Finnish This Brew, A Helsinki Microbrew Festival

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While exploring Helsinki, we stumbled upon a Finnish microbrew festival.  He loves microbrews, so we had to check it out.

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It was a good chance to meet and talk with Finns.  Everyone had told us that the Finns are reserved and not the sort of people to use two words when one will do.   When drinking, this does not appear to be the case.  We were repeatedly engaged in conversation by nearby Finns.  We really enjoyed chatting about their country, beer and life with them.

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While you might not be able to name a single Finnish brew as they don’t export a lot of it, they have a surprisingly good microbrew culture.  The Finns are making some fantastic microbrews.  If you’re traveling there, they are definitely worth seeking out.  There were too many participants to name them all.

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Some of our favorites were:

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They weren’t all crazy beers, but for the traditional Finnish beer drinker, the IPA’s Ale’s and Stouts were probably different than what they grew up with.  However, a growing number of Finns are choosing microbrews instead of the typical beers produced by big global brewing conglomerates.   Karhu (which translates to bear), a traditional Finnish beer, is now owned by Carlsberg.  Many people report boycotting it post acquisition, however a decline in sales cannot be verified.  Small breweries only account for about 1 percent of Finland’s total beer consumption in Finland, but it’s growing each year as Finns develop a taste for more character filled craft beers.   With such good local brews to choose from, it comes as no surprise.

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Our favorite was the Malmgård’s Brewery.  Their Dinkel and Arctic Circle Ale were exceptional.  We met the head of marketing who told us a bit about the brewery, beer in Finland.  The brewery’s products are produced by hand in small batches using clear spring water, the domestic malts, cereals from the farm’s own fields.  They don’t use any additives. Malmgård has both the standard craft beers and more adventurous products.    If you’re in the US, you can get some through Shelton Brothers in shops featuring organic and locally produced products. DSC_0179DSC_0180

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Be Thankful For Your Friends But Avoid The Friendship Cup

The object above isn’t the holy grail, an objet d’art, vase, fancy pipe or some kind of crazy teapot, it’s a friendship cup.  As Thanksgiving approaches, one of the things we are most grateful for this year is all of the friends we’ve made in Switzerland.

A friendship cup (also known as Coppa dell’amicizia, grolla or grolle ) is a round container with a lid and multiple spouts made of turned wood.  It is used for drinking special hot adult beverages with friends.  There’s a saying, “he who drinks it alone, will choke.”  Here’s how it works.

Gather your friends, or nearby people you want to become friends (because after you finish one of these you will be.  Traditionally you have at least one more person than the number of spouts on the cup.  Why?   You end up sharing and drinking from a different spout as the cup gets passed around the table.  People don’t worry about the germs for two reasons.  First, it’s your friends.  Secondly, what they put in the cup is strong enough that it could probably be classified as some sort of disinfectant.   You pass the cup around your group, not setting it down until it’s empty.  Trust me when I tell you that this is easier said than done.

We first encountered it when we visited the Aosta Valley in Italy.  Thank goodness no one whipped out a camera that night…  The friendship cup is an after dinner (or later) tradition in Lombardy and the rest of the Italian Alps.  It comes from the “Soldats de la Neige” (which translates into Soldiers of the Snow) who acted as guides to travelers in this rough terrain.   They needed extra “energy” to survive in the cold.   Having had some, it does seem to warm you up.  The drink’s popularity spread to include everyone who needed a little pick me up to brave the cold.

What’s in a Friendship Cup?  Valdostana coffee, a liquor ( usually Génépy, but it can be plain or fruit grappa, cognac, Cointreau, red wine or cum), sugar and spices.  Sometimes people add butter and orange peels.  Just make sure you have friends around to drink it with you.  It sounds delightful.  It’s not.  It’s Trouble.  That’s right, trouble with a capital “t.”

So as Thanksgiving approaches, thanks guys, we’re raising our glasses (or beers from the snow) to you and giving thanks, just don’t expect us to bust out the friendship cup.   Here’s to you, Cheers!  Kippis!  Chin Chin!  Santé!  Prost!  Slàinte!  Skål!  L’Chaim!  Na zdrowie!

More Than Just Champagne Wishes And Caviar Dreams Bordeaux’s Chateaux As Investments

More than just “champagne wishes and caviar dreams,” wineries today can be investments, part of a portfolio.  This is often the case in Bordeaux.

In Bordeaux, wineries are known as Chateau.  They may only use the grapes from their vineyards to produce wine.  As such, their size limits their production.  The volume produced is further limited by the rules related to the appellation or AOC.  This ceiling on Bordeaux’s production cannot be significantly raised, yet wine has become an increasingly popular beverage around the world.   This keeps prices, particularly for recognized and higher end labels, and making them a good investment.

Until then, enjoy these shots of Chateaux In Bordeaux.

A Most Excellent Day Touring Bordeaux Wineries

Although we could have driven from one Bordeaux winery to another, we did a tour.  We did this for several reasons.

  • I firmly believe that if you are going to drink, for goodness sake don’t drive.  I didn’t mind driving across France, but would have hated driving around Bordeaux if it meant missing out on this once in a lifetime experience.
  • Bordeaux is massive with thousands of wineries.  It’s hard to know which ones to visit.  We were pleased with both the quality and variety of wineries chosen by our guide in the know.
  • We planned this road trip days in advance.  With such short notice, it would have been difficult to make all the arrangements ourselves.

Jurgen, our guide/ designated driver chose three vastly different wineries for us to visit in Bordeaux.   First, we visited Chateau Laniote in St. Emilion.  It is a family run winery run by a delightful couple.  She’s a oneologist (a wine scientist) and he’s the resident magician and jack of all trades.  Their wine was tasty and a good value.  I’m always interested in how family businesses operate and wish we could have stayed longer to talk with them.   Unfortunately for us, they were busy racking the wine (siphoning it from one container to the next in order to leave the sediment behind).  Fortunately for us, we had other lovely vineyards to visit.  After we left, our guide told us he was a Baron.   I don’t know that I’ve ever met a Baron or Baroness before.  I hope as nice and hard-working as these guys.

Our next visit was to Chateau Gruaud Larose (above).  We had a nice guide who explained some of the unique things about their winery.

  • It is located in the St Julian appellation, which is known for producing full-bodied and elegant wines.
  • They make both a first label (higher quality/more expensive) and second label (which uses grapes from younger vines and other cuvées).   The second label is Sarget du Château Gruaud-Larose.

  • They are state of the art and have embraced technology in their efforts to produce the best wine possible.  They have a weather station that is replete with a machine to break up hail, a hail gun…sort of.  It is in the distance, near the furthest building in the picture above.
  • They have a fancy-schmancy grape sorter.  It uses high-precision cameras to electronically select only perfect, ripe grapes.

We visited the highly praised Château Pontet-Canet.  While Château Gruaud-Larose embraced technology, Château Pontet-Canet returned to traditional methods in their efforts to produce a high quality wine.

  • Bordeaux is notorious for its adherence to rigid classifications laid out in the 1800’s.  Château Pontet-Canet is classified as a Cinquième Crus (fifth growth).  Our guide, Jurgen, echoed the main criticism of this rigidity when he explained to us that it meant that a fifth growth level could be better than a second-growth because of how they operate their vineyard.
  • Even though it is a lowly fifth growth, it is located in the Pauillac area of Bordeaux, across the road from first growth Château Mouton Rothschild Other illustrious neighbors include: Château Lafite and Château Mouton.  Some of the world’s most highly respected and expensive wines.  Even at several hundred dollars a bottle, people still argue that it is underrated and a terrific value.

  • Once-derided, this winery’s quality has steadily risen, particularly after its  conversion to biodynamics.  This 2007 vintage is controversial because it resorted to chemicals to treat oidium and mildew,  a decision they now regret.   That being said, I tasted it and it was pretty darn good.

  • They use horses in the vineyards. Horses compact the soils less, and do not damage the vine’s roots like tractors.

  • They sort grapes by hand, worried that an automated sorter would damage the grapes or crush them unnecessarily early.  After the manual sorting, their grapes drop directly into tanks in the floor below.

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Weingut Otto Laubsenstein

While the Rhine Valley is filled with wineries, when we went wine tasting in Germany, we went to Weingut Otto Laubstein in Hochstatten (in the Nahe region near Bad Kreuznach and Bad Münster am Stein-Ebernburg).  We were spoiled becasue the wine was so good.  Every wine we tasted after that, was disappointing.  Don’t get me wrong, they were fine wines, they just weren’t as good as what we had at Weingut Otto Laubstein.

It is a family business.  They have been making wines on the property since 1860 and are in their fourth generation.   Torsten Hashgagen and his wife Marita Laubenstein-Hashagen took over from her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Otto Laubstein.  We were lucky enough to meet them all.

They are passionate about it, take it seriously and are focused on quality.  When we met Torsten, he joked that quality control is his favorite part of winemaking.  Images of him enthusiastically tasting wine out of barrels popped into my mind.  Microscopes and test tubes did not.  We’ve done several wine tours and tastings, but this tour was the first time we saw a chemistry lab.  He uses the technology in his lab to gather as much information as possible about his grapes and wines as well as to compare them year after year to produce the best quality.

Torsten is committed to continuous improvement and has an exceptional focus on quality.  Signs of it were everywhere, from the small batches to exercise more control over the grapes, to the textbooks within arms reach, to being organic.  When I remarked on the books, Torsten enthusiastically opened them and told me how he still uses them and the pleasure he takes in reading about winemaking.

The winery has Ecovin designation which means that it meets strict, constantly updated (beyond regular EU or association) requirements for quality and ecological consequences.  Ecovin wineries work toward healthy ecosystems in the vineyard by conserving soil and water, encouraging beneficial insects, and refraining from using pesticides or chemical fertilizers.  Winegut Otto Laubstein sees their Ecovin (aka Bio, Organic) efforts as a part of producing superior quality wines.

They’ve even got wind power!

We got to taste some wine at the fermentation stage.  See the difference in the pictures?  The finished wine is lighter, clearer and higher in alcohol.  The fermenting wine is still cloudy and has sediment.  It was interesting to taste the wine in progress.  In case you were wondering, it tastes a lot like the finished product, but is rougher and not as clear.  The flavors aren’t as distinct.

Mr. and Mrs. Otto Laubenstien biggest treasure isn’t their winery; it is their five lovely daughters.  Three of them became Wine Queens (the only time in Germany that so many have come from the same family).   Wine Queens use their knowledge of wine growing and production to promote their region’s wine at events like fairs, business conferences, wine festivals, and openings, both at home and abroad.  Essentially, they serve as an ambassador of their region’s winemaking industry.  I learned that queen is Königin in German; it became my nickname for Marita (who still looks like a wine queen).   Torsten named their upper tier, highest quality wines “Princess” after her and her sisters.   How sweet.

The winery has a wine cellar that is over 400 years old.  It stays at a cool, constant temperature.  The old brick arch of wine cellar was beautiful and if I’d had a sweater, I would have spent hours in there taking pictures.  The wine tour ended in the wine tasting rooms (note the Wine Queens on the walls) where we drank wine and spent hours asking Torsten questions.  Torsten clearly loves his work.

So does this guy.

Euguisheim, The Cutest Town In The World?

He declared Euguisheim, France the cutest town in the world.  We’ve seen a lot of cute towns recently (we even have two cute towns categories on the blog).  He made a bold statement and declared Euguisheim the cutest.  While I wasn’t ready to declare it the winner, I couldn’t name anything cuter.

France has 32,000 villages that dot its countryside.  The association “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” (The Most Beautiful Villages of France), they are dedicated to sharing French history and culture.  Its 156 member towns try to make their towns as beautiful, charming and flower-filled as possible.  If you want to see stereotypical and picture perfect French towns on your vacation, check them out (you can search by name, region or on the map).

Euguisheim is one of “The Most Beautiful Villages of France.”  The words “picturesque” and “pleasant don’t begin to do it justice.  The cheery flowers decorate the colorful timber framed houses.  The cobblestoned streets add authenticity and its pedestrian center is peaceful.  Captivating storks nest on the church spires and soar overhead.

Euguisheim is easy to navigate.  Its streets form concentric circles around its central chateau.  It’s not that large.  You might want to get lost here, but you won’t.

If the enchanting atmosphere isn’t enough, you can always enjoy the wine.  Euguisheim is proud of its moniker “the cradle of Alsatian wine.”  People have grown grapes for wine around Euguisheim since Roman times.  Surrounded by vineyards, there are several tasting rooms in town.

Although Euguisheim is cute, I think this little guy might be cuter.   I spent almost as much time petting this four-month old Bernese Mountain Dog/Border Collie mix as I did taking pictures.  I fell in love.

His owner sold me one of these pretzels.  Le Yum!  What a great day!

The Best Beer In Geneva

Our friend discovered the Brasserie Des Murailles at a summer festival.  He made a strong statement and declared it to be the “best beer in Switzerland.”  After tasting it we fell in love with the brewery (brewery is brasserie in French).  Here’s why:

1. They regularly brew five varieties of beer (and additional seasonal ones). Each one is great.  They don’t make a bad one.

2. The brewer studied in Belgium.  Yeah Belgium!

3. They have continuously grown their business each year with minimal advertising.  They grew so much that they went from the tank above to the tanks below.

4. We like to tour breweries and microbreweries (and pretty much any kind of factory).  Although they are small, their old farm is one of the coolest buildings around.  It is a rustic old bar that has been retrofitted to accommodate brewing and visitors.  The best part is the setting in the countryside of Geneva with a wonderful view of the French Alps and Le Salève.  From the back, you can see the Jura. mountains.

5. Like the Belgians, they manage to pack their beer full of flavor.  Somehow, they manage to keep it light enough for the local market.  Even in during a summer heat wave, they never seem too heavy.

6. Their beers are unique and complex.

7. They are small enough to exercise strong quality control.

8. Although it isn’t technically a reason their beer is great, they are nice.  Really, really nice. You want them to succeed.  Although they love great beer, they aren’t pretentious or snobby.

9. At summer festivals, what would you rather drink Heineken, Kronenbourg 1664 or something with taste and flavor?

10. In a market like Geneva, where great unique beers are hard to come by, they are a godsend.

If you are interested in Swiss beers, check out the Ultimate Switzerland Beer Guide.  Sante! Proust!  Chin Chin!  Cheers!

Here It Is, Your Moment of Zen…A Cat Drinking Out Of A Toilet!

Our friends over at Bull Trekkings had the coolest cat ever.  His name is Poof.  Doesn’t he look nice in his party hat?  Poof has a drinking problem.

He drinks from toilets!

He can also wear the heck out of a sweater and is a good napping buddy.

 

 

What The Heck Is A Tastevin?

Until we met Jean-Michel on our wine tour of Burgundy, we had never seen or even heard of a tastevin.*  It’s a small, shallow silver cup traditionally used by wine makers, sommeliers and wine merchants to judge the maturity, quality and taste of a wine.  Jean-Michel showed us a wall of them at the Chateau du Clos de Vougeot on the wine tour.
The wine is poured in the tastevin over the shiny silver, allowing them to accurately judge the color in the faint light in a wine cellar.  They are made of silver because it doesn’t taint wine’s taste or character.
 
A tastevin’s surfaces aren’t flat, they are convex and concave to allow the maximum possible light to be reflected. The stripes and circles reflect the light differently.  As a result, wine sellers traditionally had stripes/flutings on theirs because it made the wine seem to have a deeper hue, indicating a higher quality wine.  Wine buyers had concave circles which made the wine appear more ruby in color.  This indicated a less mature, and therefore less expensive, wine.  Some cups have both.
  
Now (with the advent of electric lighting in wine cellars), they are novelties, nods to tradition or just plain old good souvenirs.  They make a great souvenir and our visitor, The Sweetest Girl in the World, bought some for her family.  If you can’t make it over here to buy one, you can order one from the J. Peterman catalog!
If you are enough of a wine enthusiast, you can join the Burgundian Wine Society, La Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.  They wear these bad boys around their necks, have big dinners with amazing food and drink a bottle or two.

Panache – The One Beer That Can Make Him Do This

In the Summer here, people find Panache refreshing.  It is beer with some lemonade, kind of like a Shandy. It is a bit too sweet for me, but I can understand it.  He did this.