Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Prisoner Red Blend 2013

I have never been to prison. I’ve had my fingerprints taken a couple of times, but that’s neither here nor there. Honestly, I’m older and wiser now so I avoid activities that could get me pinched. Now, the closest thing I ever want to be to iron bars is The Prisoner Red Blend from The Prisoner Wine Company.

Winemaker Jen Beloz has taken the time to traverse the hills of California to meet and buy grapes from some outstanding vineyard owners. She found great producers in Calistoga, St. Helena, and Yountville that take great pride in growing some of Cali’s best. For The Prisoner, she has gathered Zinfandel, Cabernet, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and a grape you don’t hear about very much, Charbano. Also known as Bonardo in Italy where it originated, Charbano is the second most grown grape in South America, but it’s presence in the U.S. isn’t very well known. Just FYI, this grape is mostly used for blending. It adds a deep purple hue and some mid-level tannins. It’s a good grape to soften wines like Cabernet and Petite Sirah without thinning them out or detracting from the flavors they bring to a blend.

The Prisoner is a fairly bold wine but overly so. I popped the cork and had half a glass straight away. I decanted the rest and let it hang out for about a half hour. The difference between my first glass and the aired out glass was obvious and wonderful. The tannins were tight and the alcohol bite was sharp until it had a chance to relax in the decanter. What emerged from my duck-shaped decanter was smooth and silky. It was one of those wines that tasted so good I forgot to figure out what the taste profile was. I just enjoyed it. A lot! Upon closer inspection, I got a whole lot of bright cherry and twangy raspberry. There were also some weird hints of dark coffee and vanilla in the background that highlighted rather than distracted from the fruit. The finish on it was kind of a cherry, pomegranate zing and the faintest air of a fresh fig. I know all of this sounds like it was a bright and shiny wine, but it was super dark red with a lot of happy character, like a prisoner who’s about to be let out on parole. He was dark and brooding on the outside, joyous and mirthful on the inside. It will set you back a few sawbucks retailing for about $40, so if you’re like me, it’s a “once in a while wine”. Nothing wrong with that. If you’re out looking for a nice bottle of vino, pick up a prisoner…I mean pick up THE Prisoner. Cheers.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Black Mesa ES-ESB Beer

In the United States, there seems to be a competition over who can cram the most hops into a bottle of beer. While that’s perfect for all of my IPA loving friends, it leaves folks who enjoy more traditional brews searching for something that fits their tastes. Something I was lucky enough to have discovered for myself was Black Mesa Brewing Company. Those lads know how to brew good beer that doesn’t make your whole face pucker.

Brad Stumph the science guy and Chris Sanders the brewmaster guy started Black Mesa Brewery in Oklahoma City in 2012. As with any new business they had high hopes, a clear vision, and untapped potential. (Pun intended.) They were cranking out some great beers and sending them to local bars and package stores. Then in May of 2013, a tornado bent them over the beer barrel and demolished their facility. At the time I read the article, I hadn’t heard of the brewery, but I still shed a little tear for them. Since I am a business owner and a beer lover, I felt heartbroken for them. But after the initial shock of the event, they undauntedly started looking for a new place to brew. They looked at a few larger sized breweries in the Midwest and decided to contract brew with the really cool guys at O’Fallon Brewery that is in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri.

Most people, who have had a terrible event happen to them like a tornado, choose to rebuild. The disruption or devastation of their lives is a battle cry to overcome it. But Brad and Chris did what I would have done. They thought about it and weighed their options. Here comes my soapbox rant about my home state. Oklahoma has some of the worst bullshit laws pertaining to alcohol in the entire country. We still have 3.2% ABV beer that is sold in grocery stores and convenience stores. It can be stored and sold cold. Liquor stores can carry regular strength beer like the rest of the country, but it has to remain room temperature. That is just one out of dozens of inane laws that people in the alcohol business have to deal with. The law that Black Mesa faced was they were not allowed to have a tasting room in their brewery if they didn’t offer 3.2% ABV versions of their beers. They weren’t about to ruin beer just to appease laws that were passed in 1959 and haven’t changed since. They decided they would not rebuild in Oklahoma until that law changes. I wholeheartedly applaud them for that. Brad said in an interview, “We are one of the remaining 3.2% states. A change in this law would give us the confidence that a physical brewery could be a viable business in our home state.” Once again, Oklahoma loses out on a wonderful business because it won’t progress. But luckily for you and me, they continue to brew and sell. They’ve even started distributing in Kansas City. Hooray for them!

I’ve tried all but one of their beers, and last night I had one that was new to me. It was their ES-ESB. That stands for Extra Special-Endless Skyway Bitter. Holy moly, it was delicious. They have said in the past that they are going for more of an Old World style of brewing beer and this one hit it right on the nose. Reminiscent of old British-Style Bitters, this beer has a lower hop content that lets the malt shine bright. The guys also decided to age this beer in used Remy Martin Cognac barrels for about seven months. This added an oaky vanilla taste to the already strong toasted grain, cream, and nut flavors. I probably could have just had this hefty beer for dinner by itself, but I was glad to add it to my meal. I was having some pork chops with sautéed onions and shrooms for dinner and this beer tasted like it was meant for it. I’m honestly putting Black Mesa ES-ESB on a short list of favorites brews. Nice work, fellas.

Black Mesa ES-ESB is 9.6% ABV and I’m not sure about the IBUs

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Monday, November 9, 2015

Castillo de Monseran Old Vine Garnacha 2009

The rain in Spain makes puddles in my brain…I don’t think that’s how that old saying goes. At any rate, the rain in Spain DOES make the wonderful Garnacha vines grow to produce some of the best table wines around. One such wine that I tried recently was from Castillo de Monseran.

Monseran is part of a large organization called the Bodega San Valero. San Valero was started in 1945 with a collection of 60 grape growers and wine producers. Those 60 growers started the cooperative as a way for everyone to benefit from everyone else’s knowledge. Imagine 60 small businesses pooling their information to raise each other to a new level of success. That’s what they did. Now San Valero is home to roughly 700 grape growers all working to bring world class Spanish wines to you and me. In total, they have 4,000 hectares of vineyards to oversee, maintain, and choose from when it’s wine making time. That is nearly 10,000 acres of grapes. A great number of these vines are grown in bush vines instead of trellised vines like what you see in most viticultural areas. No long rows of continuous vines, just big fat grape bushes. I’ll include a photo at the bottom so you can see what I’m talking about. It looks so cool.

One of the best growing grapes in this area is Garnacha. The French picked up some of these vines, took them home, planted them, and called them Grenache. They make Rhone wines and the famous Chateauneuf du Pape wines from this grape. It was also thought to be the first grapes that were planted in Australia when it was being colonized after the initial rush of convicts were sent there. Castillo de Monseran is made by Hugh Ryman with the help of Jesus Prieto from San Valero’s wine making crew. What they were going for with this wine was Old World meets New World and they accomplished that quite deftly.

This Garnacha is harvested, fermented, and aged in small oak barrels for a short period of time. The grape juice is bottled within a year of its squish date, or maceration date for those that prefer proper terminology. Doing this maintains a high level of freshness in the wine. That’s the New World part of the wine. The Old World part is the flavor profile that this wine exhibits. With the main flavors coming through as sloe, red currant, and a hint of herbs, the wine stays true to its origins of the Spanish countryside. It has a medium tannin level due to the addition of about 10% of Mazuela grape juice. It gives the lighter Garnacha a little deeper color and heavier taste. Even with a heavyweight in the mix, it is wonderfully easy to drink and it should be consumed sooner rather than trying to cellar it for later. This Old Vine Garnacha has enough complexity to not be a plain old table wine, but it’s simple enough to pair with nearly any dish you would want to have it with. I had mine with beef tips and au jus with chive laden mashed potatoes over sour dough toast. It was perfect.

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Bush Vines

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Boulevard's Smokestack: Sixth Glass Quadrupel Ale

Since I’m constantly snooping through the inventory of beer, wine and liquor distributors, I tend to find some things I’ve never tried. When the Boulevard Brewery began releasing their Smokestack Series of beers, I jumped at the chance to bring them into the store. Mostly because I wanted to try them, but customers could try them too, I guess. Me first!!

Boulevard Brewery is located on the Missouri side of Kansas City. In 1988, a guy named John McDonald found a cool old brick building and start installing a Bavarian brew house inside of it. Production cranked up in ’89 and the first keg rolled off the line in November of that year. John loaded up that first keg of Pale Ale in his pickup and drove it to a restaurant a couple of blocks away. Flash forward a bit to 2006 and the brewery jumped from the original plan of 6,000 Barrels per year to 600,000 Barrels per year. That’s a pretty hefty upgrade!

Down the line, Boulevard delved into the super-premium beer category with their Smokestack Series. There are six beers available year-round and a few other special releases and seasonal brews. The all year beers are The Calling, Tank 7 Farmhouse, Tell Tale Tart, Dark Truth Stout, Long Strange Tripel, and Sixth Glass Quadrupel. The last one is the topic of discussion this round.

Sixth Glass is a typical Quadrupel in that it is dark brown, very malty, low hopped, higher in alcohol, and a tinge sweet. What isn’t typical is that a beer so outstanding is made three hours from my front door. I know there are great brewers in the U.S. making great beers, but when I drink a Sixth Glass, I shudder a bit and wonder how this isn’t made by Trappist monks in a Belgian monastery. The name of the beer refers to the Hans Christian Anderson story The Watchman of the Tower. The taste of the beer refers to heaven itself. It has the taste of toasty barley blended with hints of cream, dark caramel, and that heavy artisanal bread you get from a really good old world bakery. I enjoy this beer with smoked ham and soft cheeses. I enjoy it sitting on my couch while I slouch. I would drink it on a train with a crane in the rain… Okay, I’m getting a little too Seussical. The long and short of it is, this beer is incredibly good and at 10.5% ABV, you don’t need much of it to make you feel its effects. It is available in 12 ounce 4 packs and cork-topped 750s. It rates a 10.5% ABV and an IBU of 22. Love it.

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Flirt Red Wine 2011

I love to flirt. Without a doubt, I’m no good at it. But, that doesn’t keep me from leaning my shoulder against a wall, winking at a lovely lady, and asking “How you doin’?” Honestly, I would fail at a women’s prison on conjugal visit day. Luckily for us, Flirt Red Wine is better at seducing than I am.

Sourced from some vineyards in Mendocino, Flirt is a blend of Syrah, Tempranillo, and Zinfandel. Some vintages in the past were made up with different grapes, but the 2011 contains a tasty blend of those grapes I listed. One of the things I enjoyed was that one varietal didn’t stand out far above the others. It was a well-crafted blend that highlights each varietal equally. Some of the tastes that came through were cherries and plums. I had to double check to make sure there wasn’t any Sangiovese in this wine because that was my initial thought. Nope. I was wrong, which only happens once a year. What are you laughing at!? The cherries and plums give it a fruitiness that could be misread as sweetness, but it isn’t. It’s just a big bowl of berries in a bottle. The tasty fruit was enveloped in a slight vanilla flavor which is a characteristic of using good oak barrels or oak planks. It was a fantastic finishing touch to this wine. And, speaking of finishing touches, the spiciness of the Syrah showed itself in the aftertaste. It was like a little kiss at the end of date. Y’know, so I’ve heard.

Another great thing about Flirt Red Blend is that it doesn’t cost that much. For under $15, you can get a crowd-pleasing red wine with a nice label. So pick up a bottle of Flirt on the way to your next soiree. You’ll be the hit of the party. I’m taking my own advice and bringing one to the next party I’m invited to. So, if you want to invite me, just say so. Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Okie Smokies BBQ - Grove, Oklahoma

Sometimes when I write a restaurant review, I’m only in a town for a day or two, I find a place to eat, and if it’s delicious, I’ll write about it straight away. Since it’s fresh on my mind and I don’t want to forget the experience, I’ll make some quick notes and fire off a story when I get back to my computer. When I find a good place in my own hometown, however, I forget to write a review. My brain tells me, “You’ll remember to write about this place since it’s right down the street. Don’t take notes. You’ve eaten here dozens of times.” This has been the case for a favorite haunt of mine, Okie Smokies BBQ.
            When I say that I’ve eaten there dozens of times, that is no exaggeration. To say that I’ve tried everything on the menu might be. Their menu is so big that I get a little overwhelmed and excited each time I go in. I’m pretty sure I’m missing out on something because my memory isn’t what it used to be. It doesn’t matter because it’s all delicious.
            The other night the family and I went in for some Q. Like always, I stand and stare at the chalk board menu for what seems like an eternity. People behind me fidget and make comments under their breath. I don’t care. I want to get the exact right thing. I should know by now that I could just say any barbecue related word and the folks behind the counter would bring out something tasty. That night I had the chopped brisket and hot links. I added some mac & cheese and corn on the cob for my sides. I grabbed some pickles and a drink, sat down and waited patiently. As usual, it came out pretty quickly. The brisket was lean, the hot links were, well, hot and the sides tasted like I was at a cookout. Home run again, Okie Smokies.
            Since I’ve been there a time or two…or thirty, I can assure you that brisket and links aren’t the only good thing on their giant menu. They also have the best turkey sandwich I’ve ever eaten. Also, I love the ribs, the pulled pork, the chicken, the catfish, the fries both regular and sweet potato, the burgers and on and on. If you’re in Grove, Oklahoma for any reason, make sure to swing by and see the great folks at Okie Smokies BBQ. You’ll walk away happy and satisfied. There's also a pretty good chance that you'll see me in there stuffing my face.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Goose Island Sofie Farmhouse Ale

A long time ago in the 1980’s, a guy named John Hall made a trip across Europe. Along the way, he tried a lot of beers that he thought would be great to have in the United States. As is too often the case, the story would probably end there with the phrase, “Yeah, that’d be cool.” But with John, that was not the case. He was trying to fly home and got stuck in Dallas as all travelers have at one point or another. John picked up a magazine and started thumbing through it. He happened upon an article about boutique beers gaining popularity in the U.S. It changed him forever. John says, “I must be the only person in history who made a major career change on the basis of a Delta Sky article.” We should all thank the author of that article and be glad that John was stuck at D/FW.

In 1988, John started Goose Island Brewery and began making beer in Chicago. He made some, drank some, and shared some. Eventually, he started inviting people to watch the process of beer making. He developed a following with his beers and in 1995, expanded the brewery. A short time later, he expanded again. His beer repertoire was growing. He pioneered the idea of aging beers in Bourbon Barrels. Thanks for that, brother! He now makes a lot of different beers. Some are only available at certain times of the year, but others, like the one I’ve been drinking lately, are available all year round. For reference there is a beer calendar on their website. As usual, I listed it below.

John named the Sofie Farmhouse Ale after his granddaughter. Something I would totally do too. Farmhouse Ale was originally made by farm owners in Belgium as an easy drinking summer beer for when farm hands needed a break in the middle of a hot day. Now you don’t have to bale hay and fix fence line to enjoy a Farmhouse. All you need is a cool beer store. The beer is aged in wine barrels with some fresh orange peels added. This gives the beer a distinct citrusy taste without being a fruit beer. You taste all the toasty malt and fresh hops and the orange is an afterthought. It is crisp and clean, refreshing and smooth. What a beer!
Sofie the beer is 6.5% ABV and 25 IBUs. Cheers!

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Beran California Zinfandel 2012

Something old, something new, something borrowed…I can’t think of anything blue about this wine. Oh! I’m blue because I only bought one bottle. Cue a sad Tom Waits tune. On the bright side, my wine shop carries Beran Zinfandel so I am never far from replenishment.

Something Old: They use some grapes from old vine plantings
Something New: They use some grapes from new growth vines.
Something Borrowed: A wealth of knowledge on how to produce wonderful Zin.

This Red Zinfandel falls under the umbrella of Copper Cane Wines. That includes Elouan Pinot Noir from Oregon and the California Red and White Blends of Carne Humana. The third label is what I happily sampled the other night, Beran Zinfandel. The winemakers have sourced Zin grapes from all the major viticulture areas in California to make up this tasty wine. Using old and new growth vines automatically makes it complex since they each impart different flavors. Something else that is characteristic of Zin grapes is that climate really affects what they taste like. This, of course, affects how the wine will taste. Hot climates tend to give the wines spiciness and dark fruit characteristics. Cooler climates give the wines a soft, blackberry jam taste. This wine is a perfect blend of the all of those things.

As you may well know, I’m impatient when it comes to opening a bottle of wine. I have to drink some right away even though it’s usually a good idea to let reds air out for a few minutes. It’s kind of like coffee. Take a sip right away and it won’t taste like much and it will scald your uvula. But if you let it sit for a few minutes, you can actually taste the flavors. Same with wine. Letting it aerate for a little bit will open up the flavors and you can taste a lot of subtle things you missed by gulping that first glass. What I tasted when I jumped the gun and sipped the freshly poured juice was a strong hit of oaky vanilla and dark berries with some pretty tight tannins. While it was good, I knew that if I was patient and waited, a whole world of smells and flavors would present themselves. And they did. The oak influence settled down and the fruit brightened up. There were all kinds of esters floating around reminding me of boysenberries, a hint of cranberry, and a rich blackberry tart. At the tail end of the mouthful, the typical peppery flavor showed itself. I was eating some grilled bratwurst and hot links when I had this Zin and it was quite enjoyable. If you like red wines at all, you should try Beran Zinfandel. It’s subtly complex without being complicated. Easy to drink. Easy to love. Cheers!

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Monday, October 12, 2015

Hacker-Pschorr Munich Gold

Reinheitsgebot. I love to say it. I love what it means and represents. It is the German word for the beer purity laws passed in Bavaria in the year 1516. It is pronounced rine-HITES-gu-boat and I say it to myself in a thick German accent far too often. One of my favorite beers follows the rules of the beer laws by only having the three ingredients Water, Barley, and Hops. Of course yeast is part of the equation but it’s not a part of the actual law. That beer is Hacker-Pschorr Munich Gold.

In the late 1700’s, Joseph Pschorr bought a brewery from his father-in-law and named it the Pschorr Brewery. They were doing pretty well so they opened another brewery named the Hacker Brewery. They sold beers separately up until the mid-1970’s. After that, they merged into what they are today. Back when they were first getting things cranking up in the brewery, a young lad named Prince Ludwig I of Bavaria asked a few local brewers to come up with a special brew for his wedding. From that inquiry, Oktoberfest was born. Munich brewers are the only beer makers that are allowed at the original celebration in Germany and Hacker-Pschorr is one of them. But, like most other brewers, they aren’t satisfied being a one trick pony. One of their other beers is the Munich Gold.

It tastes a little heavier than it looks. It has a slightly pale yellow color but it is full of beery goodness. On the first drink, I noticed a nice toasty grain flavor. It was crisp even though it had a touch of malty sweetness. As it trailed off down the pipe, there was a grassy, happy, hoppy ending. A tinge of spice from the low but flavorful hop content makes this beer a terrific blend of all the things that make beer wonderful. It clocks in at 5.5% ABV and has a 15 IBU. Grab a sixer and make a night of it! Prost und Reinheitsgebot!

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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Boundary Breaks 2013 Reserve Riesling No. 198

I am officially adding the Finger Lakes region of New York to my list of wine areas that I need to visit. I have never been there and, up until today, I have never even had a wine from that region. Holy Cow! I’ve been missing out. What was it that made me put New York on my life’s itinerary? The wine in the title: Boundary Breaks Reserve Riesling.

Boundary Breaks is close to Lodi, New York. The vineyard is situated on a fertile plot of land that sits on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake. A wicked long time ago, glaciers etched the landscape in that area producing deep trenches that water still flows through today. The vineyard sits in between a couple of these “breaks” that cut through the terrain. The cooler climate in this area lends itself to growing flavor-packed Riesling grapes and perfumed Gewurztraminer.

The multi-generational crew at Boundary Breaks has taken great pains to figure out which grapevines grow in which soils in the vineyards. They have several Geisenheim clones from the Geisenheim Grape Breeding Institute in Rheingau. The uber-smart people there have created some wonderful hybrids and clones of vines from all over the place. The grapevines that Boundary Breaks chose were from Neustadt in central Germany. The accumulated knowledge of everyone’s trials and errors resulted in one of the best Rieslings I’ve ever had; No. 198 Reserve Riesling.

The 198 is the clone from which this single vineyard Riesling was made. Its color was pretty much like every other Riesling, a soft, pale yellow. That’s where the similarities ran out. Unlike some of the Rieslings I’ve tried in the past, this one didn’t have an oily feel or a cloying sweetness. It was clean, slightly crisp and completely delicious. I tasted mild fruits like passion fruit and Porter peach. It might sound weird, but I tasted a honeyed tea on the finish. I haven’t tried all the Rieslings in the world but I’ve tried a heckuva lot of them and this was as close to perfect as I’ve tasted. I would drink this with spicy Thai food, sushi, Buffalo wings, bagels with lox and cream cheese, or a fruit-based dessert like pie. This was truly a world class wine from a hopefully up and coming wine region and vineyard. Cheers.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Zolo Malbec 2014

Funny story about Malbec. A long time ago when some French guys decided to plant grapes in Argentina, there was a shipping mishap on the boat ride from France to Argentina. All the labels on the cuttings that were being transported became wet and the ink bled. The first Argentine vineyard with French vines was a mish-mash because of a little leak. There was a row of Cabernet next to two rows of Merlot, then one row of Malbec and another row of Cabernet. Eventually, the vines grew and they figured out where the Cabernet was. With the Merlot and Malbec, they had a tougher time discerning which was which since they were so similar. New plantings take a few years to produce grapes so they waited and waited. Finally, with some trial and error, they discovered the plants’ true identities and replanted them all so that all the like vines were next to each other. That makes them easier to harvest. What they didn’t know back then was how well Malbec would flourish in the foothills of the Andes Mountains.

Malbec in France was a blending grape in Bordeaux. The Americans thought that Malbec would do well since they had a lot of sun and needed cheap grapes to make bulk wine. It wasn’t until a guy named Zapata planted the vines in Mendoza and started making kick ass wines from only Malbec that opinions changed. After that, Argentina adopted it as an unofficial national wine. Zolo has done one better and made their vineyards a sustainable growing region. That means they don’t destroy the earth to bring you tasty wines. Thanks, Zolo.

The Zolo Malbec that I tried recently was great. There aren’t any easier words to describe it. It just tasted great. It is in the medium body range so it was smooth. It has a nice fruitiness that doesn’t come across as a jamosaurus or a fruit bomb. What it does have is a floral essence not often found in red wines. It’s not a noticeable taste but rather a faint afterglow. It was intriguing and fun to sense it. For me, the main component of this wine was currants. A little plum and a little blackberry, but mostly currant notes. I loved it. I imagine if you tried it, you would think the same. Also, this wine is a CATWA. (Cheap And Tasty Wine Alert) Enthusiast, Spectator, and Robert Parker all said the same thing. We can’t all be wrong! Cheers. 

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Instant Karma Gourmet Hot Dogs

It’s awesome. You should go there.

I guess I could elaborate on that a little bit. My family and I took a short trip to Joplin recently and wanted something different than the usual things we find on Rangeline Road. There are only so many burgers, Chinese buffets, and sandwiches you can eat and not go crazy. I heard about Instant Karma from a friend who had eaten there a few months ago. I squared it away with my wife and daughter and we headed downtown.

Instant Karma is in an old store front that has those classic display windows and a front door that’s tucked back away from the sidewalk. When I went in, the first things I saw were a foosball table, some local art on the walls, about 15 tables, and a full bar. I would later learn from our great waitress that it is stocked with 26 beers, 1 cider, and a wine all on tap. We were told the specials of the day which sounded great but we all wanted one of their standards from the menu. My daughter found her new favorite food on the planet, the Grilled Cheese Burger. Picture if you will two grilled cheese sandwiches. Now imagine those two sandwiches as the bottom and top buns for a big juicy hamburger. She also added some sweet potato fries as her side. I think my daughter shed a little tear of joy when it showed up. She said she might need to move to Joplin because of it. My lovely wife ordered one of her favorite things, a bratwurst with sour kraut and mustard. She said it was very good, but the mustard was hot enough that her spirit left her body for a couple of minutes. I tried it and it was pretty spicy but very tasty. Finally, I ordered the Wiener Cristo. Imagine a Monte Cristo sandwich but with a hot dog. It was served on a plate dusted with powdered sugar and some grape jelly which I prefer above the usual raspberry jelly. To top it off, we ordered a basket (which was actually a giant plate) of cheese fries to split between us. After we had devoured most of what was in front of us, we sat back staring into space because we were all a little food high. The grand total for all of us to eat and drink was a little pricey at $50, but it was a great trip to a new place. We’ll definitely go back to Instant Karma. I’ll just have to remember to schedule the visit after payday. 

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson

There are quite a few authors that I really enjoy reading. Most of the time, I like non-fiction. Any subject has the opportunity to grasp my attention and keep me enthralled cover to cover. I knew from an early age that I like biographies. It didn’t matter much who it was but most of the time it was actors and musician since they were the only people I really knew about. When I was unemployed for a bit, I spent a lot of time at the library. I still do spend time there, but for this story, it was the time I was job hunting. After I would scan the paper and internet for jobs, I would walk up and down the aisles looking for books to occupy my time. I happened upon a book that forever left an impression on me. It was A Walk In The Woods by Bill Byson.

At the time, I was wishing for a different life. As many of you know, the only thing worse than having a job is looking for a job. I wanted to escape. I wanted to be somewhere else. I found out that I could do a little escaping through the travels journals that Bill was thoughtful and talented enough to write. It took me about a week to read through it. I always tell people it’s because I have to sound out all the words. In truth, it’s because I like to take my time and really get all there is out of the written word; the humor, the seriousness, the sentence structure, the language and vocabulary. I love it all. Bryson had been writing for quite some time before I discovered him. That meant that I didn’t have to wait for him to write another book. He already had six others waiting for me. All of which the library had on their shelves. When I finally got a job, and paid off a few things to get me current, I invested in hardcover copies of all of his books for my personal library. These are the few books that I can read multiple times. They are packed full of armchair philosophy, brilliant humor, daring adventure, heartfelt love, and above all a complete story. There are no instances of unresolved tales. I appreciate that since I’ve read far too many books that have holes in the story line, time deleted from biographies, and intentional cliff hangers that never get resolved. Bill’s travel journal books are the best. His other books are fantastic. His Brief History of Nearly Everything was a vast undertaking for me but I finished it. Remember, I had to sound out all the words.

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Black Mass (2015)

Friday was payday for my wife. She was happy to get a little extra cash so she asked if I wanted to go out on a date. I said, “Let me think…a date with a beautiful woman. Yeah, I think I want to do that.” She said that she drove by the theater and saw that Black Mass had just been released. We agreed that a cinematic adventure would definitely be in the evening’s plans.
Black Mass is the story of James “Whitey” Bulger. He was the head of the Irish mob in Boston for years. I had read a few books about Jimmy and the Winter Hill Gang so I knew the players and what their fates were. That didn’t stop me from thoroughly loving this movie. It was so well performed that I forgot to think about who was who and what had happened. I’ve been a casual fan of Johnny Depp for quite some time. I’ve seen all of his movie but I never watched 21 Jump Street when it was on TV. I didn’t usually go specifically to see him, but he was always involved in projects that I wanted to see. In Black Mass, Johnny Depp disappeared into the character of Whitey Bulger. It proved to me without a doubt that he has a wide acting range. Top notch, JD.

The story tells the ins and outs of the relationship between the Irish mob and the FBI. It was a tangled mess to say the least. Since I did know the stories, the film could have been another hour and a half long and I still would have been enthralled by it. As it is, I know Hollywood likes to keep people’s short attention spans in check so it told the meat of the story and not much else. That’s okay. I was glad to have seen it even if it wasn’t long enough. It’s a good movie to go see even if you don’t know who Jimmy Bulger is.

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Shiner - Ruby Redbird Beer

We’ve just been through a summer that wasn’t too terribly bad as far as the weather goes. Don’t get me wrong, summertime in Oklahoma is still hot, sticky humid, and sometimes tornadic. One thing that helped ease the heat was beer. Mmmm…beeeer. One that I particularly enjoyed this year was Shiner’s Ruby Redbird. It was refreshing. Or as I sometimes say ‘Wefweshing’!

Shiner starts off with a golden colored lager that is light weight, and very tasty. The Ruby in the name is a subtle hint to let you know there is fresh Texas ruby red grapefruit juice in it. If that wasn’t enough of a pick-me-up, they added a faint hint of ginger to give this beer a bit of a zing at the end. When I first brought it home, I was a little apprehensive since grapefruit isn’t one of my favorite fruits. But in the name of experimentation, I grabbed one and put it in the beer fridge. I got it out the next day and poured it into my favorite pint glass. It looked beautiful. It smelled a little like citrus but not too much. I took my first drink and thought twice about not liking grapefruit. It had a light grapefruit taste blended amazingly with the malt. It has a low hop content so you could drink a few and not tax your taste buds. I didn’t actually taste the ginger in the beer, but I felt the twinge of it on the back of my tongue. If you like beers that are a little different, this will pique your interest. I finished this Ruby Redbird pretty quickly and I wanted another one. Alas, I only bought one bottle. I had to wait a whole 24 hours before I could have another one. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Get a sixer. Cheers.  ABV - 4.01 / IBU - 13

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Molly Dooker: The Boxer Shiraz 2014

A friend of mine used to come to my office when he wasn’t out selling newspaper advertising or spending time with his lovely wife. I always keep an acoustic guitar handy for those days when I need some music therapy and one afternoon he came in, sat down, picked up the guitar and started playing. He played the Simon and Garfunkel song “The Boxer” from beginning to end. When the song was over he looked at me and said, “I’m sick.” He passed away a year later and now that song doesn’t mean what it used to mean to me. Now it’s an homage to a great man that I knew.

Flash forward a couple of years and I was searching for new wines to sample and write about, when up pops The Boxer Shiraz from Molly Dooker. My friend instantly came to mind. It was high time to have a drink in his honor. I knew Molly Dooker wines but I had never tried this one so into the cart it went. When it arrived, the label made me chuckle a bit. It has a cartoon of a muscle bound pugilist with a five o’clock shadow and an anchor tattoo on one side of the label and the name, varietal, and vintage on the other.
After a couple of days, I was able to sit down, relax, and open the wine. It has a nice looking screw cap, my preferred closure. No possibility of cork taint! I bought some new Bordeaux style wine glasses so I took one out and poured a half glass of Shiraz. The appearance was a wonderful deep purple (insert Smoke on the Water riff here). The taste was NOT smoke on the water. It was hints of tart red cherry at the beginning and a long finish of blackberries and spices you might find in an aged rum like white pepper and all spice. The tannins were a little softer than what I was expecting from a higher end Australian Shiraz. It comes from McLaren Vale which happens to be one of my favorite spots on the planet. I didn’t know that when I ordered it, but it was a happy surprise. Overall, this wine was brilliantly put together. One of those wines where everything happened exactly as it should have. It was well worth a little higher price of about US$25. I love this wine. It was the perfect way to honor Kip's memory. Cheers, mate.

P.S. Aren’t you glad I didn’t say “this wine has a wicked left hook” or “I could go three rounds with this wine anytime”. You’re welcome.

Here's a link to the Molly Dooker website. It's a trip.

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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Grind Espresso Shot

I love coffee. I don’t like more than one or two cups in the morning. I’m also not one of those people that stands in line at a national chain shop waiting for a half decaf mocha soy latte with caramel sauce and extra foam. No, I’m much more of a guy that likes black coffee from my favorite convenience store or diner. I’ll drop in a little French vanilla cream if I’m feeling frisky but most of the time I like it strong and black. I’m sure I could make an innuendo about my girl Serena Williams, but I would never stoop to that level. Love ya' SW.

One of my favorite liquor reps was in town with a few things for me to try. One of the bottles she brought was Grind Espresso Shot. It is made with Arabica coffee from Columbia and Caribbean rum. There are a whole lot of coffee liqueurs out on the market. People even make their own “homemade Kahlua” as most of them call it. There are some good ones, there are some cheap ones, but there is rarely one that fits both of those adjectives. Grind is that liqueur. Hooray for us all. The taste of Grind is pretty straight forward on the first shot. It tastes like sweet coffee. On the second shot…yes I had two! I was doing research! On the second shot, I let it warm up a little then I took a sip. As it swished on my tongue, I picked up all the great subtle flavors that comes with a strong coffee from the hills of Columbia. I was able to pull the taste of almonds and pecans, roasted cacao nibs, a faint hit of vanilla, and cane sugar. Whether those were the actual flavors in the liqueur or not is really irrelevant. The only thing you need to know is that it was super delicious and half the price of Kahlua. Look for it, ask for it, buy it, and enjoy the heck out of it. Cheers. 

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Bogle Petite Sirah Port 2008

If you haven’t come to this conclusion yet, I’m a bit of an oddball. I suppose I’m not special holding that title but I don’t like mainstream things all that much. I like 1950’s jazz on LP, goth women, expensive rum, fart jokes, and wines that not many people have heard of. While I was snooping through my supplier’s website, I happened upon a wine that was a new style from an old favorite. Bogle vineyards makes great affordable wines, Cab, Chard, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauv Blanc, Riesling, Petite Sirah, Old Vine Zinfandel, Essential Red, and the seasonal favorite Phantom. They’re all good. I know because I’ve tried them all. The one that caught me off guard was their Petite Sirah Port. I saw it and said out loud to no one, “I kinda need to get one of those…for research.”

I’ve consumed a lot of Port wine. Most of it has been from Portugal and made with grapes that I’ll never be able to pronounce. There are about 80 different grapes that Portuguese winemakers can use in any one vintage of Port. They don’t use that many, but they can if they wanted to. There are an ever increasing number of wineries from all over the globe that are making Port from grapes that grow in their area like Cabernet, Syrah, and Petite Sirah. Those bolder wines tend to hold up to the process of turning good wine into great Port. Geyser Peak has a fantastic Shiraz Tawny and Elyse has an equally brilliant Cabernet Port. One that can easily keep up with those dessert wines is Bogle’s Petite Syrah Port which is a ruby style Port as opposed to a tawny style. Ruby is young and fresh, tawny is older, tanner, and more complex. (That’s the way too overly simple explanation of Port.)

I received the wine on a Thursday, took it home to my wine cabinet and let it settle down for a few days. I’ve ridden on delivery trucks so I know some of the things that drivers can do while on the road. Shaking up good wine is one of them. Not on purpose, of course, but it happens. I let the bottle rest on its side in the dark cabinet that used to be my grandfather’s 1950’s television cabinet. The black and white TV was removed and wine racks were installed. It is my favorite piece of furniture. It was Sunday night before I opened it and the aroma of old juice from fat grapes smelled quite nice. Petite Sirah, or Durif as it is also known, has a plummy taste with heavy tannins and some black pepper and spice notes to top it off. During the fermentation process, brandy is added to halt the yeast from fully making it table wine. This jacks up the alcohol while maintaining the wine’s young fresh taste profile. This particular wine was the 2008 vintage that they released in 2011. It sat in a barrel for that long breathing the winery air in and out of the American oak barrels. This let the characteristics of the wood blend with the wine as it mellowed. The overall taste was truly enjoyable. The rich plum notes found in Petite Sirah transformed into a black cherry, dark chocolate, and elderberry heaven elixir. It had the faintest of spice notes, but the oak must have sucked the spice out and replaced it with a hint of blonde tobacco. It might sound like a weird combination to some, but I assure you that it made up a wonderful dessert wine. Their website stated that this port could easily be cellared for up to 20 years. I totally believe that. I think I’ll buy another bottle or two and rest them in granddad's old TV cabinet for a decade or two. You can be sure I’ll review this wine again when I pop each one open. Cheers.

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It's a 500ml Bottle!