“For Sinners and Saints Alike”

Perhaps I’m biased, because my son works at Port Brewing Co./ The Lost Abbey in San Marcos, but I have to say that the two craft breweries produce some of the best beer I have had in my 35 years as a beer consumer. It’s gratifying to see my opinion shared by many, including so-called beer geeks and industry experts, who consistently rave about founder Lost Abbey 10-20-13Tomme Arthur’s creativity and unmatched skills with barrel aging and crafting incredibly flavorful concoctions.IMG_1945

I’ve gone back and forth over picking a favorite – it’s hard to top Angel’s Share or Deliverance, but I think that the bourbon barrel-aged Santa’s Little Helper might top all of them in my book… But maybe that’s because that’s what I’m enjoying as I write this. My wife says it depends on the conversation we’re having, because apparently, given the day or time, I choose any one of these three.

Sid at workI’ll have many more posts about Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey in the future. For now, I strongly suggest dropping in and sampling several great beers. And say hi to Sid when you’re there. Cheers!

What Are You Drinking, Part 1

liqourama_logo_02Most of us have our favorite places to shop. The reasons are plenty: convenience, location, inventory, prices, specials and the people who work there.

When it comes to alcoholic beverages, I’m a big fan of Liquorama in Upland, and for all of the aforementioned motivations. The employees are great and offer tremendous insights about a variety of their products, and I’ve often found brands at Liquorama that I couldn’t find at the bigger stores like BevMo and Total Wines and More. Of course, the other stores also have their own selection brands that you don’t see elsewhere.

Liquorama owner John Solomon took a little time with me to share his thoughts about distilled liquor.liquorama

“Spirit consumption has shifted to premium brands. The category is very healthy,” he said. “Consumers are drinking less, but they are drinking better.”

He noted that people also are more educated about quality products because of the Internet, social media and bloggers.

“Brown goods have seen an aggressive resurgence in the last 3-5 years. Specifically, bourbon, single malts, rye whiskey and a bit of premium rum.”

One of the guys working at the store told me separately, without hesitation, “bourbon is by far the biggest thing right now.”

With respect to rye whiskey, which had almost vanished from stores but has regained popularity again, John said, “I believe it is part of the cycle. People today take the approach of ‘don’t drink bourbon like your dad, but instead try rye like grandpa.’ It’s also part of the education that is taking place in our industry. Consumers now understand that bourbon is made with corn, wheat and rye, along with all of the different oak cask variations.”

John commented that vodka is still the distilled liquor category leader, while products like Fireball flavored whiskey continue to grow and Jagermeister is the shooter category leader.

“Customers really enjoy trying all of the small batch gin and vodkas, as well as getting creative with the wide variety of mixers now available.”

Solomon noted that flavored spirits are also doing well. “Fireball (whiskey) is probably the hottest item of the year. Flavors are trending very well and will continue to hold a significant place in the future. They are not a one-hit wonder. Flavored whiskey and moonshines are really hot right now.

John offered several recommendations at various price points:liquorama 7

  • Jose Cuervo Cinge Cinnamon Tequila ($16.99)
  • Jagermeister Cinnamon and Vanilla Blend ($18.99)
  • Lock, Stock and Barrel Limited Release 13-year-old Rye (very limited) ($114.99)
  • Grand Marnier Signature Collection No. 2 Raspberry Peach Liqueur ($39.99)
  • Bols Natural Yoghurt Liqueur ($15.99)
  • Bertina Elderflower Liqueur ($24.99)

Stay tuned for more with John Solomon in future editions of Sips, Suds and Spirits.

Mixology Made Simple

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Mixing it up at the Tiki Bar

With my recent mixology education, it’s pretty easy for me to look beyond the simple concoctions. After all, I have been reading recipes from established bartenders who use creative blends of liquors, liqueurs, non-traditional mixers, fruits, vegetables, seasonings, herbs and other ingredients to bring their cocktails to life.

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Beth and Tina finding the right mix

Most people my age grew up going to bars that cranked out fairly basic cocktails, and so that was what we became accustomed to. There is nothing especially exciting about a rum and coke or vodka and soda. Sometimes those work.  I’ve just reached a point where I want to try something a bit more sophisticated than a gin and tonic (despite being my go-to mixed drink for a stretch, a gin and tonic is something I can’t imagine ever having again because gin just doesn’t do it for me anymore). People drink what they become accustomed to; Martinis and Manhattans were what our parents or grandparents drank.

Having said all of that, the simple drinks are still good and certainly have their place. And it’s hard to beat a vodka and Fresca. It’s clean and refreshing every time. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to come across a bar that serves Fresca. But vodka and Fresca make a winning combination. I occasionally like to add a splash of Midori melon, Ty-Ku citrus or X-Rated orange liqueur for a change of pace, but simple vodka and Fresca never fails.

Another way to change up a soda-mixed cocktail is to add a couple shakes of bitters. Bourbon and 7-Up or Ginger Ale take on new flavors with bitters, a quality maraschino cherry and a little cherry juice.

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Thirsty Throwback: Bloody Marys in Hawaii with Beth and Jeanette in 1981

It’s worth trying a few simple additions to find what works for you. Before you know it, you’ll be adding any number of fruits, herbs, spices, or liqueurs to your simple cocktails and discover your inner mixologist.

Pour it Black

pour it blackStone Brewing Co. will host “Pour it Black,” a beer festival featuring all stouts and porters on Sunday, Oct. 20, at the Stone World Bistro and Gardens in Escondido. This lineup looks mighty inviting. Take a look. No doubt Stone will have plenty of its own great beers to sample as well, including the soon-to-be released collaboration 10 Barrel/Bluejacket/Stone Suede Imperial Porter.

Stone not only does a great job with their own products, but also their collaboration beers with other breweries. I was first introduced to their collaborations at the annual Stone anniversary celebration several years ago. One of their most recent treasures was the mint chocolate imperial stout collaboration with home brewer Ken Schmidt and Iron Fist Brewery. It was outstanding.

Pour it Black 3 The annual Stone anniversary celebration every August has become a “can’t miss” event, so make plans now to be there. And if the list of more than 100 beers for the Oct. 20 Pour it Black festival is a hit, the upcoming festival should be just as incredible. If you like big, dark beers, this also looks to be one you won’t want to miss. I’m in.

Claremont Heroes

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Mike Kuch mixing drinks at Heroes and Legends

Long gone are the days when downtown Claremont went to bed when the sun went down. The city of Claremont – specifically the Claremont Village – has truly become a destination location over the past couple of decades. The expansion of “Village West”  and crowd-driving events such as “Friday Nights Live”  has made it almost impossible to find a place to park on a Friday evening. Live music fills the public areas, and the downtown area remains alive well into the evening.

Much of the revival can be attributed to the addition of the Metrolink station years ago, which has inspired the opening of a number of restaurants and other places to enjoy a beverage. New eateries throughout the community have seemingly played off of each other and created a synergy that certainly appears to be working. Now, the Claremont Courier even publishes a blog monitoring local nightlife called Claremont After Hours.

One of my favorite places continues to be Heroes and Legends on Yale Avenue. Perhaps the reason is the “Cheers” environment where “everybody knows your name” (rather than Norm on Cheers, the “Dude” is my brother-in-law Dave Bosson), or the generous portions or the big beers, it’s always been one of our “go-to” places.

With the recent resurgence of classic cocktails, and the explosion of craft beers, Heroes is staying current. Much of the credit belongs to waiter/bartender Mike Kuch, who has helped build an admirable beverage menu to satisfy today’s discerning drinkers. In fact, I’m often torn whether to opt for a craft beer or well-crafted cocktails when I’m there, especially if Mike is working. Classic cocktails have a complexity that those who have not tried them would be surprised to discover. I highly recommend “Mike’s Manhattan.”

IMG_0007_2I decided to go with bourbon on my last visit, and Mike prepared several different cocktails that are classics that most people my age know best as something our parents drank.  Not anymore. My friends and I have developed a great appreciation for these traditional concoctions.

My first drink of the evening was a Manhattan, made with Bulleit rye whiskey, Antica Formula sweet vermouth, Angustora Bitters and a bar spoon of cherry juice. I prefer rye in my Manhattan, and I’ve developed a preference for Templeton Rye at home. Regardless, Mike makes a nice Manhattan.

Next up was and Old Fashioned, featuring bourbon, sugar, bitters and muddled orange and cherry. I closed the night with a Whiskey Sour consisting of bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup and vigorously shaken egg whites to add froth before topping with bitters. Mike shakes the drink twice before pouring it – once to blend the egg and sugar, and then again once the bourbon has been added.

Len Seligman joined me with the Manhattan and Old Fashioned, but ventured to a variation of a Negroni, in which Mike substituted bourbon for gin. As expected, it included Campari, sweet vermouth and an orange wedge garnish.

Meanwhile, my friend Stan Van Horn was happy with his Manhattans, electing not to taint his palate with conflicting flavors. Can’t blame him, but the other cocktails were also delicious.