The seasons change, colors variegate and tastes get hearty as the warm and cool begrudgingly give way to the chilly and cold. Attire shifts from shorts and tees to cords and sweats.
Our tastes for beverages match, somewhat.
Our favorite light beers remain, but heartier brews portend the first hints of winter. Mojitos and margaritas segue to brandies and rums. Pinots and zins bow to chardonnays and cabernets.
Each autumn, Urban Tulsa Weekly takes on the enviable task of sampling some of the new (and returning) beers, beverages and spirits in an effort to recommend some new choices to our readers.
My tours through Tulsa to select some new brews and beverages found me at some local stores like The Crossing Wine and Spirits at 7820 East 101st St., Grand Vin Bottle Shop, 2000 Utica Square and Burton's Liquor Mart, 6533 E. 71st St. In addition, Quality Beverage, Anheuser Busch, Republic and Choc Beer were generous in their contribution of samples for this bi-annual beer tasting.
We expanded the tasting this season to include few new wines recommended to me and a few new liquors and malt beverages.
As always, my sampling group was hand-picked to represent a varied audience to include veteran drinkers (those discerning drinkers who got their start fairly early in life); moderate drinkers (those who know a good beer when they taste it) and beginning drinkers (those who enjoy a good beer now and then).
These 12 individuals agreed to devote a recent evening to the sampling of more than 30 beers, malt beverages and liquors. The tasters responded with grace and humility as their beer journey led them to sampling beers from around the country and beyond in order to serve the greater good of UTW readers.
We rated beers for appearance, aroma, palate and flavor, and individual comments were encouraged. Judging ranged from one to five, with 20 points total for a perfect beer. Out of the more than 30 beers tested, the ranking that follows is the "Top 20", followed by five beers deemed "Oddities," which does not necessarily constitute a negative rating, and five beers of Honorable Mention.
A few others did not make the cut but will be mentioned nonetheless because we just love to write. The total score out of 20 immediately follows the beer name.
From last to first, here we go:
20. Breckenridge Brewery's Remarkable Vanilla Porter (12.5 points out of a possible 20) was marked as average in all categories with special mention made to its "very deep brown" appearance. This ale had the chocolate and roasted nut flavor of a classic Porter, with an "enigmatic surprise" thrown in for good measure: a real vanilla bean. It's truly seasonal, a great winter beer for slow sipping.
19. Salvation Belgian Style Golden Ale (12.68) from Avery Brewing Company of Boulder, Colo., was attractive if for no other reason because of its name. However, there are other reasons to give this beer a try.
One person said the high percent of alcohol coupled with "a taste of salvation may bring you back to the church." Others commented it had hints of wet laundry detergent; many enjoyed the colorful label depicting the Last Supper, but with only a few apostles. The bottle's label described it as "full of fruity aroma and hoppy complexity with a soft, light palate."
18. Steinlager Premium Lager came in with a 13.2 ranking. Our first New Zealander, this beer received favorable comments, such as, a classic label; king of beers for New Zealand; good pizza beer--light and bubbly; and smells like a skunk, but a good skunk. The label sported a bit of information that was enlightening: "Imagine pro football without the stoppages, substitutions, padding or helmets. And with a great deal more bruising. Rugby is New Zealand's national sport. Be warned, it hurts."
Interpret as you wish. We imagine this beer eases the pain.
17. Samurai Ale (13.25) from Great Divide Brewing Co., was immediately recognizable because of its striking label: a bright red orb (the rising sun on the Japanese flag) with a mountain range faded in the background. This beer received favorable comments, such as it had a clean taste; smooth, a touch of sweetness; from "slightly creamy flavor, almost vanilla or coconut flavor--interesante! An unfiltered ale, it was brewed with rice and barley malts.
16. Unibroue Trois Pistoles (13.37) (say that fast three times) received a "very nice" comment and some individual high marks. One taster said, "don't let the cheesy label push you back." The label is intriguing--a dark, gothic image of a winged horse flying over brick towers. This beer was brewed with roasted malt and had a rich, smooth texture. A suitably dark beer, it had an aroma of ripe fruit and a pleasant aftertaste that lingered like an old port wine. It was particularly recommended for prior to or after a meal, but might be paired with pasta, game meat and wild fowl. The beer is brewed in Chambly, Quebec.
15. Beck's Oktoberfest (13.83), brewed at Brauerei Beck & Co. in Germany, was a favorite. Although this beer was brewed in limited quantities and was marketed in October, it may still be found around town. We described the appearance as dark amber to red with a foamy head and a light bitter after-taste. A great, solid beer overall. It is a mystery why this beer didn't receive a higher rank. Are we taking dear Beck's for granted?
14. Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ale (14) features "Cascade (Mountain) hops . . . to celebrate our history as a pioneer of the craft beer movement," according to the label. Craft beer means a small, independent and traditional beer-making company. Most samplers agreed that the beer had an initially good taste, but was followed by a bitter taste which was distracting, knocking it down a few points. One person described the aroma as "a real potpourri--put this in your sock drawer;" unfortunately not one of the better Sierra Nevada beers, we concluded.
13. Santa Fe Nut Brown Ale (14.12) scored some high marks--and equally low ones. A few drinkers found it good--smooth and satisfying, a "bridge to the porters, where the rubber meats the road," said one sage. Brewed in New Mexico's oldest microbrewery, this brown ale hints to the ales served in England's pubs, where flavor and complexity reign. This facsimile used a combination of high mash temperature, hard water and low-alpha acid hops to produce a beer similar to those across the big pond, yet distinctly Santa Fe. One commented, "you'd be nuts to pass this one up."
12. Of the König Ludwig Weissbier Royal Bavarian Hefe-Weizen (14.15), one taster said, "good conversation would go with this beer," especially the history, which goes back 700 years to a brewery located outside Munich. Its color is golden with a naturally cloudy appearance from the special Bavarian Brewers' yeast. The beer had malty overtones and one sampler observed a fruity aroma of apples and bananas. Bring on the bratwurst!
11. Ellie's Brown Ale (14.3) by Avery Brewing Co. was characterized as smooth and welcoming. The label alone makes you want to pick it up. It featured a picture of president and brewmaster Adam Avery's late, chocolate Labrador retriever, after which it was named. Two years ago this beer won a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, but it wasn't a sentimental favorite. This brownie is the real deal. Crystal and chocolate malts gave this beer a brown sugar-like maltiness, with some hints of nuts and vanilla.
10. Left Hand Brewing Company's Jackman's American Pale Ale (14.45) made the top 10 cut as an excellent ale recommended as great with a meal, as well as ideal for an "everyday drinking" beer. It had a "cute" label, said one, referring to the silhouette of a man on a chopper cycle with a road map background. This beer was commanding, hopped-up ale with a solid malt foundation. Its appearance was golden, slightly cloudy, and medium-bodied, poured with soapy suds, big bubbles and an even bigger taste. "My favorite of all pale ales" said one taster; it's something that could get you revved up about ales, said another. Vrooom!
9. Shiner Bavarian Style Amber (14.44) received oohs and aahs immediately just for the classy label sporting the Shiner name in bold white letters with a gold background and red and white accent colors. It poured out a nice, golden brown hue with a slight head. A few comments suggested this one was a great all-purpose beer, yet bitter--in a good way. The Munich Malt and rich German hops delivered a complex beer with a distinctive hop floral aroma and sooth finish. This was a limited edition anniversary beer commemorating the 98th year of handcrafted brewing at the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas. The label reads: "With every sip, this Bavarian Amber Lager pays tribute to the old-world Bavarian quality demanded by the German and Czech immigrants who settled Shiner. Spread cheer with Shiner beer!"
8. Sante Fe Wheat (14.53) had a rich, smooth, caramel-y flavor and was German tasting. "It was like liquid bread," said a sampler. The German wheat beer featured hints of banana and clove, for those with discerning tastes. It was recommended by one of our beeristas that after pouring the beer into a glass, swirl the last few drops in the bottle to loosen the yeast from the bottom, then pour that over the top. Sixty percent wheat malt, authentic Bavarian wheat yeast and German hops made this beer as "true to the style as any American rendition can be."
7. Another Left Hand Brewing Co. beer in the top ten was Polestar Pilsner (14.55). You don't see a lot of true pilsners around these days, but this is where it all began a millennium ago in Pilsen, Germany. Fittingly, this zesty, German-style pilsner finished dry and clean. Our reviewers found it very tasty as an excellent everyday beer. It was said to have a more "obvious flavor and greater lingering action, but not as subtle as the other Left Hand beer (Jackman's)." It pours clear and slightly effervescent.
6. Molson Ice (14.85), a Canadian beer, took some chiding initially from our savvy samplers, from "It's that Canadian beer, eh?" to "So what new about ice to a Canadian, eh?" but it ended up at number six nonetheless. Canucks brew it good and strong without gimmicks. This thought-to-be-sleeper beer poured with a good-sized head, beautiful amber color and smooth to the taste; balanced, not flat, but not too effervescent. One said, while not the best of Molson, it was a good, strong import from our friends to the north. Sporting a maple leaf, one was reminded of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Rev up the Zamboni and let's play some hockey.
5. The Final Five begins with Hoegaarden Witbier-bière blanche (15), the original Belgian white beer. Our tasters overall agreed this one tasted great. One commented it was a laid-back beer in comparison to the Santa Fe. It carried a nice glass appeal, and one who ranked it a 19.5 said it was "excellent--spicy with winter-tasting spices. The flavor lingers in the mouth." Another said it would be a good sipping beer while cooking, or to cook with while sipping.
4. Samuel Adams always seems to squeeze into the top 10 at these beer tastings. This year, Samuel Adams Light (15.05) was ranked by one as "the best light beer I've ever tasted." This is "light", of course, not "lite". We are talking about color here. One commented that it had a slight bitter aftertaste. Another noted a trace of orange lingering on the tongue. Sam Adams claims its Light is not just a lighter version of their famous Boston Lager, but rather "the culmination of over two years of tireless research and brewing trials to create a flavorful Light beer." It was brewed with fine two?row malt and German Noble hops.
3. Third place belonged to Rogue Morimoto Soba Ale (15.88), standing, as it does, in its signature one pint, six?ounce bottle. The Soba Ale poured with a large head and had a slight citrus flavor, which one described as "full of life, fun." "I love this beer!" said another, who scored it a 19. Soba (Japanese for buckwheat) is not a type of wheat, but a member of the rhubarb family. Buckwheat is high in potassium, phosphorous, vitamin B and protein. Soba Ale was brewed with roasted buckwheat, pale malt and Munich malt, 13-17 Carastan malt and crystal hops. This Ale was part of the new Signature Series of Rogue Ales which launched in 2003 with internationally acclaimed Chef Masaharu Morimoto, a James Beard-awarded chef and, one of the stars of the Food Network series, Iron Chef. Domo Morigato, Mr. Morimoto!
2. The Erdinger Hefe-Weizen Dark (16.35) was second with its beautiful appearance. A nice, slow pour invited a dark foamy, thick tall head. "The more you drink, the nicer it is," said one. Smooth and rich, the beer was equivalent to a great scotch. One described it as complex, but good for many occasions, by itself or with a steak. "One of the best beers we've tasted tonight." Obviously, at #2.
1. Ranked number one by our experienced tasters were Samuel Adams Winter Lager and Lemp Standard Lager Beer--a tie at 16.5. One described Sam Adams as "ice coffee brewing in the bottle. My compliments to Sam Adams and Juan Valdez." It had a "pretty caramel color" said another, with a nice head, good palate and smooth, drinkable flavor. It was "excellent, complex, with a surprising flavor." The winter aroma offered hints of ginger and cinnamon, which matched well with the malted barley sweetness. For the discerning taster, even a hint of orange citrus. It had a full, rich body, perfect for winter. One taster said it might "ease the pain of encroaching winter's ice and snow. It's something to drink on the glacier." And, "It's something to keep in the fridge for Santa."
Lemp St. Louis was a pleasant stranger and surprised our drinkers. This beer is purported to be America's first lager beer, brewed by Adam Lemp in 1838. We agreed it was an all?around good drinking beer. A pleasant amber color, Lemp released a remarkably clean aroma. One sampler stated, "I would drink this any day, at any time. Not so heavy as to lack refreshment; not so light as to lack interest." While not a classic winter beer, it was still one worth sampling.
Tasting as many beers as we did, it was inevitable that some had qualities that allowed them to stand out among the others in a distinct way. For those, we established the category of "Oddities," meaning they received high marks, but are different enough to separate them as something else to reckon with. Those of peculiar palate, take note.
With a score of 15.88 out of 20, North Coast Brewing Company's Old Stock Ale 2007 ranked first in the Oddities category. This beer, one suggested would go well with a cheese tasting party--a "brandy-sipping beer." It had an oak barrel taste with a big kick. One really did not care for it, saying "an alternative to a throat lozenges--Ale what cures you--sweet and medicinal--in a good way. Just a good sipping beer."
Next, Xingu Black Beer from Brazil, received a 15.7. "Very good beer!" said one who gave it a perfect score. "Very surprising--the dark horse of the bunch," said another. There is a story behind this beer, as true with most beers. According to www.eurobrewscom, Xingu was a rare beer that was founded in 1986 by five women who were afraid that the world's rarest beers were becoming extinct. They hired beer historian Alan Eames to find the best beers from around the world that were native prototypes of dark, rich beers. He found black beer brewed by the natives of the Amazon region dating back to 1557. The beer was dark roasted with corn or manioc root and fermented by wild yeast. After the test and trial period, the black beer recipe was prepared for mass production introduced to the American market in February 1988.
The packaging looked like a traditional black beer bottle. The label was in the shape of a diamond and featured the map of the Xingu River region. It also contained pictures of anacondas, a Txucahamei warrior and a caiman.
Avery's Hog Heaven Barleywine-Style Ale (14.75) came in next. Described as a little strong, the ale poured a thick head and a beautiful deep garnet color. A hop lover's delight, it had an intense dry-hop nose and a rich malt body. This beer is even cellar-able for three years. Samplers commonly agreed the beer finished bitter and strong. Some went hog wild (couldn't resist!) for this beer, awarded the Silver Medal in 2004 at the Great American Beer Festival. "You need a Harley to ride this Hog," said one taster, who, by the way, quickly disqualified himself for not pacing himself and thus losing the sense of his tongue.
Fourth in this category was Rogue's Ten Thousand Brew Ale (13.33), which came in a one-pint bottle. "Dare, Risk, Dream" said the silk-screen-on label for this beer. One taster said it was akin to drinking soap, and another who wanted to like this beer, said "it reminds me of my childhood because I ate soap."
"A cousin to Old Stock," said one drinker, "very heavy, but out of my league in price." This beer costs almost $20, perhaps because the bottle comes with a flip-closure to re-cap if needed. Brewmaster John Maier at Rogue Ales in Newport, Ore., has brewed 10,000 batches of beer in 18 years, and celebrates that accomplishment with this beer which is crafted of Vienna, French Special Aroma and Maris Otter Pale malts; Yakima Summit and German Saphir hops; "free-range coastal waters"; and their signature PacMan yeast. If nothing else, check out the bottle next time you're at the liquor store.
The final beer making the Oddity list was Avery's White Rascal Belgian-Style Wheat Ale (12.44). One said this was somewhere below "Blue Moon" beer. It pours cloudy, with a soapy aroma. One said it had a slight aroma of a diaper pail--a tame version of a real Belgian brew, but would be good with sausage and cheese. Many comments were directed to the naked devil on the label--don't let it scare you away. This white ale was unfiltered, had yeast on the bottom and was spiced with coriander and Curacao orange peel.
We selected five beers for the Honorable Mention category, and the number one beer was Great Divide Ridgeline Amber (11.88) beer. The amber poured with a nice head and copper color, but had a little bitterness at the finish. "Good, but not exceptional," said one. "Tasty, but not too distinctive, yet I wouldn't turn it down if offered to me," said another. It was a nutty, malty beer true to its Scottish-style heritage.
England's Samuel Smith Pure Brewed Lager Beer (11.85) took second in this category. One taster really liked the look of the bottle, an attractive green and gold foil-wrapped neck and a busy, old, new-fashioned label. "It had curb appeal," said one, "but was a pretty rusty taste." It formed a good head, but the flavor was disappointing. It was an all-malt beer brewed with softer water and fermented in separately-housed stainless steel lager vessels using bottom-fermenting yeast. Serving suggestions include chilled as an aperitif, or as an accompaniment to an alfresco buffet. Also try mixing with lemon-lime soda or ginger ale to make a "shandy." Or, serve in a wine glass-type tumbler at 40 degrees.
Third place went to Great Divide Brewing Company Titan IPA (11.33). "Ouch! Very bitter and strong," said one sampler. Another commented it was not very good because it has too much of a bite. The producers of this ale claim to make it for true "hop disciples." This "aggressively hopped" India Pale Ale began with a piney hop aroma and citrus hop flavors and finished with a rich, malty sweetness. It was what it claimed to be.
Avery's The Reverend Belgian-Style Quadrupel Ale (10.9) came next, coming in a one pint bottle. Pouring a nice amber color with plenty of bubbles, one said it was very "Chimay-like; seems to be an American version of the old world style." Full, apple-flavored, quite good, commented another, but added that "it would not get you into heaven." This Ale was made in tribute to the life of Avery Sales Manager Tom Boogaard's grandfather, an ordained Episcopal Reverend. This beer paid tribute to the man's traits: assertive, pure of heart, a heart of candy sugar. The beer contained imported Belgian specialty malts and lots of Belgian dark candy sugar, and the end result was "a divinely complex and beautifully layered beer with hints of dark cherries, currants and molasses." This Ale is cellarable for four years.
Great Divide's Denver Pale Ale (10.83) came in 5th place in the Honorable Mention category. One commenter said it was solid enough but not too exciting. A few said the ale finished smooth but bitter. Historically, this is Great Divide's "flagship beer," earning numerous national and international awards as one of the most award-winning English-style pale ales in the world. It did have an assertive floral hop aroma, and a smooth, malty middle. But we kicked the British out a couple hundred years ago.
Other beers to keep your eye on include Great Divide's Wild Raspberry Ale; Flying Dog Brewery's Horn Dog Barley Wine Ale (great label) and Gonzo Imperial Porter; O'Hara's Irish Stout, brewed in Ireland; North Coast Brewing Company's Old 38 Stout; and Mendocino Brewing Company's Black Hawk Stout.
Something to note in the malt beverage category was the Hard Creamer Premium Malt Beverages. Described as "one of the first New Age Malt Beverages, Hard Creamer mixes cream, tropical flavors, and malt-based alcohol for a silky-smooth delicious delight without an alcohol bite." The description said it all. Flavors included Strawberry Daiquiri and Orange Cream.
Another of similar style I found was Kalima Hawaiian Hard Creamer, available in three flavors: Tropical Cream Orange Pineapple Banana; Pina Colada Pineapple Coconut; and Fuzzy Navel Orange Peach. They are creamy, smooth and noncarbonated. Both brands are soothing to the taste and highly recommended.
As the holiday entertaining season quickly approaches, rum is traditionally used in many wintry drinks, such as Hot Butter Rum and Egg Nog, as well as in holiday baking (rum cake, fruit cakes). This season's list of quality provisions should include Mount Gay Rum--either Eclipse or Extra Old.
Eclipse's luminous, golden amber glow and distinct floral and spicy notes are ideal in a range of holiday drinks.
Mount Gay Eclipse is also perfect for infusing fruitcakes, plum puddings, babas au rhum, rum balls and other holiday classics.
Mount Gay Extra Old makes the perfect gift (for you or others) this season because discerning consumers have an increased interest in rum and this spirit is perfect for all kinds of drinks. This rum has a maturity level of 12 to 17 years, ideal for sipping neat or over ice.
Mount Gay Rum is the World's Oldest Rum brand. It is premium, authentic and oak-aged Barbados rum with an exceptionally smooth taste. Many believe rum was created on the Mount Gay estate from as early as 1493. The first evidence documenting that this rum was indeed created is a legal deed dated February 20, 1703, listing property and equipment essential for manufacturing rum found on the estate. This confirms rum production well underway by 1703--as noted on every bottle--making Mount Gay Rum the oldest rum in Barbados, and more importantly, the world.
The Mount Gay Estate lies on the northern tip of Barbados. In the 1600's this spot was known as Mount Gilboa. It was renamed in 1801 in honor of Sir John Gay Alleyne, an eminent Barbadian philosopher and former caretaker of the estate.
The exotic fruit known for health, fertility and rebirth since ancient times, the pomegranate was even said to have been the "apple" in the Garden of Eden as the forbidden fruit. No matter, the fruit is hip these days and continues to make a name for itself on the market shelves as a vitamin-rich fruit drink. Now it can be consumed enhanced with alcohol and found at liquor stores.
DeKuyper, the best-selling line of cordials and liqueurs in the United States, launched DeKuyper Pomegranate Liqueur this year. Made from natural ingredients, this liqueur has a sweet taste of pomegranate with a hint of tartness. It has a deep red-magenta color, and whether sipping chilled or having it as a main ingredient for a festive holiday drink, it mixes well with spirits, juices, sparkling wines and champagnes.
PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur is another version of this exotic fruit used in cocktails. PAMA claims to be the world's first true pomegranate liqueur, "which captures the complex sweet, yet tart taste and seductive color of all-natural pomegranates." The liqueur contains natural pomegranate juice, premium vodka and a touch of imported tequila. Check www.pamaliqueur.com for drink and food recipes.
Some of our faithful beer tasters returned another day and enjoyed both pomegranate liqueurs, saying they were definitely better chilled if drinking alone rather than mixing it with other spirits.
The PAMA coated the mouth with a heavier, pomegranate sweetness than DeKuyper, yet both were well received.
Older than beer, wines reign supreme as the world's most revered, manufactured drink to be enjoyed and savored. But it's history is so long and varied, where do you begin the daunting task to know which wine to choose? Why not right in our own backyard, exploring and sampling some wines produced at Oklahoma wineries?
Grape Ranch Winery, six miles south of the Okemah exit off I-40, taking exit 221, offers a variety of wines, but highly recommends some of their most popular sellers. Country Rose, a blush, comes with the very popular and attractive Festivus holiday label; Chardonnay; and the Festivus Blend, a Cabernet blend of 77 percent cabernet grapes and 23 percent merlot grapes. These three also come in the Beat Texas label, which are great holiday gifts. Two other wines worth sampling include the 2007 Merlot which took the Silver Medal in the Dallas Morning New Wine Competition. The other is the 2001 Hallowine Shiraz, a dry red with little to no oak taste. Its taste fits its name: spicy and peppery. If you can't make it to the winery, Grape Ranch wines are available in Tulsa at Scott's Discount Liquors, Vintage Liquor and B&B Liquor. And, exciting news is that Grape Ranch can now ship their wines out of state, something they have been working on for months.
Lavender Hill Farm Winery & Tasting Room, 24474 E. 191st St. South, Haskell, invites visitors to "experience a touch of Provence in the hills of northeastern Oklahoma." Nine wines are featured, including a Syrah, Ives Noir, Sweet Red, Dessert Wine, Malvasia Bianca, Vignoles, Chardonel, Apple Wine and White Zinfandel.
Cabin Creek Vineyard & Winery, 32153 South 4360 Road, Big Cabin, Okla. Is another local wine producer. Here, Cynthiana, Zinfandel, Shiraz and Seyval grapes grow in anticipation of creating authentic Oklahoma wines. The current wine list includes their newest release, Zinful Rouge, raspberry and spice with a bit of pepper; it is a Red Zinfandel blend that is fruit-forward with nice depth and a spicy finish; CCV Siren, a Shiraz; Rodeo Red, a full-bodied Cabernet; Victoria, a sweet white; and Windswept White, dry and fruity.
Tidal School Vineyards, 54560 West Highway 16, Drumright, features a restored main building that was originally built in the 1920s during Oklahoma's original oil boom, by John D. Rockefeller's oil company and later acquired by J. Paul Getty. Celebrating Oklahoma's Centennial, Tidal School Vineyards launched Oklahoma Gold!?a white wine with a crisp, fruity taste. Other wines include Oklahoma Sweet, Oklahoma Sunset, 2003 Oklahoma Merlot, Impressao, Cherry Chocolate Wine Cordial, Cabernet Sauvignon, Peach Chardonnay and an assortment of others.
Oak Hills Winery & Vineyards, 7070 S. 4240, Chelsea, offers a variety of wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, a medium body dry red wine with hint of blackcurrant; Merlot, a medium body dry red wine lightly oaked; Sedona, a dry red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin, Cynthiana, and Rougeon. The Rougeon wine is a rarity, of sorts, because it is 100 percent off the vineyard in Chelsea. It received the Bronze Medal Winner at the International Wine Competition in Indianapolis and also was a bronze medal winner in Taos, NM. Other winners at the "Taste of Taos" competition included the bronze medal winning Catawba, a sweet blush wine, and the Traminette, a blend between Seyval Blanc and Gewurtztraminer, with all the characteristics of the Gewurtz.
Many wine and spirit stores around Tulsa offer these Oklahoma wines, but if they cannot be found and time is of the essence to find a new wine for an event or just to enjoy, a few new selections come highly recommended from our tasters.
The staff of The Crossing Wine and Spirits and Grand Vin Bottle Shop pointed out some new wines to the growing market.
Hey Mambo Bistro Style Wine (fun label) is described as a "swanky white California wine." It is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Muscat Canelli and Chenin Blanc grapes. It has a sweet, fruity approach that is light and inviting. (I particularly enjoyed the Zork cork, a revolutionary plastic wine closure that seals like a screw cap and pops like a cork. No need for a corkscrew.) This wine is vented and bottled by a division of Don Sebastiani & Sons.
Discovery is a 2006 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough from New Zealand. This year was an exceptional vintage for Marlborough, the South Island vineyard region with the world-wide reputation for Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is light and refreshing, with aromatics of citrus and passion fruit, lingering on the palate with a crisp finish. This wine pairs well with fish and poultry.
A new Argentinean wine is the 2005 Alamos Chardonnay, which is made from grapes grown on the eastern slopes of the low mountains of the great Andes. Made by the Catena family, who has been in the winemaking business for more than 100 years, this wine is a rich, full-bodied wine that pairs well with grilled fish, chicken and past dishes. It has a nose of rich, tropical fruits and a taste of apple, pear, and vanilla, ending with a creamy mouth finish.
Masi Masianco Pinot Grigio and Verduzzo (2006), from Italy, is called an "up-to-date Italian white wine." A straw-yellow color, this medium-bodied wine packs an intense and fragrant bouquet with floral and fruity notes. Its acidity is pleasant, with an intense, but not overpowering taste. It has distinctness to it, as it balances the clean taste of Pinot Grigio with the more complex, buttery notes of the Verduzzo. As other whites, this wine goes well with hors d'oeuvres, fish and grilled white meats.
Two highly recommended Zins include 2005 Dry Creek Valley Plungerhead and Norman Vineyards 2004 Paso Robles Zinfandel The Classic.
Plungerhead's funky label is reason enough to make the purchase. (An oddly-shaped man with barrel legs has a red plunger on his head.) Our tasters described this wine as spicy with fruity--black cherry taste. Beware: tannins abound.
The Norman Zin 2004 vintage was the final product of a five-year drought, so crop yield was smaller than normal, which resulted in an intensification of color, body and flavor. With an unusually warm spring and summer, and with a dry and mild fall, there was good "hang time" for full and even ripening. This medium-bodied wine tastes fruity and balanced with aromas of raspberry and cassis, in addition to spicy notes. It has a creaminess to it, ending with a lingering finish. It pairs well with eggplant in Marinara sauce or even as an accompaniment to a custard-base dessert.
Two notable Cabs include Mitolo Jester Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 and 2005 Joel Gott Cabernet Sauvignon.
We found the Joel Gott cab to be very complex, heavy on the tannins and finishing with an attractive spiciness. It has aromas of blueberry, cassis and mocha. Its hue is a brilliant and attractive deep, ruby red. I recommend you pair this wine with grilled flank steak, grilled vegetables, cheeses and even BBQ ribs.
Mitolo Jester is named for the Monarcho, the most eccentric of all jesters in the court of Elizabeth I. He was the only fool named by Shakespeare in any of his works, and is featured in his comedy, Love's Labour's Lost. He usually wore blue and was acutely more intelligent than this court persona.
This Cab is made with 20 percent of its fruit being air dried for up to 8 weeks before crushing, which creates a complex and structured wine with silky tannins and a deep concentrated palate. Hints of ripe plums and nutmeg resound. The color is almost black with a purple hue.
One final wine of note is Rotta 2004 Cabernet Franc Paso Robles. This wine took the silver medal in four 2007 competitions: West Coast Wine, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Finger Lakes International Competition; and San Diego International Wine Competition. It is a smooth, flavorful wine with aromas of cassis, violet and French oak. This wine pairs well with grilled and roasted meats, as well as wild game.
Finally, if you can't find what you like among the many beers, spirits, and wines reviewed here, visit High Gravity Homebrewing & Winemaking Supplies (7164 S. Memorial Dr., 461-2605) to research and purchase what is needed for making your own home brew and wine. Beer and wine making kits for first-time makers are available.
Despite the lingering fear some teetotalers have of any beverage alcoholic, beer is almost as common a household term these days as apple pie. Research shows beer consumption grows annually, making it the number one alcoholic beverage of choice for Americans today.
In fact, beer accounted for 85.8 percent of all alcoholic beverage consumption (in total volume) in 2005. Imagine this: Americans consumed 7.4 billion gallons of beer in 2005. And in 2000, stats indicate that Americans consumed an average of 27.1 gallons of beer per capita.
Even though Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors monopolize the domestic market when it comes to sales, the little guys, the independent craft brewers, are staking their claim in the regional market with hard work, determination and skill in brewing fine beer.
And, little Oklahoma is making itself known in this regard.
Choc Beer is a perfect example. Pete Piegari probably never had an inkling what the future would hold for his modest idea of beer making when he began handcrafting beer (perfecting a Choctaw Indian recipe he discovered) in Krebs; it was just something to do at the young age of 21 when he was injured in a mine cave-in.
Staving off authorities during prohibition days by going underground, Piegari served two full terms in federal prison, and therefore the beer making days came to a halt in the '50s. Then in 1995, Pete's grandson, Joe, reintroduced Choc Beer legally for the first time in decades.
Today, Choc Beer is a household name among Oklahoma beer drinkers, and now travels to the market in Arkansas. Choc Beer 1919, an American Wheat Ale was the first to be rolled out; Basement Batch, an American Pale Ale followed. The seasonal, Choctober Fest, a Vienna Lager, comes out each October.
A new beer, Waving Wheat, is a Belgian-Style white beer, and arrived this past month. This beer is part of the world's large family of rustic, unfiltered wheat beers. The suspended yeast and wheat proteins give white beers their unique, hazy, white appearance. Its elusive flavors are complex: the wheat, the Belgian yeast, the delicate blend of coriander and the citrus bitterness of the Curacao orange peel.
A fourth beer, Miner Mishap, will be on shelves in December. This Black Lager is Choc's traditional German Schwarzbier, also known as "Black Pilsner" or just "Black Lager." Choc's version was formulated by friend William Scott, an award-winning homebrewer and certified beer judge.
Brewed almost entirely with malt imported from Weyermann Specialty Malts in Babmerg, Germany, and hopped with imported German Perle and Hallertaur Mittlefreu hops, Miner Mishap is an original. Two others to anticipate this spring and summer are Pietro Piegari, named in honor of the founder, and Last Laugh.
We enjoy the creativity of the Choc brand's marketing nearly as much as the beer itself. This little brewing is certainly something Okies should to be proud of. It is as good a product as Shiner and every bit as savvy.
More than a century later, Tulsa welcomes a new beer-making story told by Eric Marshall.
Marshall introduced himself this summer as founder of Marshall Brewing Company, a production craft microbrewery located in an old industrial section of the city at 618 S. Wheeling.
This is big news in Tulsa, for it means the return of production brewing, which was suspended in 1940.
While all this may sound glamorous and even fun from an outside perspective, Marshall knows quite well the tremendous amount of work involved in getting his brewery off the ground as he does much of the work himself with the added help of his friends.
"It's a lot of work," he said.
He smiled nervously as spoke with me in this warehouse-to-be-brewery, looking around as the workers continued getting the place ready.
"Much physical labor goes into this," he added. "I will not use super-technology through a computer (as is done in large breweries)."
He closely monitors the entire operation of the beer making process. He will definitely have a hands-on approach, such as bottling the beer himself with the aid of a machine.
Marshall has the background. He is educated in the process and has been honing the art and craft of making beer in his home for years.
His interest in beer making began when he fell in love with Germany.
"When I was young, I traveled to Germany with my parents and grew to love the culture," he said.
So much so that after graduating from Edison High School in 2000, he entered the University of Tulsa as an engineering major, but switched to majoring in International Business and German.
"I just had this big interest in Germany," he recalled, mentioning how his junior year was spent studying in Germany as part of his TU schooling. This time, he recalled, "I fell in love with the culture of beer. I discovered how each town took pride in its brewery."
This lingering love of German beer-making moved Marshall to study at the prestigious World Brewing Academy after graduating from TU; he spent time studying beer theory at the Siebel Institute in Chicago and then studied at Doemens in Munich, Germany. He apprenticed with several local and regional breweries in 2004 and '05 before coming back to the States to work for Victory Brewing Company.
"I was exposed to really good beer, so when I got back, I did a little brewing with my brother and decided to get going on brewing beer. I was jumping out of what most international business students do after graduation," he laughed.
Yes, he is, and he is determined to make it with this brewery, even as he shows me empty beer tanks in one section of the warehouse. He studied the market of craft breweries and knows this is a booming business. Craft beer is defined as beer made by small, independent and traditional breweries.
There is a big demand for craft beer today. The Brewers Association estimates with just under 1,400 small breweries, this segment of the beer industry produced more than 6.7 million barrels of beer in 2006. Total craft beer industry sales grew 31.5 percent over the last three years and early 2007 indicators point toward even more growth.
In November, personal friend (who he said is "like my older German brother") Ralf Gerwert, a licensed German beer maker, who deals in second-hand beer-making equipment, will arrive to set up Marshall's tanks to begin the process.
"My first batches will be ready in January," he said, eagerly anticipating that time.
This is a family affair, and he explained his dad, a corporate accountant, and his brother, an attorney, continue to assist him with various angles of the business.
Marshall will be brewing three full-strength beers to begin with: Atlas IPA, a full-bodied hoppy beer; a wheat beer, which will be molded in the German wheat style, with a bit of spiciness to it; and a British-style ale ESB (extra special bitters) which he and J. Elliot Nelson, of James E. McNellie's Public House, will co-sponsor.
"This last beer I hope will establish us with a local place that has a reputation for products and atmosphere," said Marshall.
In the spring, Marshall plans to release a German style lager. He also is eager to have his beer on draft throughout the city by spring.
"I will focus on Tulsa and Oklahoma first," he said, "then expand regionally in 2008 or '09. This industry is growing like crazy. People have different taste preferences and are taking their tastes as their own and are proud of it.
"Just look what is happening in Krebs. It's a great thing they are doing, but it's not here in Tulsa. I had different offers all over, but I wanted to come back to Oklahoma to be proud of what we can have here. I want to put Oklahoma on the map for good breweries."
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