Booze Muse

The art and craft of liquid inspiration

Grapes of Mirth: In search of the ultimate value wine

Wine is Poetry in a Bottle No Comments »

trufferBy Michael Nagrant

There may be no better time in our history to hit the bottle. Certainly we are not lacking for motivation, what with all the layoffs, pay reductions, bankruptcies and mortgage adjustments. But, more importantly, even with thinner wallets, because of the over-production of wine, the growth in negociants (folks who often capitalize on that over-production by buying great wines for a song and selling them for a comparably low price at retail), and increases in manufacturing efficiencies, we’ve never had greater opportunity to buy relatively low-priced wine.

Of course, many wineries have capitalized on this idea not by offering great wines, but by saturating the market with a ridiculous amount of swill that forces us to sift through an ever-growing supply of junk to find anything good. I don’t know about you, but my track record for finding really good wines at a discount retailers has been a very hit-or-miss proposition, with a lot more misses.

I know, I know. You’re ready to smack me in the back of a head with a case of Two Buck Chuck. I’m not saying there’s not a lot of drinkable stuff out there, but I’m talking about the grapes that really stand out, the kind of pour you dream about and rush back to buy a case of. Read the rest of this entry »

Taking on Theise: The wine connoisseur holds a tasting

Wine is Poetry in a Bottle No Comments »

By Michael Nagrant

Terry Theise is a man of a thousand faces. Well, at last five or six. In the introduction to his 2007 German wine catalog, the legendary importer’s Fu Manchu-ed visage and hands are engaged in a range of poses including rapture, self-strangulation, a Humbert Humbert-style leer, mock-contemplation and a potential gang sign (Austrian Riesling represent.)

Theise’s pictorial is accompanied by a “War and Peace”-length manifesto punctuated with quotes from poets and philosophers. Some of his personal tenets: “Harmony is more important than intensity”; “The whole of any wine must always be more than the sum of its parts”; “Soul is more important than anything, and soul is expressed as a trinity of family, soil and artisanality.” Read the rest of this entry »

Grace in Bubbles: A seasonal guide to sparkling wine

Champagne/Sparkling Wine No Comments »

taittinger-grace-kellyBy Michael Nagrant

While most men of my generation rocked Kurt Cobain and “Pulp Fiction” posters in their college dorm rooms, I had a vintage poster of a Grace Kelly Taittinger champagne ad mounted above my bed at the University of Michigan. At that time, my cinematic interests were mostly of the “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” genre, but on the advice of a stoner/aspiring screenwriter I worked with, I started checking out the Hitchcock canon in my free time.

When I got to “Rear Window,” I spent the first ten minutes of the movie bored, watching the cantankerous, wheelchair-bound, pajama-clad Jimmy Stewart stare through binoculars at his neighbors. But when Grace Kelly glided through the door of Stewart’s apartment, I was smitten. My boredom shifted to wonder about a twisted world in which the bumbling, old, funny-talking dude from “It’s A Wonderful Life” would score a siren like Kelly as his girlfriend.

After that I pursued everything Grace, eventually settling on the champagne ad as a proper adolescent shrine. I’d lull my self to sleep by staring up at her form hugged by a black mermaid-cut evening dress, her generous décolletage breached by a line of shimmery golden bubbles flowing through a v-shaped Taittinger-filled flute. The propaganda worked, as this ritual eventually had me bribing my buddy from New Jersey, who had the best fake ID in Alice Lloyd Hall, to get me a bottle. Read the rest of this entry »

Riding the Pumpkin: Exploring a Seasonal Ale That Raises Tavern Spirits

Beer Rhymes With Cheer No Comments »

By Michael Nagrant

There’s something about the burnished hues of fall and the crisp smoky air that signals a coming of age for the earth and channels a separate peace within me that none of the other seasons accomplish. A season of refuge, it’s the first opportunity to hunker down against the razor chafe of Chicago’s winds. No longer celebrating the freshness of spring or luxuriating in the summer sun, I urgently seek warmth and sustenance in hearty braises like winy rosemary-perfumed pot roast or chocolate-dusted short ribs.

Then there’s the football and beer. I grew up in Detroit, where the Lions’ failure surpasses J. Lo and Elizabeth Taylor’s marital difficulties combined. Like a hapless Richard Burton or an unsuspecting Ben Affleck, I always line up hopeful, but by mid-September, the reality of another losing season is upon me. The brutality requires a special salve. Beer, lots of it. I prefer my brews like my eats, seasonal, and the malt beverage of choice is pumpkin beer. Having sampled only a couple of these pumpkin brews, I was curious about the best.

According to the Beer Advocate, there are 115 different pumpkin beers where “brewers opt to add hand-cut pumpkins and drop them in the mash, while others use puree or pumpkin flavoring. These beers also tend to be spiced with pumpkin pie spices, like: ground ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and allspice.”

While I come from the Jeffrey Steingarten school of food exploration (the legendary Vogue magazine food writer is a boundless investigator, prone to cooking up hundreds of batches of potatoes in various lipids in search of the perfect French fry–Belgian Horse fat is best), my budget only allowed for a blind tasting of the five pumpkin brews available at Sam’s Wine and Spirits.

I compensated for the sample size by selecting a remarkably exhaustive tasting panel consisting of a pregnant woman (adhering to the European view of gestation), a beer aficionado, an avowed “beer hater” and a woman who prefers pinot grigio served with ice cubes. Our exploration follows, with the results listed from worst to best.

Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale (Coors Brewing Company)

This was the darkest of the beers, a deep shade of amber. Perhaps in a nod to its corporate lineage and economic efficiency, this was the only beer not brewed with pumpkin, but instead enhanced with “natural flavor.”

Tasting notes:

Pinot Grigio: Heavy, a man’s beer. I might order it to impress a guy. Pumpkin? Never would’ve known.

Pregnant woman: Extreme funkiness in odor and taste.

Beer hater: Tastes like every other foul beer I’ve had with a bad aftertaste.

Beer aficionado: No head. No pumpkin. Flat.

Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale (Pyramid Brewing Co.)

This caramel-colored liquid tasted more like a novelty soda. Although brewed with actual pumpkin, it tasted more naturally flavored than the Blue Moon.

Tasting notes:

Pint Grigio: Holy pumpkin, batman!

Pregnant woman: Festive, but a bit too sweet.

Beer hater: Too pumpkiny. Very strong cinnamon and nutmeg flavors.

Beer aficionado: Somebody just threw a pumpkin cream pie in my face.

Ichabod Pumpkin Ale (New Holland Brewing Company)

This Michigan microbrew had a decent structure, but little pumpkin taste, and recalled the color of urine after a few too many multivitamins.

Tasting Notes:

Pinot Grigio: Bitter, yet tart. No pumpkin flavor.

Pregnant woman: Spicy, light and refreshing. Not too heavy.

Beer hater: Made me say mmm, but in a bad way.

Beer aficionado: Cinnamon and nutmeg, malted barley, nice bitter finish.

Punkin Ale (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery)

A bronze full-bodied ale brewed with pumpkin, brown sugar, nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon, with a hoppy bitter finish. Dogfish is one of the premier craft breweries in the country, and the beer aficionado expected this to be the best of lot. In a triumph of blind tasting, the beer aficionado rated it the worst of the five, while the beer hater rated it number one.

Tasting Notes:

Pinot Grigio: Bitter, semi-heavy. Most ale-tasting. It’s making me full. Has the most foam. Very little pumpkin, but sweet brown sugar and cinnamon hint

Pregnant woman: Fishy taste. Skunky.

Beer hater: No bad aftertaste, nice strong finish.

Beer aficionado: Good foamy head, fruity beginning, but totally unbalanced. The bitter hoppy end washes out everything.

Pumpkin Ale (O’ Fallon Brewery)

This cloudy orange brew from St. Louis, channeled a wheat-style beer, similar to Goose Island 312 with a perfect amount of pumpkin, and spicy bursts of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.

Tasting Notes:

Pinot Grigio: Very spicy. Unique. Light. I could drink this all night.

Pregnant woman: Perfect spiciness and fruitiness.

Beer hater: Not too bad of an aftertaste. Yay.

Beer aficionado: Banana like esters. Almost like a wheat beer with a hint of apple. Balanced, with a perfect amount of pumpkin.