Friday, May 29, 2015

From the Road: Cedar Ridge Vineyards & Distillery

Nestled in the heart of Iowa, not far from Cedar Rapids is a Vineyard and Distillery that has a narrow focus -- Make the best Products and Become a Destination. After our visit it is hard not to agree that they are doing their best and are showing great success at both.

Cedar Ridge Vineyards & Distillery pops up after a short drive once off I-80 -- or, as we did, coming in from Cedar Rapids. It is something different from the very beginning as they have not only a Vineyard and winery, not only a Distillation business, but a Bistro style restaurant, entertainment and a large, welcoming tasting room, store, seating areas etc. In short, in my opinion, they have it all.

We entered and I introduced myself and was greeted not only by the young lady at the door but by Jay Pietkiewicz (Wine Maker) and Mike DeCapria (Vineyard Manager). Jay linked me up with a very soothing taste of their Dark Rum (Tasting below) and a discussion of the business and pleasantries, introductions and all. We set off on the tour, Jay leading the way and explaining their process and in general, the distillation of spirits. Believe me if you come here - Jay is the you want to guy to lead your tour. Informative, interesting - humorous. We got into the rum workings as well and he showed us their Solera vats used to help maintain a great blend as well as impart a bit more flavor from the fine oak. I found this method interesting and got to sample some of the product that had been treated in this process (Tasting below!). 
Jay explaining the Solera Process
I have to say I was impressed with the size of the operation, the passion of the process (as imparted by Jay and others who work there). With each taste though, the quality is what caught me - Fine, exacting, quality. Even with their expansions to date and planned future ones they fact that they create wines and distilled spirits is still their #1 priority.

Let's Taste Cedar Ridge Dark Rum
This is not my first taste it is actually my third. Please feel free to read the First taste and the Second. The third introduced me to a dark rum that has gone through even more refinement. The taste at the bar revealed not just much of the same flavors I enjoyed during my previous tastes, but an intensity of them that had been heightened. The sweet aroma, still there, but now with a more pronounced backdrop of wood. Its hard to describe, as the spirit is sending out such a wonderful bouquet of smells, that you need to just close your eyes and let them appear. The first sip was as I had hoped. Mellow, smooth and flavorful. The time spent in-barrel was spent well. For me a great aged Rum get the Oaken flavors but the resins in the wood combine differently then the grain based spirits. I detect an added sweetness in flavor - not a cloying sugary mask, but a clean, natural sweetness that, when rested on the tongue evolve and stay so well between sips. Cedar Ridge has done that so well. 

Un-Aged Rum
Rum after Solera Process
During the tour Jay offered tastes of the clear, unaged rum and a taste from the Solera vat. I have to say the clear spoke well of molasses and well fermented beer used to produce the High Proof spirit. At about 120 proof, the smoothness was still there, just a hint of burn, but lots of taste. Additionally I sampled 115 proof aged rum, just out of the Solera Vat. Oh, yes, that was a flavor party. Sure it has the strength of alcohol, but the reduction and intensification of flavors was just wonderful.
All in all the tour, the tasting - the hospitality and the food and music (yeah we stayed for both) was great. If you are looking for a destination in Iowa or are planning top be near Cedar Ridge (just 20 miles north of Iowa City and 11 miles south of Cedar Rapids) then check out this place!!

For a fun place to visit or a place to catch a, delicious, fresh, locally source meal or taste wines and spirits made so well, onsite, stop by Cedar Ridge Vineyards & Distillery.
Until next tile I remain:
(More from Iowa and other great places next week!)

Monday, May 25, 2015

From the Road (Kinda): Muddy River Distillery

One of the cool things to doing this blog, besides that I get LOTS of rum to taste, is that I get to witness real growth in the industry. By making contacts and watching, writing and talking rum I have seen some of the Distillers really explode. Muddy River is one of those. When I first found them, they were just into the market (2001 - we found in 2012), just getting their Carolina Rum out there and really up for the challenge. Robby and Caroline Delaney had plans, they had goals and they had a product that they knew would be the key to their growth.
When we visited last, they were just obtaining a HUGE amount of expansion space, waiting for a new product to age to perfection and still getting their feel for the Distilling business. It has been a running joke in that being a Chicagoan, I had problems getting the Distillery's name correct. Muddy Waters is a legendary blues man from Chicago -- so when I first listed MRD, I did it wrong. Robby made sure I got it right.

We were pumped to make a return, to see the new digs - to taste Queen Charlotte's Reserve and to just visit with this fun, committed couple. We had a window of time, early May and I made sure distillers I knew of were alerted. An email from Caroline let me know that they would be out of town
and the distillery would be closed. So not only could we not meet, but we would not get to see the new distillery and taste rum. No, that is NOT the Muddy River style. Caroline shipped bottles of both Carolina Rum and Queen Charlotte's to me! So they sat until we came back and now I get to taste these rums. Let's get down to business!

Carolina Rum
A silver or clear rum I was able to not only taste this rum, but compare it to there rum from 2 years ago. Unlike mass produced mass marketed rums, craft rums evolve. I am expecting that the original and the "new" Carolina Rum will have some differences. Let's see.
First, I saw the original seems to have a slight int. Upon closer examination, I think their old bottle was not crystal clear. So we sip. Hmmm yes I remember that well. A sweet aroma, just a hint of candy, a touch of molasses. Their rum has a good smoothness and would stand up to sipping on the rocks.

Now the new Carolina Rum
The aroma is sharper. I get a sweeter bouquet, a greater sense of molasses. Tasting it the flavor profile has been raised, nicely too. On the tongue it is a sweet rum, even smoother than before. I also find the flavors are longer lived in the mouth and pleasantly so. This is much more sip-able than the two year old sample I have. You can sense the growth and the change they put into their spirit. 

Generally White or crystal rums are more for mixing - I say that Carolina Rum is an excellent mixer and will make your rum drink better, tastier and memorable. Also, this mid-bodied rum stands up to water (a splash brings out more flavor, smooths it greatly) and ice. A great improvement to their first runs of Carolina Rum - not that they were bad. They were very good but improvement to me shows growth in their efforts and talents... Great stuff!

Queen Charlotte's Reserve
An aged, three year old rum. Aged in White Oak barrels, it acquires an awesome dark amber color. Some of the most attractive attributes of an aged rum are color and bouquet. The color is very nice,
lighter in glass that the volume of rum gives in the bottle. The aroma is sweeter, but with that woody, butterscotch background. A very attractive vapor comes out and sniffing the glass is fun. Seems like I identified more and more subtle aromas, a touch of vanilla. I got a bit of a spiciness - but it was wood spice, not some added flavor. The aroma IS pronounced and satisfying in it self.
Taste, face it, it can smell nice, look nice but if it tastes raw or harsh, its not gonna make it. No fear, the taste has a pleasant bite (yet supremely smooth) it lets' you know it is in your mouth! It doesn't say in what I read but these are new barrels either VERY lightly toasted or un-toasted. The resins of the Oak are here and tasty. For those who taste whiskeys, this will remind you of that as well, but the similarities end in the long list of complex flavors; Butterscotch, Cotton Candy, and a pronounced sugar snap in the vapor let's you know, this is no whiskey, this is rum, aged rum, aged, good rum. It is a treat. It is the Rum I have learned to enjoy an write about! the sweetness kicks in early. lasts throughout and just manages to accent the woodiness and flavors three years imparts. Folks, this is great stuff!!! this is on my -- "Gonna sip a bit" list as of now.

There you have it a real win in all these visits and we are out visiting more as you read this... I have more to talk about (including what I drink rum from) in upcoming posts -- Be there - read and please - feel free to drop us a comment or email... Til then -- Lick the glass! 
 I remain:

Friday, May 22, 2015

Road Trip!!! Iowa Calls.

Okay.... We are getting close so let me run down what is happening.
First -- we will be on the road over the Memorial Day weekend. We will be in Iowa and hope to visit Cedar Ridge Distilled Spirits while we are there. Now, we are not sure, but we hope to visit others. We are still researching (yes we have found some - but trying to fit them into our schedule is the trick!) some and hope to include them. Our Grandson is
participating in a baseball Tournament in Dyersville (read Field of Dreams) and we don't want to miss much! But dedication to tasting fine, American Made Rum means we WILL TRY!!

Lastly -- and in NO WAY - least:

We will publish the final stop - err, non-stop in our tour of North and South Carolina. We wanted to re-visit Muddy River Distillery, taste their new offerings and see the great new Distillery. Well, we can do one of them as Caroline and Robbie Delaney sent us not only their latest sample of Carolina Rum but also, their fine, aged Queen Charlotte's Reserve!
They were out of town (selling Rum!!) and the Distillery was down while we were in town. So that blog post will hit the site early Monday May 25. I will pop the corks and taste them both writing as I go...

Until we get back ---- Later

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

From the Road: Fair Game Beverages

Driving through North Carolina finding Pittsboro is a fun time. Pittsboro is just South West of Raleigh NC and is set is a neat area. Fair Game Beverages is on Lorax Lane (yes, Dr. Seuss fans; Lorax Lane). There is a cluster of buildings that reflect an artistic flair as well as an environmental awareness that we love to see. Looking for the location of where Chris Jude, Distiller, Owner and all-around nice guy we encountered friendly people and directions. Soon, we were visiting with Chris, who, with Rose (Assisting and helping with the many tasks of this Winery, Distillation operation) were busy keeping all in order.

Chris took time to lead a very informative and fun tour of the distillation portion of the business. Talking to him, you find that it is not just a business, it is a passion with him. Just this year they launched No'Lasses, their Sorghum based spirit that is rum in all senses other than it is not made with Molasses. More about that. He also allowed us to sample two, new, true rums in pre-production!

As with just about every Distiller I've met, Chris was proud of his operation, a wealth of information and driven to make high quality spirits. He showed us pictures of sorghum, in the fields, telling us
that the canes are treated similar to sugar cane, the juice squeezed out and concentrated. For distillation, the fermentation is nearly identical and of course the still begins the transmutation stage into what for all practical purposes is rum.

the US Government definition of rum includes the wording that it must be made of Sugarcane juice, molasses and/or cane by products in order to be called Rum. the 'Ghum is process similarly and the concentrated juice is sweet and is often used like syrup on toast, oatmeal etc by Southerners and farm families all over. We got to sample some, my wife declaring that it would be delicious on her morning Oatmeal and I agreed as a spread on biscuits, toast etc, it was great.


Tasting the No'Lasses was a treat. The bouquet lacks some of the tell-tale aromas of cane-based rum, sure but it had an almost floral scent, vegetative yet sweet to the nose. The taste was different from the other sorghum based rum I have tried. this was full bodied, just great on the tongue and a pleasant after taste, lasting and mildly sweet rum. This is a nicely aged spirit, a definite sipper, but there are many mixed drinks that would be improved with its addition. Also Fair Game offers recipes using No'Lasses in them. I'd encourage tasting them and adding this Rum-Spirit to your bar!!

Now we talk "What comes next?" Well Chris has a great source of Sugar Cane and has begun to distill a Rhum Agricole and a Rum made with Panela sugar. For explination purposes let's define:

Ruhm Agricole:
Rhum Agricole is the French term for cane juice rum, a style of rum originally distilled in the French West Indies islands from freshly squeezed sugar cane juice rather than molasses.

Panela Sugar:
Panela is unrefined whole cane sugar, typical of Central and of Latin America in general, which is a solid form of sucrose derived from the boiling and evaporation of sugarcane juice.Panela is known by other names in Latin America, such as piloncillo in Mexico (where "panela" refers to a type of cheese, queso panela) and rapadura in Portuguese. Elsewhere in the world, the word jaggery describes a similar foodstuff. Both of them are considered Non-centrifugal cane sugars.
Panela is sold in many forms, including liquid, granulated, and solid blocks, and is used in the canning of foods as well as in confectionery, soft drinks, baking, and vinegar- and wine-making.
You can see the small bottles of Agricole & Panela.
He had samples of both and in my journey have discovered that Rum Agricole IS the taste I recall from my initial experience with CSR Rum. It has a sugary taste, molasses flavors nearly absent. Instead, a sweet, almost grassy flavor that is just wonderful and so earthy, so much a reward for just sipping the rum. The Rum Agricole I sampled was an excellent example. When this product debuts -- GET SOME. 

The Panela sugar made rum is similar. The fact that they let the liquid solidify, intensifies the sugar and allows a bit of caramel, or browning of the sugar. the taste effect is subtle but, for me, had just a tang of fine molasses, not black strap, but more the fine molasses. this is a fine, delicate yet robust rum that will also (I predict) be a great addition to the Spirit list of Fair Game Beverages.

This was an enjoyable, fun and informative tour. Glad I met Chris and glad we took his advice and lunched at City-Tap, in town. 

So, Till Next Time:

Monday, May 18, 2015

From the Road: Striped Pig

Finally back and just champing on the bit to report. We visited two Distilleries this trip and while we missed a visit to a third -- they sent me a great gift that I'll taste and report on as well over the next few posts. Buckle up -- get ready, pour a nice sipping rum and read. ...

Not far from Charleston is the the suburb of North Charleston. The Striped Pig calls a nice little building tucked away in an industrial park, filling up with various businesses and destinations, home. We easily maneuvered through and found it.
Soon met by Jim Craig we got a personalized tour. We met several people who were touring as well, and ended up in the tasting room to enjoy their spirits. The unfortunate thing (that so often happens as we travel, we call it the "Adventure Spirit") was ---- They were out of rum!! None - zero -- zipitty do-dah...! Jim did find a Stainless Steel vat of 130 proof, resting while they waited to begin the conversion to Spiced rum.
Now back in October of 2013 we tasted Striped Pig's clear Rum. They sent a sample and we "got into" it soon after. The whole article is here. In it, my tasting went this way:

Tasting Striped Rum:
The aroma is sugar, almost cotton candy with a gentle, pleasurable molasses after. Being a white rum, I was on the lookout for that first sip "buzz" on the tongue. Very little, very smooth. The flavors, mirroring the essence is molasses, good dark stuff. The flavor is subtle sweet. This is not just for mixing. A white Rum robust and flavorful enough to sip on it's own. A splash of ice cold water ignites the bouquet even more. Sweeter, the complexity released even more. I have to say this is a pig of a different stripe!!! My rating will be on as are all my rum tastings. Because Striped Rum is new -- please give Andy time to install it on my shelf!!!
I have to say - Striped Pig was a white Rum of beyond the ordinary aroma and flavor. A great mix but never pass up its sip-a-bility!

Since then they have developed a Spiced Rum that is made with the clear as its base. For now -- we have to take their word (which is good) that is is not just good, but "very special" indeed. I did get a promise from them that they'd send us a sample once they had converted that 130 pr batch into Spice.... I can't wait!! As you can read - while the clear was good and not beyond a sipping rum, it needed to move beyond because of its rich potential. I am excited to taste their Spiced Rum and will report it here when it happens.....
I want to thank Jim for his informative and knowledgeable tour.... Spirits abound there and they are the very drinkable type! --- In the taste room, Johnny kept our samples full and was a great host - quick with humor and a contagious love of sipping.


We will be following up with Fair Game Beverage and a taste from Muddy River Distillery's Queen Charlotte's Reserve aged Rum.... Also watch for a post about our Iowa trip coming up this coming weekend! We plan to visit Cedar Ridge Vineyards (and Distillery!) and are searching more places as I type!

Till next time:

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Starting Home

Yesterday we visited Fair Game Beverage. Chris Jude was an amazing guide and his passion for all he does shows in his great attitude and wealth of knowledge. We shared stories, compared tastes in Rum and other things, even samples some of his products soon coming online for all to enjoy. I will be detailing it all when we return to Chicago. Lunch at City Tap was a winner too. The city of Pittsboro looks like it has interesting people and lots of fun places to explore.
This morning, we pack our bags (in Asheville) and head to Bowling Green KY to tour the Corvette Museum and the assembly plant for this great American Sports Car. Not rum you say? Correct but still intoxicating!


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Checking in from the road

S orry to have been so long, but, it has been a whirlwind tour! We are in Charleston, SC, about to leave this morning.
So far, we have visited Striped Pig Distillery and had a great visit there. I'll be telling more once we are home.
We could not visit Muddy River Distillery as they were at a show. They did, however, send a bottle hone to us, so we have a taste waiting!
We leave today for Myrtle Beach, with TS Ana, that could be fun!
More later; RTRR