Monthly Archives: October 2013

Ridgeview, an English bubbly, provides a sparkling surprise at book launch

At a recent reception in New York City sponsored by UK Trade & Investment USA to mark the launch of the “World Atlas of Wine,” I expected to be overwhelmed by meeting authors Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson, two of the wine writing world’s heavyweights.

rv_bloomsburyI was wrong. The biggest star — at least for me — was the bubbly being poured for the guests, Ridgeview Wine Estate’s Bloomsbury 2010. (Robinson offered her hand in a friendly greeting and Johnson stared past me as he spoke to the person next to me.)

It was my first taste of British sparkling wine and I was dazzled by this bubbly, a Chardonnay-dominant blend with added Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier produced with the traditional methods used by sparking wine producers in Champagne.

A lovely wine with a pale golden hue, it has a creamy, persistent mousse. The nose is fruity and on the palate there are concentrated notes of citrus and apple, good acidity, a hint of biscuit and a dry finish.

The wine was produced using grapes grown in Sussex in Southern England, Ridgeview co-founder and winemaker Mike Roberts, MBE, a guest at the event, told me.  A large man with thinning white hair, he said consultants from across the Channel in France’s exalted bubbly producing region have provide assistance over the years.

Mike Roberts of Ridgeview

Mike Roberts of Ridgeview

Roberts, 70, an accountant by training and the former owner of a computing business, along with his wife, Chris, founded the winery in 1994, planting in Sussex.  They produced their first vintage in 1996.  Today, they have 110 acres of vines and their wines have been well reviewed and have brought home awards at international competitions.

At last year’s Decanter Wine Awards Ridgeview’s 2006 Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs took the top prize in the Champagne and Sparkling wine category.

And why shouldn’t English sparklers be as good as those made across the Channel? Kent and Sussex, where the best English sparkling wines originate, are about 88 miles north of Champagne. And the English region’s chalky are said to be very similar to the earth where famous names such as Bollinger and Dom Perignon plant their grapes. Climate change has also helped.

Ridgeview sparklers are imported to U.S. by New York City-based Grand Cru Selections.  The Bloomsbury sells for about $33.

Rigdeview’s South Ridge Cuvée Merret 2009, produced exclusively for Laithwaite’s, the British wine merchant,  is available for $32 through the Wall Street Journal Wine Club,  which is operated in partnership with Laithwaite’s, the world’s leading direct-to-home wine seller.


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Gov. Cuomo says MTA will expand Taste NY, offering beer, wine, and foods at Grand Central Terminal

taste-ny-logoThe Metropolitan Transit Authority plans to add a Taste NY store in Grand Central Terminal, the Midtown Manhattan transportation, tourist and shopping hub.  The store will sell food and beverages produced in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced.

Cuomo has being pushing the Taste NY initiative since earlier this year to boost awareness and sales of New York produced foods and beverages, particularly to consumers in New York City.

There are already some of the stores at rest stops along the Thruway and the MTA recently introduced New York-made wine, beers and distilled spirits on bar carts on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad. Signage on the carts promotes the products and, according to officials, the products have been selling briskly since being added last month.

“Taste NY is all about highlighting the world-class food and beverages that are produced all across New York, which supports tourism and economic activity in communities around the state,” Cuomo said in a Sept. 14 statement, noting that a store at Grand Central “is a great way to showcase the wealth of products that New York’s agricultural industry has to offer and encourage travelers to explore what they’ve been missing.”

“With the explosive interest in artisanal and craft foods and beverages and New York’s long tradition of wine and beer-making, the time is right for the producers of New York’s great foods and beverages to break into and tap this great marketplace of commuters, travelers, tourists and shoppers,” said MTA chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast.

The MTA’s Metro North Railroad issued a request for proposals several weeks ago seeking operators for the store. The request for proposals targets the state’s wineries and other retailers as potential operators of this first stand-alone Taste NY shop. The MTA estimates that 750,000 people pass through the terminal daily. The terminal serves commuters  from Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Orange, and Rockland counties and in Manhattan, the Bronx, and southwestern Connecticut.

Crain’s New York Business reported that the Papyrus stationery store on the ramp up to E. 42nd St. in Grand Central Terminal will close next year to make room for the Taste NY  store. It also reported that Taste NY stores will open in Penn Station, and at LaGuardia and JFK airports.   Taste NY stores  also are planned for Delta Air Lines’ Terminal 2 at JFK and at the US Airways terminal at LaGuardia, the publication reported.

The New Baltimore rest area in Greene County on the New York State Thruway has a dedicated Taste NY space within the Travel Mart store that began selling New York food items in August. HMS Host Corp. operates the New Baltimore Service Area. Additional locations are soon expected to open at other Thruway service areas in Western and Central New York.

Also, the state hosted a Taste NY tent at Farm Aid 2013 concert in Saratoga Springs in September offering beers and wines.

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GABF Report 3: Brewpubs of the Year include Gella’s Diner, Beachwood BBQ, Pelican Pub and Rock Bottom

gabf13_logo_insideA brewpub in central Kansas named for a local immigrant group, a Southern California brewpub that specializes in BBQ, a brewpub in a coastal Oregon resort town and a national chain with 38 brewpubs from coast to coast, share a common theme: they’re all winners of 2013 Great American Beer Festival brew pub of the year honors.

The brewpubs were recognized for their brewing achievements at the GABF awards ceremony on Oct. 12 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver.

Gella'S Diner logoGella’s Diner and LB Brewing Co., of Hays, Kan. (population 20,510), which draws its first name from a 19th Century immigrant Volga-German term meaning “you know” or “don’t you agree,” won the Small Brewpub of the Year award. The second part of the brewpub’s name stands for liquid bread and pays homage to pioneer days where beer and bread sometimes played interchangeable roles. Established by Kansas rancher-turned-brewer, Gerald Wyman, and Chuck Comeau, a rural entrepreneur, Gella’s won its first GABF medal only months after it opened in the summer of 2005. This year, Wyman’s beers garnered the top honor after winning a gold medal for its American Hefeweizen and silver for its American Wheat beer. (Gella’s Diner and LB Brewing Co., 117 E. 11th St., Hays, Kan. (785) 621-2739.) 

Beachwood logoLong Beach, Calif.’s Beachwood BBQ and Brewing, where BBQ is slow-smoked and dry-rubbed and 24 brews are on tap on a rotating basis, nabbed the Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year award with honors going to its brewers 
Julian Shrago and Ian McCall. Beachwood, founded in 2010,

snared two gold medals, one silver and two bronzes in this year’s GABF competition. Gold medals went to Beachwood’s Foam Top in the Golden Ale category and Kilgore Stout in the American Stout category. The brewpub’s Udder Love took silver in the Sweet Stout or Cream Stout category. And, it won bronze medals for its System of a Stout in the Coffee Beer category and for its Barrel-Aged Full Malted Jacket in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer category. (Beachwood BBQ and Brewing, 210 E. 3rd St., Long Beach, (562) 436-4020) 

Pelican logoEstablished by Jeff Schons and Mary Jones in 1995 in Pacific City, Ore. (population 1,027), on the central Oregon Coast, the oceanfront Pelican Pub and Brewery is a repeat winner for Brewery of the Year honors, having won three previous times.  This year, the brewpub, a repeat Brewpub of the Year winner, took honors as Large Brewpub of the Year with honors also going to brewers Darron Welch and Steve Panos. The brewpub snared a silver medal and three bronze medals. The silver went to the brewpub’s Silverspot IPA in the English-style India Pale Ale category. Bronze medals went to the brewpub’s Kiwanda Cream Ale in the Golden or Blonde Ale category, its Doryman Dark Ale in the American-style Brown Ale category and its Tsunami Stout in the Foreign-Style Stout category. (Pelican Pub & Brewery, 33180 Cape Kiwanda Dr.,  Pacific City, Ore. (503) 965-7007)

rock_bottomMeanwhile, the Brewpub Group of the Year award went to the Rock Bottom group, a unit of CraftWorks Restaurants and Breweries Inc. based in Broomfield, Colo. The first Rock Bottom opened in Denver in 1991. Today, there are 38 locations across the United States. In 2010, Rock Bottom Restaurants and Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant Group were acquired by Centerbridge Capital Partners to form CraftWorks. Rock Bottom brewpubs snared a gold, silver and two bronze medals. Moonlight Porter took a gold medal in the Robust Porter category; The Hammer nabbed silver in Baltic-style Porter category and bronzes went to Rag Top Red in the Irish-style Red Ale category and Longboard Brown in the English-style Brown Ale category.

The winning beers emerged from a record field of 4,809 beers entered in the competition. Go here for a list of all GABF winners,

The GABF, which claims to be the largest commercial beer competition in the world, awarded 252 medals to some of the best commercial breweries in the United States. This year, 24 first-time entrants won awards from among 230 first-time entrants.

A pdf list of the winners is available at the GABF website.  

The awards, among the most coveted in the brewing industry, have been compared to winning the Super Bowl or the Olympics and winning a medal often translates into higher sales for the winners.

The GABF awards are judged by industry professionals from around the world ho work together in small groups and, without knowing the brand name, taste beers in each specified style category.

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GABF Report 2: Top brewery honors for Baker City, Devils Backbone, Firestone Walker and Sandlot

gabf_medalsTop honors at this year’s Great American Beer Festival went to a tiny Oregon brewer, Baker City Brewing Co., Virginia’s Devils Backbone Brewing Co., California’s Firestone Walker Brewing Co. and Denver’s Sandlot Brewing, each of which medaled in multiple categories.

The winners emerged from a record field of 745 breweries and brewpubs, which together submitted 4,809 beers to the competition.

Baker City logoThis year for the first time, the Brewers Association, which sponsors the competition, added a new award: Very Small Brewery, which went to Baker City and its brewers 
Marks Lanham and Eli Dickison. Baker City, in Baker City, Ore. (population 9,828 and close to Hell’s Canyon), is the production brewery for Barley Brown’s Beer, a nearby restaurant. Baker City won two gold medals for its American-style wheat beer, Shredder’s Wheat; its international style pale ale, Hand Truck. It also won silver for its foreign-style stout, Don Vanuchi “The Killer.”

devils-backbone-brewing-logoThe Small Brewing Company award went to Devil’s Backbone Brewing Co. Basecamp
, of Roseland, Va., along with head brewer Jason Oliver. The brewery, established in 2008, won two gold medals for its American-style dark lager, Old Virginia Dark and Azeal, it’s Belgian- and French style ale. It also took silver its American-style pilsner, Gold Leaf Lager and its German-style sour, Berliner Metro Weiss. A bronze medal went to its Baltic-style porter, Danzig.

firestone-walker-brewing-logoFirestone Walker Brewing Co., of Paso Robles, Calif., on California’s Central Coast, and its brewer, Matt Brynildson, won Mid-Size Brewing Company top honors. Firestone Walker Brewing is a pioneering regional craft brewery founded in 1996 and specializes in iconic pale ales and vintage barrel-aged beers. This year, the brewery took three gold medals, for its German-style pilsner, Pivo; English-style IPA, Taproom IPA, and its American-style black ale, Wookey Jack. It also won silver in the American-style IPA category with its Union Jack.

KegLabel_2013_EditableSandlot Brewing, the brewery at Denver’s Coors Field and the producer of Blue Moon beers and a host of others and is a unit of brewing giant MillerCoors won the Large Brewery of the Year award along with its brewers, Tom Hail, Bill Hasse and Addison Horine. This year’s medal haul included gold for Second Hand Smoke in the smoke beer category, bronze for Goat Rancher in the bock category and gold for Move Back in the Dortmunder or German-Style Oktoberfest category. Move Back has medaled four times over the years.

The winners were announced in a packed ballroom in the festival’s home, the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, on Oct. 12. A  PDF list of the winners is available at the GABF web site.

The GABF, which claims to be the largest commercial beer competition in the world, awarded 252 medals to some of the best commercial breweries in the United States. This year, 24 first-time entrants won awards from among 230 first-time entrants.

This year’s competition saw its biggest-ever panel of judges Two hundred and one beer experts from 11 countries evaluated 4,809 entries. Awards were presented in 84 beer categories covering 138 different beer styles (encompassing subcategories).

“GABF is easily the most rigorous commercial competition I have judged in to date,” English beer writer Des de Moor tweeted. “Those beers worked for their medals.”

The awards, among the most coveted in the brewing industry, have been compared to winning the Super Bowl or the Olympics and winning a medal often translates into higher sales for the winners.

The GABF awards are judged by industry professionals from around the world ho work together in small groups and, without knowing the brand name, taste beers in each specified style category.

Since 2001, the most-entered GABF category has been American-Style India Pale Ale (IPA), which saw 252 entries in 2013. It was followed by Imperial India Pale Ale (149 entries); Herb and Spice Beer (134 entries); American-Style Pale Ale (124 entries) and American-Style Strong Pale Ale (120 entries).

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GABF Report 1: Long lines form to taste specialities at a few top brewers

Panoramic view of the GABF floor. (Photo courtesy Brewers Association)

Panoramic view of the GABF floor. (Photo courtesy Brewers Association)

More than an hour before the first pour, the thirsty were lined up  almost the full length of the Colorado Convention Center along Stout Street in downtown Denver. A light rain had begun to fall, but it did not seem to dampen any of the enthusiasm if those anxious to get into the sold-out  first session of the Great American Beer Festival on Oct. 10.

gabf13_logo_insideOnce the doors opened at 5 p.m. and after ID and ticket checks, the convention center’s main exhibit hall, a space the size of more than five football fields, was soon flooded with brewers, volunteers, media and thousands of imbibers. The Brewers Association, organizer of the event, expects 50,000 people to attend over four sessions that end Saturday evening.

More than a few attendees dressed for the occasion in kilts and monk’s robes added to the festive tone of America’s premier beer festival, now in its 41st year.

The queue to sample Russian River Brewing at GABF

The queue to sample Russian River Brewing at GABF

Queues quickly formed at a handful of top breweries, Avery, Lost Abbey, Russian River, Odell’s and Crooked Stave, to name a few. By the time the announcement to let the taps flow was made, some of these lines were 30 deep times two. And they would last that way for the entire evening.

I found myself queued up at Russian River, anxious for my first sample of the much-hyped Pliny the Elder. With a just a one-ounce pour—the fest’s standard—I was convinced the hype was justified, even though it was not among my preferred style of beers.  A golden-hued double India Pale Ale, its sniffing it was like sticking your nose into a bag of hops. The Intense hop flavor continued on the palate, but melded quite nicely with the malt. It was almost winey and the finish dry. Yes, it is a winner.

Other notable beers of the evening included a dunkel called dark Cloud from Mother Earth Brewery in Kingston, NC; the amazing tart, refreshing lemonade-like Ching Ching American Sour from Bend Brewing in Oregon.

Fal Allen, brewer at Anderson Valley and the author of the book, “Barley Wine” urged me to try his sour Burbon barrel barley wine. Aged for a year in the burbon-soaked out, it was port-wine like and quite nicely done.

Twisted Pine Brewery in Boulder, CO., which I knew for its Ghost Killer chili pepper beer, presented. two unusual brews, a Cucumber Cream ale and its Roots Revival carrot IPA. The cucumber was evident in the light, refreshing hybrid-style beer, but the carrot could not be detected in the IPA.

The were many others, but as some point, weariness prevents me from taking notes. More in future reports.

On a personal note, it was a pleasuring running into Pete Slossberg, founder of Pete’s Wicked Ale, a pioneering craft brewer in the 1990s.  Slossberg sold the brewery and went into the chocolate business.  Now, he’s consulting with Half Moon Bay Brewery near San Francisco and brewers in South America.


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Hard cider generates a buzz at LI fest

Pour logoCider, cider everywhere and every drop to drink.

For cider aficionados and a host of newbies among the 2,000 participants at the 2nd annual Pour the Core cider festival on Oct. 9 at Peconic Bay Winery on Long Island’s North Fork, there were hard ciders aplenty from near and far and places in between.

From near, imbibers could sample True Companion and True Believer, both produced at Peconic Bay, as well as ciders from Woodside Orchards down the highway in Aquebogue and Cider 139 from Wolffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack. There were ciders from Upstate New York, New England, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, California and the Pacific Northwest. And there were ciders from abroad, from England, Scotland, France and Spain. There were ciders from small artisanal producers as well as large industrial manufacturers.

And not just apple cider. Pear cider, also known as perry, also could be found, albeit in smaller numbers. And, yes, beer, too.

Apple ciders, however, became my focus as most of the perries sampled were too sweet, too watery or worse.  And beer, that’s just a different story.

Most of my cider picks among the offerings  tended to on they dry side.  Many of the cider offerings, particularly those made in the USA, were more reminiscent of wine coolers or worse, sodas. Swedish ciders, which listed their prime ingredient as local water, also were no-shows as far as I was concerned.

High on my list of favorites were the two cider offerings from Virtue Cider Co., a relatively new producer established by former Goose Island brew master Greg Hall.  His Redstreak was dry, crisp and refreshing with just a hint of apple, very much in the traditional English style. Virtue’s Sidra de Nava, done in the Spanish style, was tart like a beer in the lambic style.

Also very dry and much to my liking were a trio from England’s Aspall Cider, the very pale original and the equally light hued Organic, both were quite dry. Aspall’s Perronelle’s Blush Cider, made with added blackberry juice, also proved to be tart with an unmistakable berry character.

Another English winner, Thatcher’s Green Goblin was deep gold, full-bodies, crisp, some what tannic and with notes of oak.

A Scottish import, Thistly Cross, had a golden Champagne color and was eminently drinkable with its medium dry character.

Bob Gammon of Woodside Orchards, Aquebogue, pours his hard cider.

Bob Gammon of Woodside Orchards, Aquebogue, pours his hard cider.

I also enjoyed Woodside’s Traditional, made from a blend of eight culinary apple varieties, a crisp cider with the aroma and taste of just-picked apples.

Another local product, Wolffer’s 139, also was tart, dry and refreshingly enjoyable.

Anthem Cider, a cider label of Wandering Aengus Cider works of Salem, Ore., made from culinary apples, was deep gold, refreshing and off dry. The Wandering Aengus Blossom Cider, made with traditional English and French cider apple varieties, also was very English in style with an apple-pie nose and a mix of sweet and tart notes.

Another American offering, also on the dry side, was the brilliantly gold-hued Angry Orchard Traditional Dry, dry from start to finish with an occasional sweet note in between.

Four Screw from Harvest Moon Cidery in Cazenovia, NY, was surprisingly dry, tart and winey, and is sweetened, apparently, just a tad, by maple syrup.

Two canned ciders from Pennsylvania’s Jack’s Hard Cider surprised. Jack’s Original was quite dry, crisp with soft notes of apple. Jack’s Helen’s Blend was more piquant and quite tasty, too.

One of the more unusual ciders I’d tasted was the 10% abv  (really an apple wine) from Silver Mountain Ciders in Lempster, N.J. Cloudy from bottle conditioning with oak flavors from oak aging and tart apples notes intertwined. A bit extreme, actually.

Among my biggest disappointments were two offerings from Anheuser Busch-InBev:  Michelob Ultra Light Apple Cider, which had a passing resemblance to water kissed by apples, and Stella Artois Cidre, a sugary offering with notes reminiscent of a chemistry lab.

Also, perplexing was the variety of flavored pear ciders from Sweden’s Rekorderlig, which were served on ice with a strawberry and bit of mint. Not for me!

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