Beer and Wine Events For October

ieshineon-inland-empire-october-beer-and-wine-events-guide-623Oktoberfest celebrations dominate the adult beverage event calendar this month, but there are plenty of other options for tasting wines and sampling brews and spirits. Take a look at our October calendar at to plan your next outing. But be sure to plan ahead and designate a driver or call Uber. Cheers!


Beer and Wine Events for September

1994-ieso-inland-empire-september-beer-wine-guide-623Summer’s just about over, but there is no shortage of events where you can quench your thirst and sample great craft beers and fine wines. Check out for my guide to some of this month’s special events in the Inland Empire.

Breweries and Ballparks

I didn’t really know what to expect of my first visit to Pittsburgh. The recesses of my mind still had visions of steel mills and smoke stacks.thumb_IMG_4127_1024

I wasn’t heading to the steel city for its architectural character or cultural charm, but rather to join Sid the Younger for a late June weekend of ballgames and craft breweries in a stadium and town we’d never visited. What’s better than a toad trip with your son to root for the Dodgers in a faraway land?thumb_IMG_4101_1024

thumb_IMG_4120_1024First off, Pittsburgh is surprisingly beautiful, at least at this time of year in the areas we visited. I should have guessed, having driven through the Amish country of Pennsylvania with Beth many years ago. Rolling green hills covered with lush trees overlooked the three rivers that meet near the downtown area a few hundred yards from PNC Park, just down the block from Heinz Field where the Steelers play.thumb_IMG_4114_1024

My ever-efficient and loving wife Beth booked our hotel literally right across the street from PNC Park, where restaurants and bars line Federal Way and General Robinson Street. On game days (at least on weekends), Federal Way closes to vehicular traffic in favor of a stage outside the stadium as fans cross the Clemente Bridge to enjoy the music and pre-game festivities. I’ve never seen so many fans wearing caps and jerseys; they were everywhere we went, but especially at the stadium.thumb_IMG_4105_1024

The Pirates haven’t played in a World Series since 1979, and they’ve had more bad years than good over the past four decades. Still, the fans are loyal and forgiving. More impressive is how remarkably welcoming they are to out-of-town fans clearly rooting against their team. Unfortunately for us, the Pirate fans had the last word, with the home team winning both games I attended and three of the four weekend games against the Dodgers. No question, Pittsburgh people love their Pirates, Steelers and Penguins.

thumb_IMG_4103_1024The sports were only part of the reason for our journey. After our self-guided tour around the statues of Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski and Honus Wagner that surround PNC Park, Sid and I walked along the Alleghany River toward its union with the Ohio and the Monongahela rivers. After lunch at the Jerome Bettis Grill (he wasn’t in, but our waitress gave us a tour of his private lounge filled with memorabilia), we went to explore the city’s craft breweries.thumb_IMG_4117_1024

Pittsburgh is a great sports town, but it hasn’t yet caught up in the craft beer arena. Understandably, it’s still an Iron City Beer town (I used to have many of the commemorative championship Steelers and Pirates beer cans in my since-sold can collection). Still, they are trying.

Grist House Brewing is set in an old house-turned-brewery in the middle of a neighborhood outside of town in the city of Millvale. The atmosphere there is welcoming and the setting is charming, even if the beer is just average.thumb_IMG_4123_1024

From there we headed to the Lawrenceville area, where there are breweries up and town Butler Street, which runs parallel with the Allegheny. We were able to easily walk from Hop Farm Brewing to the Full Pint taproom and then to Roundabout Brewing.

thumb_IMG_4124_1024Our last stop before game time was back in Pittsburgh at Church Brew Works – easily the most impressive brewery structure I’ve ever visited. The brewery has taken over a restored Roman Catholic church originally built in 1902, but is now filled with large silver brewing tanks and picnic benches in an environment that reminded me of the cavernous Hofbrau Haus in Munich.thumb_IMG_4125_1024

The breweries were great and the people were more than kind, but the beer was mostly watery, unexciting and lacking the big bold flavors that we’ve become so accustomed to at home. Of course, as Sid the Younger reminded me, unless you’re in California, Oregon, Colorado, Michigan or Vermont, you’ll be lucky to come across great craft beers.

Bad baseball and bad beer, but we had a great time and loved Pittsburgh.














Downtown Upland Hosts California Irish Festival on March 12

12717204_969473686422866_7886546013875955800_nSt. Patrick’s Day will arrive a few days early this year in downtown Upland, which will be home to the inaugural California Irish Festival on Saturday, March 12.

From 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., downtown Upland will turn Irish. Four city blocks surrounding the gazebo at Second Avenue and Ninth Street will be filled with Irish cuisine, food trucks, family fun, vendors, live Celtic music a beer garden and whiskey bar. Admission is free and all ages are welcome.

Celtic sounds of Wake The Bard and Fox and The Red Hares will fill the air throughout the day, while vendors will offer a wide array of merchandise. Food vendors will include the Lobos Truck, My Delight Cupcakery, JoJo’s Grill a Dog, Rolling BBQ Barn, Scoops on Tap and Kafe Royal.

More than 20 different craft beers will be featured at the Irish beer garden, including brews from Hangar 24, Dale Bros., Knee Deep Brewing, Tap It Brewing, Brew Rebellion, No Clue Brew, Rök House, New Belgium and more. J. Riley Distillery will offer an assortment of Irish and other whiskeys and whiskey cocktails for sampling.

Presented by BierBuzz Events, a portion of proceeds from the California Irish Festival will go to the Historic Downtown Upland Merchants Association to help revitalize downtown Upland, and to Pints For Pitties.

More information and pre-event beer and whiskey tasking tickets are available at

Rum For All

logo1It was early 2014 when I attended the inaugural “Golden State of Cocktails” event, an educational conference focusing on various aspects of the beverage industry. Out of curiosity, my own information and to collect content ideas for this blog, I decided a day in downtown Los Angeles would be time well spent.

Thrilled about some new-found knowledge, I was particularly excited to write about the session called “Rum For All.” But alas, the notes I took on my iPad were nowhere to be found. That is, until recently, when I accidentally checked an old email account using that same device. Voila! As if by magic, my valuable content returned.

At the time, Rum For All was not only the name of the conference session, but a full-blown initiative spearheaded by two cocktail industry authorities, F. Paul Pacult, who has been called “America’s foremost spirits expert” by, and Sean Ludford, who is editor of the respected online BevX.

As I recently went back to research more about Rum For All, it appears that program has since gone the way of my original set of notes. Poof! It’s gone. But its messages live on.

IMG_0780That day almost two years ago, Rum For All offered an interesting all-encompassing look at the sugar-based spirit, complete with a tasting. Pacult and Lunsford founded the program in 2011 and presented seminars around the country, supported by at least 15 top rum producing companies.

Presented in a classroom setting with an academic approach, Pacult and Lunford made a convincing case that rum is one of the world’s great distilled spirits and should be held in the same esteem as vodka, gin and a number of whiskeys.

The class focused on rum’s origins, history, production, varieties and uses in cocktails. Distilled from either sugar molasses or directly from sugarcane juice (although more than 95 percent is from molasses), rum production is most commonly associated with Caribbean and Latin American countries and islands. That’s because centuries ago, sugarcane production was found throughout the world’s tropical regions. Molasses became popular trade product with the United States during the early 18th century, and the New England area became a major rum producer of the time. Today, rum is produced virtually everywhere in the world.

Pacult and Lunford claim that molasses and sugarcane juice are equally good in rum production; the key factor is how ingredients and distilling equipment are utilized, which is the case for all spirits.

rum-for-allThe base spirit for the Mojito, Mai Tai, Caipiríssima, Daiquiri, Dark and Stormy, Zombie and one of my favorites, the Pain Killer, rum is actually very flexible and can be substituted for other spirits in a variety of applications. Rums are also produced in various grades, ranging from light to gold to dark, and also including categories such as flavored, spiced, premium and over-proofed. The spirit is also classified based on the nation or region in which it is produced, and standards vary within each rum-producing country.Rum For All 1cc

Pacult and Ludford could boast all day about rum’s pedigree, but it took a tasting session to truly prove that rums are indeed both distinct and elegant. This portion was conducted as a blind tasting, with all “students” taking two separate swigs of each of the 10 samples. As our instructors noted, the first swig is to clean out your mouth, and the second to let the liquid spill over your palette to identify and enjoy the flavors within each sip. Spitting was optional, and since this class was on a weekday morning, that proved to be the more prudent approach.

Here are my tasting notes from January 2014, along with select comments from the instructors, in order of tasting:

Blue Chair Bay White Rum… (Barbados)

Aged White Rum. Classic Daiquiri. Acid, clean and fresh. Very nice. Instructors: Molasses. Blue Chair makes a good coconut rum, too

Brugal Especial Extra Dry (Dominican Republic)

Aged White Rum… Some fruit. Grassy and earthier than first one; a bit sweeter, but not much. Acid/citrus seems to stay on middle of tongue. Nice. Wood age notes. Instructors: Good for a Mojito.

Shellback Silver Rum (Barbados)

Aged White Rum. Much sweeter and fruitier. Tropical. Vanilla, caramel, marshmallows. Sweetness comes out. Instructors: Molasses. Good for Mojito and Rum Cosmo.

10 Cane (Trinidad and Tobago)

Aged Rum… A little oak, wood… Pretty dry and acidic. Smooth. Instructors: Good for cocktails. Aged in cognac barrels. Good in a classic Daiquiri.

Rum Five Mount Gay Black Barrel (Barbados)

Aged Rum… Banana and fruity; earthy. Very good and full, dry and nutty. Sense of char. Instructors: Blended pot and column stills. “Whiskey lover’s rum.” Good in a Cuba Libre.

Bacardi 8 (Puerto Rico)

Aged Rum. Fruit forward, but more delicate than previous taste. Dry. Notes of caramel. Comes alive with taste over smell. Fruit and spice. Layers. Stays on roof of mouth. Complex and deceptive. Instructors: Good in a Rum Old Fashioned.

Don Q Gran Anejo (Puerto Rico)

Aged Rum… Dry. Very caramel that stays on tongue. Sophisticated. Really nice. Sherry aspects. Toffee and caramel. Instructors: Molasses, column still. Good in a Rum Manhattan.

Appleton Estate Reserve (Jamaica)

Aged Rum. Nice Topaz color.  Earthy aroma. Grassy, wild, elegant, creamy and then vanilla. Instructors: Good value. Twenty different rums in this blend. Both pot and column stilled. Perfect for a Mai Tai.

El Dorado 8-years-old (Guyana)

Aged Rum. Maybe some tobacco and tea aromas; figs, nuts, dried fruits. Opens up with taste (over nose). Full flavor, earthy, but sweet. Excellent. Instructors: Rum Sidecar (rum for cognac, lime for lemon)

Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva (Venezuela)

Aged Rum. Big aroma… Fruit, sweet, delicious… Sweet and flavorful. Fantastic. Sweetness up front and acid in flavor. Stays in entire mouth; front of gums. Vanilla. Almost a dessert drink. Stands by itself as a sipper. Instructors: Molasses and bits of sugar cane, which gives it acidic character. Good in a Rum Toddy.

Drinking Made “Big” Easy

IMG_1273New Orleans has earned its reputation as one of America’s great party cities. We saw that first-hand when we visited the Crescent City in October. The place truly never sleeps. From The French Quarter, to downtown to the stately Uptown, Carrollton and University districts to all along the Mississippi River, which winds through the city, New Orleans has no shortage of watering holes that are open 24/7.

While The Big Easy in unquestionably a great drinking city, I don’t necessarily think that it’s a city of great drinks. Sure, many great classic cocktails were invented in New Orleans, but everywhere we went the focus was on quick and convenient sweet high-alcohol drinks meant to get your blood-alcohol level rising in a hurry.

EvenIMG_1269 at Pat O’Brien’s, one of the city’s most famous drinking establishments on Bourbon Street, I saw an obvious lack of sophistication. Of course, that’s not why people go there. They go for the Hurricanes, which were invented there. Unfortunately, they’re pre-made and poured in large volume. You can even get them in to-go cups to take with you as you visit other stops along the city’s most famous street.

I have to say that the Sazerac at Pat O’Brien’s was excellent. Perhaps the most acclaimed cocktail originating in New Orleans, the Sazerac is a Bourbon-based drink mixed with simple syrup, Peyshaud’s Bitters and Angustora Bitters and served in a glass rinsed with Pernod and garnished with a lemon twist. It’s not a true Sazerac if it doesn’t include Peyshaud’s Bitters. By far the best cocktail I had during my stay. Nevertheless, I was astounded that the bartender didn’t know how to make a Whiskey Sour using fresh ingredients, and instead used a pre-made sour mix. He was unfamiliar with some basic mixing skills you’d expect at such a renowned establishment.

The knowledge meter didn’t change much a few blocks away at another well-known bar, Lafittte’s Blacksmith Shop, where we grabbed a Voodoo, another high-octane frozen drink resembling a grape slushy, and a Cherry Bomb, a cup of maraschino cherries soaked in Everclear. Simple, sweet and effective. No wonder Bourbon Street has earned its reputation.

The pre-made frozen cocktails are pretty much symbolic of what I found around New Orleans. I’ve never seen a place where “Drive-through Daiquiris” are the norm. High-alcohol fruit-flavored slushy drinks served in to-go cups come with names like 190 Octane, Banana Banshee, Cat 5 Hurricane, Eye Candy, Mardi Gras Mash, Swamp Sludge and Jungle Juice and are available on many street corners.10590523_10152576885018813_6114559751078655724_n

Naturally, I also had to check out the local craft beer scene, but was a bit disappointed. In fact, I found that throughout our travels the craft beer selections were pretty limited. NOLA Brewing Co. had some nice offerings among their regular rotation, including their award-winning Hopitoulas IPA and the Irish Channel Stout, and some interesting specialty beers among their rotations, including brews featuring pineapple and ghost pepper, blackberry and sage. I’m sure their novelty beers are helping to drive a few more beer drinkers to NOLA Brewing.

We didn’t have the chance to visit Crescent City Brewhouse in the French Quarter or any of the other craft breweries just outside of New Orleans, but it was obvious that the industry is not very advanced in the region and through most of the areas that we traveled along the way. None of those, including the widely known Abita Brewery, were “can’t miss” destinations, so we missed them.

Of course, with so many other imbibing options in town, it figures that craft beer would fall behind the “bang-them-out” cocktails found pretty much at every corner. Clearly, people don’t go to New Orleans for craft beers. And I didn’t see evidence that they go for finely crafted cocktails, either.

They go to drink high-alcohol drinks that taste good and are easy – big easy.10425845_10152580540923813_3595453593683359230_n