Author Archives: Andrew Adams

Infusion confusion

Here's the strained and filtered batch of my lemon-infused vodka. The "citrus spice" infusion is to the left and has not been strained or filtered yet.

Last Friday I dug out from my closet the two big jars that I had filled with fresh fruit and vodka.This was my experimentation with a fresh citrus infused vodka, and after two weeks it was time to see what I had.

This was all new to me and I had no idea what to expect.

I first gave the infusion a quick strain into a class pitcher and then filtered that liquid through my Chemex coffee maker. The Chemex is essentially a big glass pitcher that holds a heavy duty paper filter. Coffee purists would likely be shocked, offended and incensed that I would dare put anything else through a Chemex aside from filtered water and premium coffee, but hey, the Chemex was developed by a German chemist and is really just a piece of lab equipment for making coffee. And at the very worst, if I had some residual citrus flavors in may just enhance my coffee. (A simple soak in detergent and warm water cleaned the Chemex out just fine though. The device is a really nifty way to make coffee and probably worth its own post down the road.)

My first impression of the infusion was a blast of citrus flavor. I had made two batches. One batch consisted of just lemons, the other was oranges, tangerines, lemons and a melangé of spices like cloves and fresh ginger.

I strained and filtered the lemon batch first and was struck by an overpowering lemon aroma. The first taste was just loaded with lemon flavor followed by a rough finish that was a bit astringent. I couldn’t taste the vodka, but Christine, who is more sensitive to spirits, could still taste the vodka.

I had been pretty confident about the lemon batch. Lemons plus vodka is a natural winner, however, I was more excited about the citrus spice blend. This batch had much different aroma that was rich with cloves. The taste, however, was disgusting. Probably one of the foulest things I’ve ever drank. It was okay at first, you could taste citrus and some spice, but then it just devolved into all clove and a really nasty bitterness. The finish just lingered on your throat and it made me quite nauseous. Just nasty. After three tries of the stuff I just poured the stuff down the drain. One whole fifth of vodka lost to beverage experimentation.

What I hadn’t really expected and what you can see from the photo is the bright yellow color. I think this came from leaving the fruit in for more than a week. Most infusion recipes called for only about a week tops, and I did notice the color change started to happen about the eighth day.

So, I’ve concluded that the “citrus spice” was a complete failure. I think it was the clove and coriander that leached out some funky compounds. And I’ve decided that the lemon infusion really turned out to be an arrested limoncello. The color and the taste reminded me of limoncello but two major differences. My infusion has less viscosity and is bitter. Both can be attributed to not adding in simple syrup to the infusion. The sugary syrup smooths out the natural bitterness of lemon and adds a silky, rich texture to the infusion.

In the end, my attempt at infusion has poised me to go on down the rambling road of a limoncello experiment. The bitterness of my batch also likely stems from including the white part of a lemon peel, the pith, in with the infusion. One method to avoid this stuff is to work the lemon with a microplaner to remove only the pure zest from the peel.

I don’t drink limoncello often but to make up a big batch in time to serve it as an icy cold digestif after a summer grill session would be pretty cool.

Deviled eggs and double IPAs

The view from the Vallejo ferry.

My besotted eyes dragged across the menu, another round of Double IPAs and Imperial this and Strong that were on the way to the table, but we needed more food to pair with our ales.

And then I saw it, deviled eggs.

For what pairs better with beer ice cream at close to 1 a.m. than deviled eggs?

Christine and I were with friends in San Francisco recently to be part of SF Beer Week and it also happened to be Strong Beer Month. So on our tour of a few of the city’s best beer establishments we imbibed and feasted in SF style.

Our first stop was the Rogue embassy on Union Street where we sampled a few special Dead Guy releases as well as the Rouge whiskey. The whiskey was surprisingly light but full of delicate malt notes and had a pleasant aroma. There’s a great beer garden in the back of Rouge and it was a perfect place to start our evening as we were able to enjoy the last of a beautiful day in the city. The food at Rogue, we had buffalo wings, bean dip and some waffle fries, was pedestrian bar food but it was only the start.

After Rogue, we took a cab down toward the Giants ballpark to find a place called the “Truck Stop” where some craft brewers were offering up their wares alongside food trucks like “The Rib Whip.” We found the site, a vacant lot, but alas the site only had portable toilets and the ladies in our group refused to stop there before finding some proper facilities.

Thankfully, the 21st Amendment Brewery was only a few blocks away so we hoofed it over there. The 21st Amendment, on 2nd Street, is my preferred pregame stop for Giants games and I always love visiting there. During our most recent visit we sampled through their special offerings that included a dark, roasted double IPA that was pretty inventive and an Imperial Amber that was really good. One disappointment was their Imperial Bitter that was a bit malty and bland. The 21st has great food and we noshed on a Margherita pizza to accompany our ales.

Perhaps we enjoyed the 21st a bit too long because when we returned to the Truck Stop the event had ended. The craft brewers had shut up their shop and The Rib Whip had rolled off onto the busy San Francisco streets to wherever mobile barbecue joints go for the night.

Undaunted we hopped another cab to Magnolia on the Haight for some sophisticated ales and gourmet pub foods. Sophisticated and the Haight didn’t seem to jive with me and, of course, when we stepped from our cab I was accosted by a tall, disheveled and bearded homeless man who said he needed money to help come down from his acid trip. The bar was packed and it was a two hour wait to get a table. We strolled up through the Haight to The Alembic, another hip beer joint like Magnolia, but again we were turned away by a packed house and two hour wait. Then on to a Cuban restaurant that was also packed and required a multi hour wait for a table. Finally our quest paid off when we settled on a Mexican joint where we had some awesome tacos and Negro Modelos.

After tacos, we ended up in a trendy cocktail bar where there wasn’t any special beer or food but we did find nourishment in the goodness of White Russians and Guinness.

Christine and I in our booth at Magnolia. Cheers to San Francisco and cheers to strong beer.

By then the crowds at Magnolia had thinned and we were able to grab a table. And it was then, that faced with a menu decision my stomach and common sense wrestled with desire. But why not? After buffalo wings, bean dip, fries, pizza and tacos, didn’t deviled eggs make sense.

Not really, but when you’re in SF drinking beer, and strong beer at that, order up those deviled eggs son.

And they were Okay, kinda greasy though. The beer ice cream was much better.

Then it was back to our friends’ apartment where there was a tasty of homebrews that resulted in blue ribbons for all.

The next day at the ferry terminal was a little rough, but a top-notch cappuccino from Blue Ribbon coffee softened the edges.

Pushing the boundaries of hoppiness = happiness?

This past friday I was up at a buddy’s place here in Carneros and we opened a 22 ouncer of Sierra Nevada’s Hoptimum. This is SN’s “Imperial IPA” offering and a dandy of high alcohol and out of control hoppiness.

The beer is brewed with a heady dose of Magnum, Simcoe hops and other proprietary hop strains exclusive to the good brewery up in Chico. Hoptimum is a golden colored ale with a frothy head and an aggressive slap in the face of hop aromas. What stands it apart from other double IPA’s is a thick resiny finish that’s almost like sipping hop oil.

Not a brew to pound, the Hoptimum is a beer to sip while one reflects on how far American brewing has come.

But has the hop trend gone to far? While the standardized brewing guidelines for an Imperial IPA do allow for “high to absurdly high hop bitterness” it sometimes seems to me an ego contest between breweries to make the hoppiest brew on the market.

This has resulted in some fine beers, Pliny the Elder and Hop Stoopid being two examples. But while drinking a Hop Stoopid one evening I wondered if by trying to achieve the title of hoppiest brew, had American craft brewing begun to leave the rest of the beer loving public behind. For beverage nerds like myself and my friends a 22 ounce of high hoppy ale is an exciting tasting opportunity. For many other drinkers, something like the Hoptimum would likely be disgusting and not anything they would recognize as beer.

But as we have pushed the boundaries of hoppiness, in the high hops arms race so to speak, breweries have also improved overall quality, diversified the American beer scene and truly revolutionized what had once been a somewhat obscure British beer type, the India Pale Ale.

Had it not been for the original Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, that pushed the boundaries of hoppiness back when it was first released we would never have reached this point today at which we can begin to wonder if hoppiness has gone too far. So drink up you hop heads for it is those who continue to probe the limits of gravity, IBUs and hop clonal selection that continue to push American brewing forward.


Drinkin links

Friends of this blog who may have attended Justin-Siena with me back in the old days may remember a kid a few grades below us by the name of Morgan Twain-Peterson. He’s the son of the founder of Ravenswood winery and seemed destined to be in the wine biz. This flattering profile in the Chron’s wine section reveals he did find his way into the wine industry with his Bedrock label that is earning top scores for its Sonoma wines.

Who care who wins the Super Bowl, the game represents everything I dislike about American culture: watching TV, overconsumption and crass commercialism. Here’s a funny drinking game to play during the broadcast, because everyone does have to watch it.

The most talented ribs cook in American Canyon and my good friend John W. tipped me to site with all the latest news from RedHook brewery. I tend to avoid business sites but the RedHook one is pretty cool with a funny blog and some interesting tidbits on limited release beers. I’ll never forget when I graduated from UO we celebrated with a full keg of RedHook Chinook copper ale that lasted all of about six hours. Big John did a couple of keg stands, some shots and punched a dude in the face during a game of frisbee.

If you hate your job then don’t read this because Zane Lamprey has a great gig. He hosts and produces the show Drinking Made Easy in which he and his crew of boozers travel the county seeking out the best bars, breweries, wineries distilleries or anything else with potent potables. I’ve watched the show a few times and it’s great because unlike other beverage shows in which boring hosts have awkward conversations with people and then sip at beverages before announcing bland proclamations like “Livermore wine country is the place to be!” the dudes at Drinking Made Easy get drunk. You can watch the progression from sober to drunk through an episode. My favorite was when they were in a New Orleans bar and challenged each other to eat maschimo cherries that had been soaking in Everclear. Ugggh. The latest episode in Salt Lake was kinda lame because, well, Utah is lame.

Infusion profusion

There are three citrus trees outside of our place in Carneros that are laden with fruit. I got more lemons, oranges and tangerines than I could ever possibly eat, so I figured I’d try my hand at infusing some vodka with fresh citrus flavors.

I picked up some large air tight jars, a handle of Svedka vodka (it’s cheap and pretty good) and picked off a multitude of fresh citrus fruit. Infusing is an incredibly simple procedure in which the alcohol in the vodka strips flavors out of whatever you may using to infuse. I made up two batches, one of just lemons and one with all three types of citrus as well as some fresh ginger and other spices. I’m going to let the vodka steep in my closet for about two weeks and then see what I have. I may have a sour mess, but what I’m hoping for is a fresh tasting vodka that I can just mix with some ice and club soda and, boom, it’s a cocktail.

Doing some cursory research online, I didn’t find much in terms of a scientific breakdown in how much of the flavoring agent should be mixed with the vodka, aside from “more flavor, more fruit” so I just loaded up the jars with as much sliced fruit that could fit. Hopefully this doesn’t make for too strong of an infusion.

You can infuse with anything. I’m sure you’ve all scene the numerous flavors in the liquor store, however my favorite homemade infusion I had was at a bar in Oregon where the bartender had made fresh pepper vodka using jalapenos and habenero peppers. The worst? Whiskey infused with bacon. Terrible.

Busy at the home brewery

Here's my glass carboy fermenter in my closet. The red cap is holding a traditional airlock that allows the carbon dioxide gas generated by fermentation to escape but blocks nasty bacteria from gaining entry and contaminating the brew. The "blow off" system was simply a piece of tubing running from the plastic cap down into that bucket that I had filled with about a gallon of water and a small dose of sanitizer.

New year, new brews. With work at the winery slowed after harvest, I’ve grabbed the opportunity to put down a couple of batches.

I’ve a stout in bottles right now that is slowly carbonating, and it’s a little off style in terms of body and hoppiness ( it’s a little too hoppy) but it’s kinda like Lost Coast Brewery’s Downtown Brown or even a lighter version of Eight Ball Stout. Light body, with some good roasted malt flavors and a hoppy finish. I’m hopeful that it will finish up nicely in bottle in time for a little more winter weather. It would be a great beer to enjoy with a whiskey on a cold foggy day.

In the fermenter right now is a double IPA with loads of hops and malt that’s humming right along. But perhaps I should say, burping right along. Because of the cold nights I’ve kept the fermenter in my closet rather than out in the barn where I usually stash it. Our night time lows of upper 30s to low 40s is just too cold for the little yeast beasties doing their thing turning sugars into alcohol.

Because of the high amounts of malt, or sugars, the yeast have been quite active causing the fermenting beer to bubble up with a great deal of force. This can pop the airlock that I usually put on the top of the fermentor so I run a piece of plastic tubing down from the top of the fermenter into a bucket of water. The tube allows carbon dioxide and foam to leave the fermenter and the water, with a dash of sanitizer, acts as a barrier to bacterial infection.

Fermentation started quite vigorously on Sunday evening. As the beer foam bubbled up out of the fermenter, the bubbles caused a constant, plopping sound followed by an occassional “burrrp” as a large volume of gas escaped from the tube. The fermenter was in my closet off of my bedroom and Christine and I couldn’t sleep at all. With the constant dripping she kept dreaming of leaking water, while I was struck by nigthmarish dreams of fermentation. (You know, stuck fermentations, not reaching the right final gravity, bacterial infection, I’m sure we’ve all had them from time to time.) By 3 a.m., we’d had enough and I pulled the tube out of the water.

Fermentation has slowed a bit and now I’m back to using just the regular airlock and it shouldn’t affect our sleep.

I’m enjoying brewing, but I’m already balancing my urge to expand operations with a reluctance to spend $1,000 on a 10 gallon, all grain brew structure like this beast.

Perhaps then I’ll just have to continue my amateur efforts while enjoying the fine products of the West Coast’s excellent breweries and events such as SF Beer Week.

Palm Springs: War birds, cocktails and the desert

After the plane had landed in Ontario and I had stumbled out of the jetway, a little bleary and buzzed from a couple of bloody m’s, I stopped in front of a pane of floor to ceiling windows that ran along the far wall of the airport terminal. There framed by a freeway and a limitless blue sky were some of the tallest mountains I had seen in a while.

Their jagged peaks covered in snow, the mountains stretched straight into the sky like a wall. I had heard the desert would be beautiful, the mountains impressive, but I’ll admit a NorCal bias in that I just can never, ever, believe that Southern California is pretty. We hadn’t even made it to the desert yet and I had been stopped short by my first sight of the San Jacinto Mountains.

Soon afterward, we were cruising Highway 10 headed east. Our rental reservation had been for a subcompact but instead we lucked into a free upgrade for a black and chrome Chrysler 300. The surging engine, sleek hood and sun reflecting off the chrome as we barreled through the desert at 85 mph made for a more appropriate entrance into Palm Springs than putt-putting into town in a Yaris like a pair of schmucks.

Our resort the Rancho Las Palmas. This view is pretty much what we enjoyed from our balcony.

The hotel was gorgeous. We snagged a room at the Rancho Las Palmas resort in Rancho Mirage. So, technically we weren’t in Palm Springs but it’s all the same really. Our room had a balcony that had an expansive view of the resort, a pond and the mountains far in the distance piercing the blue sky. We also overlooked the fifth fairway on the main course. The first afternoon in our room I put on my shorts and sandals and kicked my feet up with a glass of Jamesons on the rocks to watch groups of old duffers navigate a par 3 with a tight fairway and impressive water hazard. I wasn’t that shocked to see some blatant cheating.

Christine was there to relax. I had promised that I too would relax. We would spend a day lounging by the adults’ pool with frosty beverages and simple thoughts in our heads like: “Do I have room for an order of nachos? Can I get nachos poolside?” Well of course you can get nachos by the pool, but I can’t ever relax like that on vacation.

When I’m in a new town I just have to do something. Sitting by the pool can make me feel a little antsy. What did I do? Find the best wine bar, perhaps a legendary cocktail lounge where Sinantra and Deano used to haunt? No, I went to the Palm Springs Air Museum to see the largest collection of fully operational WWII combat aircraft. To this history buff and nerd, the museum may have been the best part of the trip. I was able to stroll beneath the wings of the planes that had won the war in the Pacific and Europe. I may have missed out on lounging, but I’ll never forget being able to stare down the sight of a .50 cal machine gun in the waist of a B-17 Flying Fortress. Yes, I got to walk through one of those great lumbering four engine bombers.

For New Year’s we hung out at the hotel. The place had three bars and each was rocking and the hotel staff had set up another bar and a dance floor in the lobby. It was interesting to hang out and mix out with the rich LA folks, the country club locals and a few yahoos like ourselves from out of town. The Palm Springs area is a network of  walled-in, planned communities with security gates in the front that seem more appropriate for the Green Zone in Baghdad. I haven’t seen too many seniors cruising in Bentley’s to get their scrips at CVS. On the outlying edges of the cities are the sprawling, dense neighborhoods of track homes with air conditioners on the windows and bars on the doors. The homes of the gardeners and the guys who bring up the room service.

But enough of the social commentary. The area has spectacular scenery. From the mountains juxtaposed with the golf courses in the cities to the desert. On New Year’s Day, Christine and I drove out to Joshua Tree National Park. The stillness and stark beauty of the park, which is accentuated with bizarre cacti and stone formations was an appropriate close for our trip. After an oasis of wealth and excess, it was refreshing to walk through a desert bereft of distraction.

Some drinking links

Sorry about the holiday stuff staying up on the blog a little too long. I was out of town for New Year’s and came back with a pretty bad sinus infection. I’m all drugged out, not in the fun way, and will post on my Palm Springs jaunt when I can, but in the meantime here’s some boozy links if you’re interested.

• The Chron’s wine editor has his picks of the most memorable wines of 2010 here. Most are pretty esoteric that only a true wine expert would recognize, but reading his list is just a fun little reminder about how much you don’t know about wine.

• Not in time for New Year’s, but still pretty interesting is a French study on the proper way to pour a glass of Champagne.

• Speaking of Champagne, this blogger is on a quest to drink a different one every day for a year. Godspeed to you good soul.

• A few weeks ago, my sister and brother in law spotted Joe Montana in a SF bar. Trying to find a way to connect to the 49er legend, my sis Googled his favorite drink on her iPhone and discovered it was reportedly a rum and coke. They delivered said drink to the great man and he thanked them kindly. Curious about other celebrity faves, I did a quick Google search and found this link, which purports that Barack Obama can’t get enough Bud Lite.

• Good news for local beer lovers in Napa and the area. The beverage group, Pelican Brands, finalized its purchase of Napa Smith brewery on Dec. 26. This means a the brewery’s finances have stabilized and we don’t have to worry about an awesome local brewery closing operations.


Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year

Life is too short. Here’s a photo of a small bottle of fine Scoth whiskey that Christine purchased for me during her trip to Scotland back in 2004. The whiskey is not one of the finest, ultra-premium whiskeys out there but it’s hard to find in the States and pretty expensive for our modest means. The little 250 ml bottle cost quite a bit, even in 2004, and it was even more of a pinch because Christine purchased it in pre “Great Recession” British pounds.

Before I opened up this little gem, my friends derided and mocked me for even having a little 250 ml. of whiskey. "Oh did a Leprachaun sell you that?" mocked my friend Brendan. Well, last time I offer them something special.

This little bottle of Cragganmore Speyside lay hidden in my closet for several years. Too special to be enjoyed it made the move to three different houses and at one point probably was forgotten a few times.

Then on my 31st birthday about a month ago, I just decided to open it up and give it a taste. I don’t know much about Scotch, so I can’t really say this was the most amazing Scotch ever! but it was tasty and smooth. I can discern lengthy aging to smooth out the rough edges of peat, oak and alcohol notes that usually dictate in Scotch, so that was enjoyable.

I guess my point is that we often get caught up in the big picture of what we have, don’t have, want or perceive to need. Most times, however, there’s a small bottle, both figuratively and literally, tucked away in the back of your closet that you already have and all you need to do is make time to dig it out of storage and open it up.

Here’s to a New Year! Let’s hope that in 2011 “mixologists” will be replaced by good bartenders who know how to make a Gimlet, Syrah will get some respect, beer prices will at least stabilize so we won’t be paying $12.99 for a six pack of Banquet beer and we all have fun enjoying The Uncorked Life.

Big boy brewing in Fairfield

I lucked out last week by being able to tag along with the X Winery holiday party, which consisted of a behind the scenes VIP tour of the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Fairfield, just up I-80 from Napa.

While I had taken the free tour a few years ago, I jumped at the chance to take the VIP “Brewmaster” tours as these take the visitor deep into the bowls of the behemoth brewery as well as a sampling from a finishing tank. Super fresh Budweiser tastes like, well, Budweiser but it’s still pretty cool. And I do mean “cool.” The storage cellar is kept at around 36 degrees and the fun of the special tasting was diminished a bit when I was shaking and my hands were turning blue.

We got some swell swag, including a hat and beer glasses, and some great first-hand knowledge of production on such a massive scale it’s just amazing.

I thought I’d just post up a gallery of pics from the day’s tour:

(You can read more about the tour by going here: