Minhas Distillery

Minhas Distillery is located in Monroe, Wisconsin.  After touring their brewery, we went across the street to check out the distillery.  The two college aged gentlemen working the tasting room gave us information about their products and suggested some combinations for their liquor, all of which involved the sodas produced and sold by the company.  I must say they had some fabulous homemade root beer.

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Although we had had our fill of tours for the day, we still “officially” did the tour so that we could partake in the opportunity to try all of the liquor they had to offer and go home with a gift pack that included a bottle of their vodka and a glass.

The tour was filled with some interesting information about the industry.  One of the original owners of the facility was thought to have been kidnapped by Al Capone.  I love finding out little pieces of history like that!  Especially since Al Capone has historical ties to our area as well.

The owner of the distillery is the father of the brother/sister duo that own the brewery.  The family is based in Canada, but purchased so much product from this facility that they eventually bought it outright. From the distillery tasting room, you can see the house that they bought across the street for their once a month visits.

It is interesting to me to learn more about how challenging it can be to be able to sell alcohol in different states and countries.  They had gorgeous empty bottles of the tequila they produce in Canada on display as a chandelier, but they are unable to sell in in the United States for legal reasons.  The same was the case for their Irish Cream.  I was disappointed because I wanted to try both of these products.

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Minhas Brewery

Minhas Brewery is located in Monroe, Wisconsin.  It was a short drive south of New Glarus, which we had just visited the same day.  My brother, his friend and I walked in just in time for their 1:00 tour of the facilities. We started by having a few of the bottomless samples they offered on the tour.  I began with the Lazy Mutt, which was a wheat beer. I will be writing specific tasting notes in the future.

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Minhas was recently purchased by a brother and sister from Canada.  According to the video we watched at the beginning of the tour, they are focused on production and packaging a high volume of beer from their facilities.  They produce 550 cans of beer per minute.  They move the beer from the brewery to the other plant for bottling underground.  Growing up in a small farming community in Iowa, I associated the smells in the brewhouse with the room on a dairy farm where the bulk tank is housed and where they stored the kegs smelled like the local feed store.

They also keep a library of the beers they brew, keeping a case of each brew.  Each batch is tested 85 times throughout the process.  I had never thought of the concept of a brewery keeping a library of their beers, but I’m sure a lot of companies have this practice.  It makes perfect sense to be able to go back to a particular production if the need arises.  This plant dates their beer by the month, date and year to be able to locate specific ingredients of batches.

Not only do they produce their own brews, they also produce and package beer and other alcoholic beverages for other companies.  Some of the labels we saw along the tour included Crunk limeade drink, Jaguar, and Blackeyed Voodoo.  Blackeyed Voodoo was originally based in New Orleans, but was outsourced to this plant after Hurricane Katrina.

Some of their beer appeared to be intended for the craft brew lover, but the majority of the beer was similar to domestic beer.  They even commented that college kids love the Boxer beer (presumably because it is inexpensive and easy to drink).

The conclusion of our visit at the Minhas Brewery was a little soured for me because I was having issues with my debit card.  Turns out, someone in Kansas had tried to charge a hotel room on my card and there was a hold put on my account.  I was truly grateful for the hold, but it was still embarrassing to be declined in front of a group of people I had just toured the brewery with that afternoon.  My mind was also racing with worst case scenario thoughts about what could have happened to my account, which the beer I had drank throughout the day did not help.  I hope to return again and be able to fully enjoy the experience!

Manyana Tempranillo

Manyana

Tempranillo

2011

(Carinena)

Unknown

On Bottle/Website:

* 12.5% alcohol

* Vines planted over 2,000 years ago by the Romans

* Juicy classic saturated with wild black fruits, cherries and a hint of savory spices

* Perfect with all kinds of meat and veggies

* Pairs well with the classic regional dish of olives and salted almonds

My Notes:

Appearance- clear, bright, purple, low concentration, rim variation (lighter purple on the edges), low viscosity

Nose- clean, weak intensity, young, black cherry, blackberry, plum, cinnamon, unidentified spices, red rose

Palate- dry, light bodied, confirms nose, much less fruit in the taste than on the nose, more dark flowery and spices on palate, medium alcohol, medium minus acidity, low tannin, short finish, low complexity

On its own, this wine did nothing to impress me.  It was not a bad wine, it just didn’t offer much in terms of flavor.  It was very weak in intensity, which has its time and place.  Paired with a steak and carnita burrito and some chips and salsa, though, this wine was a great accompaniment.  It was light enough to not overpower the flavors of the fresh, acidic vegetables.  The wine also had light fruit flavors that melded well with the steak and pulled pork.

I also drank it the next night with spaghetti squash and a ground turkey spaghetti sauce with zucchini and yellow squash.  The Tempranillo was a good match for this dish as well. I will not purchase this wine simply as a drinking wine, but it has its place with the right meal.  And ringing in at under $10, it is certainly at an everyday drinking price point.

Gin Martini

The catchphrase that springs to mind for me when discussing martinis is the quintessential James Bond quote referencing how he prefers his martinis, “shaken, not stirred.”  Now I have never actually seen a James Bond movie (I know, I know… I’ve been chastised many times!), so maybe his martinis are vodka based and I am way off base by even including this anecdote for the gin martini recipe.  The Gin Martini can be translated to a barrel-aged cocktail with a few adjustments to the original recipe as well.

I always find it interesting, though, that the method people in the industry will describe as the actual preferred method for martinis is stirred because shaking changes the elements of the ingredients too much.  They will say that simplicity is key in this drink.

Are you a Martini drinker? I can neither confirm nor deny the concept because Martinis are not a drink I imbibe in often, unless I am trying the girly, chocolate or flavored Martinis.

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Gin Martini

2 ounces dry gin

1 ounce dry vermouth

Ice

Olive or Lemon Twist

* Combine the gin and vermouth in a shaker filled halfway with ice, and stir vigorously until well chilled (about 20 seconds).

* Strained into a chilled glass.

* Garnish with olive or lemon twist.  (If using the lemon twist, be sure to run the slice over the rim of the glass.)

Barrel-Aged Gin Martini

22 ounces gin

11 ounces dry vermouth

1-liter oak barrel

(For Serving:  Ice and Lemon Twists)

* If the barrel is new and dry inside, fill it with water and let stand until watertight (about 24 hours) and drain.

* Fill the barrel with all of the liquid ingredients needed for your cocktail, using a funnel.

* Age the cocktail until it has taken on a softer, rounded but not overly oaky flavor (about 1 month).  Taste a sample once a week to ensure that you are not letting it age too long.

* Strain the cocktail through a coffee filter-lined funnel into a glass container.

* If you age a new cocktail in the barrel after a previous one, it may pick up on some of the flavor from the first cocktail aged in the barrel.  This can be a fun thing to play around with while aging drinks!

* Store until you are able to enjoy!

* To serve, pour 3 ounces into an ice-filled cocktail shaker and stir until chilled.  Strain the drink into a chilled cocktail and serve with an lemon twist.

Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio

Tiefenbrunner

Pinot Grigio

2011

(Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy)

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On Bottle/Website:

* Pale yellow in color with green reflections

* Exotic fruit notes, trace of meadow flowers

* Slightly spicy, well-structured, full in the mouth, lingering finish on the palate

My Notes:

Appearance: clear, straw, medium plus viscosity

Nose: sound/clean, medium minus intensity, aroma/youthful, pear, green apple, peach, wet rock, stone, honey, almond, white flowers

Palate: dry, medium bodied, green apple, grapefruit, medium plus alcohol, medium acidity, medium complexity, medium length

Manhattan

The Manhattan is a classic and popular drink concocted with whiskey and sweet vermouth.  Most people prefer it stirred, but some like it shaken.  This drink reminds me of my grandma as it was her cocktail of choice at more fancy events. She liked hers on the rocks and mixed strong. She only drank one by the time I was old enough to remember her with this drink, but I imagine in her prime she would enjoy a few more on an evening out with my grandpa!  The Manhattan can be translated to a barrel-aged cocktail with a few adjustments to the original recipe as well.

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Manhattan

1 1/2 ounces rye or blended whiskey

3/4 ounce sweet vermouth

1 dash aromatic bitters

Stir well with cracked ice and strain into cocktail glass.  Decorate with cocktail cherry or twist of lemon.

Aged White Manhattan

16 ounces unaged white whiskey

16 ounces white vermouth

1/2 ounce orange bitters

1-liter oak barrel

(For Serving:  Ice and Lemon Twists)

* If the barrel is new and dry inside, fill it with water and let stand until watertight (about 24 hours) and drain.

* Fill the barrel with all of the liquid ingredients needed for your cocktail, using a funnel.

* Age the cocktail until it has taken on a softer, rounded but not overly oaky flavor (about 1 month).  Taste a sample once a week to ensure that you are not letting it age too long.

* Strain the cocktail through a coffee filter-lined funnel into a glass container.

* If you age a new cocktail in the barrel after a previous one, it may pick up on some of the flavor from the first cocktail aged in the barrel.  This can be a fun thing to play around with while aging drinks!

* Store until you are able to enjoy!

* To serve, pour 3 ounces into an ice-filled cocktail shaker and stir until chilled.  Strain the drink into a chilled cocktail glass and serve with a lemon twist.

Tasting Exercise: Sweetness

I read a wonderful article in Food and Wine Magazine last Autumn about different tasting procedures you can go through to help yourself understand the different properties of wine tasting.  I wanted to save these exercises and the wines used to go through them with friends in the future.

Sweetness

Residual sugar is the defining factor of sweetness in a wine.  This is the sugar in the liquid after fermentation.  Acidity can sometimes mask the sweetness in wines by balancing out the sugar.

Food Pairing

Sweetness in wine balances the spiciness in a dish. If the meal you are savoring incorporates spicy notes, it is beneficial to imbibe with something that has a cooling effect on your mouth.  This can be challenging because the alcohol in wines often antagonizes the heat of the hot spice, reducing the likelihood that your palate is able to cool down. Because of this, it is vital for wines that you drink with a spicy dish to contain a lower alcohol level.  Balancing the spice by drinking a wine with residual sweetness diminishes the perception of heat.

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Tasting Exercise

Equipment: 16 ounce glass filled half full, 2 lemons, 1 cup of sugar

Squeeze the juice of the lemons into the water and stir. Taste the mixture; it will be very tart.  Stir in sugar, one teaspoon at a time, tasting after each addition.  You should notice when the juice achieves the right level of sweetness and balances the acidity of the lemon.

Wines

The following wines will help illustrate the concept of sweetness.  A type of wine is listed, followed by a specific vintage and brand that would work well. Each are listed in order from driest to sweetest.

* Dry Riesling (2010 Robert Weil Kiedrich Turmberg Trocken)

* Off-dry Riesling (2011 Hexamer Kabinett)

* Sweet Riesling (2010 Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese)

(The wines in parenthesis were not necessarily the wines I found and used when first doing this experiment. They are wines suggested in Food and Wine Magazine.)

Shrimp Scampi

Along with my education in wine, I am also attempting to learn more about cooking.  It’s not that I have never cooked or baked before, it’s simply that I stick to the same types of foods and dishes I grew up with as a child.  Although I find these dishes delicious and they are accompanied by wonderful memories, I am starting to realize that there is a lot more to offer in the culinary world.  Case in point, I made my first dish with fresh shrimp recently.

Before cooking with fresh shrimp myself, the only shrimp that I had cooked with was frozen, pre-cooked shrimp.  Admittedly, the pre-cooked shrimp was super convenient and easy to prepare but it definitely doesn’t live up to fresh shrimp! I don’t even think I realized that fresh shrimp would taste like this at home.  I just assumed that to enjoy delicious shrimp, I had to order it at a nice restaurant.

As tedious and gross as I assumed the process would be, shelling and deveining shrimp is not bad at all and didn’t end up taking that long.  Now that I am more comfortable with the whole process, I am ready to try more shrimp recipes in my daily cooking.  With that in mind, I always love a good recipe that includes wine.

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Shrimp Scampi

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 tablespoon pure olive oil

2 tablespoons garlic, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups white wine

1/2 fresh lemon, juice only

1 teaspoon Italian seasonings

1/2 cup softened butter

1 tablespoon parsley

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

* Heat skillet and add olive oil

* Add shrimp and cook until tender and no longer translucent, reduce heat.  Remove shrimp and set aside.

* Add garlic and cook 2-3 minutes.  Do not allow garlic to brown- it will make it bitter.

* Add white wine and lemon juice.

* Cook until wine is reduced by half.  After it is reduced, add Italian seasoning.

* Reduce heat to low and add butter.  If the pan is too hot, the butter will separate.

* Add shrimp back into sauce.  Add parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper.

* Sprinkle with grated Parmesan Cheese.

Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Willamette Valley

Pinot Noir

2008

(Oregon)

Unknown

On Bottle/Website:

* Cherry, raspberry, leather, dried orange peel

* Brown sugar, sweet fruit cake, spice, clove

* Medium bodied

* Chewy tannins

* Nicely balanced acidity

* Pairs with herb crusted chicken or pork loin

My Notes:

Appearance: clear, day bright, medium low intensity, ruby, pinkish rim variation, medium plus viscosity

Nose: sound/clean, medium plus intensity, aroma/youthful, red cherry, black cherry, baked/jammy fruits, strawberry, blueberry, vanilla, baking spices

Palate: dry, medium bodied, cherry, strawberry, spiced, medium tannins, medium plus alcohol, medium plus acidity, medium complexity, medium length

Spicy Pineapple Margarita

With Cinco de Mayo fast approaching, I am on the lookout for some cocktail recipes to fully celebrate.  I am always open to variations of the classic margarita, and this spicy pineapple version sounds interesting.

The recipe below is shared from Hot Sauce! by Jennifer Trainer Thompson.

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Spicy Pineapple Margarita

1 tablespoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground chile powder

1 lime wedge

8 ounces tequila blanco

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1/2 cup pineapple juice

2 ounces Cointreau

1 teaspoon hot sauce

* Mix the salt and chile powder on a small plate.  Rub the rims of 4 glasses with the lime wedge, then dip the rims in the salt mixture to coat.

* Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add all of the remaining ingredients.

* Shake vigorously, then strain into glasses.

* Serve immediately.