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Even my day job surrounds me with boozey libations.  This is a drawing made with beer. For opening week at the Gardner Museum (where I spend my days), Italian artist Cesare Pietroiusti led visitors in a drawing project in which ordinary materials like beer, tea, coffee, ink and salt water were used to create magical works of art.   You’d be surprised how beautiful these ordinary liquids can be.  Impermanence is a theme of the project.  Each visitor creates a drawing, but they must then leave it for another visitor to take.  He/she then takes a drawing created by a previous day’s visitor.  And each drawing has a condition under which it must eventually be passed along.  This one reads: the holder of this drawing commits to give it away, three months after having received it, to a person of their choice who lives south of them.  So, you never know, any friends living south of Massachusetts just may get this drawing one day.

The reopening of the museum with its new addition by architect Renzo Piano has kept me quite busy these last few months– hence the infrequent posts.  A couple benefits of the last couple weeks of working long days were meeting and watching Bill Cunningham do his thing and hearing YoYo Ma play.   The museum is now open.  I will rest up and be back up to more cocktail adventures very soon.  Cheers!

And here's the drawing I made

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I am going to veer off the cocktail course to talk a bit about beer. This past weekend I was introduced to beer.  Sure I have had it before, but on Saturday night I tasted things that made me say “I had no idea beer could taste that good.”  I did not stumble upon these amazing libations by chance. I was guided by Jim, Cory and Pete—guys who take their beer as seriously as I take my cocktails (they have been known to fly overseas to acquire beer).  I had to respect their passion. I put myself in their able, knowledgeable hands, drank amazingly delicious stuff and realized that I really like beer.

 

My beer sherpas-- Pete, Jim and Cory

I guess the best place to start is with the #1 ranked beer in the world by the users of Beer Advocate—Trappist Westvleteren 12.  In addition to celebrating the holidays we were celebrating Holly and Jim’s engagement, what better occasion to drink the #1 beer in the world?  This yummy sweet beer is brewed by the monks at St. Sixtus Abbey in Belgium; the abbey has a special beer phone number for reservations to make purchases!  The bottle we drank was purchased by Jim in Amsterdam in 2008.  Apparently a strong and dark beer like this ages well, making it even better over time.  Figs and raisins add fabulous flavor making it perfect for a winter evening.

Did you know beer could be sour? And that sour beer is absolutely delicious?  We had two sour beers, Russian River’s Consecration and Temptation; my favorite beer of the evening was one of them—Russian River Consecration. As Jim put it, “Russian River is a brewery stuck in wine country.  They are most famous for their double IPA called Pliny the Elder.  However, their Belgian style beers are also world class.”  During the aging process, a secondary fermentation occurs using a yeast strain called Brettanomyces (“yeast from the air”).  The Brett is what makes the beer sour.  This yeast is hated by many brewers and winemakers—making Russian River not so popular with some its Sonoma neighbors.  Sure, it could destroy vintages, but I love what it does for beer.  This was what made me say, “Wow, that’s beer?” The flavor was so interesting—layered and complex, yet light and drinkable. My taste buds thought perhaps they were drinking some new kind of cocktail.  It is sweet and sour, a bit funky tasting and has a nice amount of booziness at the end. Really wonderful stuff.

3 Floyds Dark Lord was something else.  It is a pretty special beer that is brewed in limited quantities in Munster, Indiana.  It is released on the 3rd Saturday every April, and the only way to get it is to go to the brewery.  Cory made the trek to Chicago and subsequent ride to the brewery for Dark Lord Day, and he was generous enough to share a bottle with us.  Brewed with coffee, vanilla, and molasses, the flavors are familiar but hard to describe.  It is smokey and smooth and chocolately and just really delicious.  And its pretty boozy at 15% ABV. Check out the artwork on the bottle—another distinguishing feature—kind of reminds me of some hardcore 1980s metal band.


I think I need to give Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout (it’s the 4th ranked beer in the world) another chance.  This double stout is brewed with coffee, chocolate, vanilla and aged in bourbon barrels for over a year—how could I not have liked this? I love all these flavors. I blame it on the fact that it was the end of the evening and my palate was so overwhelmed with all the deliciousness that had come before it just couldn’t take anymore.  I need to give this another try sometime.

Yes, I still have a lot to learn, but this cocktail-loving gal can now add beer to her preferred beverages.  Although not just any beer– I’ve had #1, obviously I have standards.  Cheers!


This is a long overdue sharing of a segment I did for French Oak, a local show on Brookline Access Television (and online, of course) that features wine, beer and spirits.   Creator Ray Latiff and host Summer Dembek are two great people who are trying to open up the minds and palettes of Bostonians by discussing libations with local experts, as well as visiting to breweries, vineyards, special events and restaurants.  I was invited to talk about the legacy of entertaining at the Gardner Museum on the occasion of a wine tasting event at the museum.

Check out the segment http://frenchoaktv.com/2010/08/vino-verde-at-the-isabella-stewart-gardner-museum/

Yes, this is where I go each day for my day job– the amazingly beautiful Gardner Museum. Cheers!

I am veering of the cocktail course temporarily to discuss wine.   Last night my wine club, the Vindivas, reconvened after a long hiatus.  The theme for the evening, chosen by our fabulous hostess Holly, was inspired by the movie Bottle Shock. We blind tasted California and French wines of the same varietal for comparison.  This method provides  the opportunity to taste without making assumptions based on what you think you like or don’t like.  In some cases our pre-conceived ideas did not match with what our taste buds told us.  We had fun and learned a lot about how the way a grape is transformed into wine in California vs. France makes all difference in how it looks, smells and tastes.  A personal highlight was that I learned that I have a pretty good wine palette—I could consistently distinguish the French from the Californian by following the distinguishing characteristics described by our own “grande dame” of wine, Pilar (and in this reference I am focusing on the prestige and knowledge of our friend, not the age, my dear!).

As the self-appointed historian, I always have my trusty notebook and pen ready to capture our reactions and opinions about what we are thinking about what we are drinking.  We had 5 pairings that ranged from sparkling to cabernet sauvignon.  Rather than bore with tons of details (and frankly my notes get a bit shaky as we neared the end of the tasting), I’ll share some highlights.  [Note: Californian wines are named for the grape, while the French are named for the region.]

We began our tasting with two sparkling wines—a Veuve Clicquot Brut (FR) and Chandon Blanc de Noir (CA).   James described the fragrance of Chadon as “its like when you kick through a pile of leaves in the fall.”  Both were good—the group was equally divided about which was best.

For our first grape to grape comparison we tasted a Chenin blanc and a Vouvray.  While both wines are a bit sweet in fragrance and taste, the distinction here is that the French Vouvray is a bit heavier and a bit more complex flavor.  Karaugh’s first reaction to the Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc perfectly captured the refreshingly lightness of the wine—“It tastes like spring time.”  The French Silex Noir Vouvray was a personal favorite of the evening for me.

Next was the chardonnay grape.  I typically am not a fan of chardonnay because its way too oaky for my taste, a characteristic of California chardonnays.  So, I immediately could distinguish the French from the Californian here.  The French use stainless barrels instead of oak barrels, so I got none of that characteristic woodiness that I don’t like.  I loved the Chateau Laboure Roi (FR), the Goosecross Chardonnay (CA) not so much.

We moved onto reds starting with Pinot Noir, or Burgundy, as the French call it.  This entry level red is pretty tasty.  Both had peppery notes, but the French was a slightly heavier, a bit more smoky with more complex autumnal flavors. We tasted Roessler’s Red Label Pinot Noir (CA) and Louis Jadot Bourgogne (FR).

Our final taste was the cabernet sauvignon grape.  Both were earthy, full-bodied and were nicely complimented by the delicious Lebanese meat pies I made. Our French Bordeaux, Chateau Clos du Moulin, was smokier and had a drier finish that our slightly more fruity Arbios Alexander Valley cab.

So, who wins in California vs. France?  Sorry USA, this girl’s going with the French! 

Cheers!

The Vindivas really like their wine. Here are Julie and Maura with all the bottles we tasted.

I am veering of the cocktail course temporarily to discuss wine.   Last night my wine club, the Vindivas, reconvened after a long hiatus.  The theme for the evening, chosen by our fabulous hostess Holly, was inspired by the movie Bottle Shock. We blind tasted California and French wines of the same varietal for comparison.  This method provides  the opportunity to taste without making assumptions based on what you think you like or don’t like.  In some cases our pre-conceived ideas did not match with what our taste buds told us.  We had fun and learned a lot about how the way a grape is transformed into wine in California vs. France makes all difference in how it looks, smells and tastes.  A personal highlight was that I learned that I have a pretty good wine palette—I could consistently distinguish the French from the Californian by following the distinguishing characteristics described by our own “grande dame” of wine, Pilar.

As the self-appointed historian, I always have my trusty notebook and pen ready to capture our reactions and opinions about what we are thinking about what we are drinking.  We had 5 pairings that ranged from sparkling to cabernet sauvignon.  Rather than bore with tons of details (and frankly my notes get a bit shaky as we neared the end of the tasting), I’ll share some highlights.  [Note: Californian wines are named for the grape, while the French are named for the region.]

We began our tasting with two sparkling wines—a Veuve Clicquot Champagne (FR) and Chandon Brut (CA).   James described the fragrance of Chadon as “its like when you kick through a pile of leaves in the fall.”  Both were good—the group was equally divided about which was best.

Our first grape to grape comparison was chenin blanc.  While both wines are a bit sweet in fragrance and taste, the distinction here is that the French Vouvray is a bit heavier and a bit more complex flavor.  Karaugh’s first reaction to the Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc perfectly captured the refreshingly lightness of the wine—“It tastes like spring time.”  Our French chenin blanc, Silex Noir Vouvray, was a personal favorite overall for me.

Next was the chardonnay grape.  I typically am not a fan of chardonnay because its way too oaky for my taste, a characteristic of California chardonnays.  So, I immediately could distinguish the French from the Californian here.  The French use stainless barrels instead of oak barrels, so I got none of that characteristic woodiness that I don’t like.  I loved the Chateau Laboure Roi (FR), the Goosecross Chardonnay (CA) not so much.

We moved onto reds starting with Pinot Noir, or Burgundy, as the French call it.  This entry level red is pretty tasty.  Both were had peppery notes, but the French was a slightly heavier, a bit more smoky with more complex autumnal flavors. We tasted Roessler’s Red Label Pinot Noir (CA) and Louis Jadot Bourgogne (FR).

Our final taste was the cabernet sauvignon grape.  Both were earthy, full-bodied and were nicely complimented by the delicious Lebanese meat pies I made. Our French Bordeaux, Chateau Clos du Moulin, was smokier and had a drier finish that our slightly more fruity Arbios Alexander Valley cab.

So, who wins in California vs. France?  This girl’s going with the French!

Cheers!

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