Sunday, August 7, 2011

Northern California

So this is very much a backpost but I feel it is important.  In early June I visited one of my older brothers who fortunately happens to live in Napa.  The trip was great and loaded with lots of camping, poker, a concert, some games of Madden and lots of tastings of all natures.  Sparing the details here are a few highlights of breweries and beers:

  • Silverado Brewing Company - For some sort of "completeness" to my Napa beer tastings my brother decided we would stop in here despite having placing them on his "worst of napa" list.  We did a sampler and got the garlic fries.  The fries were AWESOME, as ubiquitous as they are in this region my brother claimed they were the best he had ever tasted.  Served with Rice Bran Oil and a healthy amount of parmesan and garlic they were great.  The beers were nothing amazing with most being somewhat boring, but the coffee stout was near the top of my list as far as coffee beers go and the others were passable if nothing special.
  • Calistoga Inn and Brewery - This was near the end of my trip but is a nice little brewpub with good, but not great (at least not nearly as good as Silverado's), garlic fries and the best red ale I have ever tried. The caramel and citrus components played very well and didn't come off with any "cardboard" or "stale bread" flavors that I have noticed in other red/ambers (e.g. Fat Tire).  It's also a nice little place in a quaint little town not too far from a nice little hike where Robert Louis Stevenson honeymooned at a silver mine.
  • North Coast Brewing Co. - Having seen this brewery's beers offered in Maryland I had some expectations.  I tried an '08 old ale with my brother that he had been saving for a special occasion.  It was delicious with a nice blend of light hoppiness, moderate bitterness, alcohol warmth and some warm sweet cherry character that made it all around great, and according to my brother more rounded than when it was fresh.  We then hit up the brewery and, while I was a bit disappointed by some of the fair (Old Rasputin Imperial Stout and Brother Thelonious Dark Belgian) their take on a Saison (Le Merle) is the best I have had to date.  I left with a corked bottle under my arm to cellar.
  • Anderson Valley Brewing Co. - This "solar powered brewery" is a really cool spot to hit with some great drinks.  Me and Matt got most, but not all, of the items as samplers and we were both blown away by the Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema.  While other beers here were decent, the Summer Solstice was super creamy, had hints of vanilla and other spice and was just the thing for a hot California day. I bought a 6-pack (in cans, sweet!) and only one made it back to Maryland, which has since been consumed. This wasn't meant to be a long keeper but seems to be a beer that anyone would enjoy.
  • Russian River Brewing Company - To say I had high expectations for this brewery may be an understatement.  Looking solely at ratings for their beers this would easily be the highest rated brewery in the country, and likely the world.  Their Pliny the Elder (and Pliny the Younger) are amazingly well received IIPA's and their whole line of sour/belgian styles is very popular with those who enjoy that style.  Having had only one or two lambics I didn't know what to expect.  The sampler featured almost every beer they brew including a great hoppy brown and a tasty American IPA.  Many of the Belgians were quite different from what I'd had before but were for the most part enjoyable and I ended up buying a full pint of Supplication to go with my pizza.  Supplication is quite different, the best I could explain it would be that it tastes a bit like a Belgian Strong Dark with cherry yogurt character.
As for wineries here is a (very short) list of the ones I felt worth stopping at again and worth remembering:

  • Prager Port Works - Their "Aria" is an interesting white port with notes of vanilla and hazelnut.
  • Breggo  - Though I didn't buy any of the wines here they were all quite tasty and well worth the visit.
  • Yorkville - Bought they're Sweet Malbec, I like Malbec's and I like dessert wines, this one really stuck with me.
  • Girard - Make a lot of nice wines including one Cab that was great (if pricey) and a 2010 Cabernet Blanc that I couldn't resist purchasing.
  • Indian Creek - Liked all their wines but especially enjoyed the slight smoke on the 08 Syrah.
There were many others that had good wine but were overpriced or simply didn't seem exceptional enough to buy.

All in all it was a great trip with lots of experiences (both related to and entirely separate from the alcohol)

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