Dogfish Head, Sojourn or So What?

Dogfish Head Brewery, in Milton Delaware, is the sort of place that inspires slavish devotion in its customers.  The good folks there not only produce a broad range of stunningly good beers, they do so with a palpable sense of delight and an impish sense of humor.  (They bill themselves as makers of, “Off-centered stuff for off-centered people”.)

The brewery and its amiable owner, Sam Calagione, were the subject of “Brew Masters”, a recent series on the Discovery Channel as well as being key players in a documentary film about the beer industry called, “Beer Wars”. Watching the episodes of Brew Masters while consuming Dogfish beers became a routine for myself and (customers and good friends) Robert, the recently-ousted Mayor of Wine Gourmet (according to social-networking site FourSquare), and his lovely girlfriend Vanessa ( . . . or is it Verushka?) who, in all honesty, is a bigger fan of Sam than she is of the beer.

Every week the three of us would gather, pour, and get involved in the stories and personalities on the screen.  Every week as well, we’d speculate on how much fun it’d be to go to the brewery and see it for ourselves. Eventually, we committed to a plan of driving up early on a Friday and staying in the area through Sunday and visiting both the brewery in Milton and the Alehouse in nearby Rehoboth Beach.  We set a date and pinky-swore on it.

The appointed Friday morning came early. The night before I had tapped the face of the digital alarm until it read, “UnGodly”, toggled it to “on” and then went to bed. The alarm began banging away at 5am, demanding, as is the way of alarms, that I drag my tired behind from the comfort of the sheets and tend to its silence.

I just want go on-record here.  5am is an hour made for those whose honest toil produces sweat.  It’s an hour familiar to farmhands, fishermen, and the day-laborers that congregate at big-box handyman stores. It’s not for the soft and foggy-headed, like me.  So, why so early?  Vanessa ( . . . or is it Valerie?) had secured for us a 2pm appointment for a tour of the brewery and we had calculated with the cruel algebra of travel, that, if we were to make that time, we’d need to be wheels-rolling by 6am.  So, sleepily I made sandwiches, coffee, and hard-boiled eggs and threw in some cookies and small boxes of orange juice to sustain us.  As the GPS indicated, the trip was in excess of 300 miles and we were not expecting to stop, except as nature may occasionally demand.

We were now a party of four, as I had invited along a woman of new and devoted acquaintance and we gathered, pre-dawn, bleary-eyed and with far more baggage than a 2-day trip should warrant but confident that most any contingency, short of apocalypse, had been accounted for.  In the days leading up to our happy journey, I had contacted Josh, a Dogfish mucky-muck whom I’d once met in a beerily official capacity.  I told him of our upcoming pilgrimage and asked if there were any arrangements that could be made to, perhaps, “enhance” the experience of the tour and pub visit.  I was hoping for some kind of code word or secret handshake, but the magic words turned out to be simply, “Kristin” and “John”.  Our ducks, if not our stars, were aligned.

As mentioned earlier, the ex-mayor and I had been waxing rhapsodic about Dogfish Head products for many months.  Though neither of us would admit it, we each harbored a Wonka-esque fantasy of the Dogfish Brewery, imagining ourselves frolicking between the vats, stopping occasionally to tilt our mouths under open valves of free-running beer and diving into overflowing piles of sticky hops flowers.  As we knew it certainly must be, the reality turned out to be a bit more pedestrian but still well worth the trip. We ran through three states and, because of a small argument with the co-pilot, also through the heart of Washington DC.

We arrived in Milton, a little after 1pm, with creaking knees and crumbs in our laps. The parking lot was filled with the cars of the faithful.  We passed several folks, on their way back to their cars, hushed and aglow with their experience, toting cases of freshly-brewed beer and gift-shop t-shirts.

The building was just as we’d seen in the episodes of Brew Masters, low, clean of line, functional, and relatively indistinct.  Just outside, however, standing sentinel-like and with great distinction is the “Steampunk Tree House”.  This 40 ft. tall metal sculpture takes the form of a tree-house perched on a steel-plate trunk and cradled by open-frame branches.  It is at once, organic and industrial.  It is beautiful, terrible and wholly compelling. It looks like something HG Wells might have designed, had he been taking LSD.

The Steampunk Tree House outside Dogfish Head Brewery

Designed and created by artist Sean Orlando and the 5-Ton Crane Arts Group of Oakland, California, the tree house debuted at the 2007 Burning Man Festival and went on to be re-constructed at several other gatherings.  In 2009, Sam Calagione convinced those with custody of the monster that it ought to have a permanent home and that he had just the spot for it right outside the front door of the brewery. They agreed.  There may have been Dogfish products involved.

We paused on the way inside to “ooohh” and ogle the tree house because, well, there’s no way not to.  It really demands some reaction. After a few minutes, the gravity of the brewery overcame the spell of the tree house and in we went.  The gift shop, where the congregation gathers prior to the scheduled tour, is chock-a-block with beer and Dogfish doodads in the form of T-shirts, frisbees, glassware, and many other items up to, and including, a 12” vinyl LP of Sam Calagione and his brewmaster, calling themselves “Pain Relievaz” and, attacking your ears with beer-related Gangsta-rap. I can only believe that to embrace this item, one must count one’s self among the hardest core of fans.

While the others milled about taking in the Dogfish extravagance of it all, I made my way to the counter.  A nice young lady stood behind the counter and smiled helpfully at me.
“I’m supposed to see Kristin.”, I said.
“I’m Kristin.” she replied enthusiastically.
I told her who I was and she told me that she wasn’t expecting me till tomorrow but that it didn’t matter.  I was both perplexed and relieved. Simultaneously.

We had been cautioned by e-mail before arriving that open-toed shoes were verboten as we would be in an industrial space.  We arrived appropriately shod.  We were then issued protective eyewear.  I assume to prevent drunken eyes in the event of a splash.  Soon the tour started and we were ushered into the heart of the brewery. It was an explosion of pipes and vats.  Everywhere silver pipes carried water and wort and goodness knows what else to and fro.  My Wonka fantasy didn’t seem so far off.  Though I could see that there’d be no frolicking, I did half expect creepy little orange men to walk by, pushing wheelbarrows of hops.

The tour was a shortened version due to ongoing construction at the brewery but Kristin was excellent and the group was properly agog.  We were shown not just the current operation but artifacts of its crude, though clever, beginnings.  (Apparently Sam sorted out a system for “continuous hopping” that involved a 5-gallon plastic bucket with holes cut at the bottom and one of those magnetic/electronic football games, fondly remembered by those of us who grew up in the sixties.)

We finished the tour, returned the protective and queued up to get what we’d really all come for, free samples.  We were limited to one 3 oz. pour from each of the four beers they had tapped for the thirst and amusement of the pilgrims but they were spectacular. We started off with a rich, full-bodied Raison d’Etre with a distinct character of raisins and figs and then moved on to Hellhound On My Ale, a tribute beer to bluesman Robert Johnson – very hoppy and kissed with lemon.  Next in line was Black & Blue, an ale brewed with black raspberries and blueberries and we finished with their stunning brown ale, Palo Santo Marron, a beer that packs copious flavor, and a 12% alcohol-by-volume wallop.

The tote board of available brews at Dogfish Head

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately for me, my traveling companion (she of the new and devoted acquaintance) does not drink beer.  Though it is a shocking deficit in her character, she is amply compensated by other charms. Still, she had beer samples which she would not consume and so, I felt obliged.  Thus began my descent into blissful inebriation.  The rest of the day would be spent as if I had wandered out of some Hellish desert of sobriety and stumbled into an oasis of beer.

Before we left, Kristin found us and treated us to a set of t-shirts for the gals and ball caps for the guys, a small perk of my position as a retailer of Dogfish products.  (Thank you Dogfish.)  My head now protected from the drizzle, we returned to the car, a warm and persistent fog beginning to settle around my brain. (Relax, I wasn’t driving.)

We drove the seven or eight miles to Rehoboth Beach and found the house we’d rented for the weekend. It was small but comfortable and just a block from the sand and sea. We agreed that we would go to the Dogfish Head Brewpub for dinner (and more beer) and then left to explore the nearby ocean boardwalk.

It was just the kind of beach experience I love: breezy, drizzly and chilly. (My friends have taken to referring to me as Lestat for my well-known aversion to sunshine.)  But I was alone in my enjoyment and the weather drove us off the boardwalk and into a bar.  Seated inside, we could sit and look directly out to sea and, of course, enjoy the local brew (Dogfish!) on tap.

By a generous application of beer, I brought a quick reversal to the oncoming state of irksome sobriety brought perilously close by the chill.  I probably should have paused my consumption after the point at which I got into a friendly argument with a local about whether or not the silhouette on the horizon was a barge, as he explained, or an island, as my brain insisted it must be.  His longtime residency and, therefore, certain awareness about whether or not there was an island where we were looking didn’t faze me in the least.  Only as the “island” was observed to move a considerable distance over time did I relent and grudgingly accept it as a barge.

Dinner time came and, still pleasantly floating, we taxied over to the Brewpub.  It was crowded and there was a waiting list for tables.  I gave her the new code word, “John”.  She assured me she would let him know we were here and that we would be called for a table as soon as one was ready.  Robert and I pushed our way to the bar hoping that among the offerings would be “Johnny Cask”, an oak-aged IPA whose quality was the stuff of whispered legend and which was only available occasionally at the Brewpub.  To our disappointment, it was not on tap.  They did however have Randall-the-Enamel-Animal set up.  Randall is not a beer but rather a device that is fitted to a tap and filled with a flavoring agent such as hops or fruit and then the beer is drawn through the agent and delivered, flavored, into your glass.  Today it was attached to their 90-minute IPA and filled with hops.  We ordered.  We quaffed.  We ordered again.

The buzz in my brain was now quite loud.  We were called for our table and we sat and ordered delicious pub fare.  John, my secret contact, found us and was solicitous of our good time.  I assured him, with a bit of slur for emphasis, that we were having a wonderful time.  Our food arrived soon after and so did complimentary beers.  Robert and I were served tall glasses of World Wide Stout, a heavily alcoholic brew at approximately 20%.  I am told that I downed it as though it were iced tea.

I vaguely remember having something in the hamburger line to eat.  My world, which had this night been all bright lights and party noises, began to seem distant and disconnected, like I was observing it from the bottom of a pipe.  Though my brain was stomping hard on the brakes, it was too late – like Thelma and Louise I was headed for the edge of the abyss and there was too much momentum to keep me from getting there.  I looked at my companion, fixed her with a steely, though somehow unfocused, look and said, “I have to go back to the house.   . . . Right now.”   She raised her eyebrows, looked at me more carefully – and then called me a taxi.  We left our friends and went home.  It was 9pm.

The next morning my tongue was thick and fuzzy and my throbbing brain, which I was sure would look like a bowl of clam chowder should anyone bother to remove the top of my skull and peer in, stubbornly refused to fire synapses.  Perhaps it was just otherwise engaged in re-establishing routes that would bypass the masses of cells I had killed off the previous evening.

“Did I pay the bill?” I asked, squinting.  To my combined irritation and relief, they assured me that I had.  I enjoyed a breakfast of coffee, Excedrin, and regret.  I swore to myself that morning that I would begin a new life, one of temperance.

By five that afternoon, I had jettisoned temperance and substituted the word, “moderation”.  By eight, I had scratched out moderation and toasted my new credo,  – excess.

The Perfect Gift

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See Kimberly present all the baskets on Channel 10’s Our Blue Ridge, December 2010.

The Perfect Gift

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Of Beer & Ball with Greg Roberts

Award-winning Sports Talk Host, Greg Roberts and Wine Gourmet’s Beer Buyer, Aaron Layman talk Football & Beer at Wine Gourmet, Roanoke’s Keg Headquarters.

Visit Wine Gourmet for List of KEGS.

 

Our Glorious Trip to Town House

We love our Wine Gourmet wine dinners.  They’re a great chance to enjoy a nice meal, promote our passion and hobnob with our favorite folks, our customers.  We have experienced delightful wine dinners at Stephen’s restaurant, Pomegranate, and Table 50 but, as high as the bar has been set, this last Saturday, we hunkered down for our most ambitious wine dinner yet.  We traveled to Chilhowie, a town so small the “Entering” and “Just Leaving” signs are back to back.  There, almost inexplicably, sits Town House, a restaurant whose executive chef was hailed just 3 months ago by Food and Wine magazine as one of the ten best new chefs in the country.

I had spent some time reading about John and Karen Shields and how they were enticed into coming to Chilhowie from the somewhat larger Chicago.  I knew that these two had been on the verge of accepting the roles of Executive Chef and Executive Pastry Chef at Charlie Trotter’s new restaurant in Las Vegas.  However, the lure of full kitchen control, proximity to their food source, and a break from the relentless spotlight common with star chefs in large cities brought them, instead, to Southwest Virginia.  Here was an opportunity for the chefs to hone their craft and an opportunity for diners, not living in a big city, to experience food prepared with substantial skill.

We piled a group of 25 diners into a bus (OK, “luxury motor coach”) that we’d hired for the evening.  Somehow, 25 separate diners making their way to Chilhowie and then facing a two-hour drive back after a full meal with wine didn’t seem like a great idea – and so, enter the bus.  We brought with us for the ride some nibbly foods, along with wine, and enjoyed a game of wine trivia.  We arrived in Chilhowie in a state of jovial camaraderie and were greeted warmly by the staff of Town House.
We were ready to let the culinary games begin.

I’ll have to confess that, though I began by taking notes as the courses came to the table, I stopped early on and decided I should just enjoy the experience. It would have been fun to have the opportunity to do a forensic analysis of the plates.  In some ways I wanted to take the dish to a place out-of-the-way, in the light and in the quiet, and study it – or better yet, ask the chef about it.  It’s the same impulse that makes a clever child want to disassemble a watch.  I wanted to fully understand, in order to fully appreciate, each of the components in the dish and how they were combined and organized for plating. Each dish contained items I couldn’t readily identify, even with the menu descriptions right at hand.  But because that kind of analysis wasn’t practical, I had to let the notion go and ponder it in hindsight – after having had time to digest it, if you will.

As each course arrived, I couldn’t help but notice the consistency of appearance.  Each plate could be admired on its own merit as a thing of beauty.  All had a deceptive “casualness” to their construction. They appeared naturalistic but were, in actuality, highly organized. Each bit of leaf and blossom, each delicate component was placed carefully with tweezers or tongs or chopsticks, there was nothing accidental in it.

Before discussing the meal, I should also take a moment to note that the service was, by any standard, exceptional.  Kyra Bishop (co-owner of the restaurant) and her staff, including Sommelier Charlie Berg, could not have been any more welcoming, gracious and attentive to our needs. No aspect of service was found wanting.

Service started with an “amuse bouche”  – a “cookie” whose sandwich was made from a flour of black olive paste and a creamy filling of olive oil and meyer lemon.

Though its appearance gave it a convincing picture of sweetness, it was anything but. The cookie was soft in texture and richly savory, earthy really. Girlfriend Beth, among others, didn’t care for it.  She so wanted a chocolaty, sugary experience because that was the visual cue but, bite after bite, it failed to deliver for her on that level.  Others, myself among them, relished these flavors and wished for more.

For our first course, a “Soup of Watermelon & Slow Cooked Tomato”.  This cold soup was a deconstructed, inspired-by-gazpacho beauty – with raw beet juice, quenelles of watermelon, a smoky slow-cooked tomato, and oysters.  Layered over the top, along with leaves of geranium and shiso, a Japanese mint, were sheets of watermelon rind as thin as a political promise.  It was the type of dish that shattered any slim hope you may have had that this would be a casual meal.  It fairly demanded your attention.

I might even call this, “discomfort” food.  It made you squirm a bit.  You had to accept a profusion of flavors, each rising and falling in their intensity like a gale-tossed sea surface.  First it was the sweet of the beet juice, then the brininess of the oyster, the herbal delicacy of the geraniums, the earthiness of the tomato, on and on.  The textures of the dish, a cascade of squishy densities, were variations on a single, soft theme.
It was also the dish about which the diners were most divided.  Some prized it as something exotic and ephemeral. Others felt that it lacked harmony, that the flavors were too disparate to manage any cohesiveness.  To me, it was much like tasting a complex wine.
In wine, I often find flavors that would, in themselves, be off-putting.  A cabernet, for example, might, in addition to its fruit, have notes of tobacco, leather, cedar, or earth. Disparate certainly but somehow these items still find harmonious expression in the glass.  To me, that’s what this dish was about, a spectrum of flavors and textures and visuals that built a sensory experience.  Whether or not you liked the experience, you had to admire the art of its construction.
With this course, Sommelier Charlie served a rosé of Malbec (Marguery Rosé).  Its deep extraction gives it more body than most rosé’s ,which the wine needed to avoid getting lost in the cavalcade of flavors associated with the soup. And its rich fruit married very nicely to the beet juice that was the “broth” of the soup.

Our next course was Corn & Crispy Pork Tail.  This plating even included strands of corn silk.


It was a delicate affair of corn-several-ways ringed by a pool of basil-infused toffee sauce. It was delightfully sweet without a hint of the cloying. The piece of cracklin’, from the pork tail, was crispy and earthy and stood in appropriate counterpoint to the sweetness of the corn.  We enjoyed Chateau Lahuc Les Tour with this course, a lovely Sauterne whose pairing with this dish was synergistic in that it too was both sweet and complex.

For a main course, we were presented with Lamb Shank Cooked in Ash.  This dish is mind boggling in the extent of its preparation. It would be nearly impossible to make at home as many items needed the support of specialized kitchen equipment and ingredients (see the link at the bottom).  It’s unlikely that your neighbor will have a cup of xantham gum or pickled green garlic or sheets of acetate available for you to borrow.  But that matters little.  What’s important is that the kitchen has done all this for you and it’s now plated and sitting between your silverware as a thing of beauty with a frilled top-piece of impossibly thin, crispy eggplant.


The lamb was rich, earthy and tender as a mother’s kiss.  It was absolutely one of those most delicious things I’ve ever eaten.  – Should I ever be facing the electric chair, I know there’s a significant chance I’ll be requesting this from the warden as my last meal.
With this course Charlie served us a Les Paillieres Gigondas.  This dense, smoky, earthy, spicy wine from the southern Rhone easily matched the bold flavors of the lamb.  If the entire meal had consisted of just this course, I would still have left the restaurant a happy man.

We finished with a dessert, prepared by Karen, – Parsnip Candy.  The “candy” consisting of strips of parsnip poached in syrup and then dried. Several strips of the candy topped a dish of parsnip ice cream, “yeast sponge”, banana and “aerated” coconut (try making that at home).

Heavenly.   Delicate, complimentary flavors pervaded this sweet-as-a-puppy final course. It wasn’t merely good, it left you wishing you could have a moment alone with the serving dish to assault it with a good licking.
With this dish, Charlie produced Phileo, a fragrant and delicate dessert wine from Barboursville Vineyards in Orange County Virginia whose flavors of peach and roses made for an exquisite pairing.

It was an evening of enormous pleasure enjoying fairy-tale foods and knocking shoulders with the folks for whom we get out of bed in the morning.  Thanks to all who went and keep your eyes peeled for our upcoming wine events.  We have plans for additional dinners locally . . .
– and we all want to get back to Chilhowie

A happy table - soon to be happier.

A restaurant full of good folks.

Check out this link for a look at the recipe for Lamb Shank Cooked in Ash.
Warning: not for the faint of culinary heart.
http://www.starchefs.com/chefs/rising_stars/2010/washington-dc/recipe-australia-lamb-eggplant-john-shields.shtml

Sum, Sum, Summertime Ale

 
 
Truth be told, the term “Summer Ale” is not an official beer style.  It can be used, however, as a sort of catch-all descriptive term for true beer styles that seem to emerge, gain popularity, or due to their flavor characteristics, achieve a new life – or all of the above – during the three months that follow June 21st.  That Sam Adams Summer?  Technically, an American Pale Wheat Beer.  Wheat beers such as this, along with others like the German Hefeweizen and Belgian Witbier seem nearly synonymous with summer.  Then come a handful of lesser known styles, like the German Kolsch, American Blonde Ale, and many fruit beers that always seem to be clinging to summer’s golden threads, like the little dog hanging on to the girl’s bathing suit in the classic Coppertone ads.

So what makes them go so well with summer? Maybe it’s a simple matter of taste. Consider that more often than not, “summer ales” are wheat based beers. The German Hefeweizen and its American approximation, the American Pale Wheat, are perhaps the most well known styles associated with the warmer months, and with the Summer Ale label.  The wheat in a Hefeweizen, according to German law, must make up at least 50% of the beer’s total grain, and along with certain strains of German ale yeast, contributes to a host of very specific, classic flavors. Among these are banana and clove notes, and sometimes even a bubble gum like taste. Hefeweizens are also left unfiltered and are bottle conditioned, meaning an additional amount of fresh beer is added to the unfiltered beer, which still has enough live yeast to produce a secondary fermentation in the bottle. The leftover, unfiltered yeast produces not only a hazy, glowing, gorgeous looking beer, but the secondary fermentation produces a higher level of carbonation that gives the beer the characteristic crispness Hefeweizens are known for. These flavors, along with the effervescence and the light to medium body, makes for a very refreshing brew, and one that many think fits perfectly when you’re melting in the summer heat. American Pale Wheat beers are an American version of the Hefeweizen, with often a lesser amount of wheat malt and more neutral yeast strains, which produce much less of the classic banana or clove like flavors.

The Belgian Witbier is another summer loving beer. Often confused with the Hefeweizen, since both predominantly use wheat in the recipe, Witbiers differ in a couple basic ways. They are always spiced, with typical ingredients such as coriander or orange peel, while Hefeweizens are not. Witbiers feature raw, or unmalted wheat, while in a Hefeweizen, the wheat is malted, or, heat is put to the grain. Witbiers still have a high level of carbonation, and along with the fruity, spiced flavors, again make for a refreshing summer beer. Think the name “Witbier” sounds odd, and you’ve never had one? Take a look at those taps at the bar again. See the Blue Moon tap? Oh, you’ve even had one before? Guess what – you’ve had a Witbier.

No discussion about summer beer would be complete without the Belgian Saison. The name literally means “season”, and here’s where history again sneaks back into our conversation. According to most versions of the story, Saisons were originally produced prior to harvesting season to serve the farmhands who were out working in the summer heat. Apparently, this particular area of Belgium may have had a particular kind of airborne yeast which produced the complex list of characteristic Saison flavors. They are described as quite fruity, can be somewhat spicy, and are often fairly tart.

There are the others, such as the German Kolsch and American Blonde Ale, which sometimes are pushed under the “Summer Ale” banner. Those two are somewhat similar, featuring a light body, and are often works of subtlety and balance, retaining both a light malt character and slight ale fruityness. Either way, the overall taste is generally sublime. This lightness in flavor and body again makes for a good, refreshing hot day brew.

The “Summer Ale” – a descriptive term really, not an official beer style. Many of the beers that end up with the Summer Ale label applied to them certainly are more than worthy standing alone without it. So what do we make of it, the next time you see those two words printed on a bottle or tap handle? Perhaps it’s best to think of the label as simply a quick way to summarize the probable flavors or body a beer may have. Somehow, the lightness, the crispness, and the fruity ale flavors just seem to go hand in hand with summer. But most of all, the label may give you one vital characteristic. From hazy looking, golden Hefeweizens that look like a lazy summer day put in a bottle, to complex beers like the Saison, to subtle tasting beers such as the Kolsch, they all do one thing well – satisfy and quench a serious thirst the next time you’re on the beach, mowing the lawn, or otherwise sizzling in the summer heat.

Written by guest blogger, Jeff Dean.  His blog was recently recognized by The Roanoke Times as one of the best local blogs.  He kindly took time out of his busy schedule to write this blog post for you.  Thank you, Jeff.  We love you, man!

See what Jeff Dean is up to on The Beer Road – one person’s travels through the world of good beer.

Published in: on July 30, 2010 at 10:43 pm  Comments (1)  
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Sangria. You’re welcome.

Sangria Tasting at Wine Gourmet, Thursday, Sept 10, 5-8 pm

Sangria is the perfect summer sipper.

Sangria is a host’s best friend.  Made properly, Sangria is tasty, food-friendly and a perfect quaffer for guests “not into wine.”

Sangria originated in Spain. The word Sangria comes from the Spanish word, sangre meaning blood. The drink gets its name from the red color of the wine used in a traditional sangria recipe. The drink is also made with white wine which is called sangria blanco.

Sangria is basically a mix of wine, juices, soda water and fruit. Any young red wine can be used in a traditional recipe.

Tried and True Tips for Making the Best Sangria:

1.         Good, quality ingredients are important in this drink. Wine is the dominant ingredient, so take care to use a good wine.

2.         It’s important to allow time for the wine to blend with the fruit.  A few hours or even overnight in the refrigerator will enhance the flavor.

3.         Add soda and ice just before serving.

4.         Use a Spanish Rioja to get the authentic flavor of red Sangria.  We have a few wines that are perfect- Protocolo Tinto $8.99 and Montebueno Rioja $9.99

Published in: on June 30, 2010 at 8:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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One Foodie Couple’s Journey Through Spain – Part II

Adam Z. Markham

In our last chapter we discussed conspicuous consumption and the eating of “all-things-pig”.  Well, why change when you’re on a roll?

After leaving the Mercado de San Miguel, we set out searching for what is literally the single oldest restaurant on planet Earth (at least according to the Guinness Book of World Records).  Casa Botin opened in 1725 and has been operated continuously since.  Think about that.  The place is 51 years older than the United States.

Casa Botin

Casa Botin

Our motivations were pure and well-founded, as Casa Botin´s specialty is suckling pig roasted whole in a wood-fired oven.  As luck would have it we were only about a block from the place.  When we arrived it appeared they were closed for the afternoon but two young guys coming out told me they still had some reservations left… for 11:30pm!  When we went in, the guy in front of me apparently got the very last reservation of the evening.  I begged the man at the desk.  I begged some more.  He absolutely and adamantly refused to give us a coveted slot.  I am not ashamed to admit that when we left the building I wept a little.

My adoring wife, sensing my pain, tried to go back in but they had locked the door.  She then found the door to the kitchen and barged in but was summarily dismissed by the head chef and manager… the nerve!  She then came back out and knocked on the front door until the Maitre De came and unlocked it again.  As he let her inside I stayed put and, honestly, I prayed in Spanish.  She emerged with a smile on her face and fists clenched over her head.  At this juncture I feel the need to point out the following:  it is a sign of true love when your wife literally gets down on her knees and begs, BEGS a man for a dinner reservation all so she and her husband can eat a baby pig.  We had dinner reservations for 11:50pm… WHOO-HOO!

Reservation secured, we headed back to our hotel, the Petit Palace Puerta del Sol to sleep off our experiences at the Mercado and to gird our loins for that which lay ahead.

Roast Suckling Pig!

That evening we arrived at Casa Botin early (at about 11:40 pm, mind you) in eager anticipation of our meal.  Let me tell you unequivocally people, it did not disappoint.  Our new little porcine friend arrived on our plates in steaming, succulent glory.  The meat was pale, juicy, mouth-wateringly tender and shockingly flavorful.  The skin… THE SKIN!  The skin was the color of honey and was perfectly crunchy.  It was divine.  Accompanied by nothing more than simply roasted baby potatoes and a bottle of 2005 Acon Crianza that was 100% Tempranillo, this was absolutely the dinner of a lifetime.

On our way home we made two pit stops.  First, we stopped into a bar for a nightcap.  The only reason I bring up this particular place is because of a rather unusual wall-hanging.  They had the mounted, coal-black, mummified head of an enormous boar behind the bar wearing a giant pair of sunglasses that concealed its eye sockets.  The eyes themselves had evidently been replaced by glowing light bulbs.  This is a country that spends a potentially inordinate amount of time contemplating pig.  These people are alright by me.

Our second stop was for churros and chocolate.  Churros are a sort of extruded doughnut batter that when deep-fried comes our looking like a five-inch long noodle about the diameter of your thumb.  It is served with hot chocolate.  Every single late night reveler in Madrid apparently ends the evening with a stop off for this treat.  Kendall and I had heard about it, but frankly we had a bit of trouble understanding the fervor for a simple cup of hot chocolate with a doughnut.  Make no bones about it, one of my favorite things on earth is chocolate but come on, how good could it really be?

Churros & Chocolate!

We doubt no more.  When you walk in there are no choices.  The only options are “uno, dos, tres”, etcetera.  What was it like?  Forget I ever used the words “hot chocolate”.  This stuff came out in a steaming mug and you could practically stand a spoon up in it.  It was thick, dark brown and viscous and was freakishly delicious.  The churros had a perfect crunch and tooth on the outside and were soft and pillowy on the inside.  Dipped into the chocolate, they were the stuff of legend.

It was then off to bed for yet another round of digestion.

In our next installment intrepid reader, we awake in preparation for our 200 mile drive north through Bilbao (complete with a visit to the Spanish Guggenheim!) on our way to the coastal town of Deba.

…Adam

Back from Bermuda!- Wines and Good Times

We have returned. 

All hail Wine on the Rail!

Wine Gourmet’s inaugural wine excursion carried us from Roanoke to New York to Bermuda and back.  I, Beth (the best-girlfriend ever, BGFE), our esteemed Melinda and her husband Allen escorted 17 Wine Gourmet customers on a tropical (or semi-tropical at least) get-a-away. We hauled along with us just over a hundred bottles of wine and the ship also provided a bottle for each cruiser. By the numbers it was 21 cruisers, six and a half days and 126 bottles to consume.  We faced our consumption responsibility undaunted and drank with conviction but, in the end, gave away our last six or eight bottles as we had to face the fact that we had more wine than we could finish in our remaining time without their being medical issues.
C’est la vie vin.
We began our odyssey with a morning in New York City.  Sunday dawned unseasonably chilly and BGFE, who’d neglected to pack a jacket or sweater requested a stop to shop.  Navigating the NYC streets turned into a challenge as Oprah was in town (having just finished a week at Radio City Music Hall) and was clogging the streets with folks running to cure something or other.  Loads of participants in matching t-shirts streamed past police barricades on their way to a finish in Times Square. Numerous times we would approach a barrier only to be waved away and directed ever further from our intended destination.  As we were ahead of our schedule, we were not terribly concerned and felt we could wait out the commotion arranged by her nibs.
But back to the jacket quest.  We saw a likely shop with a small space in front and I executed a feat of parallel parking that left my fellow passengers slack-jawed with amazement.  Trailing clouds of glory, my fellow passengers and I entered the store.  Beth grabbed a “New York” sweatshirt and a jaunty hat of orange plaid.  Beth paid her tab and dressed immediately.
Feeling a bit peckish, we sought a suggestion for breakfast from the shop clerk and he pointed to the Carnegie Deli across the street.  Somehow, in the dazzle of my parking, we’d failed to notice a New York landmark within yards of the car. We hauled over, heaved in and had a breakfast that couldn’t be beat.  BGFE was especially charmed to find herself dining across from a signed photo of Andy Garcia. This is a person whom I pray she’ll never meet. ‘Cause, if she did, it’d surely be a case of “See you later suckers!” and Beth would be off, leaving me only a final view of the soles of her feet as she tears off down the sidewalk toward her one true love.
Exit BGFE, Enter WGFE,   . . . alright maybe 2nd or 3rd WGFE – even with that exit, she would have some serious competition.

Pastrami and Eggs - The Breakfast of Champions

 

Anyway, now sated and the streets relatively clear, we headed off toward the ship. From the car I phoned the person whom I’d been instructed to contact in order to arrange the off-loading of the wine.  The contact told me that he didn’t know who I was or what I was talking about.
So I explained.
He then re-explained that he didn’t know who I was or what I was talking about.  – With this a hot, panicky bile began to rise in my throat.
Fortunately, before I choked, we arrived at our passenger drop-off point and the passenger drop-off attendants took the nine cases of wine in stride and ushered us to a spot where we received direct attention from the folks of Holland America. We got on – and so did the wine. 

Once aboard, Beth and I abandoned our wine related duties and set out to explore the ship.  We kept stumbling across fellow Roanokers along for the wine trip and were relieved to note that their faces showed more pleasure than disappointment.
Still moored to the pier, we began to feel uneasy as several hours passed with no luggage or wine appearing in our stateroom.  Finally, the luggage showed up but without the wine. I phoned my second contact, the ship’s Beverage Manager – a man with the unlikely moniker of Simon Jam.
Simon had a voice that was thick and slow and precise, like a butler who barely tolerates the antics of his employer. Simon oozed that he had my wine in his office and asked if I could come up to meet him there.  I felt a bit like it was the Principal requesting my presence and I began to examine my conscience for things I might have done, however inadvertent, that might have caused offense.
“Sure.” I said. “I can come right now.”
There was a sigh on the other end of the line.
“Why don’t you wait until 4 o’clock?” he responded distractedly.  He was obviously a man who didn’t care to suffer trifles.  “I have some questions to ask you.”
I half expected him to caution me to not leave town.

I collected my wine co-guide Melinda and we showed up at Simon’s office promptly at four. We were waved in as he looked up from behind his desk.  He was slight, tightly groomed and thin lipped.  He wore an officer’s uniform and, as I approached, he smiled weakly and offered his hand. I could tell that neither gesture came naturally to him. “Mr. Jam?” I said, trying to show him respect and pronouncing the name as my English interpretation would indicate.
“It’s ‘YAH-MM.’ he said, correcting my pronunciation with obvious pain. “I’m Dutch. Please call me Simon.”
This was not starting well. I introduced Melinda.
“I believe that this is yours.” said Simon, gesturing vaguely at the cases of our wine that were stacked in his office.
“Yes, they are.” I said.
“You are having a luncheon tomorrow? Yes?”
“Yes, we are.” I answered.
“Do you have a menu?” Simon asked. “Neither the chef nor I have seen a menu.”
“Yes, we do.” I told him, more than a little disconcerted as the menu had been e-mailed to me from Holland America via the travel agent.
“I have a copy in my stateroom.” Melinda offered.  “I can go down and get it.”
“Perhaps you’d better.” said Simon, humorlessly.
Melinda disappeared in search of the menu.
I waited quietly while Simon returned his attention to the pressing matters of his position.  The phone on his desk rang and Simon snapped up the receiver. He unenthusiastically thanked the party for returning his call and then began to berate them for not mentioning a wine tasting function (unrelated to ours) in the intercom announcements that had run a few moments before. He was incredulous that his wine tasting, which was among the most important events aboard, had completely missed mention. The call was brief and terse.  When he hung the phone up, he looked at me.
“That was the ship’s Program Director,” he said chafing at the stunning incompetence of it all, “and because she doesn’t mention the wine tasting only 70 of the 120 people who signed up will actually show up.”
“Oh.” I said thoughtfully, studying the tops of my shoes.
Suddenly and without warning, his face unclouded and he teetered on congenial.
“Maybe she’ll make another announcement.” he said without conviction. “Anyway.  You can leave your wine here and get it whenever it’s necessary.  The door is always unlocked.”
Melinda returned and handed him a copy of the menu we’d been e-mailed. He scanned it and shrugged. “OK” he said. “Are you happy with the scheduled time of your events?”
“Well,” I answered, “we had to cancel one event because the time was bad.  Can we reschedule that?
“Of course.” he said. “When would be convenient?”
– and so it went. I don’t know why Simon was, at first, so cool and taciturn but, in the end, he was gracious and helpful and we had our wine cared for and our event re-scheduled.

A good time being had by all.

Our events went swimmingly, if you’ll excuse a semi-nautical term.  We poured twelve different wines, most provided by one of our benefactors, Roanoke Valley Wine Company and the rest provided by Wine Gourmet.  The biggest hits? I think, by people’s reactions, the rich and powerful St. Innocent Momtazi Pinot Noir and the graceful and peppery Stadt Krems Gruner Veltliner.
We made our way to paradise, swam in impossibly clear water and chased tropical fish. We ate wonderfully and the consensus seemed to be that the Bermuda Fish Chowder alone was worth the trip. (I found a recipe which seems to accurately represent the dish we had.  It follows below.) Personally I suffered a hangover, sun-burned feet (one tasting was conducted with me in bare feet) and the loss, to the wind, of my favorite ball cap.  Like Luca Brazzi, my hat sleeps with the fishes.
I can safely say that, for many of us, the return home was a matter of reluctance.
Stay tuned for an announcement of Wine Gourmet’s next foray.
You’re all invited.   Honest.

Bermuda Fish Chowder

Be sure to serve this chowder with bread, otherwise your guests will be licking their bowls. Unseemly that.

1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 leek (white and pale green parts only), chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups fish stock or bottled clam juice
5 cups water
2 1/4 lb mixed white fish fillets such as cod, grouper, tilefish, and snapper, skin and bones removed
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon whole allspice, tied in a cheesecloth bag
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, or to taste
3 tablespoons cornstarch stirred together with 3 tablespoons water
12 small hard-shell clams such as littlenecks, scrubbed
1 lb medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
2 to 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup (or to taste) dark rum, such as Bermuda’s own Gosling’s Black Seal
2 tablespoons Sherry pepper sauce (This may be hard to find as it is a Bermudian condiment.)
Cook onion, bell pepper, leek, carrots, celery, chopped tomato, and garlic in butter in a 6-quart wide heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in stock and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer briskly, uncovered, 20 minutes.
Stir in fish, tomato paste, bay leaf, cheesecloth bag of allspice, thyme, hot pepper sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer 20 minutes (fish will break up), then re-stir the cornstarch mixture and stir into chowder. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 2 minutes.
Stir in clams, shrimp, Worcestershire sauce, and rum and gently simmer 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let chowder stand, covered, 1 hour.
Gently return to a simmer and stir in Sherry pepper sauce.

One Foodie Couple’s Journey Through Spain – Part I

Adam Z. Markham

I recently read an opinion by the editor of Bon Appetit magazine that one of the primary reasons people travel is for food.  I know in our case it is.  When my wife, Kendall and I decided to honeymoon in Spain, food was definitely one of our motivating factors.

Ah, Spain.   A better decision we could not have made.  If you have not personally travelled to Spain, I cannot begin to encourage you strongly enough, especially if you are a foodie.  Over the next month or so I will publish several installments detailing some of the more spectacular aspects of our journey.  What better place to begin than in our first stop, Madrid, with an homage to my well-known predilection for all-things-pig!

Museo del Jamon!

Museo del Jamon!

The pork, MY GOD, the pork in Spain!  Most of the Spanish must eat pork three meals a day.  The sheer quality and quantity of pork product the two of us ate in the first 36 hours alone is unimaginable to mere mortals.  Suffice it to say, we went to the ¨Museo del Jamon¨.  Yes, you read that right folks… the Museum of Ham.  The Museo del Jamon is actually less a museum and more a food store/restaurant.  Kendall and I made a conscious decision to make it our first official meal in Spain.  We simply ordered up a sampler platter of Iberico hams and sausage products along with a bowl of olives, some beautiful Manchego cheese and a loaf of nice, crusty bread.  Perfect in its simplicity and accompanied by dos grande cervezas, this was, I swear, one of the greatest meals of our lives!

That first evening we went out for tapas.  A simple salad made of canned tuna and tomatoes was a delight (Spanish canned seafood products bear no resemblance to their American equivalents and are, in fact, often even better than fresh).  Our second course was a glazed pork chop accompanied by French Fries.

"The Best Pork Chop EVER"

The description may not sound so exciting but the dish itself led Kendall to exclaim “this may be the best pork I have ever put in my mouth!”  We had a pitcher of fantastic sangria with our meal.  Sangria in Spain seems to be a much simpler affair than it does in the States and makes me want to rethink my recipe no matter how good it might be.

Caviar & Vodka!

Our second day on the ground we went to Mercado de San Miguel, one of the largest and most notable food markets in Espana.  We stayed for over three hours and enjoyed exquisite Spanish sturgeon caviar (we had a small sample of the relatively inexpensive $70 per ounce kind since the Russian Beluga ranged up to $4,000 per pound!) with the finest, smoothest Russian vodka I have ever tasted.  We also sampled grilled octopus and potato skewers and then olives stuffed with pickled sardines and roasted red peppers.  We drank a Taittinger Rose Champagne with strawberries (yes, a French Champagne in Spain – fear not, we had plenty of Cava as well) followed up by fois gras topped with a Valencian orange marmalade.

Sea Urchin, Ostra Gigante and Cerveza

We are adventurous eaters in general and had decided to push ourselves to the limit so we then went to the fishmonger and ordered up fresh, raw sea urchin and ¨gigantic oysters¨ on the half-shell.  Sea urchin.  What can I say?  Honestly, it tasted exactly like the ocean smells (on a good day) and was indeed a bit challenging.  I am not entirely sure we are dying to repeat the experience but I would not trade it for anything.  The oysters, on the other hand, were not in the least bit challenging and were washed down with Spanish Estrella Damm cerveza.

We then moved on to the butcher counter and had a (GET THIS!) $50.00 per pound beef that had the texture of fine silk and was cured in a style similar to Spain´s famous hams.  It was an absolutely sublime experience that you would have to try to believe.  Think chipped beef if chipped beef was one if the greatest red meat products you have ever put in your mouth.  We then proceeded to the queso counter and had a “Minitorta de Oveja”, one of the best, creamiest, funkiest cheeses I have eaten in my life.

Minitorta de Oveja

After an experience like this, what to have for dessert?  How about  ENORMOUS prawns?  I’m talking bigger-than-hot-dog prawns.  The problem was we then realized that we would have to buy about a dozen of the things and honestly didn’t feel up to it after such a bout of conspicuous consumption.  I asked a very nice bartender I had met earlier if a smaller quantity was available.  When the fishmonger turned his head for a moment she surreptitiously grabbed a couple and shoved them at me.  Kendall and I snuck off into a corner to gulp them down but before we could the bartender came running back over with a couple of lemon slices for the squeezing.  Good shrimp.  I’m talking good shrimp.  Our new friend sat watching us happily as we consumed our illicit goodies.  When we were done we literally sucked the fat out of their heads for good measure!  What I would give to have such an experience available to us here in the Roanoke Valley. 

Surreptitious Shrimp

Next Chapter:  Suckling pig at the oldest restaurant on earth!

…Adam

We Drank a Raspberry Beret

Adam Z. Markham

…but decidedly NOT the kind found in a second-hand store.

My wife and I recently had my sister April and brother-in-law Sean to dinner.  The dinner part was easy:  planked Moroccan spice-rubbed salmon (see photo of delighted cook as exhibit #1…) served with wild rice and garlic-sauteed greens.  Dinner always seems to be the easy part.  The difficult part for me seems to be dessert.

Exhibit #1

Planked Salmon!

We tossed around several ideas.  Homemade sorbet?  No, it was not seasonally appropriate. Chocolate mousse? Too much labor. Fruit and cheese platter? It seems sort of underwhelming after such an assertive dinner. Well, how about we just go buy some sort of dessert at Fresh Market? No, it kinda feels like a copout.

“WAITAMINUTEI’VEGOTIT… WINE!”

Villa Appalaccia

Wine.  What more could you ask for in a dessert? We tossed around the idea of port or possibly a sherry but it just didn’t feel unique enough for the occasion.  What we finally decided on was Raspberry Beret from Villa Appalaccia.  If you have never tried this delightful offering from one of Virginia’s premier wineries you are truly missing out. And, if you are convinced that sweet wines or non-grape based offerings are only for unsophisticated plebians then you are denying yourself a truly sublime experience.

Raspberry Beret is obviously a raspberry based wine. With 5% residual sugar it is definitely sweet but it has plenty of fruit and more importantly acidity to create a perfectly balanced dessert wine. With 12% ABV (alcohol by volume) it is also no slouch in the complexity department.

Raspberry Beret

Lest it be wrongly assumed that we had skimped on the dessert portion of the menu we decided to buy a single beautiful bar of dark chocolate – something with a cocoa content of around 75-80% should do nicely, thank you very much. We just broke the chocolate bar open at the table and passed it around like a cheap jug-o-hooch at a fraternity party.  Let me tell you, Raspberry Beret is dark chocolate’s best friend.

You can usually find Raspberry Beret at Wine Gourmet along with lots of other dessert wine offerings.  It sells for $19.99 for a half bottle (375ml) and is guaranteed to provide plenty of wow factor at your next dinner gathering!

…Adam