Saturday, January 30, 2010

Magic Hat Howl - Saturday, Jan. 30th

Been awhile since I've done an alcohol review. I'm slacking! I've had this in the fridge for awhile and I decided to pop it. I've always been a big fan of Magic Hat beers. They're easily accessible, highly quaffable, and they tend to push the boundaries of most micro macros, or large scale craft brews. One of my favorite beers by them was the Fat Angel who was ungracefully retired a few years ago. Not only was it a delicious APA (American Pale Ale) but the label glowed under blacklights to boot. Perfect for a freshman dorm room. As an engineer, multitask objects are always of high preference. Like buying a bottle of Willy Nelson's bourbon . Not only is it bourbon to quaff but it has a guitar pick on it! Woohoo! Yeah. Here's the review:

Pours a deep brown, almost black with a finger of off-white head. Beer is very opaque. Almost looks like cola. Moderate lacing down the glass as I drained it.

Smell is pretty non-complex. Some dark roast malt and malty sweetness. Little bit of brininess. Dark cherry/plum. Espresso. Hops are floral, not citrus and also fairly light.

Taste is actually respectable. A dark lager; it has a coffee thing going for it. Quick blast of honey and flowery hops that recedes into a sugary malt finish. Honey and orange(?) predominant. Reminds me of a traditional Italian espresso. Brewed strong and acidic with a twist of citrus peel in it. pretty good. Not quite stout-y but more full bodied than a standard lager. Imagine mixing a pils with a stout but not as crude as that. Ooo, and it's only 4.6% ABV. Definitely a sessionable beer if it wasn't a Winter Seasonal. Ah well. It's not complex but it's a casual sipper for a winter's night when something more robust is in order.

Monday, January 25, 2010

F$*k Beer Advocate - January 25th

EDIT 5: You should probably go HERE.

The craft beer community is a vast one. Hundreds of thousands, hell, maybe millions of people drink craft beer, brew their own, age premium beer, and just generally shoot the shit about excellent beer on a daily basis. The United States as seen a huge resurgence in beer interest or simply put, people caring about the flavor of their beer. A hundred years ago, there were maybe a HANDFUL of breweries in the United States. Now microbreweries are cropping up left and right; some are even attaining rock star status. It's pretty safe to say that craft beer is not just a hobby, it is a passion. And it is a universally shared passion throughout the group. Or so I thought.

Beer Advocate. I won't link their website because they don't deserve it. When I first entered the wide world of beer, it was my go-to site. It was easy to navigate and had the "beer 101" upfront and ready for a newbie's perusal and absorption. But one thing I noticed about the site itself is that it functioned more of a business, with heavily promoting their magazine subscriptions etc. This was fine, really. They need to pay for the site and if they want some scratch on the side, who am I to complain? As I delved headlong into the craft world, I started using their forums. Their forums, too, struck me as odd. Poorly moderated and obscenely unkempt, a lot of the senior users there were elitist and snobbish. Simple (but unanswered questions by the 101) were crushed savagely by either the Alstrom Bros (who run the site) or the older members. They were, in short and polite terms, ruthless. I thought "well, they're only two guys. They can't handle everything with grace and charm."

I now think differently. It is pretty fucking plain to see that the Alstrom brothers don't care at all about the community at large. They don't care about the passion behind beer anymore. Perhaps, at one point they did. Now it seems all they're in it for is the fame, free beer, and unique opportunities afforded to those who have a modicum of prestige in the beer industry. For god's sake, they've brewed beer with Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head. A private label. But what, dear readers, caused me to blow my top? Simple as this: an unfollow on Twitter.

Ok, it seems petulant and asinine but it speaks volumes. I am a frequent user of Twitter (as you can see on the left). As I was perusing the daily feed after getting some work done, I saw a tiny quote by a friend of mine on Twitter. It was, roughly, that after a slightly disparaging comment on the Bro's Twitter activity, they were blocked from seeing their news feed. Yeah yeah, he said she said playground shit, but it's more important than that. After this happened and people commented, Beer Advocate started blocking more and more people. After awhile, 9 people were blocked in a matter of 20 minutes. What Beer Advocacy is that? If you can't take criticism you slide deep into your shell like a turtle, protecting yourself from the bad people by isolating the critics? Is this "Ostrich Syndrome" or something? A head in the sand and a "na-na-na-na poo poo" to all?

Readers, this is not Beer Advocacy. This is not Advocacy. This is just a piss-poor, childish move. The best part is that Beer Advocate is quite gung-ho about "independent news sources" and "opinions of the unwashed masses" that come in the form of blogs and small websites. But, at the same time, they're turning their back on what they are supposedly so supportive of. I, too, ended up getting blocked from their feed as well, just solely for asking what was going on. You can go look at my history, nothing overly harsh or critical of Beer Advocate was said on my part. Hell, I've been using Beer Advocate for years now. But now, since apparently nothing is sacred to them and they clearly don't wish to participate in the joy that is craft beer camaraderie, I write this. Friends, Romans, countrymen and women, lend me your ears. Boycott Beer Advocate. Once an uneventful source of beer knowledge and pride, its eyes have been clouded by fame and fortune. No longer do they care about the craft beer community. They just want to line their pockets and illuminate their names with neon. They have become the wayward sons, blinded by riches and fame. It is time to show them that if they won't support us then we in turn will not support them.

EDIT: I have been IP banned from the Beer Advocate forums.
EDIT 2: They also deleted my account, which had about 20ish reviews that I didn't have anywhere else. Woohoo. Thanks for being so petty.
EDIT 3: Thanks for all the comments, everyone. In case you didn't know, all comments are approved by me. I dunno why I keep allowing the one-word retorts like "retard" but I suppose a fair venue of discussion is in order. So keep 'em coming in. I'd like to hear from the Jason and Todd about this but it's probably not going to happen. They're striving to cover things up pretty well.
EDIT 4: I'm amazed at how low they're stooping.

EDIT 5: You should probably go HERE.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Peace Tea Razzleberry Tea - Wednesday, Feb. 10th

Fun fact: I also reviewed Peace Tea Ceylon, Green Tea, and Sweet Lemon. Go read up on it, holmes!

Another game of Peace Tea Rorschach! This is better than video games, I swear. I wish each can was different, honestly. This can has some pretty awesome things on it. First, we start withhhh:

The chihuahua that stares into my soul. Creepers. It actually reminds me of Scrappy-Doo, everyone's least favorite Hanna-Barbera cartoon right after Penelope Pitstop, the stupidest concept for a cartoon ever. Ever. We move across the can to:

The Oddly Disfigured Asian Girl. After a mysterious chemical explosion in her college's research lab, Oddly Disfigured Asian Girl is on a quest to find the evildoer who sabotaged her work and cost her a face so pretty it makes Christina Hendricks look like shit in a paper bag. A paper bag that is on fire. Next is the ever present celebrity endorsement:

To me, it looks like Nick Nolte and Mickey Rourke ran headlong into a brick wall and then were surgically fused together in order to save both their lives. Either that or a redheaded version of an 80 year old Kurt Russell. Take your pick.

Finally, the obligatory "What the Hell" moment. What is it, you ask? My interpretation is a suspended chile pepper and a panda wearing a Monster Energy bandanna. Awesome.

As for the tea, this is (so far) the best. The sucralose flavor is non-existant, the raspberry flavor is pronounced and quite nice. The sugar means its not overbearingly sweet and it's damn quaffable. I recommend this, on top of the sweet can artwork. Of course, my school has stopped carrying these wonderfully cheap canned delights and has reverted to Honest Teas, which are about 1.50 more. I'll review that soon. Like...tonight.

Peace Tea Sweet Lemon Tea - Thursday, Jan. 21st

Hey, did you know I also reviewed Peace Tea Ceylon, Green Tea, and Razzleberry? You should probably check 'em out.

Oh goodie goodie gumdrops! It's time for another Peace Tea Rorschach test! Interpreting what the drawings on the can are is half the fun of this beverage. The other half is the fact that it's actually decent for 99 cents and it uses real sugar. But first, the pictures.

Peace Tea Sweet Lemon TeaAlright, here we go. Here's a frontal view of the can. This time, instead of the cool cyan blue they had for the Ceylon tea, we get a bright and cheerful yellow. Yay! But wait kids, the fun hasn't begun yet, let's play "Guess the Characters!" First we have....

This little guy kinda reminds me of either an oddly shaped, semi-humanoid Muppet (think a young Waldorf) or Danny from The Shining after a few "special" brownies. Yeesh. Next up?

A very thirsty grandma! Long day of watching Matlock? Need a small pick me up before that bridge game with the gals at the senior center? Don't want coffee but don't feel like getting the caretaker to brew a cup of tea? Slam down a can, ya old bat! It'll make ya feel alive and your mouth lemony fresh! The best part? It's actually a bearded guy with a mohawk. I love these damn cans. Finally, last but not least, we have a celebrity endorsement:

That's right, ladies and gentlemen. Charles. Bronson. Promoting from beyond the grave. Good gravy, I love these damn cans.

As for the tea, who the hell cares? No no, I kid. It's not too bad. The sucralose flavor is pretty much masked by the lemon flavor which doesn't taste completely natural but also doesn't taste like watered down Pledge either. Honestly, I would recommend these more for the can than what's inside. Which, I'm sure, will make my friend Ryan very, very happy.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Diageo Manager's Choice Debate

I am at heart a whisk(e)y nerd. I spend far too late nights engrossed in my subscription copies of Malt Advocate, Whisky Mag and I burn far too much time enthralled by the WhiskyCast podcast. I see a large wall of whiskies, I geek out hard. I typically lose motor function first. My walking slows to a dead crawl, I have a tendency to drool all over myself and anyone foolish enough to hove into my range. Next goes the social awareness and gesticulation. I speak like I'm trying to talk with a mouthful of rubber cement and what comes out is often the most inappropriate responses. This is typically limited to guttural grunts and perverse swear words that can only come moderately close to the true, soul-shaking joy I am experiencing. My friends can attest to my stunned reverence and crippled sociological judgment. They've been to tasting rooms with me.

Its safe to say I like whisk(e)y.

I've been following bourbon, scotch, Irish, Welsh, Japanese, and whatever artisan whiskey the world can crank out with reckless abandon for many years; far more years than I've been legally allowed to drink. Shhh, don't tell Johnny Law. I like to try to keep up with not just independent bottler releases but liquor group special releases. And no special release has rocked the foundations of whisky culture more than the Diageo release of Manager's Choice.

John Hansell, the publisher, reviewer, writer, big cheese of Malt Advocate sums and reviews things up quite nicely here and here but if you're lazy like I am, I'll sum it up shorthand for you here. A few months ago, Diageo decided it would release specially selected, single cask whiskies for the whisky market. The bottles were indeed special, with unique wood profiles and ages for their classic malt lines (such as a 9 year old Oban aged in a sherry cask). Some rarer bottles, typically from distilleries solely used to make their blended scotches were released as well. However, for many, it came with a bitter twist. The price. What was originally thought to be a special release for the whisky nerds (such as myself) turned into a release for serious collectors. Bottle prices that were hoped to be under £100 soared to as high as £350 for the more publicly known scotches.

When I first read about the releases I had hoped they would be affordable. When I quickly found out they would not be, I sighed quietly into my dram and continued on dreaming of the day when I'd be able to afford super-expensive whisk(e)y. But I reflect on it now and I find that I find myself allying with those who balk at the decision. Mark my words, I fully support Diageo. If I were given a job there, I'd work there in a heartbeat, no questions asked. I just feel that this was a poor choice on their part. There are, on average, about 240ish bottles per cask that they selected, depending on age and wood. At £350 a bottle, that's extraordinarily expensive, even for those in the British Isles where wages are paid in pounds. I wonder how many bottles they will move. From what I've seen of the whisk(e)y world, there are far fewer collectors interested in high-ticket items than there are aficionados. And aficionados have massive buying power. I don't think it would be economically wise to burn the aficionados who have helped bring scotch from its 70s roots of just pure blends with no single cask or even single distillery offerings. The aficionados have elevated the world of scotch from a simple drink to a drink of legends. How often is a premium scotch billed as a drink of class; of taste? Quite often. Why? Because it was built so. Yes, the marketing departments probably had their say. But the quest for flavor, for breaking the mold, pushed the boundaries (and asking prices) of scotch to the heavens and far beyond. All because aficionados wanted it. I hate to generalize, but collectors buy the bottles as a monetary investment. Aficionados buy it as an investment of faith, an investment of quality, and an investment of discovery. This is what Diageo should be rewarding, not those hellbent on sequestering their bottles to the nearest safe in hopes that it will be worth 100 times the paying price in years to come. That outlook on whisky doesn't bring them anything. Those that buy the whisky and share it, spread the good times and a good dram, that's what they should be hearkening to. Collectors will buy one bottle, aficionados will buy many.

Alright, I've said my piece. Take it as you will. I'd like to know your thoughts on the subject, if you feel comfortable sharing them. You can post them in the comments or email me to your heart's content at drinkreviews at gmail dot com. Keep on drinkin', folks.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Kraken Rum - Sunday, Jan. 17th

I have been looking forward to Kraken Rum for a long, long time. It was hard to get, to be sure. Many emails were sent out, furiously worming their way through the internet with my plea. Distributors were contacted and specially commissioned to send a bottle post-haste to my local alcohol-ery. But it was completely and utterly worth it. Here's why:

Kraken Rum with beverage
Look at it. It's beautiful. With a slogan of "Put A Beast In Your Belly", how can you resist? Even the bottle itself is awesome.

Kraken Rum bottleKraken Rum Bottle
The bottle itself is shaped like the eyes and main body of the legendary sea-beastie, the Kraken. The label has a huge picture of it along with old timey figures, illustrations, and explanations like it is straight out of a biology book. While the bottling is cool, the most important thing is the taste. I tried it straight first, as you can see in the first picture. If you're looking for a Captain Morgan or a Admiral Nelson (Addy Nel, as it's known to college folk), you're in the wrong place. This beastie is dark and delicious, using a high quality deep dark rum as a base. It spices it heavily with vanilla, clove, maybe molasses, and a host of other goodies that give it a complex, brooding taste with a crisp, slightly bittersweet dark rum backing. Looking for a sweet, poundable liquor that tastes like candy? Not quite it. Looking for a more premium version of Captain Morgan with spice that doesn't taste like preground crap from a grocery store mixed with imitation rum? Looking for a spiced rum that'll put hair on your back and a fire in your heart? This be your huckleberry.

How does it mix though? As promised, the classic rum and coke was made with the sugar-sweetened Coke.

rum and coke
Holy hell. It's so damn good. The problem with the mass-produced spiced rum is that they're so goddamn sweet so you have to mix them with diet Coke if you're anything like a normal human and can't stand drinking 10 pounds of sugar. But this combination gives a super sweet taste with a chemical aftertaste. Gross. But this...this is a thing of beauty. The coke isn't too sweet and neither is the spiced rum. The base dark rum comes through nicely and melds with the coke. The spices come over top of that, dancing around the palette like Patrick Swayze (high fives from heaven, broseph).

So yeah, this is probably my spiced rum now. It was only $21 for a 750mL and it's a 100x better upgrade from the Captain. The only problem is, technically, it's not being actually released until March 2010 in NY due to some sort of supply hiccup so this bottle was pretty damn hard to come by (it is some of the stock that they had for an initial release in January that got held off on).

Annnnyway, few things are still up on the review board. I'm slightly behind (sorry Red Zeppelin) but I'm getting around to everything.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Real Sugar Coke - Sunday, Jan. 17

Oh real sugar. How do I love you. You're especially fantastic in soda. But poor sugar, constantly cast away for the cheaper, sweeter abomination of high-fructose corn syrup. What a shame.

However, sometimes real sugar is used and it makes me so very happy. Last time it was Mountain Dew Throwback. This time it's real sugar Coca-cola, commonly referred to as "Mexican" cola because it's made in Mexico and therefore doesn't have to be made of highly processed foodstuffs and artificial everything. Seriously, the ingredients are just: water, sugar, caramel color, phosphoric acid, flavors, caffeine. Reading a normal bottle of Coke is like reading the ingredients to a shampoo bottle. Disgusting.

Ah, a cold sweaty bottle, just like the olden times I was never around for. The taste is pretty great. Imagine the taste of Coke but not as tongue-coatingly sweet. Imagine if the taste of the many secret oils and spices Coke uses to make their magical product actually come through, instead of pure sweetness and failure. The best part about this stuff? My school carries it on their meal plan. Woohoo! If you can find this stuff, I suggest getting it. It'd make an EXCELLENT mixer. But I wonder what for....

Oh yeah...Kraken Rum. Which I now have a bottle of. Review's up next

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Yellow and Blue Sachet (Harney and Sons) - Thursday Jan. 14th

Since Mr. John Harney was kind enough to give me a few odds and ends here and there during my tour, I feel it's only appropriate that I review them, considering one of them I talked about at length. I got a few sachets fresh off the line. When I went they were busy making the Yellow and Blue herbal tea sachets. A delightful blend of lavender, chamomile, and corn flowers it has an intoxicating aroma that scented and permeated the bag I kept it in, making my luggage smell absolutely fantastic. Seeing as it is almost time for bed (2am), I figured a nice herbal tea before I run a snoozathon would be both tasty and non-jittery. So, shall we?

The color is a muted yellow. It seems innocuous enough until you get to the aroma. It bursts with sweet, fragrant lavender. It is like walking through a field of lavender only to plop down in the very center and roll around like an idiot. The chamomile scent is non-existent. It all comes together in the taste though. The taste...the taste is the cat's pajamas. It has exuberant amounts of lavender but the chamomile shines through as well in an intricate dance. The corn flowers, I think, add a certain spice aroma and aftertaste to it. It is a fantastic herbal and quite unexpected. I am not a lover of herbals, per se, but this is only because the quality of herbal teas I've had is pretty much limited to...well...Celestial Seasonings. I'm not saying they're bad...but they're not exactly premium. I usually drink herbals before bed or when I'm sick but this makes me want to investigate some more premium herbal blends. If anybody's got any, put 'em in the comments and I'll check them out.

Edit: Holy shit, this tea is making me sleepy as all hell. I feel like hibernating like a damn bear.
Second edit: I wrote this last night and then proceeded to pass out before submitting it. This tea is potent.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Medea Vodka - Monday, Feb. 8th

I like alcohol. This should be apparent. I also like geeky gadgets. It's in my blood. Combine the two and you have a product that could cripple me to levels I've never thought possible. So, when I ran into Medea Vodka while surfing around the interwebs...a little bit of me was afraid of it. Let me explain.

This is a bottle of Medea Vodka. It looks pretty nondescript at first glance. A crystal clear bottle with a blue capped cork and what looks like gold circuitry. I am intrigued. If you look closely the center of the bottle is recessed and has a small electric board put into it, held on by a rubber cap. Ruh roh...When you turn it on, it does this:


The LED board is programmable thanks to the buttons on the side of the board. Thanks to the very nice people at the Medea Vodka company who sent me the bottle, it had a personalized message already put into it (the word I took a picture of is the beginning of my name, Scott). Needless to say, this bottle entertains the HELL out of me. On many, many levels. But the more important question you may be asking is 'how's the vodka?'. Well...

The nose shows off the grain well. It has faint hints of wheat, I think. Maybe barley. EDIT: Checked, it's wheat. It has the traditional ethanol-y smell along with a faint crisp sweetness and what I can only describe as an oily-ness.

The taste is pretty good. Sweet and smooth, with no harshness to it at all. A lot of vodka is the equivalent of fire in a bottle but this sips smooth and clean. Mouth-feel is slightly thicker and richer that normal vodkas. It's definitely not filtered and probably minimally distilled. With a richness like this, maybe twice. EDIT: just checked, it's single distilled. SECOND EDIT: Actually a few times.

This is a nice vodka. When I do drink vodka I prefer it unfiltered and minimally distilled as it really brings out an oily richness and some great flavor in the vodka. This stuff ain't bad. It's one of the few that I could see sipping on the rocks. I will say that I've had more flavorful vodkas but overall it's a significantly more viable option over any of the big-name spirits. I saw it in a local store for $40 and I do think that is quite steep even with the novelty of an LED label. If it was $30ish I'd be more inclined to consider it but this may not be Medea's fault.

Padron Londres - Monday, Jan. 11th

Dear readers, I will be honest with you. I've always had a tough time with Padrons. I've never really liked their normal lines. the 1000-3000s, the Londres, all of it. It never really jived with me. When I first started they were too "strong" for me; the flavors were too robust and outstanding for my poor palette to handle. As I grew, I kept trying them but they still never worked. They were still too "strong", too much too soon. Thus, I've really shied away from the Padron line. I have one of the 1926s, gifted to me by a buddy on a cigar board but I've always been hesitant to smoke it. It's a rare smoke and an expensive one. Would I be ready for it? Could I ever be? So it's been in my humidor for two years. As some of you may know, Cigar Aficionado recently released its top ten for the year, with the Padron Family Reserve No. 45 being numero uno. Many in the cigar world agreed that it was an excellent cigar to be number one. I realized, once again, that maybe it was time to give Padron another shot. So, while I was at Uptown today, I put down a Joya De Nicaragua Antanos and picked up a Padron Londres. And, for the first time, I was blown away.

The cigar was priced at $4.25 WITH a 47% NY state tax. I was impressed by the price but I wasn't so sure about the taste. But, in pursuit of fair reviewer-ship (is that a word?) I went for it. The pre-light was spicy and lively, like a good pepper sauce. Clipping it with the Palio kept it in good shape even for its low price point. Construction = good. Pre-light = intriguing. I lit it up and it really opened up to me. It was pretty fantastic and even better because of the price. The first quarter was a fiery, spicy intro with notes of leather. As it burned down the spice's intensity calmed leaving a pleasant tingle along with a comfortable leather taste. Chocolate came in and out, weaving it's way through the smoke. It was a full bodied cigar and quite robust but it fit the bill. It finished with a slightly sweet but spicy taste, almost like a cayenne sprinkled glazed pecan.

It was good. And cheap. Hubba-hubba.

I am surprised by this cigar. Aside from the wrapper not wanting to burn (it required touch-ups but it was $5, so I expected that) it was a tasty little pepper-bomb. I really enjoyed it and would get it again. I think now I'll have to range through the rest of the Padron line. Maybe it's time to bust out that 1926...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Very Falto Day - Reserva Seleccionada Perla / Reserva Especial Tres Luises

Wheew, that title is a mouthfull of a title. Stopped at Uptown Cigar today to drop off a few Falto cigars to Isy, a man far more versed in cigars than I. Smokes like a chimney, that one. Got excellent taste too. I figured I'd pass them along to see his thoughts on them. While there, I couldn't resist lighting up one. Or...well...a few.

First is the Falto Reserva Seleccionada Perla, a petit corona with a Dominican / Nicaraguan filler, Dominican binder, and a Brazilian wrapper. Sorry, no pics because I'm terrible at remembering to bring my camera to the cigar store. Besides, I don't want to look that dorky there. It's the last nice place I can go to. The cigar is a short little bastard and, honestly, the perfect size for me. I don't like the huge cigars as they take too long to smoke and the only thing that's good for in Rochester is 100% authentic frostbite. Lighting 'er up gave sweet notes of delicious tobacco and a very nutty profile. As the cigar progressed it developed notes of cedar and chocolate and a slight creaminess. To me it was a medium-ish cigar that was smooth and easy on the palette. Pretty good smoke and the size is just right. I'm honestly curious what the price point of some of these cigars is. I could see myself smoking this regularly. It wasn't as evolved as the Reserva Especial perfecto but it was quite nice. Nice profile and it just seemed, well, right. It seemed like it fit me really well. Even at this point, after smoking for about 5 years, I'm still buying singles because I've found so few things that I'd enjoy in box form. This would be one of them. It wasn't an overpowering, knock-you-down smoke but it wasn't wimpy either. It was smooth and refined with a nice profile. I think I liked this one the best.

Second is the Falto Reserva Especial Tres Luises in the Ballibo size. As I mentioned before the Tres Luises is so named after the tradition of naming children "Luis" in the Falto family. The size in this instance is actually the name of the grandfather on his father's side. It is a lancero / panetela size. Pre-light draw was clean tobacco and slight cinnamon spice. Cigar started heavy, heavy leather in the beginning that settled down to a leather and cinnamon flavor. Notes of hazelnut flitted in and out as it burned down but it was primarily leather, like an old reliable leather bag. The best way to describe this cigar, for me, was comfortable. I dunno, it seems like his cigars just click with me. I preferred the Perla more (yeah, I know they're different smokes) but it was still a very solid smoke. I would put it as a straight medium cigar, almost medium-full. It didn't have any wimpy, waning points but kept on with the leathery sweetness and slight nuts. It was smooth but weighty on the mouth as well.

Ok, bottom line that I'm seeing: Luis makes some fine smokes. He obviously knows what he's doing and he's dedicated. I will try to find out the prices of these cigars. If they're affordable, they'd be stellar cigars. However, so far, only the Perla would warrant a "premium price" for me, or $8ish with NYS tax and that's a touch high considering it is a petit corona. I'd like to see it be $6ish with NYS tax but often what I want is not what I get. Like that song.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Harney and Son's Factory Tour

Rarely, very very rarely, I get a chance of a lifetime. Sometimes it falls into my hands, sometimes it takes some work but overall it is a beautiful experience. When I originally emailed the Harney and Sons company about a factory tour, I didn't think they'd get back to me. They are a busy company, and a large one to boot. I'm a small reviewer; I don't even have a business card yet. But, when John and Mike Harney emailed me back, the founder and his son respectively...I was in a bit of a shock. They had readily agreed to give me a tour. Of course, I had to be difficult and have a pretty miserable schedule. Old Man Winter decided to intervene a bit as well and throw snow at me both days I was to go. But, after quite a bit of jockeying I was granted access to my haven of havens: the Harney and Son's Tea Factory. And the experience was magical.

When I was eleven or so and I first got into tea, the first place I went to was Harney. Recommended by a friend who's cousin worked there, we managed to get a tour of their old factory almost ten years ago. It was small and in a rather nondescript building. How the times have changed. In the almost eleven years since I first went the Harney and Sons company has experienced a huge boom. They are now carried in Starbucks around the world as well as many fine restaurants, hotels, and stores. They're...kind of a big deal now. But, magically, they still retain the good-natured charm and care for their product that they had back when I went as a child. This, combined with an extremely keen business sense, has made them what I think of as an industry giant. And I got to tour their factory.

The front of the building is paneled with glass, the snow crunching almost merrily underfoot as I and my mom (she wouldn't miss this for the world) went to the factory. We had a 1pm appointment but after tasting at their Tasting Room and eating at their cafe in Millerton, we still had a decent bit of time. We figured we'd arrive early and we'd wait for our tour guide. Oh, our tour guide? His name was John Harney, the founder.


The entrance had two cases of old tea pots like the one on the left here. John explained them on the way out, saying that they were, at this point, a few hundred years old. You may notice that they're pretty huge and you may wonder why. These pots aren't just used for tea, actually. They're used to hold hot water. Kettles of this size were used to hold a rather large amount of water to be kept hot over a fire throughout the day for a variety of tasks. John said that when he was a boy and he lived on his family farm that he had the same setup: a large kettle of water always piping hot and ready for anything. He said that after coming in from the barns he would pour a large bowl full of water and wash his hands in it.

On the picture above you can see the small buzzer to the left of the cabinet. We pushed this buzzer and asked to be admitted for our appointment at 1pm. A short wait and the door buzzed open. As soon as the door opened...the smell of tea wafted out. It was an amalgamation of all the teas they had: green tea, black tea, and every flavor you could think of came surging through the door like the last desperate cavalry charge of a battle. It was deliciously tantalizing. We went into what looked to be an office and there we met the king of Harney and Sons, John Harney himself. A warm, genial, and cheerful man; he was awesome. To be completely honest with you, I wanted to hug him. No lies. I settled with a firm but giddy (on my end) handshake. Down to business. The room we were actually in was the call center for Harney and Sons. They took all the orders from their hotline as well as compiled online invoices. We then stopped by the catalog room, where to lovely ladies were hard at work creating the catalogs that I loved, do love, and will love to flip through. We then donned fashionable headgear (hairnets!) and went into the manufacturing section of the plant. It was...massive. Over 80,000 square feet massive. After entering the main door we came upon the online order racks. Huge wire racks on wheels held the invoices and orders for a dozen or so people and there were several available.
In the background here are the wire racks and all around me were the pull-shelves were workers were busy pulling the required teas and putting them in the wire racks. We then went past the boxing machine that boxed up all of the items for shipping as well as weighed them to calculate appropriate shipping charges. Next, we came to this beauty:
Let's play a game called: Guess What This Is. Is it for filling balloons? Is it for making your voice sound really high? Is it powdered tea that can be sprayed onto you like a fine perfume? Nope. It's actually a nitrogen injection machine used for certain types of green tea. Oxygen oxidizes tea, which is what we want. Sometimes. Other times it is significantly detrimental to the flavor and longevity of tea. This machine allows for packaging of green tea in a nitrogen environment, a relatively inert gas that will preserve flavor, color, and extend the life of the tea. We then continued on to the mixing drums.
The massive gray thing in the background is the mixing drums, used to thoroughly blend teas. The guy in the foreground is a worker that happened to smile at just the right time. Thanks guy! Anyway, when we walked in they were working on a special, custom blend for a customer who is pretty famous and also has a line of medicinal teas through Harney and Sons. It was apparently a pretty exclusive blend as John was loathe to show me the mix but finally relented due to my charming persuasion (well, not really but it makes me feel special). It was cool because the entire time we walked around the factory there were tiny trails of fine tea that had seeped out of boxes, barrels, and crates like this trail we found leading up to the mixers:
That's my shoe (blue) and John's shoe (black). Sorry about these pics, I was kinda in a stunned reverence the entire tour. Breathing, walking, and watching were difficult tasks to accomplish at the same time. Amazingly enough, those two mixers were the SMALL mixers.
This huge beastie was the large one. John said that it could hold something along the lines of 500-700 tins of tea at the same time. As you can see, it was so large it requires stairs. That's pretty awesome. After the mixing bins we came to one of the cooler machines in the factory: the teabag maker. Here are some pics:

Picture one is a large picture of the machine. The wheel in the middle crimps and folds the bags as well as gravity feeds them in (there is a box of tea behind the machine with, literally, a vacuum hose in it that sucks it into the gravity hopper). The smaller, silver wheels are there to feed the bag material, which can be shown in huge spool form in the second picture. The third is the final product that the machine spits out: it even goes so far as to fold, glue, and pack the boxes as well. Pretty nifty stuff. This mega monster can crank out 350 tea bags PER MINUTE. That's almost six a second. But this isn't what Harney is really known for. They were one of the first, if not THE first to use silk sachets. Why silk sachets?

If you've ever made a fine cup of loose leaf tea, you'll know that when water is added to tea it expands and creates more surface area for the water to draw out the tasty, tasty chemicals and oils in tea. But what happens if you cram large leaf into a tiny bag? It can't expand. Sachets allow for the use of larger (and generally higher quality) teas that can expand. Also, since the packaging is silk, the tea bag can be brewed a few times instead of the one-off brewing of a standard paper one. Also, I don't like the taste of brewed bleached paper in my tea but that's just me.

This machine:
is actually part of a long line of machines. John said that the two machines that manufacture and package the individual sachets were from Japan and the one that boxes the individual sachets into a vendor box was from Italy. He said that it took several thousands of dollars and quite a bit of time to figure out how to link them so that they would work fluidly as an assembly line. Here is the sachet packaging line:

You'll see in the picture that the lonely little sachets enter from the maker on the left (which is pictured above) into the packager, and get spit out on the right in a neat little tea-envelope. Here's the individual sachet packaging machine:
The ladder going up is actually for the workers to feed the gravity hopper. John said something interesting: these sachets aren't filled by weight but by time. Each portion is pre-weighed in the hopper above (by the ladder) and then the sachets are filled by length of time the doors on the hopper above open. I found that extremely interesting.

Another thing that I found interesting was that Harney and Sons does private tea blends for companies. This is more my fault for thinking this as I always viewed Harney and Sons as the smaller company I toured so many years ago. John showed a few samples of tea in a variety of types (and quality). To be honest, the Harney and Son's tea was, he said, only about a nickel more than some of the packaged stuff for other stores. Boggled my mind why anyone wouldn't use the Harney stuff as opposed to the relatively cheaper stuff they were purchasing. But then again, for some its all about profit rather than the tea itself. A shame, really and a sad mark of our times. But I wax philosophic.

Finally, the piece de resistance: the stock of tea. It was awe-inspiring. Let me enlighten you:
The man on the left is John Harney, master tea blender. On the right is Mom, who puts up with me. Both equally famous. If you're reading this, ma, can you get more cider? Thanks.

Here's even more tea stocks. It was stacked many pallets high and half the building had a second floor for storage. I would have liked to see where they kept the pu-erh cakes but I was honestly too awe-struck to say a thing so it's my fault entirely. One of the coolest things was the fact that Harney and Sons has entered the RTD market (ready-to-drink beverages). My favorite premium version of the Arnie Palmer comes from Harney. Not overly sweet like the Arizona one (except it costs more) it is a refreshingly tart mix. Seen here are the MULTIPLE PALLETS OF TEA BOTTLES:Look at that smorgasbord of ready-to-drink tea. I could have wallowed in it. And that's barely all of it. There were another few sectors with more tea as well as juice lines they came out with for Au Bon Pain.

As we walked along, John pointed out the many pallets of loose tea, sachets, tea bags, and bottles of tea going to different countries. Some were close, like Canada. There were also pallets to the Dominican Republic, Columbia. There were also lots of pallets ranging across the United States as well, from California to right near home in Albany. And I couldn't help but smile. I feel like I've seen this local company grow up to become a trusted brand name. I still remember when they were mixing their teas in an old cement mixer instead of the industrial drum mixers. I remember watching them pack tins by hand and seeing only the handful of tea boxes and barrels lying around. As I have grown, so have they and I'm certainly glad to have grown with them. It warms the cockles of my heart to see a local company do so well. So, thank you Harney and Sons Tea Company for entertaining my inquiry of a tour. You returned it back to me in spades, truly. I wish you the best of luck and I hope you know that you'll have in me a customer for life.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Left Hand Milk Stout - Tuesday Jan. 6th

Beer from a growler is a marvel. While it's not quite as good as fresh from the tap, it is better than from the bottle. The best part about a growler, though, is the fact that you have to finish it quick once it has been opened. Like the Pringles slogan once you pop, don't stop. The beer won't be good for more than a day or two after opening so you gotta drink fast and furiously. Which, coincidentally, is how I like to drink.

After going to my doctor's appointment in Tarrytown and eating 10 White Castle sliders, two orders of fries, an order of rings and a Sprite, I couldn't resist stopping by Half-Time Beverage and picking up some sweet, sweet supplies:

From left to right we have: Stone 08-08-08 Vertical, Stone 07-07-07 Vertical, AleSmith Speedway Stout, Lagunitas Reuben and the Jets (a Frank Zappa beer) and a Stone Levitation. As if this wasn't enough cash to drop, I also got a growler of Left Hand Milk Stout. I'm a big fan of milk stouts, brewed with lactose, and the other stout on tap was the Brooklyn Chocolate Stout which, frankly, was a bit too ABV heavy and intense for me. Although, in retrospect, two growlers would have been a good idea as a half-gallon of either stout was only $13. Whoops. Here's a tall pint of the Left Hand Milk Stout:

As you can see, it pours a deep, velvety black with about a finger of light brown head. Heavy lacing down the glass. Very opaque and intensely dark, like a big glass of India ink.

Smells of deep roasted malts, coffee, bittersweet chocolate, and condensed milk. Slight molasses bread as well.

Mmmm, taste is delicious. Thick and rich, viscous. Sweet, with strong coffee, burnt butter, brown sugar. A touch of creaminess too. Slight bittering hops on the finish keeps the sweetness from being overwhelming. Mmm, the body and mouthfeel is perfect. Just right on the carbonation too; it's only mildly carbonated is the best way to put it.

This is a good beer. No, scratch that, this is a great beer. I'm glad I got a growler of it. I honestly may like this a touch better than Mother's Milk from Keegan Ales but I haven't had a pint of that in awhile. I think we're going again on Friday night so I'll let you know how they compare. Y'know, for science.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Blackthorn Cider - Tuesday, Jan. 5th

As if my life didn't have enough apples, I found a cider I haven't tried yet. Goodie goodie gum-drops. It's a wonder why I ever have to go to the doctors ever when I have so many apple products in my diet. Except for a liver transplant. Anyway, this cider's pretty meh. Nose is heavy with sweet, sweet apples, yeastiness, and bread. Nothing unusual for a cider. The taste...the taste is refreshing but not really cidery. It's a dry cider and it seems pretty thin for a fermented cider. Also has a slightly bitter and very, very short finish. The addition of "carbonated water" probably accounts for this. It's drinkable and pretty thirst quenching but it's pretty thin and not very evolved. Good news is that it clocks in at 6%. It is also the tipple of choice for my friend Ryan, which is odd because it doesn't have a particularly fancy label or enjoyable name. He loves this stuff, mainly because he can get it in a wine bottle size for $4.99. The can above was about $1.99, which makes me wonder if its the same cider. You can generally tell when he's having a bad week by the inclusion of a bottle of this cider in his cart.

I'll give you a hint: it's usually in there. We're chemical engineers, we don't have good weeks.

Edit: I checked, it is the same as what he gets. The Wikipedia page says that it isn't made from fresh-pressed apples but rather apple concentrate, sugar, and controlled industrial yeast. Oh yummy.

Mountain Dew Throwback - Monday, Jan. 4th

I kinda live on Mountain Dew. I am, to be truthful with you dear readers, a gamer at heart. When not slogging through massive craptons of engineering homework or tasting and writing notes, I'm usually either doing three things: listening to music while surfing the net, reading, or playing video games. With a very emphasis on the last. I have no shame in saying that, as Sniper on Team Fortress 2, I have 50ish hours logged. In Final Fantasy XI, I have 200ish days worth of time logged over 6 years.

It's kinda my bag, baby.

Nothing keeps me going through an adrenaline soaked video game party or up late at night working on Physical Chemistry than Mountain Dew. Mountain Dew is a beverage best served ice cold, on ice. Warm it is palatable but akin to drinking lemon-lime motor oil, thanks to the luke-warm brominated vegetable oil in it. But the thing that kills me the most about Mountain Dew: they use that damn high-fructose corn syrup. That stuff just makes it sickeningly sweet and mouth-coating. If I didn't love the hell out of it ice cold, it would be intolerable. However, my keen-eyed ma found me a promised bottle of Mountain Dew Throwback at the local BP today. Mountain Dew Throwback is Pepsi's way of saying: "We're sorry we're using HFCS. Here's what real soda should taste like. But not for long, because its a limited edition product because we hate you and we're cheap". Thanks, Pepsi. Here's a picture of the luscious bottle. Note the old-timey label with the "hillbilly" getting his hat shot through by a cork.

Mountain dew is technically a term for moonshine and Mountain Dew used to be used mainly as a mixer before caffeine was added and it grew a pair. Anyway, the flavor. The Dew of today is similar to the old style in flavor. Lemon/lime is strong with the orange juice base to support it but the sugar really shines. It's actually quaffable. It isn't syrupy sweet and oddly viscous but rather clean and fresh. The sweetness is subdued and less "in your face". It's also a lot less carbonated as well. Cracking a fresh can of Dew is the equivalent of pulling the pin out of a grenade and throwing it straight up in hopes that it won't blow your head off. Opening this bottle yielded a tiny little "pssh" and no foaming, which was a pleasant change from the citrus depth charge they usually are. Anyway, I'll lay this on the line for Pepsi, nice and clear: KEEP MOUNTAIN DEW THROWBACK. It is -significantly- better. It actually tastes like a decent beverage instead of a diabetic coma in a can coupled with the explosive power of a small nation.

However, keep the old ones around so that I can tie strings to the pop-tops and booby trap my house in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Seriously, they're ordinance. No lie.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Capital Region Capers

It all started with me needing cigars.

I really don't need cigars, per se. I want cigars, this is true. I had been meaning to try Illusione cigars for the longest time but nowhere in the lower Hudson Valley carries them. This makes me a sad panda. The only place that carries them is Habana Premium Cigar Shoppe. That's right, shoppe. The extra "pe" means quality and refinement. Except they let myself and my friend Pat in there. Not a good call on the refinement part.

Situated in Colonie, this small-ish looking store packs a wallop. They originally were in an even smaller retail space the last time I went (they have since moved to a more spacious area) and, let me tell you, their humidor is huge. You could rent beds in that mamma jamma. The woman there was extremely helpful and tolerant of me doing the happy dance. I pretty much was doing a happy dance and squealing like a very happy piggy. Their humidor is a smorgasbord of stogies. They had oodles and oodles of Illusiones (save for the culebra which NO ONE HAS). They had every cigar made by General Cigar or at least 90% of them. Strong lines of Perdomo, Alec Bradley, C.A.O., Tatuaje, and Rocky Patel. They had the Room 101 cigars blended by Camacho for Matt Booth but I couldn't afford them after greedily cramming Illusiones into my meaty mitts, so I'll have to go back for them. What a shame...

Here's the haul:

This is the only picture of cigars I have. I kinda blanked out and forgot every defining quality of my existence in that humidor, so I forgot to take pictures. Sorry I'm bad at this. From left to right, we have the mj12, Eperney Le Elegance, the mk, Eperney Le Petit, and the 68 "Bombone". It was expensive (this was about $50) so that's all I bought. I guess I'll have to return to get the other stuff. What a pity...

This would be a worthy trip in it's own right but, honestly, we spent all of about 25 minutes in the cigar store. We didn't even smoke there. Why? Well, we had other business to attend to. Namely a distillery tour. Harvest Spirits, LLC. has been making (according to quite a few) some exceedingly fine spirits at the Golden Harvest Farm in Valatie, NY. What a coincidence! It was only about 20 minutes away from the cigar store. And they were distilling today. Don't mind if I do. We got to the farm and went inside to the tiny farm stand. I was pretty sure this was where the distillery was but the farm stand only had apples, donuts, and cider. I felt kinda odd asking "where's the booze" but I did, only to find out it was around the corner in the back building. We meandered through the snow to the glory that is their distillery. The signs for the distillery were a rather moot point if you got within 30 feet of the building because the air hung heavy with the smell of sweet apples and heavy, heavy hooch. It smelled like victory in apple form. We entered the rather large distillery building to be greeted by a woman busy labeling bottles of Core Vodka. The sales guy/distiller, Collin, offered to give us a short tour and do a tasting with us. The tour was brief and general but I didn't mind. I was slackjawed at their still set-up. Here are some pics. First are the cider fermentation tanks:

Here she is, the Harvest Spirits pride and joy - their German 5-stage column still:

Finally, their rectifying/condensing column. Oddly enough, it was just a straight up copper column and it didn't look like it was jacketed with a condensing water jacket/cuff:I believe Collin said that the still had 39 stages in total, with 5 on the distillation column and 34/35 on the rectifier. Ain't she a beauty? She and her masters make some damn fine spirit as well. The tasting started with their Core Vodka, distilled 3 times from an apple cider they ferment in the tanks shown above. It was quite nice and exactly what I was hoping for. Let me explain.

One thing that I hate about today's vodka is how it's distilled ninety times and then sextuple filtered through activated charcoal made from the logs of Abraham Lincoln's log cabin (or, if you're Dan Akroyd, Herkimer Diamonds). Honestly, if you want your vodka to not have a taste, just buy lab ethanol. Vodka SHOULD have a taste. It shouldn't be a thin, overfiltered and overdistilled drink that you just pour down your throat. It should be thicker and rich, with a consistency and flavor. Core Vodka has this. The nose is a butterscotch and the vodka itself is incredibly smooth with faint notes of crisp fall apples and a slight buttery taste and mouthfeel. An excellent vodka. They also make something they call "pearvados", a calvados made of a distilled pear slurry. We managed to try this not just from the bottle but from a char #2 new American Oak cask that they're aging some "super pearvados". The bottled version, cut to 80 proof, has some pear sweetness and flavor but also an odd mustiness that I found strange. The barrel proof one was a lot better, with that mustiness very muted but with strong pear and peppery spice, along with rich but not overwhelming oak. Collin said that they'll be bottling the Super Pearvados at cask strength which, I feel, is an excellent and wise choice. He also said that the bottling would be pretty soon as they didn't want it to get too "oaky" which I also agree with. The sample we tried was 2 months aged and it had a nice light oak edge to it. I'd hazard a few more months and she'll be sitting pretty.

Finally was the Cornelius Applejack, the real reason I came to Harvest Spirits. You know my love of apples and apple cider. I drink a lot of it. You also know of my penchant for bourbon as well. Their Cornelius is distilled from their cider and aged in ex-Woodford Reserve barrels. Oh man, it is great. So great it warranted a bottle purchase. The price was a touch high ($40) but it was worth every penny. They've already sold out of two barrels worth and I got bottle #203 from batch 3. So hop to it if you want a bottle of this nectar of life. I'll have a more formal tasting of it later this week.

Yeah. Good day.