December 30, 2012

Holiday Week 2012 Send-Off

 In years past I've done recaps or best-of posts about things that really moved me throughout the year. This year, no such post. I spent the last week with family in town just enjoying company and eating and drinking too much. I didn't take a lot of pictures, just tried to enjoy some time with people I don't get to see enough. We did find time to drink some very good wines:
My brother was kind enough to bring a cooler full of Berkshire Brewing Company beer, some of my favorite beers that I don't get to drink often as they are only available in New England. Excellent craft beers across the board by the Berkshire folks:
Did lunch at the Brick Store on Thursday where I tried a draft from Decatur's newest brewery, Blue Tarp Brew. Their Bantam Weight Ale is an Irish red ale that features lower alcohol by today's craft beer standards and is an entirely drinkable beer. The sausage and grit cakes below were pretty tasty as was the fried pierogi starter.
We also spent some time at Bakery at Cakes & Ale getting fat while eating too many desserts. Tried the Caliente, their version of a Mexican mocha with dark Mexican chocolate, and chili powder that was pretty damn awesome on a blustery late afternoon.
Of course, as it is our Christmas tradition, we also made time for some Pappy.
All-in-all it was a fun week with family...Hope you had a good holiday season as well. Now, on to 2013.

December 22, 2012

Home Cooking: Ramen

I, like perhaps many Americans who like to cook at home, am intimidated by homemade ramen. I don't know why that is. Perhaps it's due to the fact that a good bowl of ramen is a time-consuming thing to prepare. Therein lies its magic. Recently, I decided to spend some time on a rainy Saturday making ramen. I followed the step-by-step instructions for David Chang's ramen in his Momofuku book. Certainly there are more traditional recipes, but I like Chang's book, so I went with his recipe.


I started by making the tare, an enriched grilling/basting sauce produced from roasting chicken necks and backs and then adding them to a soy sauce, mirin, and sake reduction. The end product is basically an amped-up and insanely salty sauce of which a couple of tablespoons is used to flavor the ramen broth right before serving. The sauce is also great used as one would use a traditional bbq sauce; however, not sure it's really worth effort. I might just reduce some soy sauce and mirin next time.
The ramen broth begins with the roasting of five pounds of meaty pork bones. You could also throw in some trotters, but I went with five pounds of assorted bones that I sourced from YDFM.
While the bones are roasting, konbu steeps in six quarts of water. After the konbu steeps for ten minutes it is removed and dried shitake mushrooms are added for thirty minutes. After the shitakes steep for 30 minutes, they are removed an entire chicken is added to the pot. The chicken cooks and flavors the broth for about one hour (or until the meat pulls from the bone). You now also have a very flavorful whole poached chicken that can be used in multiple other applications.
By this time the pork bones have finished roasting in the oven and they get added to the stock once the cooked chicken is removed. At this point, it gets a little easier as the pork bones simple simmer in the pot for as many hours as you can spare, but at least six or seven according to Chang. While the pork bones and stock reduced I prepped the toppings, which can very according to what you have around.
I used some of the traditional accoutrements: scallions, a slow-poached egg, some of the leftover mushrooms, a little piece of nori, pulled pork, and some of the pork belly pictured above which was leftover from this project. I also followed Chang's advice and cheated a bit by using store bought low mein noodles. Ramen noodles can be a controversial topic, let's just say, I was happy with the noodles I used. Not perfect, but I retained my sanity and the bowl was pretty damn good for my first attempt.

December 18, 2012

Bell's Brewery Holiday Dinner at Big Tex

I was fortunate to get a ticket to the sold out Bell's Brewery Holiday Beer dinner at Big Tex in Decatur last Thursday night. It was the first ever beer dinner at Big Tex and the staff did a nice job of trying to make the evening special and memorable. The dinner was prepared by Big Tex Chef, Rick Watson, and featured five courses matched with specific Bell's beers. A brief take on the courses:
1st Course– Amuse Bouche of Rappahannock Oysters two ways, raw and grilled, matched with Bell's Winter White Ale.  This was a great pairing, but really, the White Ale is just a great beer all around that I could drink anywhere anytime. Fresh, briny Chesapeake Bay oysters were nice way to start.
2nd Course- Beef Carpaccio with Bell's Two-Hearted Ale. Beef carpaccio was decent, but questionable in the use of tomato and corn in December.

3rd Course- Lamb Slider and Deck Fat Fries with Bell's Best Brown Ale. This course was fine. A slider, some crispy fries, not much not to like and it was executed well. Tasty match with the Brown Ale, too.

Interlude--This item, brought over from Fox Bros. and not listed on the night's menu, was the best taste of the night. Succulent Duroc pork belly with Fox Bros Bbq sauce and cole slaw on buttery toast. Not surprisingly, this was a great bite as it is in the Fox Bros. wheelhouse.
Course 4- Braised Georgia wild boar paired and cabbage purse with Bell's Porter. Decent dish, lamb a bit tough, and the dish was luck warm by the time it came to the table. 
Course 5- Bell's Black Note Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout paired with a Bourbon caramel chocolate eclair. Bell's Black Note is one of their rarest beers. It also packs quite a punch at 11.5% alcohol. It's a good dessert beer, but it is big, rich beer and best in small doses.
Overall, this was a fun night with some very good beers, some decent bites and good company. While I've been a fan of Bell's, this dinner certainly cemented Bell's as belonging near the top of my go-to list for American craft beers.

December 13, 2012

Bourbon Tasting: Some of the Best

Recently, my good buddy from Thirsty South invited me to taste a selection of rare American whiskeys from some of the best distillers in the country. We tasted through a terrific lineup of boutique bourbons, and one whiskey, produced in small quantities and costing more than most of us should probably spend on a single bottle of hard liquor. While I've had my share of expensive bourbons from Pappy Van Winkle, Elijah Craig, and others, this was truly a stellar collection. The lineup was as follows:
St. George's Single Malt Whiskey, 30th Anniversary Edition, Bottle 689/715, 94.6 Proof
2012 Parker’s Heritage Collection Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 131.6 Proof
William Larue Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 2011 and 2012 Releases, 123.4 Proof
Elijah Craig, 12 years old, Barrel Strength, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 128.5 Proof
Four Roses Single Barrel, 13 years and 10 months old, and 17 Years. Old, 126 Proof
Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 15 Years, 2008 bottling, 107 Proof
 
I'm nowhere talented enough as a bourbon taster to offer notes on all of these, and Thirsty South already has a great post up on our tasting. However, I can say that some of the tastes clearly separated themselves from the pack and are worth noting.
 
St. George's Single-Malt Whiskey, 30th Anniversary Edition belongs in a class of it's own. A singular tasting experience, it's a whiskey that gives off a nose that is a dead-ringer for an aged Riesling. Never smelled anything like it in a whiskey. It also shows citrus and pear notes on the clean and crisp palate. Not sure I'd want copious amounts of this, but it was amazing to taste. Yours for $400 a bottle if you can find it.
Another standout was the 2011 release of the William Larue Weller bourbon. This was the all-around package to me, and the best bourbon of the night. It showed a beautiful perfumed and fragrant nose and impeccable balance on the palate. At over 123 proof, I was expecting a good bit of aggressive heat, but it was surprisingly supple and smooth on the palate. This is a bourbon I will seek out. At around $70 it is a relative steal.  Also showing really well were the Four Roses Single Barrel 13 years and 10 months, and the Pappy Van Winkle 15. That's picking nits a bit as all of these bourbons were first class, and I'd be happy to drink any one of them.

Thanks again to Thirsty South and Jason at Sour Mash Manifesto.

December 6, 2012

Wine Review: 2009 Les Vignerons d'Est├ęzargues Signargues La Granacha VV


I don't often post wine reviews here anymore. Not sure they ever very helpful. However, when I find things locally that I think are interesting, I will occasionally make a recommendation. I recently tried the Les Vignerons d'Estezargues Signarues, which turns out to be a pretty good wine for $15.

Signargues is the furthest south of the Cotes du Rhone Villages Appellation and it spreads out over 4 different communities: Domazan, Estozargues, Rochefort du Gard and Saze. This wine is bottled without fining or filtration and clocks in at a respectable 14.5% alcohol. Despite not being a big fine of grenache form the southern rhone valley, I like this wine. It tastes like a rich and spicy Beaujolais, it's got fruit and a heady dose of acidity to keep things lively. I drank it on the cool side with some carne arsada and was quite happy with the wine. It can be found around town for $15.

November 29, 2012

The Little Wine Shop and an Funky, Old-Vine Gamay

This post isn't just about the wine pictured above, though, the wine did provide some of the impetus. This post is as much a plug for the place where I bought the wine, The Little Wine Shop in Avondale Estates. For years, I drove past LWS, never stopping in to see what was going because, frankly, when the shop first opened in 2009, I didn't think their inventory was very interesting. Truth is, I buy a lot of wine online where one can find aged Burgundy and other gems, so when I shop around town I look for interesting new wines to try. However, a few months ago, I stopped by LWS and found they had recently changed owners who brought substantial change to the inventory. There appears to be a focus on small producers, natural wines, and very interesting wines in the sub $25 category.

The 2009 Jean Francois Merieau Le Bois Jacou is an old vine Gamay from the Touraine area of the Loire Valley. It's an old school, farmer wine that is full of personality. It's earthy, dirty in a good way, and loaded with edgy red fruit. It is a rather austere wine at first and needs some air to open up a bit. There are a good many wines like this one at LWS; I'll be posting on some of those bottles in the coming weeks. If you live in the area and haven't stopped by LWS, it's a great place to sock up on wines for holiday parties.

November 23, 2012

Thankful

Not sure there's a way to make this not seem like an obligatory Thanksgiving post about being thankful. As I said last year at this time, I do have a lot for which to be thankful: healthy and talented wife and kids, good friends, and things that inspire me daily. Here then, are some food and wine-related things I'm also thankful for:
Low and slow pork butt on the Big Green Egg that my lovely wife bought for me a couple of years ago.
Good charcuterie from Rusty and the folks at Pine Street Market. The boar salumi on the left above is pretty damn good.
Relatively inexpensive (ha!) Burgundy that rocks my world on a random Friday night, like this 1999 Francois Gaunoux Pommard 1er Les Grands Epenots did a couple of Fridays ago.
However, the thing to be most thankful for is good friends with which to eat, drink, and just generally carry-on with as evidenced in the pics above and below from recent gatherings.
The 2008 Thierry Allemand Cornas from a gathering a few weeks ago. A wine that will redefine the the way you think about Syrah. Thinking back on cooking, eating, and gathering, I'm thankful again just to have good times with friends and family and hope your holiday season is filled with inspiration and appreciation.

November 15, 2012

Vouvray Tasting, Vol. 2

I recently participated in a second online Vouvray tasting (vol. 1 here) with a number of wine bloggers that was conducted by Tastelive. The tasting was in conjunction with the Loire Valley Wine trade organization. The thing that has drawn me to Vouvray, and Loire Valley wines in general, is that they often represent very good value for wines that are mostly produced naturally, with bio dynamic and non-interventionist methods. They also have the ability to age for a very long time. One of the oldest Vouvrays I've tasted was the 1990 Prince Poniatowski Vouvray, which was still delicious at nearly 20 years of age.
We had a pretty strong lineup for the second tasting, including the 2011 from Domaine Huet, a ridiculously good wine. Problem is, drinking it now is a bit of a shame as Huet has a reputation for producing some of the longest-lived Chenin Blancs on the planet. Often, the sweeter Vouvrays become sublime wines with 20 and 30 years of age in bottles, with many bottles still awe-inspiring at 65 and 70 years of age. This 2011 has all the making of special Chenin Blanc, there's a lot of sweet, young fruit here, but a core of minerality and earth that will appear more with age.
We also tasted the 2009 Clos Naudin Foureau Demi Sec. The demi-sec notation on the label refers to the level of sweetness from residual sugars in the wine. Demi-sec is "off-dry," a step up from a truly dry wine, which means there is some residual sweetness to the wine. However, there is not nearly the sugar levels of Moelluex, which produces truly sweet, botrytisized wines. Clos Naudin is another of the legendary producers in Vouvray. Again, this 2009 is a wine that probably needs 10 years in bottle to really develop, but it was pretty tasty now, just showing more of its youthful sweetness and glycerin.

November 11, 2012

Recent Eats and Drinks

 
A recent Lunch at Empire State South. The bologna dog on house made bun, and fried chicken salad sandwich were stand outs. As was the heart attack and vine cocktail (bourbon, Cocchi Barolo Chinato, pur-Likor blood orange, Buster's bitters) pictured above.
Though, everything was pretty damn good, per usual. ESS is a restaurant at the top of its game.
 
A favorite new beer...the Fascist Pig Ale from Finch's Beer Company.
As the weather cools I get back to cooking some cold-weather faves like the braised short ribs ala Les Halles above.
 
Left overs used to make the short rib chili above. Nothing fancy here, just your basic chili made even more tasty by the addition of rib bones to flavor the stock and shredded short rib meat folded in.
A very nice bottle from the somewhat unheralded village of Santenay. 1996 Joseph Drouhin Santenay-Beaurepaire. Confirmed again that there's no substitute for well-aged wine; especially Burgundy. A simple wine, really, but 16 years old and showing grace and sophistication.
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This bottle lacked the grace and sophistication of the Drouhin as this 2001 Meursault from Louis Jadot was prematurely oxidized. Again. White Burgundy wine is a minefield, there's even an active Wiki to tell you all about the problem. Buy at your own risk, or..just set some $100 bills on fire.

November 5, 2012

Tasting A Few Single Malts

 I've been dabbling recently with single-malt scotch. Having cut my teeth a good bit on bourbon the last few years, it was time to pay some attention to scotch. Why single malt scotch you may ask? Well, unlike blended scotch whiskeys which are blends from multiple distilleries, single malts distilled at a single distillery. You can find good blended scotch, for sure, and many entry-level, cheaper scotches are made in this manner. However, when you want to taste all that scotch whiskey can offer, you need to go single malt.

I've been fortunate to have tasted some stunningly good scotch over the years from the kindness of friends, but many of these I can't really afford on a regular basis. With this in mind, the single malts that I focused on in this post are some of the more affordable single malts, each priced in the $40-$50 range in the Atlanta market.
The Balvenie 12 yr. Doublewood, from the Speyside region in Scotland, is my favorite of the three I tasted for this post. This scotch is a doublewood as it spends time in the traditional oak cask before spending additional time in a Spanish oak sherry cask. The addition of the sherry wood brings a softened, refined body to the scotch which contributes to its very smooth finish. An easy scotch to like, and one that a new scotch drinker could warm up to easily. Around $50 locally.
 
The Laphroaig 10 yr. is a peaty scotch from Islay, the southernmost Scottish island. Scotland is covered in peat, which is just partially decayed vegetation, and peat use by distilleries ranges from a little touch to quite a bit. Many on Islay distill over peat fires that imbues the whiskey with what can be a very present peat smoke. Peatiness can seem aggressive when you are new to scotch, the smokiness it brings is an acquired taste. However, if you like a peaty scotch, as, I do, this Laphroaig 10 year is a damn good scotch for $45.
 
The Aberlour 12 yr. is a double cask scotch also from the Speyside.Most of Aberlour's range is aged in American ex-bourbon casks, this 12 year old sees ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks.The Aberlour comes in at $40 locally, and while I would happily drink it any day, it does not possess the finesse and complexity of either the Laphroaig or Balvenie. If you haven't dipped your toes in the pool of single malt scotch, any of the three tasted here would give you a good representation of what these can offer. As the cold weather approaches, there really is nothing like a dram of good scotch on a cold night. Give scotch a shot, you won't be sorry.

October 29, 2012

Vouvray Tasting, Vol. 1

I recently participated in an online tasting with a number of wine bloggers that was conducted by Tastelive. The tasting was in conjunction with the Loire Valley Wine trade organization. You may remember my past posts on Loire Valley wines. The thing that has drawn me to Loire Valley wines is that they represent great value for wines that are often produced naturally, with biodynamic and non-interventionist methods.
As part of this tasting, we tried 5 recent release Chenin Blancs from several of the top producers in Vouvray. The wines pictured above, 2011 Francois Chidaine Les Argiles, 2010 Marc Bredif, and 2011 Domaine Les Aubuisieres, were the stars. Others in the tasting included Domaine Champalou and the 2011 Domaine Bourillon Dorleans Coulee d'Argent. There really wasn't a clunker in the bunch; though the wines were young and could use a couple of years to flesh out a bit. There wasn't a wine in the lineup that I wouldn't mind owning and its refreshing to get wines of this quality for less than $20.

October 23, 2012

2012 Decatur Craft Beer Festival

I'm not exactly sure how this happened with me living in Decatur for the last 15 years, but I had never been to the Decatur Beer Festival before attending this past weekend. I was usually out of town or had other things going on during previous festivals, or maybe I simply wasn't quick enough to jump on the tickets that usually sell out within an hour of when they go on sale. However, I finally made it to the festival this weekend where the weather was perfect for mulling around Decatur square drinking craft beer.
  
The crowd was huge, as always. It was almost prohibitively crowded with it being difficult to literally get through some parts of the festival based on the layout. I know the organizers purposefully limit the number of tickets sold to 4,000, but honestly, it wouldn't hurt if the number of tickets sold was half that number.
That being said, there was some very good beer being poured from the more than 40 breweries represented. There was also a good number of local and regional brews like Lazy Magnolia Brewing Co. out of Mississippi which had a strong lineup, including the rocking good Jefferson Stout.
The good folks from Georgia's own Wild Heaven were also there serving some of the longest lines of the day at their tent where they were pouring Invocation and Ode to Mercy as well as Let There Be Light.
Some interesting beers from Lost Abbey/Port Brewing Company out of San Marcos, CA. The Lost Abbey bottles feature some rather menacing labeling, but the beers are pretty damn good.

One of my favorite beers on the day: the Sorachi Ace from Brooklyn Brewing. A re-fermented saison that uses Japanese-developed Sorachi Ace hop. The beer has lots of floral aromatics and a citrus-driven, crisp taste on the palate. Really tasty stuff that I'd never tried before.


One of the strongest lineups of the day came from Green Flash Brewing Company out of San Diego. For some reason, I don't think of San Diego when I think of craft beers, but these beers are the real deal. Their Rayon Vert is a tasty, Belgian-style ale.

Other favorites from the festival include Finch's Beer Company out of Chicago and Mother Earth Brewing  from NC.