is only available once a year and combines the best characteristics of pumpkin with mulling spices to create a wine that is rich and almost savory.

Other Recommendations
Some wineries, like Flag Hill Winery in Lee, Sweet Baby Vineyard and LaBelle Winery make apple-cranberry wines. Flag Hill’s is the most tart and sweet, while the other two are semi-dry and have less sweetness.
For a twist on apple wine, try Moonlight Meadery’s Deviant, a sweet melomel (fruit mead) made with apple cider from Sunnycreast Farms in Londonderry. It also has ginger, making slightly sweet and spicy with a lingering finish. It’s also important to note that ginger helps with digestion and stomach aches, so this may be the best post-Thanksgiving choice.
If you have difficulty finding some of these wines, a good standby wine is Chicken & Turkey from the Pairing Collection. This red blend has 50 percent Grenache, 30 percent syrah and 20 percent carignan. This wine has aromas of cherry and tobacco with fruit flavors and a spicy finish. I tried this wine with my Thanksgiving dinner last year and it was a decent match.
Another one of my picks is Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is affordable and less pungent than many sauvignon blancs out there. It has flavors of lemons and limes, with a nice creamy finish.
No matter what you have on your table this holiday, I hope you enjoy it with good wine, good food and the company of family and friends.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

NH Oldest Winery: Jewell Towne Vineyards

I recently visited Jewell Towne Vineyards in South Hampton, New Hampshire’s oldest winery. My only complaint is that I didn’t visit sooner. They have a great story to tell, a beautiful vineyard and excellent wine.

Peter and Brenda Oldak moved to their 12-acre farm in 1977 and planted six grape vines in 1982. At that time, Peter was a home gardener with a background in science and chemistry who started experimenting with winemaking and planted more vines and varieties to see what would grow best in New Hampshire. Four years later, he was making wine and in 1990, there were 60 varieties of American, European and French hybrid grapes in the vineyard area of the farm. He found that its location facing the Powwow River made a great microclimate for grapes.

In 1990, the vineyard was officially established, named after the Jewell Towne Historic District of South Hampton. Peter narrowed down the grapes to 20 varieties and with the help of other agricultural and wine professionals, further developed his winemaking skills.
Peter’s work paid off, because in 1992, Jewell Towne’s South Hampton White won a gold medal and best hybrid of the show from the American Wine Societies national competition. A second wine, Alden, won a silver medal.

“This is what I call the beginning of a hobby run amok,” said Brenda recalled during a tour of the vineyard.

Two years later, the winery went commercial, producing 40 cases of wine that sold out in three weeks. With visitors flocking to the vineyard, the Oldaks realized they needed a tasting space and had reserved an area on the property for that purpose. The tasting room was built in 1998 and has been expanded since due to the winery’s continued success.

During my visit, vineyard employees and volunteers were harvesting grapes, a process that usually occurs from September through October. After the grapes are harvested and weighed, they are put through the crusher stemmer. From there, they enter the bladder press. We had a chance to see this process in motion during the tour and it was very neat.
Brenda showed us the vineyard’s plants, set eight feet apart, set-up in a vertical shoot positioning formation for maximum grape ripening. The vineyard’s microclimate makes it so little irrigation is needed. She also noted the plants have 10 to 15 foot roots.

“You can’t make top quality wine from bad grapes,” Brenda said.
Inside the winery there are 500 and 1,000-gallon tanks and an automated bottling and corking system. The Oldaks have come quite a long way from making wine in their garage and bottling, labeling and corking bottles by hand.

“For us, it makes a huge difference,” Brenda said of the automated machine, noting it now takes them five to six hours to bottle, cork and label the amount of wine from a large tank, versus two days by hand.

While I had tried a few of Jewell Towne’s wines before, the sampling list at the winery was extensive and it was hard to choose only a few to try.

“We are really focused on winemaking,” said Brenda in the tasting room, surrounded by awards and articles written about the winery.

The wine speaks for itself. I tried Cayuga White first, one of Brenda’s favorites. This wine is off-dry with flavors of tropical fruit and melon. Next, I tried Traminette, a Gewurztraminer and Seyval hybrid that is sweet and delicious. I took a bottle of this home, along with their Vidal, an off-dry, full-bodied white that is smooth and fruity.

Jewell Towne is one of the only wineries in New Hampshire that produces Steuben, an off-dry rosé similar to white zinfandel, but with much more flavor and depth.

For reds, I really enjoyed their River’s Edge, a semi-sweet red blend of Concord and Leon Millot grapes; Landot Noir, a mediuim-bodied wine with aromas of licorice and leather; and their Port, which is fruity, but much less harsh on the palate than others I have tried.
In addition to liking each wine I tried at Jewell Towne, I also loved the atmosphere. The tasting room was cozy and welcoming; the vineyard was beautiful and the staff was friendly, knowledgeable and took their time letting us try each wine. Even my friend Amanda, who doesn’t usually drink red wine, enjoyed their selection and she took a bottle of red wine home.

Do not wait as long as I did to visit Jewell Towne Vineyards. They are open year-round from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Visit jewelltownevineyards.com for more information.

NH's Award-Winning Wines

Hermit Woods Winery in Sanbornton has consistently produced award-winning wine this summer, taking home medals in several competitions.

At the Indy International Wine Competition in Indianapolis, Indiana, they took home silver medals for their Petite Blue Reserve and Lake House White. The Indy is the largest scientifically organized and independent wine competition in the United States. This year’s competition received nearly 2,200 entries from 15 countries and 40 U.S. states, evaluated by 50 distinguished judges.

In other prestigious wine competitions this summer, Hermit Woods took home a total of six more gold, silver, and bronze medals. Other award winners include a gold medal for their Three Honey Wine at the Mazer Cup, the world’s premier mead competition; a silver medal for their Mélange; a bronze medal for their Petite Blue in the Fingerlakes International Wine Competition; a silver for their Heirloom Crabapple; and a bronze for their Kiwi Wine and Petite Blue in the Big E wine competition in Springfield, Massachusetts.

 “We have only been entering wines for competition for a couple years now, and have yet to not come home without a medal. We are very proud of this accomplishment,” said Bob Manley, one of three winery partners, in a winery announcement. “Winning medals is important, but what is most important to us is what our customers have to say, as long as we are making them happy, we will be happy.”

Past medals include a silver medal for their Three Honey Wine and Crabapple Wine. 
Hermit Woods Winery opened in 2011 so these accomplishments are impressive, but I am not surprised they have seen so much success. Their wines are good and it is clear winemaker Ken Hardcastle really thinks about the ingredients themselves, using them to their full potential. I love visting the winery and listening to him talk about each wine, because his passion and dedication are so evident. The tasting room is also very nice, so if you haven’t visited yet, put it on your to-do list before the winery closes for the winter.

Next year, Hermit Woods Winery will move to downtown Meredith, where they will have more room for winemaking. 

In other New Hampshire wine news, Candia Vineyards has won some medals for their wine this year. At the Big E, their Diamond won gold; their Noiret and Crescent won silver medals. At the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, they were the only winery from Maine or New Hampshire to win a medal. Their Ice Storm took home a silver medal. At the International Eastern Wine Competition, Diamond won a silver medal. Candia Vineyards was also the only winery from Maine, Massachusetts or New Hampshire to be recognized with a medal. To learn more about this winery, visit candiavineyards.com. 

Sweet Baby Vineyard Label Release

My friend Amanda and I recently visited Sweet Baby Vineyard in East Kingston for their label release event. Owners Lewis and Stacey Eaton decided it was time to redesign their wine bottle labels, letting go of the label they had since they opened the winery in 2008. They worked with Be Good Branding and Pixels & Pulp to create the winery’s new brand and labels, which is fun and whimsical and still very “sweet.” 

Lewis said while the old labels meant a lot to them (their daughter’s hands were pictured on it), they felt it was time for a change and wanted something that would get noticed on supermarket shelves.  The new labels include more information about their commitment to local farms and list the farms that grow their fruit. They also note that 10 percent of their profits will be donated to the farmers because they believe that growing local and supporting local businesses is so important. 

I had already seen the new labels in my local supermarket and thought what a nice gift they would make during the holidays. If you are looking for their wines in stores, please note their Kensington White and Kensington Red are now Chardonnay and Amarone, named for their grapes. The winery used to be located in Kensington in the Eaton’s home, but they moved to a new location in East Kingston last year. This gave them more production space and room to house events like this one. If you haven’t seen their new tasting room yet, I highly recommend visiting. 

I was excited to try two new Sweet Baby wines, as they recently added pinot grigio and cabernet sauvignon to their lineup. While these are not wines I would typically choose to drink, I was impressed with both. The pinot grigio is off-dry and smooth, not acidic like some can be. I’m not sure I would have known it was a pinot grigio in a blind tasting and that made me like it that much more. The cabernet was dry but also very smooth with a nice finish. I could see that wine pairing well with pasta dishes or steak. Sweet Baby made a believer out of me because I took home a bottle of each. 

Because I like sweet wines, I like Sweet Baby’s Bartlett pear, a dessert-style wine, and the apple and blueberry wines, both semi-sweet. The pear wine is light in color but rich in flavor and could be enjoyed at the end of a meal all by itself. Pairing recommendations include cheese like warm brie. 

The apple wine is smooth, crisp and a great wine for fall. Made from New Hampshire apples, it would go well with pork or chicken dishes and even desserts like apple crisp or cobbler. 

The blueberry wine is also made from New Hampshire fruit. This wine is medium bodied and resembles more of a red wine than a fruit one, though it is enjoyed chilled. I love the aroma and flavor of this wine, along with its rich, purple hue. Try this wine with cheesecake for a delicious pairing. 

While I enjoyed these wines, the Amarone was my favorite of the day. Lewis told me I was going to like it and he was right. I went home with two bottles. This wine is full-bodied and rich, with notes of blackberries and raspeberries. While dry wines aren’t usually my favorite, this one has a smooth finish and softer tannins. While recommended pairings are Italian foods, meats, stews and cheese, I will probably be sipping this wine on its own during the fall and winter months. 

Sweet Baby Vineyard is located at 14 Powwow River Road in East Kingston. They are open year round on Saturdays and Sundays from 12-5 p.m. and Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays from 12-4 p.m. For more information, visit sweetbabyvineyard.com. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Homemade Beer-a-Ritas

Strawberry Beer-a-Rita
Earlier this year, I shared my favorite margarita recipe, highlighted by my favorite homemade sour mix. Since I refuse to admit summer has almost come to an end, I am still making margaritas but experimenting with different recipes.

Last year, I had my first Corona Rita when they were very popular, but I knew I wanted to try making my own at some point. I also traveled to Texas, where one restaurant had a full menu of beer margarita variations. This past weekend, I finally revisited the beer margarita, making it at home to my own taste.

 Here is my Homemade Sour Mix Recipe again just in case you missed it earlier this spring. This can be used to make margaritas on the rocks, or blended with ice for a frozen variation.

First, you need to make simple syrup from sugar and water. I amended the recipe from three cups sugar to two cups sugar, mixed with three cups water. Boil this combination until the sugar is completely dissolved. I suppose you could use sugar substitutes like Splenda, though the proportions may be different. Let it cool in whatever container you prefer. Once it’s cooled, add two cups unsweetened lime juice (I do not recommend Rose’s as it is sweetened), and two cups lemon juice. You now have your own homemade sour mix. Adjust as needed; it may be too tart to your liking. More water can be added to dilute the mix. You can add additional sugar later, depending upon the drink recipe. This can be kept in the fridge for about two weeks or so.

There are a few different ways to make beer margaritas. At home, I didn’t have anything to hold the beer properly or the right glass, so I went for the mixed together version, which sounds interesting but is surprisingly good.

Here is a basic Beer Margarita recipe from All Recipes. Combine one can frozen limeade, 12 ounces tequila, 12 ounces water, 12 ounces beer (use a lighter beer like Corona or Corona Light so the flavor isn’t overpowering), ice and one lime, cut into wedges. You can use the limeade can to measure and add some triple sec for an extra kick. Adjust with extra water if the mixture is too sweet, and strain the pulp from the limeade before mixing if you prefer. You could also substitute part of the water for club soda or lemon-lime soda. This recipe makes about six cups.

I liked the recipe, but I wondered if it would be good as a strawberry version. Actually, it was pretty good and just as easy to make.

This Strawberry Beer Margarita recipe is very similar to the Bud Light Straw-Ber-Ritas you can buy in small cans at the store, but it can be adjusted to suit your own taste. Amounts are approximate and can be adjusted. I used a can of strawberry daiquiri mix and blended it with ice first in a blender. I combined this with one third (two liter) bottle of Diet Seven Up, one Corona Light and about 4 ounces of tequila (approximate). I also added the juice from one fresh squeezed lime and a touch of salt. This will make about six servings.

This recipe is very easy to tweak based on your own personal taste. If you like sweet, you will like this, otherwise you could add more ice to the mix, water, or only use three-fourths of the can of strawberry daiquiri mix to cut down on the sweetness.

Corona Light is a skunky beer by nature, so this could also be substituted with Bud Light, Blue Moon or another light beer depending upon what you like.

If you have a large goblet that can hold a beer, you may want to try this Moon-A-Rita recipe from Cocktail 365. Note: this recipe is for just one margarita in a large goblet style glass. Double or triple for a batch, with each glass getting its own Blue Moon beer. In a blender, combine: one cup ice, one ounce tequila, half ounce triple sec, half ounce sour mix (use store bought or recipe above), two ounces mango puree. Blend until smooth. Pour into a large goblet glass that will also hold a beer bottle inside of it without falling out and leave about one third of the glass empty. Open up a beer and submerge the head of the bottle into the cocktail. Be sure to hold the beer bottle along with the glass when you drink it so you don’t end up with a mess! Recommended beers: Blue Moon Belgian-Style Ale, Blue Moon Summer Honey Wheat.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Barrel Tasting Weekend: A Look at Last Year

Mark your calendar for this year's Lakes Region Wine Barrel Tasting, October 5-6. This year, Newfound Winery is being added to the list. Here is my column from last year on this fabulous event. For more information on this year's event, read on here. Newfound Lake Vineyards is new this year. 

Our 2012 Barrel Tasting Group
Six Lakes Region wineries recently held a Wine Barrel Tasting Weekend, which is like a regular wine tasting with an added bonus: a chance to try wines right out of barrel while they are still aging. I had been waiting for this weekend for months and it definitely lived up to my expectations.

Because I had already visited five out of the six locations in the past, I was really looking forward to trying some different wines and learning more about the process right from the winemakers.

A group of us piled into my friend’s Jeep and headed out on the tasting trail. Our first stop was Coffin Cellars in Webster, where Tim Austin and his mom and helper Lorna had apple and blackberry wines to taste, in addition to their already bottled raspberry, cranberry pomegranate, jalapeno and lime wines.

The apple wine is made from a sweet blend press of fruit from a local orchard. It is my favorite Coffin Cellars wine to date, with a great balance of tartness and sweetness.
Blackberry is not a new wine for Coffin Cellars, as winemakers Austin, his brother Jamie and father Peter get the berries from their family fields. It is always very popular, as it captures the essence of blackberries in a well-balanced wine that is semi-sweet and delicious.

Our next stop was Haunting Whisper Vineyards in Danbury where husband and wife team Eric and Erin craft an great selection of wines. Erin greeted us downstairs, where we tried carmenere, DeChaunac and syrah right from stainless steel tanks. She reminded us that these wines still have some aging to do and will further develop over time, with some reaching their full potential in another year.
Many of my friends enjoyed the carmenere and syrah, which where both a little bit too dry for my taste, while I really enjoyed the DeChaunac. Even at this step in the process, it was fruit-forward and had a nice berry aroma.
I am never disappointed by Haunting Whispers’ wines and ended up purchasing a bottle of Sunapee Red, a new offering this year. A blend of leon millot and marechal foch grapes, it has an earthy aroma but a tasty, surprising candy apple flavor and smooth finish.
Ken Hardcastle, Hermit Woods Winery
Our third stop was Hermit Woods Winery in Sanbornton, where we had the chance to taste two Chilean wines directly out of French oak barrels. Ken Hardcastle, one of the Hermit Woods winemakers, was in the downstairs area of the winery giving tastings of the four-month old syrah and carmenere, which will not reach their peak for some years. The wines are barrel aged for four to 20 months, Hardcastle explained, which helps the tannins develop and “marries together nicely” the fruit and oak. Both wines were slightly dry and the syrah had notes of pepper and spice. It will be interesting to try their finished products in the future.
Our last stop on the group tour was Stone Gate Vineyard in Gilford, where Peter Ellis greeted us in the lower level of his winery with samples of young vignoles and frontenac. The vignoles was dry while the frontenac displayed some of its fruit character found in the finished product. Upstairs, when we tried the bottled vignoles, it was fruit forward, with notes of honey and pear.

Kelly & I at Stone Gate Vineyard
I had to purchase a bottle of apple wine, made from a blend of macintosh, macoun and cortland apples from an orchard down the street. It is light and tart, much like the apple wine at Coffin Cellars.

Because our group ran out of time on the first day, my mom and I visited the two remaining wineries on the second day of the event, stopping first at Gilmanton Winery. Here we met winemaker John Jude, a former chemistry teacher originally from California, who works with owner Marshall Bishop to craft the array of Gilmanton wines. He explained the winemaking process, including the different steps red and white wines take from the beginning of production. He also showed us a refractometer and hygrometer, two key winemaking measurement tools that measure the sugar level and the right time to bottle, respectively.

We tried young carmenere and merlot, bottled recently at the winery and varietals that will get better with age. The carmenere was peppery and spicy, with notes of tobacco. The winery’s current carmenere, and the wine Jude said he is very proud of due to its depth and overall character, sold out over the weekend due to its popularity.

I brought home a bottle of Blue Berry Surprise, a wine recently made at the winery from local blueberries. 

Our last stop on the tour was Sap House Meadery in Center Ossipee where young entrepreneurs Ash Fischbein and Matt Trahan make a variety of meads, or honey wines. I had never been to Sap House before, but it was definitely worth the trip. The building is beautifully decorated, warm and cozy, and their offerings are unique.

I entered the Meadery thinking I wasn’t going to like anything, but I left with a bottle of their Vanilla Bean Mead, which is sweet and smooth with the finish of cream soda. Trahan also let us try it with hot apple cider and it was a great combination. He said it is probably his favorite Sap House Meadery offering. My mind has definitely been changed.

We tried a traditional honey mead and the sugar maple mead, still going through the barrel aging process. They were stronger than the bottled meads but still very tasty.

This event, which I called ‘Christmas for wine lovers’, was a great experience. Not only did we get to meet all of the winemakers, but we got a better glimpse into all of the hard work it takes to make the finished product we all appreciate so much.