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The Beverage Journal Blog

This is a place to read articles found in the Maryland and Washington DC Beverage Journals as well as thoughts on current issues from our staff. If you would like to be a registered BJ Blogger, contact Stephen Patten.

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Posted by on in January 2015 Editions

At first thought, the idea of sour beer seems neither appealing nor appetizing.  But, to the contrary, the sour beer style has gained popularity among sophisticated beer and wine drinkers who appreciate the complexity of its many flavors

Just as the nuances of single malt Scotch are too difficult to appreciate the first time, learning to enjoy the flavor of any complex beverage often requires certain background information before it becomes an acquired taste. But once acquired, it is a taste to be savored and enjoyed over and over again.  It is much the same with sour beer.  In order to appreciate the sour notes that range from tart to puckery to darkly sour, it is important to know something about the subject before embarking on the sour beer journey.  Although it may seem an unusual analogy, it may come as no surprise that a first attempt at enjoying sour beer is much like attending an opera being sung in a foreign language. Without a libretto in hand, it is difficult to follow the story line. Similarly, it is useful to have reference points to guide you as you sip one of the many sour beers now available in the marketplace.

Belgium
The Home of Sour Beer

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The next Maryland General Assembly Session is scheduled to convene in January, and it will be one marked by change.  Big change, in fact, as a very large turnover of elected officials is about to happen.  Yes, indeed, Annapolis is getting an influx of new faces, not the least of which is Governor-elect Larry Hogan.  The Republican defeated Anthony Brown back in November, running on a platform in which he promised a new era of hope and bipartisanship in the Old Line State.

Beverage industry interests are hoping also for a new era of cooperation and recognition of their contributions to Maryland.  The Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) is poised to be especially active in tugging the ears of Hogan and others.  In a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, attorney and MSLBA lobbyist Steve Wise acknowledged, "There is going to be a 'settling in' period.  We have a lot of new legislators.  We have a new governor, and there will definitely be some turnover on the various committees that we deal with.  The first thing we'll be doing is assessing all of that."

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People tell me all of the time that I have a great job, writing about beer, wine, and spirits for the Beverage Journal each month.  No argument there.  But do you know who has a REALLY great job?  Tim Herlihy, the National Brand Ambassador for Tullamore D.E.W. Irish whiskey.  And he knows it.

“I am in the very lucky position that I get to travel from coast to coast, city to city, and always with a bottle of Tullamore D.E.W. in my hand,” he stated, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  “It’s a nice way to travel, by the way! I’ve been lucky enough to go to 27 states and [Washington, D.C.] in my three years in this role, and I’m still absolutely baffled that I’m fortunate enough to get paid to enjoy my favorite Irish whiskey. My role is basically to introduce and re-introduce people to our liquids.  So, I host a lot of different tasting events. Unfortunately, although I am an ‘ambassador,’ that doesn’t mean I have any diplomatic immunity.  So, I have to behave!”

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Marcus Notaro (l) with Kevin Bonner; The Center Club.

Pretzels and beer are an unbeatable combination.  So, too, are whiskey and rye.  And certainly wine and cheese.  Just before Thanksgiving, another unbeatable combo hit the Maryland-Washington, D.C. market in the form of Marcus Notaro of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and our own Fran "Pineapple" Schmitz.  Schmitz ushered Notaro around to several major accounts to press the flesh and talk up the Stag's Leap label.

"Every time I've come to the market," stated Notaro, during an interview with the Beverage Journal, "I've had the privilege of working with Mr. Pineapple. He has never failed to deliver me to some world-class establishments. When I have done wine dinners here, the folks who attend are very passionate wine consumers. They are very knowledgeable, and they travel. People in the D.C.-Maryland area not only know about Napa Valley wines, but wines from around the world.  There's also a surprising number of our wine club members here.  So for me to be out in their market and to be able to tie them back closer to our winery is pretty special."

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Posted by on in January 2015 Editions

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This past November market the 100th anniversary of the first bottling of Freixenet, a name known as one of the world’s leading producers of sparkling wine made in the traditional méthode champenoise (and accounts for 80 percent of all cava exports). The Ferrer family has been behind the Freixenet name from the beginning and has shaped their family-owned company, the Freixenet Group, with the promise to produce and share uniquely-crafted, quality wines, and has successfully done so while utilizing innovative winemaking techniques and unique marketing strategies throughout the past century. The Ferrers’ approach in the global marketplace and emphasis on quality in all of their wines have helped mold their legacy of excellence in the United States, one which is exemplified by the recent launch of their new luxury cava, Casa Sala Grand Reserva Brut.

A vintage cava hand-crafted using century-old techniques, Casa Sala is a passion project of José Ferrer Sala, President of Honor of the Freixenet Group and has been released as a tribute to the centennial of the first bottling of Freixenet . All aspects of production are managed by hand—from harvesting by hand and manual pressing, to riddling and disgorgement.

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The Center for Alcohol Policy (CAP) recently commemorated the 81st anniversary of the ratification of the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution.

On December 5, 1933, Prohibition ended in the United States when 36 states (the requisite three-fourths majority of the then 48 states) ratified the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution, thereby repealing the 18th Amendment which began Prohibition in 1920. For 80 years, the United States and its citizens have benefited from a state-based system of alcohol regulation, put in place following ratification of the 21st Amendment, which gives each state the primary authority to enact and enforce alcohol laws consistent with the desires and needs of its citizens.

“It’s important for citizens to understand that the repeal of the failed, one-size-fits-all policy of national Prohibition was not the end of the story – it’s where the story of today’s successful system began,” said Patrick Lynch, CAP Advisory Council member and former Rhode Island attorney general. “The 21st Amendment recognized that alcohol is a unique product that is best controlled by individual states, and it provided a solution that continues to be effective today.”

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Lucien Smith didn't come to Annapolis in 2003 to be a bartender. He came because he was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy. But a sailor's life was not for him. He ended up voluntarily resigning from the Academy to pursue other interests. But there was something about Maryland's capital city that kept this former Californian around. He took a job as a catering bartender in Timonium, then found work right back in Annapolis as a bar-back at the Castle Bay Irish Pub on Main Street. By then, he was hooked on the biz!

In 2007, he was hired at Osteria 177 to be their service bartender. He's been there ever since. "It was here I began to extend my cocktail knowledge through self-study and a desire to continue on this career path and to excel in it," he recalled, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "I'm now a Certified Mixologist through Bar Smarts and Pernod Ricard. "

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Posted by on in December 2014 Editions

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With the launch of Guinness American Blonde Lager, the Guinness Brewery is taking a page straight out of a college marketing textbook.  When a mature product begins to decline, the brand owner has the option of trying to rejuvenate an iconic brand, or it can add a new product to the product line and trade off the strength of the existing brand.  Guinness wants to accomplish both objectives.

Sales of Guinness Stout, similar to other popular global beer brands, have been on the decline in recent years.  Younger beer drinkers who haven’t actually tried the brand have a perception that it is heavy, filling, too alcoholic and loaded with calories.  Although none of these perceptions are entirely accurate, it is a short leap from perception to reality.  Unfortunately for iconic Guinness Stout, the brand is also burdened with a stigma of being “my father’s beer”.  And, as consumer goods manufacturers are beginning to learn, Millennials want to be different from their parents’ generation.

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MarcZTeddyBullyBar 12.jpg - 216.54 KBMarc Zahorchak, Beverage Director at the Teddy & The Bully Bar in Northwest D.C. didn't come to the nation's capital in the early 1990s to tend bar.  He had an MBA degree and found work as a management consultant.  But then the recession that ushered in the Clinton era hit, and he suddenly found himself downsized and unable to find a job.

"A buddy of mine suggested that I get involved with the restaurant business at night to keep the cash flow going while looking for another job," he recalled during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "I absolutely fell in love with the business!  I was hooked from the first day I got behind the bar and have been doing it for more than 20 years now."

He tended bar at Charlie Palmer Steak on Capitol Hill for nine years and also served as the original bar manager for Hook in Georgetown.  He has been full-time at Teddy since August 2013.  " I came in about two months after they opened up," he stated.  [Proprietor] Alan Popovsky  was looking for someone to kind of corral and bring bar costs in line.  More importantly, I think he wanted someone with my experience to come in and teach the younger mixologist-types."

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Hard cider has emerged as one of the fastest-growing segments in the alcoholic beverage industry, and among the fastest-growing brands in that segment are Pennsylvania-based Wyndridge Farm's Crafty Ciders. Now available in Maryland, the two Crafty Ciders -- original apple and cranberry flavored -- are naturally gluten free with a refreshing taste.

Crafty Ciders separate themselves from other hard ciders by making ample use of the local bounty of quality apples found in the Keystone State's central region. Wyndridge Farm President Steve Groff says he and his full-time cider master, Scott Topel, keep their ingredients simple. Chiefly, Wyndridge Farm prides itself on not adding any excessive amounts of extra sweeteners.  Groff stated during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, "Many of the commercial hard ciders start with either apple juice concentrate rather than full juice or their alcohol is made with sugar. We simply use fresh apple juice.  We source local apples just a few miles down the road.  We carbonate and package on the farm.  So, the whole process takes place right here." 

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Posted by on in December 2014 Editions

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Tequila doesn’t circumscribe the entire range of Mexican spirits. Paralleling the growth of tequilas is the resurgence of artisanal mezcal, bacanora and sotol. As the points of distinction between the multitudes of tequila brands diminish, consumers are discovering the profound nuances in flavor and levels of complexity in these traditional agave spirits engaging.

“I think the ongoing renaissance of mezcals to be directly related to the phenomenal success of tequila,” says Barbara Sweetman, vice president of ultra-premium Scorpion Mezcal. “Certification has greatly helped to advance the reputation of mezcal by requiring that it be made from 100% agave and produced under strict quality guidelines. Mezcal is also protected under Denomination of Origin status. The spirit now can be consumed with confidence and complete enjoyment.”

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Mike Rizzo is in charge of all things baseball for the Washington Nationals.  Chuck Hagel is in charge of all things defense for our country.  And what about that other great Washingtonian, Jon Arroyo? "In a nutshell, I am in charge of everything that is liquid for the Founding Farmers Restaurant Group," he stated.

As the company's Beverage Director since its inception six years ago, he truly is responsible for not only all of the beer, wine, and spirits served at Farmers Table D.C., MoCo's Founding Farmers in suburban Potomac, Md., and a soon-to-open location at the upscale Tysons Galleria II mall in Northern Virginia, but also the three restaurants' coffee program, their tea program. "Everything!" he exclaimed, "Every liquid product. I love the juggling act that is my job. There are lots of moving parts, lots of chess pieces."

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Patrón Spirits has inaugurated a buy-the-barrel program called "Patrón Barrel Select" where spirits retailers and on-premise accounts are able to taste and choose their own bespoke barrel (about 27 cases) of aged Patrón tequila unique for them. Each barrel has been in the company's aging room for a specific period of time.  As a result, no two are alike.

Greg Cohen, Vice President of Corporate Communications for Patrón Spirits, recently sat down with the Beverage Journal to discuss the program.  "The way that tequila is produced and aged and blended from different barrels is such a challenge," he stated.  "Our master distiller and his team blend different barrel types, different wood, different lengths of aging to create those products.  We thought it would be really interesting if we gave people an opportunity to sample those different tequilas that are aging in those different barrel types over the different lengths of time, on their own ... just straight out of the barrel. Each is very unique. When they are blended together to create reposado, for example, that's the taste that people know is Patrón.  But when you taste those barrels individually, and there are so many different combinations, you get really distinct and different tastes.  It's still Patrón.  It's still very recognizable.  But you get a lot of different flavors and a lot of different complexities."

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Where do you stand on the debate? Some contend that the best results are obtained by educating bartenders, not training them, that the days of training people stops at the potty. They suggest that what bartenders need is a steady diet of education. Others argue that while some aspects of the job require continuing education, technical proficiency is a strict matter of training and guidance.

Then there’s the third possibility, that being they’re all wrong. The practical reality is that bartenders require training, education and a healthy dose of something called applied leaning, or savvy.

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There aren’t a lot of ingredients that go into making beer, but the type and amount of those ingredients determine the style and taste of the brew.  Add more malt and you get a higher alcohol content; add different hop varieties at different times in the brewing process and you have a completely different beer. Malt from the Midwest gives a beer a different complexity than malted barley from Europe.  But what about beer’s main ingredient – water?

Comprising over 90% (give or take a few percentage points) of a beer’s ingredients, does it really matter where this main ingredient comes from?  Wine enthusiasts often speak of “terrior” which refers to the soil and climate of the area where the grapes are grown.  But when it comes to the water in beer, does “terrior” apply?  If a beer, for example, comes from a famous brewing location such as Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, Trent on Burton in the UK, or Munich, Germany, then yes, local soil and substrata conditions may provide the water source with unique aroma and flavor characteristics. But in the Unites States, and many other locations throughout the world, the water most breweries use comes from the local municipal water source.

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Aaron Joseph has been bartending for 13 years, most of them in the Maryland-D.C. market.  But it was his brief time early on in the Caribbean working for the former Orient-Express Hotels Ltd., now Belmond Ltd., that stoked his passion for using fresh ingredients in cocktails -- a passion that has helped position him as one of the best craft bartenders in the Baltimore market.

Early in his career, he learned his craft at such places as the Inn at Perry Cabin on St. Michaels and Farmers Fishers Bakers in Georgetown.  He really got traction at Bourbon Steak at the Four Seasons in Washington, which led to his current position as lead bartender at Wit & Wisdom in Baltimore's Four Seasons Hotel.

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Reliable Churchill, LLLP, has opened the doors at their new operations and distribution center in White Marsh/Middle River bringing over 500 jobs to the area. The company’s office and warehouse have consolidated in a 449,200 square foot facility built by Chesapeake Real Estate Group LLC and Industrial Income Trust in the Baltimore Crossroads business community.

“When you get to welcome a new company to Baltimore County with 500 jobs, it’s a great day to be County Executive,” said Baltimore County Executive Kamenetz. “Reliable Churchill adds to Baltimore Crossroads’ success as a significant employment center for eastern Baltimore County.”

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Before Dante Datta got into the bar and restaurant business, and way before he became bartender extraordinaire at Rasika West End, he led a very different life.  "I had a nearly 10-year career in finance before this!" he exclaimed, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "My last job in that field was actually working for the Washington Nationals.  I would write a sales report for the ownership each week."

So, what made him leave the world of numbers and number crunching?  "I turned 27 years old," he recalled.  "It was my birthday, and I went to New York City to celebrate.  A friend of mine asked me, 'If you could do anything, what would you do?'  And like many other guys, I answered, 'Well, I'd open a bar!'  So, I started mopping floors in a restaurant while I was working during the day.  As far as the restaurant business is concerned, I guess you can see I got into it a bit late in life."

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Posted by on in October 2014 Editions

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As summer comes to its end, beer lover’s thoughts turn to Octoberfest.  It’s a time for sharing good food and drink with friends old and new.  It is also a good time to enjoy a seasonal style of beer known as Marzen.  Harpoon Octoberfest is a fine example of the Marzen style.

The Harpoon Brewery was founded in Boston in 1986 by two old friends, Rich Doyle and Dan Kenary.  Four years later, they held their first Octoberfest as a means of selling more beer, generating cash flow and gaining additional notoriety for the brewery.   It is commonly acknowledged that this festival and others provided additional profits necessary to keep the fledging company alive.  Since then, both Harpoon and its Octoberfest celebration have grown and prospered.  Last year eighteen thousand people enjoyed the festival in Boston, while another seven thousand had a great time at the company’s other location in Windsor, Vermont.

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You know you are talking to a person who has found his or her true calling in this world when you ask them: "What do you consider to be the hardest part of your job?" and the answer is: "Going home!  When you are doing something that you love, it can sometimes be so hard to go home and just turn your brain off.  You want to be back THERE!"

That "there" is Lincoln Restaurant in Washington, D.C.  That happy employee is lead bartender Rachel Sergi, who has been in the business for nearly two decades now. She started her career in the nation's capital at New Heights Restaurant before eventually hooking on with Lincoln, an American small plates eatery that focuses on organically sourced menu offerings with a heavy emphasis on its fresh cocktail program, as well.

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