Weihenstephan and Sierra Nevada collaboration results in a masterpiece

By Alan J. Wax

What happens when the world’s oldest brewery and America’s longest-standing craft brewer combine talents? In a word, a masterpiece.

The two breweries, Bavaria’s Weihenstephan, established in 1040, and Sierra Nevada, established in Chico, Calif. in 1979,  joined forces last year to create this new beer, Braupakt Hefeweissbier, bottled under the German brewer’s label.

The finished product. bottled earlier this year and now is finding its ways into U.S. retail channels in time for summer quaffing, is not your typical Bavarian Hefe.

How could it be with input from Sierra Nevada’s brewmasters. It meets all the requisites of a good Bavarian hefe. But there’s also the fruity happiness we’ve come to expect from Sierra Nevada.

“Both breweries had something to glean and gain from the other. noted Tobias Zollo, brewmaster at Weihenstephan said in a press release. “We came in with high standards for the Hefeweissbier style. Sierra Nevada, who is world-renowned for the Pale Ale style, came in with the discerning palettes for fruity and aromatic-bodied beers. With Braupakt, we were able to exceed the expectations of both breweries.”

Recipe development took the better part of 2017.  It was brewed traditionally, with Hallertauer Tradition hops and refined with American West Coast Amarillo and Chinook hops. 

Braupakt (literally translated; brewery pact) merges Old World purity standards with New World innovation and hop flavors. The name plays on America’s “bro pact” vernacular for fraternal allegiances. The label features the imperial Bavarian bear sporting a “hang loose” gesture.

“Sierra Nevada has often collaborated with other brewers, but none as well-regarded as Weihenstephaner. Previous Sierra Nevada collaborators include Stone Brewing and Dogfish Head. “When we look to create these partnerships, rarely do you get to work with breweries of [Weihenstephan’s] stature and we were blown away by the process,” said Scott Jennings, brewmaster of Sierra Nevada said in a press release. “Not only are we blown away by the finished beer… we learned a lot on this journey as well from one of the original visionaries in our industry.”

Not only does this beer have a good story, it delivers a fine drinking experience.

The beer pours a cloudy, deep gold, almost amber with a dense, creamy, bright white head. The nose carries aromas of citrus fruit, no doubt derived from the American hop varieties, as well as notes of stone fruit with just a hint of banana. On the palate, there are notes of clove, citrus, bread and other spices. There’s a mild sweetness. It’s smooth and easily drinkable.With about 6 percent ABV and 35 IBUs, the beer is eminently drinkable.

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Brewers Association announces 2018 World Beer Cup winners

8,234 entries from 66 countries compete at the “Olympics of Beer”

By Alan J. Wax

More than 300 beers out of more than 8,000 entries were winners in the 2018 Brewers Association (BA) bi-annual World Beer Cup competition.

In all 303 awards were presented May 3 in Nashville, where the bi-annual competition was conducted just prior to the annual Craft Brewers Conference.

The Boulder, Colo.-based BA, the trade group representing America’s small and independent craft brewers, calls the World Beer Cup one of the world’s largest global commercial beer competitions. This year’s competition drew 8,234 beers from over 2,515 breweries located in 66 countries – the largest number of entrants in the history of the competition since it was established in 1996.

Beers were judged during six sessions over a period of three days by an elite panel of 295 judges from 33 countries—72 percent of whom were from outside the United States.

The judges awarded 302 out of 303 total possible awards, reflecting the chance for one gold, one silver and one bronze in beer style category.

The most-entered categories in 2018:
377 entries in American-Style India Pale Ale
196 entries in Imperial India Pale Ale
196 entries in Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer
190 entries in Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout

The complete World Beer Cup  is available at the BA web site.

Beers were judged during six sessions over a period of three days by an elite panel of 295 judges from 33 countries—72 percent of whom were from outside the United States. Judges evaluated 8,234 beers—a 25 percent increase in the number of entries from the 2016 World Beer Cup. Of the 2,515 participating breweries, 807 were from outside the United States.

“Beer brings people together,” said Charlie Papazian, founder and past president, Brewers Association. “The World Beer Cup showcases the breadth of the global brewing community and winning an award symbolizes one of the greatest brewing achievements. Congratulations to all the winners on this remarkable accomplishment.”

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A Tuscan wine producer shows his wines in a French bistro in Brooklyn

Caprone Rose

2016 Prunideo Sangiovese/Cabernet blend

Betti Chianti Montalbano

Creto de Betti Bianco




















It was an unusual dining experience the other evening at Le Fond, the Michelin Guide-listed French bistro in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to say the least. How odd is it to sip Italian wine in a French restaurant, in Greenpoint?

Le Fond a tiny place with oak tables and simply decor and except for our party of 15 it was largely empty on a Wednesday evening. I was there as a guest of Fattoria Betti, a Tuscan wine producer seeking an importer and looking to impress the media. (The guests were bloggers, mostly interested in culture, not wine).  The eatery was selected by the winery’s Italian PR firm and our menu had been scripted almost three months in advance.  To be sure, the wines, except  for a Sangiovese-based rose served with dessert, paired nicely with our food, though I was not  exactly enamored by my host’s dining choices.

Our host was Guido Betti, owner of Fattoria Betti, a 500,000-bottle-a year winery in the Montalbano region of Tuscany, Italy, Betti has 26 hectares of red clay  vineyard and sells half of its production to private label customers and outsiders. Last year’s production was impacted by lousy spring weather. Fattoria Betti’s wines are fermented in steel and concrete vats, the IGT wines aged a year  in 900-liter tonneau.  Fattoria Betti exports 60 percent of its production throughout Europe and China, but not the U.S> Betti is hoping to find a U.S. importer. “it;s the most important market in the world,” he told me.

Guido Betti, owner of Fattoria Betti

The restaurant is known for its French comfort food and that, indeed, is what we had, prepared expertly by chef owner Jake Eberle, a Cordon Bleu alum. We started with 2017 Creto de Betti, an easy sipping, fruity, white blend of Chardonnay and Trebbiano, which was paired with Spring Vegetable Capriccio with mustard vinaigarette and egg. Pretty as a picture, the dish consisted of razor thin shavings of tomato, beets and zucchini showered with milled hardboiled egg. There was, sadly, not much to taste beyond the dressing, although the crusty dark bread and sweet, creamy butter helped fill things out.

Our second course, cavatelli with prosciutto, scallions, green lentils in a spinach emulsion (foam), was a delight. The pasta perfectly al dente and the sauce stood up to the winery’s high alcohol (14%), fruity, but earthy 2016 Chianti Montalbano, which had just the right acidity to offset the rich dish.

Our main, was braised lamb shoulder with artichoke barigoule (the vegetable was stewed in wine), all topped by a minted salsa verde. The lamb was tender, but lacked verve, despite the minty salsa. The wine with this course, 2016 Prunideo, was a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. It was inky, more elegant and  more powerful than the Chianti, but still easy to drink and it out-showed the food on my plate.

The chef, however, shined with dessert, Chocolate Cremeux (custard) with poached strawberries and a dab of vanilla custard. It resembled a long finger of chocolate truffle, but was soft and creamy and it melted instantly inside my mouth. Alas, the winery’s 2017 Caprone rose, a pretty deep pink, was disappointingly blah.

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Why are these Bordeaux wines different from all other classified growths? 

By Alan J. Wax

Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Château Giscours, Château Lascombes, Château Léoville-Poyferré, Château Cantenac Brown, Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt, Château Malartic Lagraviere.  Familiar names  to aficionados of top French wines.

But these highly regarded French wines, all classified growths, are different from all others.

How? They’re kosher for Passover. And for wine connoisseurs who observe kashrut, especially at Passover, which begins on the evening of March 30, this is exciting news.

To ensure wine is kosher, it must be made exclusively by Sabbath-observant Jews The winemakers may not touch it, so mashgichim do it all. The winemaker at each chateau still makes all the decisions as to blending and aging aging. And he wines must pass muster with the owners of the respective chateaus before they can be labeled.

The excitement was especially evident at the recent New York Kosher and Food Expo at the Chelsea Piers put on by the Royal Wine Corp., the largest factor in the kosher wine trade.

Lining up to taste kosher classified growth Bordeaux

There, lined up on table after table, were wines from some the most highly regarded producers in Bordeaux. And behind the table, Menahem Israelievitch, Royal’s man in France, who was responsible for the production of these wines. Israelievitch worked for many yeares alongside his predecessor, Pierre  Miodownick, who moved to Israel a decade ago and now owns the Domaine Netofa winery.

As Israelievitch enthusiastically discusses the wines, a large Hasidic man attired in long black coat and black hat, yells across the crowd. “Where’s the Lascombes?” Israelievitch calls Lascombes “our new star.”

These high-end wines, it seems have broad appeal.

“Kosher wines have become more serious,” said Bruno LaPlaine, vice president of Malartic-Lagravière, which has been making kosher cuvees since 2003. In the 2018 vintage, he says, the producer will add a kosher white. Malartic-Lagravière is one of the only six classified growths both for its red and white wines.

Menacnem Israelievitch

But it’s not easy to get these wines to market. It took three years of discussions before Château Lascombes agreed to produce a kosher cuvee, said Israelievitch. “If the wine is not at the same level as the non-kosher, they will not permit their label to be used.” he added, “The big chateau don’t need the kosher market.” But he said Royal’s good reputation in the industry was key to getting the cooperation of the top producers in France to produce kosher cuvees. Now, he says, Royal has relationships with 27 wineries in France.

The kosher cuvees are made at each property from specified vineyard blocks that are contracted for a year in advance —without knowing how the vintage will turn out, said Jay Buchsbaum, vice president of marketing at Royal. Because the wines are kosher, the grapes cannot be picked on the Sabbath or on holy days and there is a chance that the kosher versions may not be picked at the optimum ripeness as a non-kosher wine or may benefit or not from variations within a vineyard.  “We got lucky,” said Jay Buchsbaum of the 2015 vintage. Israelievitch said the 2015 kosher cuvee of Léoville-Poyferré “was the best vintage we ever produced.” The vintage benefited from dry weather at harvest, leaving time leisurely picking.

To be sure, the wines are not cheap. Buchsbaum said the cost of a kosher cute may be 40 percent higher than the non-kosher version.

Nor are the easy find. They are on allocation—Royal only imported a few hundred cases — and some retailers are reluctant to stock them with asking prices that can reach three-figures.

Chateau Lascombes 2015, from the Margaux commune in Bordeaux’s Haut-Médoc Appellation, for example, is available for $129 at online retailer kosherwine.com.  Chateau Grand-Puy Ducasse, a top selection from the Pauillac appellation is a $75 bottle. Chateau Malartic Lagraviere 2014 can be had for around $90. Chateau Giscours Margaux 2015, $135. Chateau Cantenac Brown Margaux 2015, $150.

And older vintages, more suitable for current drinking as these wines should be laid down for several years, can go for up to $700 a bottle.

The wines I tasted were for the most part extraordinary, but really need lots of time before their corks are popped.

Château Malartic 2014, from the Pessac Leognan appellation, is rich and powerful, but the tannins are soft, making the wine surprisingly accessible for current consumption. Similarly, Gazin Rocquencourt 2015 from the same producer, is dark in hue, rich with juicy dark fruit and also soft on the palate.

Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste 2013, from Pauillac, is loaded with dark fruit, tobacco and licorice flavors and solid tannins, but also is approachable now. The silky 2015 vintage has notes of dried fruit, cherries and forest.

Château Giscours 2014, from Margaux, has concentrated notes of cherries, raspberry and black currants mingled with cedar and graphite. But I was turned off by the green notes I also encountered.

Chevalier de Lascombes 2015, the second wine of the second-growth Château Lascombes, is fruit forward with tons of plum notes and more easily consumed thats its sibling.

Château Lascombes 2015  is a beautifully balanced, albeit dense, powerful wine load with loads of tannins. Give it at least eight years.

Chateau Leoville-Poyferre 2015, a second-growth St-Julien appellation wine, is an unctious, well balanced, and offers notes of cassis, tea and lead pencil.

Pavillon de Poyferre 2015 the second label of Leoville-Poyferre, is nicely balanced with notes of fruit and chai tea spices. It lacks the depth of its sibling but still a fine wine.

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A sweet pairing from the Lord of Barsac

Climens is poured alongside a selection of cheeses.

Bérénice Lurton-Thomas, owner of a legendary Bordeaux chateau, takes a “cheesey” approach to broaden the market for her “stickies”


Bérénice Lurton-Thomas would like you to say, “Cheese.”

Bérénice Lurton-Thomas

Lurton-Thomas, owner of esteemed Bordeaux First-Growth Château Climens, thinks cheese lovers will be surprised to discover how well their favorite fromages pair with her sweet Sauternes wines. Sauternes, the famed—and expensive—sweet wines of Bordeaux, traditionally have been consumed with dessert or on their own.

To prove her point, the owner of the so-called “Lord of Barsac,” as the chateau is known, hosted a recent media tasting at the tiny French Cheese Board shop in New York City’s NoLita neighborhood. There, she and the participants sampled eight French cheeses with four Climens wines.

Lurton-Thomas, who has overseen Climens in the tiny Sauternes appellation Barsac for the past 25 years, said such pairings are not uncommon in France, though most aficionados would first think of dry red wine and cheese. “With most cheeses, I think white wineries better,” she said. Her sweet white wines, have plenty of acidity, which keeps them from feeling thick and cloying and helps them to stand up to the acidity in cheese.

Climens, which since 2010 has utilized biodynamic farming, makes its Sauternes with 100 percent Semillion grapes that have been infected by the botrytis fungus, also called “Noble Rot.” Other Sauternes producers also use Sauvignon Blanc. The botrytis causes the grapes to shrivel, thereby concentrating the sugars and intensifying the aromatics.

At this recent tasting Lurton-Thomas put up 2009, 2007 and 2005 vintages of Climens and the 2012 Cyprès de Climens, the chateau’s second wine. Their foils, cheeses hard, soft, orange, blue and white: Ami du Chambertin, Blu D’Auvergne, Époisses, Fourme d’Ambert, extra-aged Mimolette, Ossau Iraty, Petit Sapin, Vacherin Mont D’Or and Sainte-Nectaire. She declined to guide the tasting, because “everybody knows what they really like.”

The wines by themselves were pure decadence. Each cheese was delicious on its own. Paired, many of the wines with the cheeses were delightful, but not always. The bigger wines overwhelmed some delicate cheeses. The salty Mimolette worked best with the lighter Cyprès. My favorite match, hands down, was the spectacular 2005 Climens with the stinky Époisses de Bourgogne. Pure heaven. Lurton-Thomas might agree. “When it’s with red wine [the Époisses] is terrible.”

The cheeses

Here’s a look at the cheeses sampled:

Ami du Chambertin is an ivory-hued, semi-soft cow’s milk cheese with a strong palate produced in the Gevrey-Chambertin in Burgundy. It’s aged for nearly two months and washed in Marc de Bourgogne, a 40 percent alcohol eau-de-vie

Bleu d’Auvergne is a creamycow’s milk blue cheese from the Auvergne region of south-central France. A strong-smelling cheese, its taste is spicy, grassy, floral.

Époisses de Bourgogne, well known as stinky cheese, it’s made in and around the village of Époisses in Côte-d’Or. Some consider pungent Époisses to be the smelliest cheese in the world (think sweaty, smelly socks). Even so, this creamy cheese has a salty and powerful rich flavor.

Extra-aged Mimolette, a dense, hard cheese produced near Lille, it’s similar to Dutch Edam though with distinct orange color and nutty flavor from the addition of annatto. Extra aging produces hazelnut-like flavor.

Ossau-Iraty, a sheep’s milk cheese from the French Pyrenées. The texture is uniformly smooth and dense, but supple. Flavors are sweet and nutty, with pleasant earthy notes from the cheeses made during the winter and grassy, floral, vegetal flavors from the summer cheeses.

Fourme D’Ambert is made from pasteurized cow’s milk in Auvergne with less spicy blue mold than its cousin, Roquefort. Velvety and creamy with earthy mushroom overtones.

Petit Sapin (literally, little fir tree) is a washed rind, pasteurized cow’s milk cheese, from the Alpine Comte region of France bordering Switzerland. It is smooth, creamy with a sweet creamy aftertaste.

Vacherin Mont D’Or is a soft, rich, velvety, buttery seasonal cow’s milk cheese that has been wrapped in spruce. Made near the mountain D’Or on the border of Switzerland only between Aug. 15 and March 15.

Sainte-Nectaire (meaning sweet nectar) has a fruity aroma, rich texture, creamy texture, and a sweet flavor. It has been produced in the volcanic, mineral-rich meadows of the Monts-Dore region of northern Auvergne for centuries. The resulting milk from the Salers cows has high concentrations of phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium.

The wines:

The blockbuster 2005 Climens–all gone.

Les Cyprès de Climens 2012 (average price $64 according to wine-searcher.com). From a challenging vintage in which some Sauternes produces made no grand vin, Clemens produced both a grand vin and with grapes left after the primary selection it produced Les Cyprès, its second label. Nonetheless delicious, floral and honeyed, but less viscous than the grand vin bottlings.

Château Climens 2009 (average price $127). A very good vintage that produced wines with ripe, powerful botrytis character, rich texture with freshness and balance. Amber-hued, it offered layers of flavors including minerals, flowers, citrus and stone fruit notes, but terrific balanced of sweetness and acidity.

Château Climens 2007 (average price $160). A terrible vintage for Bordeaux, 2007 was one of the greatest Sauternes vintages, largely due to great autumn weather. Candied fruits on the nose, great acidity, sweet and viscous without being cloying with a lengthy finish.

Château Climens 2005 (average price $119). Called a “big one” by Lurton-Thomas, this was a classic, powerful, elegant Sauternes. The product of a hot, drought year. There is apricot on the nose; on the palate, orange marmalade, apricot, and honey, with good acidity and a finish that doesn’t quit.

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Happy finds – and disappointments – mark a S. Florida breweries adventure


A recent visit to South Florida provided an opportunity for two days of boozy adventures, visiting some old haunts and a couple of newer breweries. I was delighted by several beers and, surprisingly, disappointed by others, especially the offerings at one of the region’s leading beer makers.

My itinerary:


Among the delights I found were the handful of brews sampled at Bangin’ Banjo Brewery, which is located in an industrial park not far from the highly popular Festival Flea Market in Pompano Beach. Bangin’ Banjo is a 3-barrel brewing operation opened in mid-2014 by a pair of homebrewing friends. Nothing fancy here. The tasting room, rustic in tones of green and varnished pine, puts the focus on the beer. And they were quite satisfactory. High on my list were Swiftness Potion Belgian Triple, a deep-golden brew with an intense Belgian yeast character, banana notes and a dry finish; OJ Session IPA, an eminently drinkable crisp, light golden brew with a citrus nose with notes of sweet malt and piney hops; Annie’s Raspberry Cream Ale, a light, cloudy brew redolent of the red berries; Bangarang English Brown Ale, a copper-hued, somewhat grainy brew with notes of chocolate and nuts; and Overcast Shadow, a chewy, winey, deep-brown Russian imperial stout with a mocha head and notes of chocolate and licorice.



26th Degree Brewing Co., launched in September 2015 by a group of self-taught homebrewing buddies, occupies a former supermarket on a busy main strip in Pompano Beach that’s close to the Atlantic Boulevard bridge that spans the Intracoastal Waterway. The brewery’s name is derived from the city’s latitude. It’s brewing system, behind the large taproom, turns out 30 barrels at a time. It was easy to feel lost in the sprawling 4,500-square-foot, industrial-chic taproom on an early Sunday afternoon. The beers, served way-too-cold, were largely uninspiring. Erick the Great, an opaque black Russian imperial stout made with Belgian yeast, however, stood out with it a rich chocolate velvety character, estery Belgian notes and a dry finish.



After several visits here in recent months, I’ve learned it’s best to stick to the tried-and-true year-round brews and avoid the overly sweet, flavored beers no matter how tempting it may be to give some of these brews with outlandish flavor additions that include strawberry extract, vanilla, chocolate nibs and more (Last Snow is an exception). The tasting room and outdoor drinking areas always seem to be filled. During my most recent visit, a pug dog-rescue group was holding a fundraiser and a bunch of people masquerading as Star Wars characters abounded. Last Snow, unfortunately was a week away from being released when I visited.  One standout among the specials was the Veruca Snozzberry Gose, a Berliner Weise brewed with kettle salt and coriander with a name that references the spoiled bratty girl in “Willy Wonka.” A refreshing brew, it’s a bright orange yellow and its taste suggests orange juice with salt.  Avoid Hit “Em with Hein, a creamy sweet brew with a fake strawberry flavor reminiscent of the taffy I ate as a kid; What is That Velvet, a flavor-muddled copper brew and Neapolitan Porter, a sweet brown brew with vanilla notes rising above the other muddled flavors; and, I’m So Excited, I’m So Scared, which tasted of sweet roasted grain and little else.


My third visit to this out-of-the-way, but pub-style tasting room, was less inspiring than earlier visits, though Jess, who worked the behind the bar, was a helpful guide. Nuance, a prototypical Saison, was a top quaff, and Monk Be Mine, a cherry chocolate quad brewed for Valentine’s Day, wasn’t far behind with a full-bodied velvety character and the suggestion of chocolate-covered cherries.

Other offerings I tried were less successful, including 1801, a brew redolent of coffee and little more, and Start Sour, a fruity brew with only the barest suggestion of tartness.


I first visited here on the eve of its opening three years ago. Head brewers have come—and gone, but the basic beers remain the same.  Since then, they’ve turned out more than 300 different brews, many twists on the core roster. Alas, an old favorite, Don’t Get Confused, a Belgian tripel was not available. On this visit, I particularly enjoyed Mayday, a deep-brown, malty, drinkable American porter. Monk’s Vacation was an interesting quaff reminiscent of a sweet spice cake, albeit a liquid one, with dominant Belgian yeast and clove flavors.



We ran into Jess, who served us at Barrel of Monks a day earlier, behind the bar here. She knows her way around beers. Named for an indie rock song, the brewery was opened in mid-2015 by Chip Breighner, who worked at a home beer supply store. He brews on a 1-barrel system so that qualifies Devour as a nano. Our evening visit was interrupted by a power outage, forcing us to drink at one of the tables set up in the parking lot that serves the industrial strip that is the brewery’s home. I enjoyed the SoBo Wit, cloudy yellow, lively and a definite orange character, but was unmoved by most of the others brews sampled.



My second visit since its opening in the spring of 2016. Owner Matt Cox, winner of GABF gold medal in 2002 when he worked at Big Bear Brewing in Coral Springs, brews on a 20-barrel DME systems, viewable through the wall of the comfy brick-walled taproom. Das Pilsner, a bright golden, crisp brew with notes of fresh hay, was an enjoyable quaff. Also quite tasty, Blood Orange Wit with its reddish hue, citric-cardamom nose and the notes of sweet fruit and spices that played off against one another.

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The best beers I had in 2016


It was a year in which I had to slow down. Both on drinking and writing.

Medical issues forced me to cutback on imbibing for several months. I’ve been adjusting back slowly, largely sampling, not guzzling brews. I’ve stopped going to beer fests, too, but that’s just as well because you barely have time to taste and analyze what you’re drinking at these events.

As a result, I sampled only a hundred or so beers in 2016. With fewer opportunities to imbibe, there were fewer opportunities to scribble blog posts.

When you cut back, you hope the brews you’re drinking are only the best. But that’s in an ideal world. There were more than a handful of beers tasted over the past 12 months that were exceptional. Many more good, but no nearly as good and there were a few drain pours. I visited one brewery in Brooklyn during the past year, where after tasting, I could not find a single beer that I’d considering drinking a full glass as one was hoppier than the other. I hope this hop craziness goes away. What’s wrong with balance?

Rant over.

My favorites last year represented a broad spectrum of origins and styles. They included American craft brews, Belgians and one German. There were more than a few sours, a lager, a stout, a porter and a couple of big brews. Here, alphabetically, are the best beers I had last year:

collaboration_no_5_tropical_pale_ale_12oz_bottleCollaboration No. 5 – Tropical Pale Ale by Boulevard Brewing Co., Kansas City, MO., and Cigar City Brewing of Tampa, FL. This 6.2% ABV, bottled pale ale is built on a pilsner malt base with additions of Marris Otter, Munich, and caramel malts and late hopping with a blend of Mosaic, Citra, Lemondrop, and Azacca hops. It’s bright amber with a dense head and a citrus nose. This is a real lip smacker with a great balance of fruit, malt and hops.

evil_twin_big_bottle_0007_imperial_biscotti_break_nataleImperial Biscotti Break Natale Pretty Please With A Cherry On Top by Evil Twin Brewing, Brooklyn, NY. A deep brown, bottled American-style imperial porter (11.5% ABV) with a mocha head and a nose that shrieks alcohol. Nonetheless, it was quite likeable, sweet and winey with notes of chocolate, caramel and malt.

nancy-1Nancy by Allagash Brewing Co., Portland, ME. A sour red ale fermented with Maine cherries and Brettanomyces in 100 percent stainless steel tanks for almost a year. Golden/copper hued, the bottled version presents itself with a nose of Brett and earth. It’s extremely tart and balanced with feint cherry notes. Quite lip smacking.

oudbeersel_oudekriek_375_met_glasOude Kriek (Vieille) by Brouwerij Oud Beersel, Beersel, Belgium, This deep red Lambic brew with 6% ABV offers up a pretty-in-pink head. There’s a lovely balance that melds 400 grams of cherries per liter and the oak from old barrels that are used in its production.

popsporter-1520Pop’s Porter by Wynwood Brewing Co., Miami. A 6.2% abv robust porter, this brew was a GABF gold medal winner in 2014 and is made with a blend of roasted malts. Deep brownish black with a cocoa-hued head, there are notes of roasted grain and chocolate on the nose. There’s lively carbonation in the bottled version, which has a creamy, chewy texture and flavors of chocolate, caramel and anise. It finishes bitter.

southdown-breakfast-stout-2Southdown Breakfast Stout by Sand City Brewing Co., Northport, NY. Sampled on draft, this 8% ABV, American-style stout is dark and roasty with notes of coffee and hints of creaminess. It’s brewed with roasted barley, oats, chocolate, and coffee beans from Southdown Coffee in Huntington, NY.

 319-speziator-hell-doppelbock_720x600Speziator Hell by Brauhaus Riegele of Augsburg, Germany. We forget how good German beer can be. This relatively new-to-the-U.S. Teutonic import is a reminder. A doppel-style mai bock, it pours deep gold with a thick white head. The nose is rich malt with a touch of floral notes. There’s a mouth-filling, malt-rich, caramel malt palate with a tad bitter finish.

8803797958686St. Louis Gueuze Fond Tradition by Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck of Emelgem, Belgium. This brick-red Gueuze style beer is anything but shy. It has a huge ripe cherry palate and perfect tartness.

Keep up with my ratings at untappd.com. Find me there as corkscapsandtaps.

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I’ll have a beer with a cherry on top

CherriesThere’s a profusion of cherry-flavored beers on the market, but most are anything but sweet.  Our picks among the best.


Life is just a bowl of cherries, or should I say, a glass of cherry beer.

With cherry season now at its peak in North America, it’s as good a time as any to be tasting cherry beers. And, there’s a slew of them out there as brewers increasingly turn to this red stone fruit, known botanically as pruneus avium (sweet cherry) or prunus cerasus (sour cherry), to add another dimension to their beers. So popular are cherry beers that as I write this Kriekfest, a celebration of cherry beers and ciders, is underway in Oregon.

To be sure, cherry beers have been around for ages. Belgian brewers have produced krieks—lambics flavored with tart cherries – for centuries. And there are Flanders red-brown ales, such as Rodenbach Cuvee Alexander, made since the early 19th Century. (Rodenbach reintroduced Alexander this year as a limited edition beer after production ended in 1998.)

Cherry beers have been craft specialties since the 1990s. Boston Beer Co. introduced Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat Beer (not a personal favorite and I’ve not had it recently) and New Glarus in Wisconsin introduced its Belgian Red, which soon won the brewery accolades, awards and cult status.

More recently, brewers have been producing a profusion of cherry-flavored sours beers, their own spins on kriek, as well as goses, stouts, wheat ales and more.

I’ve spent the last few weeks sampling as many cherry beers — Belgian, British and American — as I could find. Some were exceptional, others horrible disappointments. Some were reminiscent of cough medicine. Others were redolent of cherry aromas and flavors. And in some cherry notes were barely detectable (Why add cherries if no one can’t taste them?).

Not surprisingly, Belgian krieks rated highest on my list, but even among these there was great diversity from brewer to brewer.

Here are tasting notes from my effort:

beer-_25654_sm_0ad84b2561aada098d5176eb2162f1Oude Kriek (Vielle)Brouwerij Oud Beersel, Belgium. Deep red with a petty-in-pink head. Meld of cherries and oak notes all lovely balance. *****


beer-8341_373b5_smSt. Louis Gueze Fond Tradition. Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck, Belgium. Brick red with a huge ripe cherry palate. Perfect tartness. Not a shy beer. ******


beer-679637_c1cc1_smNancyAllagash Brewing Co., Portland, ME. Golden hue. Brett, earth nose. Extremely tart, faint cherry notes, but lip smacking all the same. Balanced. *****


beer-_467139_sm_7826d62272252e65d1b1573741ad39Imperial Biscotti Break Natale Pretty Please With A Cherry on Top.  Evil Twin Brewing, Mt. Pleasant, SC. Deep brown with a mocha head, an alcoholic nose. Chocolate, sweet malty and caramel notes on the palate with a wine-like quality. Quite likable despite the hidden cherries. **** ¾


beer-KriekCuveeRene_39549Oude Kriek Cuvee Rene. Brouwerij Lindemans, Belgium. Bright Crimson. Oaky Brett nose. Oak then cherries then Brett notes on the palate. Dry! ****½


beer-972795_68cce_smKirsch Gose. Victory Brewing Co., Downingtown, PA. Salmon hue. Salty, bready, cherries. A delightful surprise. Slight tart finish. ****½


beer-_331435_sm_77bcfb3c2bd619473d1587edbb5beeSpontan Cherry FrederikdalMikkeller, Denmark. Deep Reddish purple w/small pink head. Tart cherry aroma. Concentrated cherry palate offset by dry oaky notes. Lip smacking finish. ****½


beer-KriekBoon_2565Kriek. Brouwerij Boon, Belgium. Cranberry hue. Cherry nose. Carbonated cherry juice. Easy quaff w/dry finish. ****¼



beer-941039_8b820_smSt. Louis Kriek. Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck, Belgium. Light red. Medicinal nose that gives way to wonderful bright tart Cherry candy flavors. Easy drinking. ****¼


beer-1056584_60f2e_smKentucky Old Fashioned Barrel Ale.  Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co., Lexington, KY Deep gold w/bright white head. Honey whiskey aroma. Lotsa wood but the fruit notes are no show. Round mouthfeel. ****¼


beer-1201496_53365_smSmuttlabs Cherry Short Weiss.  Smuttynose Brewing Co., Hampton, NH. Cloudy gold. Sharp nose. Cherry palate. Soft tart finish. ****


beer-754491_62b87_smCerise Sour BlondAlmanac Beer Company. San Francisco, CA Cloudy deep gold. Seriously sour. Hint of cherries. Dry, acidic finish. ****


beer-1452658_a78cb_smExpletus. Avery Brewing Co., Boulder, CO. Light copper. No head. Sharp sour notes. Just a hint of cherries. Just the barest suggestion of oak and not a hint of tequila. Refreshing all the same. ***¾


821699LOrganic Cherry Ale. Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery, England. Light red, Jolly Rancher candy nose and palate. Black Forest cake finish. ***½


beer-CherryStout_4138Cherry Stout. Bell’s Brewery, Kalamazoo, MI. Roasty nose with notes of chocolate and roasted grain. Hint of sweetness in the finish. Cherry not discernible. ***½


beer-1549430_e6569_smKettle-Soured Dark Cherry Imperial Red (Savor Series). Fort Collins Brewery, Fort Collins, CO. Cherry red hue. Muddied nose. Residual sweetness but hops, fruit and Brett clash. Disappointing. ***¼


beer-652375_124fa_smKriek Lambic. Free Will Brewing Co., Perkasie, PA Peach hue. Brett nose. Quite tart. Cherries only in the background. Overwhelmed by Brett. ***¼


beer-902019_89398_smMosh Pit Tart Cherry Ale. No-Li Brewhouse, Spokane, WA. Amber. Bitter. Near impossible to pick up the fruits. ***


beer-3095_c11c3_smKriek. Brouwerij Lindemans, Belgium Crimson. Candied nose. Cherry soda, wine cooler like. Juicy.***


beer-728652_96ab2_smBlood & Guts (2015).  Free Will Brewing Co., Perkasie, PA. Deep brown. Chocolate, chicory nose. Brett and chocolate notes, light tart cherry near the finish. **¾








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Finding history in a glass of Cognac

1811 Cognac

1811 Napoleon Cognac

Maxim's 1914 Cognac

Maxim’s 1914 Cognac

Armagnac 1893 J. Marou

Armagnac 1893 J. Marou

Coganc 1928 Croizet B Leon

Coganc 1928 Croizet B Leon

1865 Madeira Cafe Anglais

1865 Madeira Cafe Anglais Photos courtesy Old Liquors

Port 1887

Port 1887

We taste 19th century Cognac, Armagnac, Port and Madeira


It was a once-in-a-lifetime tasting of liquid history.

Twenty plus connoisseurs, spirits merchants, and media gathered in the cellar tasting room of the Brandy Library in Tribeca on April 12 to sample three rare Cognacs—one produced in 1811, an Armagnac, a Port and a Madeira.

The bottles belonged to Dutch history buff and collector Bay van der Bunt, who has gathered more than 6,000 rare bottles over 40 years and who had planned to sell a 39-bottle collection from his cache at a Christie’s auction on April 13.  Alas, van de Bunt’s bottles failed to sell. But for those who attended the $250-a-ticket tasting, it was an evening that would not be forgotten.

Upon entering the Brandy Library, owned by Frenchman Flavien Desoblin, that descended a narrow spiral staircase to its cellar, a dark room illuminated by a handful of incandescent lights hung from the ceiling by copper tubing. At the front of the room, atop an old oak cask, stood the evening’s wares. Behind them, a flat-panel TV flashed a power point presentation about the collection and its sponsor, Old Liquors of Brede, Netherlands.

Greeting guests was Bart Laming, CEO of  Old  Liquors, van der Bunt’s trading and investment companies, who arranged the tasting to mark the Christie’s sale. Laming has worked closely working with van der Bunt since 2010 to develop a business plan to sell his collection.

Edwin Vos, head of Christie’s wine department in Amsterdam, assisted by Christie’s Noah May, played sommelier for the evening, carefully prying  corks from bottles untouched for more than a century. “It’s a challenge opening old bottles,” Laming noted.

And all were opened without harm and glasses filled with a few sips were distributed.

Here. In order of their presentation, are notes from my taste of history:

Madeira 1865 Café Anglais. Café Anglais opened in 1802 and today is known as the world famous Tour d’Argent.  This bottle, found buried in the restaurant’s cellar below the Left Bank, was bottled late in the 19th Century. It was purchased in 2012 for $900 and now is estimated to be worth $1,800. The wine is golden, proffers a sweet cigar-like/Acacia honey nose with notes of nutmeg, vanilla, citrus and coconut. There’s a bit of a sawdust on the finish.

Port 1887 Brand Unknown. This fortified wine from northern Portugal’s Douro Valley was produced, we were told, from a classic vintage. Bought in 2000 for $115, its value now is estimated at $1,900. The color is a hazy, light reddish orange. The nose is smoky bacon. It’s soft and elegant with notes of sweet chocolate and nuts.

Cognac 1928 Croizet B. Léon. Croizet is one of Cognac’s oldest companies, founded in the Grande Champagne appellation by Léon Croizet in 1805. This bottle, purchased in 1999 for $220, now is worth an estimated $1,200. Amber hued with a powerful nose with suggestions of banana. The palate offers orange peel and spice notes and a bit of Speculoos biscuit.

Cognac 1914 Maxim’s, Caves du Restaurant. A bottle from the cellars of the famous Paris bistro, known for its Art Nouveau decor and beautiful women. Purchased in 2003 for $310 it might sell today for $2,350. Golden, amber hue. A nose of prunes and musk melon. Hot and spicy, a broad palate with notes of biscuits and passion fruit.

Armagnac 1893 Jacques Marou. This spirit from Armagnac-Ténarèze appellaton is from a family producer that’s been around since 1650.  Ténarèze is considered the strongest-tasting Armagnac, reaching full flavor at a later age than those of Bas- and Haut-Armagnac.

Cognac 1811 Napoléon. 1811, the Year of the Comet, was considered the greatest vintage in Western Europe of the 19th Century. Though produced in 1811, when Napoleon was at its peak, Vos said, this Cognac may have remained in cask for 50 years. Purchased in 2000 for $1,700, today it’s worth $8,000. Amber colored with a rich, caramel nose. It’s a tad floral with notes of spice, oak and brown sugar.

All told, an amazing experience.

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Collection of rare Cognacs, Armagnacs fails to sell at Christie’s NYC auction

Bottles from Bray van der Bunt's Presidential Collection of rare Cognacs and Armagnacs

Bottles from Bay van der Bunt’s Presidential Collection of rare Cognacs and Armagnacs

Bidding on 39 bottles distilled from 1789 to 1977 does not meet reserve price of $100,000



A collection of liquid history remains unsold.

The collection of 39 rare, historic bottles of Cognac and Armagnac went up for sale at Christie’s Auction House in New York on April 13. Now, they’re being re-packed and returned to the seller.

The set, called the American Presidential Collection  and the first potential sale by a Dutch collector, however, failed to meet the seller’s reserve price of $100,000.

The collection, on sale as one lot, included bottles of Cognac distilled during each American presidential term, from 1789, when George Washington first became president of the United States, to 1977, when Jimmy Carter moved into the White House. The collection included rate Cognacs from from famous houses such as Courvoisier 1884, Marnier-Lapostolle 1865, Otard Dupuy 1865, Bisquit Dubouché 1858, Pierre Chabanneau 1850, Meuow 1842, AE Dor 1840 and one extremely rare bottle of 1789 Grand Champagne Cognac,

The bottles belong to renowned Dutch history buff and collector Bay van der Bunt, who with help from investors gathered more than 6,000 bottles of rare elixirs worth $15 million over 40 years.  The auction had been arranged by  Bart Laming, who since 2010 has been managing director of  van der Bunt’s trading and investment companies, Old Liquors.    “This is the first time a collection of this type has come to the market,” Laming said.

Many of the bottles had been acquired years earlier by van der Bunt through estate auctions in Europe and through auctions at Christie’s in London. Laming, at a tasting on the eve of the auction, said many of the bottles had increased in value at compounded annual rates of 10 to almost 20 percent from the time they were acquired.

Van de Bunt, who is 67, decided it was time to sell some of his assets,” Laming said. “He can’t take it with him.”

Bart Laming of Old Liquors

Bart Laming of Old Liquors

Laming said he was disappointed that bidding stalled at $95,000. Sales materials for the auction forecast a sales range of $100,000 to $150,000 for the collection. The Cognac lot was squeezed into a sale of sculpture and other art works that generated more than $10.5 million in winning bids.

“It was a challenge,” Laming said of the attempt to sell the Cognacs among the 36 lots of decorative arts. But he noted the collection “represented the art of distilling.”

Laming said he surmised that the Asian bidders he and Christie’s hoped to attract might have found it difficult for the collection to travel easily across borders.

Old Liquors will try again to sell the bottles in Asia in the fall, Laming said, adding trip to the United States was successful nonetheless, since it enabled him to meet liquor merchants whom his Old Liquors might sell to in the future. “The mission was successful,” he noted.

Up Next:  Tasting rare Cognacs, Armagnacs, Port and Madeira




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