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Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. How to know about a wine?
  2. What's the right temperature to serve wines?
  3. What types of wine go best with what types of cheeses?
  4. Why is it important to match the right wine with certain foods?
  5. Learn the Basics about the making of wine.
  6. What is the basic difference between Red and White wine?
  7. What is the basic difference between sweet and dry?
  8. What is Cognac?
  9. Armagnac, What is it?
  10. What is the difference between Scotch, Irish, Rye and Bourbon Whiskies?
  11. How is Scotch Whisky made?
  12. What is the Origin of VODKA?
  13. What is the origin of GIN?
  14. What is Tequila?
  15. How many types of Beer are available to Drink?
  16. How many 12 oz. servings are in a regular sized keg?
  17. How much lighter is light beer?
  18. Why are Belgian Lambics so sour, and sometimes have a funny smell to them?
  19. Is stout really good for me?

 

Q. How to know about a wine?

A. Most wine producers are honest, of course, but it's still important to know what you're buying. Look carefully at the wine label to learn at least the minimum. The front label of most U.S. wines usually carries the name of the grape variety along with an appellation (place name), which refers to the legally defined American Viticulture Area (AVA) in which the grapes were grown. In general, the more specific the appellation, the better you can expect the wine to be.

Here's what the most common terms on American-made wines mean:

California: If a wine label says "California" on the front it means the grapes could have been grown anywhere up and down this gigantic state. In effect it often indicates that a high percentage of the wine comes from cheaper Central Valley grapes that make less concentrated, less interesting wines.

Coastal: Be careful with this increasingly popular term. Many of the wines are great values, but "Coastal" is not an AVA and doesn't mean a thing, legally.

Counties, valleys: Specific terms such as Napa Valley, Sonoma County and Willamette Valley are almost always a good sign. They mean that at least 85 percent of the wine was made from grapes grown there.

Towns, districts: If you see a town name like Oakville or a district name like Carneros it means even more specialization, better odds for high quality and an inevitably higher price.

Vineyard designations: The individual property where the grapes came from, like Sangiacomo Vineyard or Bien Nacido Vineyard, is the finest geographical distinction a winery can put on a bottle. This is usually a good sign of quality and a chance to experience what the French call terroir, the taste of a place.

Estate bottled: Another good sign of quality. It means that the wine was made from grapes grown in vineyards owned (or leased for the long term) by the winery itself, not grown by an independent farmer or another winery.

Produced and bottled by: This is one of the best phrases to see in fine print on a label. It means that the winery itself actually crushed the grapes, fermented the juice and put the wine into bottles. The only thing better in this regard is "grown, produced and bottled by," which is basically the same as estate bottled. Other phrases, such as "vinted and bottled by" and "cellared and bottled by" can mean the winery bought the wine from another vintner, maybe blended it and aged it a bit -- maybe not -- then bottled it.

 

Q. What's the right temperature to serve wines?

A. White wines too warm will taste alcoholic and flabby, while white wines too cold will be refreshing but nearly tasteless. As for reds, keep them too warm and they will taste soft, alcoholic and even vinegary. Too cold and they will have an overly tannic bite and much less flavor.

Here's how to be confident the wine you serve will be on its best behavior:

Champagne and other sparkling wines should start out totally chilled. Put them in the refrigerator an hour and half before serving or in an ice bucket with an ice-water mixture at least 20 minutes before serving. For vintage-dated Champagne and other high-quality bubbly, however, you should let the bottle then warm up a bit if you don't want to miss out on the mature character for which you're probably paying extra.

Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, white Zinfandel and other refreshing white wines should also be chilled to refrigerator temperature (usually 35 to 40 degrees) for an hour and a half before serving. But the better examples, such as barrel-aged wines like Fume Blanc (made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes) will improve if brought out 20 minutes early or allowed to warm up slightly during hors d'ouevres or dinner.

Chardonnay, white Burgundy and other rich, full-bodied and barrel-fermented white wines of high quality taste their best at classic "cellar temperature," or 55 degrees. Winemakers in France's Burgundy region know what they're doing when they offer tastes to visiting journalists and wine buyers directly from the barrels of Chardonnay in their cool, humid underground cellars. So put these into the fridge an hour and half before serving, but bring them out 20 minutes early to warm a bit.

Sweet dessert wines need the same treatment as Sauvignon Blanc, above, with the exception of fortified dessert wines like Port and sweet Sherry, which are better at cellar temperature or warmer. Treat dry Sherry like Sauvignon Blanc, too.

Almost all red wines show their best stuff when served at about 65 degrees-cool, but warmer than cellar temperature. This is not room temperature, unless you happen to live in a Scottish castle or in San Francisco during July. So if you don't keep your red wine in a cool cellar or cooled storage unit, you will enjoy it more if you chill it for 20 minutes in the refrigerator before serving.


Q. What types of wine go best with what types of cheeses?

A. Cheddar/Sharp: Rhone, Cabernet, Merlot
White (Swiss, Gruyere): Pinot Noir
Blue Cheese: auternes, Sherry, Port
Creamy (Brie, Camembert): Oaky Chardonnay, Champagne
Hard (Parmesan, Reggiano): Chianti, Barolo, Amarone
Mozzarella/Goats Milk: Sauvignon Blanc

Q. Why is it important to match the right wine with certain foods?

A. A great question, but one that is totally subjective to each individual palate. For the most part, the old standby of "Red with meat, white with fish" is a fair rule of thumb, but should by no means be the rule. In the Northwest, for example, salmon is most often paired with Pinot Noir. The key to matching wines with food should be more based on matching the levels of quality, in my humble opinion. You wouldn't really want to serve Osso Buco with a run-of-the-mill Chianti with the straw flask, would you?
Our advice for food and wine matches? Be creative, find wines you like, and try to match up a food you think would go well with that wine. Then let us know what you think!


Q. Learn the Basics about the making of wine.

A. You may be wondering, "Why do I care how the stuff is made?!" If so, you really should relax, maybe even have a glass of wine. Learning the basics about winemaking is useful because it allows you to (a) credibly evaluate the wines that you taste and (b) impress your date. For instance, it's always a fun piece of trivia to let people know that red grapes can make white wine, and it is good to know that you should never chill your white wine by chucking it into the freezer - frost severely damages the alcohol balance and taste of wine.

So what exactly is this stuff and why is everyone all up in arms about it? Let's be clear: wine isn't just high octane grape juice. Good wine really is tough to make; if you don't believe us, try a nice bit of crappy wine and you'll quickly learn why Monty Python claimed that it "opens the sluices at both ends." Making a good wine involves taking a great grape, growing it in the right soil, ushering it through the fermentation process, aging it in the right way, and releasing it at just the right time. So there are plenty of things to screw up, and the English have been botching it for years.

What is wine?

Essentially, it is fermented grape juice, but with a few extra twists. God saved a few pieces of Eden when he gave us the boot, and one of the best is the fact that any fruit containing sugar will turn to booze if you leave it to ferment. In the process of fermentation, yeast converts the sugar into alcohol. Yeast is found all over the place, and in the wild it lands on the skins of grapes; hence, when grape juice is left to sit about in the wild, that yeast will mix with it and ferment it naturally. Vintners nowadays don't take any such chances: they labor over what precise strain of yeast to use in their recipe because different choices will obviously lead to different results.

The ingredients

Most people believe that green grapes make white wine and red grapes make red wine. That is largely true, but if you care to impress anyone with arcane eno-trivia, you should know that white wine can also be made from red grapes. The inside of red grapes is essentially "white" - it is only their skin that is red. And most wines are made with just the inside of a grape. The red color in red wine is created by allowing the fleshy interior to mix with the pulpy skins when it is being crushed. This process infuses red wines with "tannin," an ingredient that gives red wine its distinctive flavor. So you can make white wine with red grapes - like White Zinfandel, a fine white wine made from a grape with a decidedly red exterior - but not red wine with green grapes. Oh, and most champagnes are made from red grapes. Weird, but true.

The process

The grapes are crushed with or without the skins and then left to ferment. The nasty bits are removed from the juice and a disinfectant is used to neutralize any contaminants, such as mold and bacteria, that may have been on the grapes - remember, they've just been sitting outside for ages, surrounded by bugs and dirt, and yeast ain't the only thing lurking on the skin. The fluid, or "must," is then left to complete the fermentation process in either big steel vats or small wooden barrels - barrels call for a longer process and are harder to keep at the right temperature, but supposedly lead to a better finished product, for which you of course will end up paying more. Once the wine is properly fermented, the vintner will need to pluck out all the little nibblets and then mature the clarified vino. The better vineyards will age the wine for years in oak barrels, which infuses the wine with positive woody hints. The lamer vineyards will shove the stuff in a steel vat just long enough for it to be squirted into cardboard boxes with plastic spigots.


Q. What is the basic difference between Red and White wine?

A. There are four major types of wine: red, white, rosé (or blush), and champagne. As far as dining is concerned, we are going to focus only on the first two types since champagne is its own animal.

Where color comes from

Color is the first and easiest distinguishing feature of wine. As we hinted at earlier, the main difference between red and white wine is that grape juice used to make red wine contains skins, seeds, and stems. This is significant for the following reason: leaving juice to mix together with the woody bits (known as maceration) causes the finished product to contain something we briefly mentioned earlier - tannins. If the term tannin is bugging you because you don't really get what we're talking about, just think about a strong cup of tea. That woody taste is tannin. In wine, it can lend a wonderful complexity to a red wine. As a general rule of thumb, red wines are heavier and more complex than white wines. White wines are usually a good place for beginners to start because they are initially more palatable to novices since they often tend to be sweeter.

The Rule

The reason you need to be aware of the differences between red and white wine is because one of the oldest rules in fine dining is that you should attempt to harmonize your choice of food and drink. If you are going to be eating something delicate with subtle tastes, the Rule states, you should avoid drinking something with a strong flavor that will overshadow the food. Conversely, a hearty meal will often be best complimented by a strong wine with flavor of its own. Now every single guide to wine in the world makes a point of saying that the Rule is out of date and the only hard and fast dictate of wine drinking is to choose something you enjoy. Of course, if you're dropping fatty cash for grub and grog, you should pick whatever the hell you want. Don't let dead British wankers tell you how to eat a meal - go with what you like.

The rationale behind the Rule

Nevertheless, there's a reason that Rule evolved in the first place: it makes sense. If, for example, you're trying to pick up on the vague hints of Caribbean brine that delicately caress the primo slice of sushi you just ordered, slurping a bowl of tequila isn't going to help. Balancing food with drink may not be required anymore, but it's a good tip to keep in mind and will instantly push you off the Zero mark when you start eating at good restaurants.
A specific corollary of the Rule is that white wines tend to go best with fish and white meats, like chicken and pork; red wines go best with red meat and red sauces. Another adjutant to the Rule is that you should begin with lighter wines and progress to heavier ones throughout the course of the meal. This policy again reflects the idea that you should not overburden your palate: if you start with a strong drink, your taste buds will be shot and you won't be able to enjoy anything that comes after it. That is why aperitifs are typically light drinks while dessert liquids, like port, are rich and heavy.


Q. What is the basic difference between sweet and dry?

A. One of the main distinctions - after red and white - that is bandied about by wine drinkers is whether a particular quaff is sweet or dry. Though imagining how a fluid can be dry is something of a logical stretch, just bear in mind that dry is nothing more than the opposite of sweet, and we all know what sweet tastes like. A related factor is the weight of a particular type of wine, which refers to the amount of alcohol present in a given sample.

Guides to Sweetness & Weight

Here is a quick and dirty guide to the sweetness of wines (and please note that, for both charts, the listed reds are not necessarily of the same sweetness/weight as the whites listed next to them -- these are relative charts of sweetness/weight, within red or white):

RED WHITE
Sweetest
Pinot Noir Riesling
Zinfandel Chardonnay
Cabernet Chenin Blanc
Syrah Sauvignon Blanc
Driest
Merlot Brut

 

And here's a thumbnail sketch of how heavy or light a wine is:

RED WHITE
Lightest
Merlot Brut
Zinfandel Fume Blanc
Chianti Pinot Grigio
Syrah Riesling
Heaviest
Cabernet Chardonnay

 

Q. What is Cognac?

A. The wines of Poitou, La Rochelle and Angoumois, produced from high quality vineyards, were shipped to Northern Europe where they were enjoyed by the English, Dutch and Scandinavians as early as the 13th century. In the 16th century, they were transformed into eau-de-vie, then matured in oak casks to become Cognac. That was the start of the adventure for a town which was to become the capital of a world famous trade.

Cognac is a living thing. During its time in the oak casks it is in permanent contact with the air. This allows it to extract the substances from the wood that give both its color and its final bouquet.
Ageing is indispensable if an eau-de-vie is to become Cognac. It takes place in casks or barrels that hold between 270 and 450 litres. The natural humidity of the cellars, in which the casks are stored, with its with its influence on evaporation, is one of the determining factors in the maturing process. With the balance between humidity and dryness, the spirit becomes mellow and ages harmoniously.
Making Cognac is the work of the Master Blender. Applying strict control, experience and intuition, he subtly blends eaux-de-vie of different ages and crus, producing a Cognac that through the years will not only retain its own personality, but will also keep a place in the heart of the consumer

Q. Armagnac, What is it?

A. Armagnac may not be as well known as its bigger brother, Cognac, throughout the world of brandy drinkers but but among afficionados it is appreciated for its greater sophistication and subtleness. Indeed, someone once said : ``Cognac is like a fresh young girl, but armagnac is like a woman of a certain age that you do not wish to take home to meet your mother.''

There is a hint too of romanticism about Armagnac. It is part of the world of Gascony, which also gave birth to those great adventurers of French literature, d'Artagnan and the three musketeers, who have captured the imagination of many generations even outside France, and - inevitably - Hollywood.

One reason for the relative obscurity of Armagnac is perhaps that with one exception it is still produced by myriad small `chais' which do not have the resources to commercialise it in the same way as the big names of Cognac.

One of the principal differences between Armagnac and Cognac is the system of distillation, the Alhambic. This has five to eight stages in the one distillation machine. The spirit that emerges at the end of the process is more complete, because it has kept those parts that are lost at the beginning and the end of simpler distillations. These fragrant esters impart to Armagnac a greater fruitiness, reminding the discerning connoisseur of the fruit from which the spirit came. The bouquet of a fine Armagnac has wonderful hints of prune and other fruits which are driven out in other eaux-de-vie.

This unusual distillation process has made possible another innovation: recent developments in the control of rot in grapes have meant that some Armagnac producers have been able to produce a single grape Armagnac - folle blanche - a magically scented spirit.

The Armagnac growing area is divided into three: Bas Armagnac, around Aire-sur-l'Adour and Eauze, which produces the most prestigious Armagnacs, the Ténarèze, (Nérac, Condom and Vic-Fezensac), which produces some highly perfumed spirits sometimes rather coarser, and the Haut Armagnac (Mirande, Auch and Lectoure) which produces very little Armagnac nowadays.

There are four main varieties of grape used mainly in Armagnac: folle blanche (known as gros plant elsewhere), colombard, ugni blanc and the baco.
Once the spirit emerges from the alhambic (at anything between 52 and 72 degrees alcohol) it is stored in new oak barrels. Although the spirit takes the colour faster than cognac, the maturing process takes longer to round the raw spirit -at least five years.

FLOC DE GASCOGNE

Faced with a slump in sales of spirits Armagnac producers started selling the aperitif Floc de Gascogne in the late 1970s. This is a ratafia, grape-juice matured with Armagnac, and comes as a white or red drink.
Another aperitif is the Pousse-Rapière, a mixture of sparkling wine and armagnac, somewhat inspired by the legend of the Musketeers.

 

Q. What is the difference between Scotch, Irish, Rye and Bourbon Whiskies?

A. Scotch Whisky is whisky which has been distilled and matured in Scotland. Irish Whiskey means whiskey distilled and matured in Ireland. Whisky is distilled in Scotland from malted barley in Pot Stills and from malted and unmalted barley or other cereals in Patent Stills. The well-known brands of Scotch Whisky are blends of a number of Pot Still and Patent Still whiskies. Irish Whiskey distillers tend to favour three distillations rather than two, as is general in Scotland in the case of Pot Still whiskies, and the range of cereals used is wider.

As regards Bourbon Whiskey, the United States Regulations provide:
(i) that Bourbon Whiskey must be produced from a mash of not less than 51% corn grain;
(ii) that the word 'Bourbon' shall not be used to describe any whiskey or whiskey-based distilled spirits not produced in the United States.

Rye Whiskey is produced both in the United States and Canada but the name has no geographical significance. In the United States, Rye Whiskey by definition must be produced from a grain mash of which not less than 51% is rye grain. In Canada, there is no similar restriction. The relevant Canadian Regulation states:

'Canadian Whisky (Canadian Rye Whisky, Rye Whisky) shall be whisky distilled in Canada, and shall possess the aroma, taste and character generally attributed to Canadian Whisky.'
Canadian Whisky is in fact often referred to simply as Rye Whisky or Rye.


Q. How is Scotch Whisky made?

A. There are two kinds of Scotch Whisky: Malt Whisky which is made by the Pot Still process and Grain Whisky which is made by the Patent Still (or Coffey Still) process. Malt Whisky is made from malted barley only, while Grain Whisky is made from malted barley together with unmalted barley and other cereals.

Malt Whisky

The Pot Still process by which Malt Whisky is made may be divided into four main stages: Malting, Mashing, Fermentation and Distillation.

(a) Malting

The barley is first screened to remove any foreign matter and then soaked for two or three days in tanks of water known as steeps. After this it is spread out on a concrete floor known as the malting floor and allowed to germinate. Germination may take from 8 to 12 days depending on the season of the year, the quality of the barley used and other factors. During germination the barley secretes the enzyme diastase which makes the starch in the barley soluble, thus preparing it for conversion into sugar. Throughout this period the barley must be turned at regular intervals to control the temperature and rate of germination.

At the appropriate moment germination is stopped by drying the malted barley or green malt in the malt kiln. More usually nowadays malting is carried out in Saladin boxes or in drum maltings, in both of which the process is controlled mechanically. Instead of germinating on the distillery floor, the grain is contained in large rectangular boxes (Saladin) or in large cylindrical drums. Temperature is controlled by blowing air at selected temperatures upwards through the germinating grain, which is turned mechanically. A recent development caused by the rapid expansion of the Scotch Whisky industry is for distilleries to obtain their malt from centralised maltings which supply a number of distilleries, thereby enabling the malting process to be carried out more economically.

(b) Mashing

The dried malt is ground in a mill and the grist, as it is now called, is mixed with hot water in a large circular vessel called a mash tun. The soluble starch is thus converted into a sugary liquid known as wort. This is drawn off from the mash tun and the solids remaining are removed for use as cattle food.

(c) Fermentation

After cooling, the wort is passed into large vessels holding anything from 9,000 to 45,000 litres of liquid where it is fermented by the addition of yeast. The living yeast attacks the sugar in the wort and converts it into crude alcohol. Fermentation takes about 48 hours and produces a liquid known as wash, containing alcohol of low strength, some unfermentable matter and certain by-products of fermentation.

(d) Distillation

Malt Whisky is distilled twice in large copper Pot Stills. The liquid wash is heated to a point at which the alcohol becomes vapour. This rises up the still and is passed into the cooling plant where it is condensed into liquid state. The cooling plant frequently takes the form of a coiled copper tube or worm that is kept in continuously running cold water.

The first distillation separates the alcohol from the fermented liquid and eliminates the residue of the yeast and unfermentable matter. This distillate, known as low wines, is then passed into another still where it is distilled a second time. The first runnings from this second distillation are not considered potable and it is only when the spirit reaches an acceptable standard that it is collected in the Spirit Receiver. Again, towards the end of the distillation, the spirit begins to fall off in strength and quality. It is then no longer collected as spirit but drawn off and kept, together with the first running, for redistillation with the next low wines.
Pot Still distillation is a batch process.

Grain Whisky

The Patent Still process by which Grain Whisky is made is continuous in operation and differs from the Pot Still process in five other ways.

(a) The mash consists of a proportion of malted barley together with unmalted cereals.

(b) Any unmalted cereals used are cooked under steam pressure in Converters for about three and a half hours. During this time the mixture of grain and water is agitated by stirrers inside the cooker.

(c) The starch cells in the grain burst and when this liquid is transferred to the mash tun, with the malted barley, the diastase in the latter converts the starch into sugar.

(d) The wort is collected at a specific gravity lower than in the case of the Pot Still process.
Distillation is carried out in a Patent or Coffey Still and the spirit collected at a much higher strength.
Maturation

Both Malt and Grain Whisky must be matured after distillation has been completed. The new spirit is filled into casks of oak wood which, being permeable, allows air to pass in and evaporation takes place. By this means the harsher constituents in the new spirit are removed and it becomes in due course a mellow whisky. Malt Whisky which contains more of these flavoury constituents takes longer to mature than Grain Whisky and is often left in the cask for 10 years or even longer.
The period of maturation for both Malt and Grain Whisky is also affected by the size of casks used, the strength at which the spirit is stored, and the temperature and humidity of the warehouse.

Blending

After maturation the different whiskies are blended together. The blend is then reduced to the strength required for bottling by the addition of soft water. The different whiskies in the blend will have derived some colour from the casks in which they have been matured, but the degree of colour will vary from one whisky to another. Whisky matured in former fresh oak sherry casks will usually be a darker colour than that which has been matured in refilled whisky casks. The blender aims at uniformity in his product and he may bring his whisky to a definite standard colour by adding, if necessary, a small amount of colouring solution prepared from caramelised sugar, which is infinitesimal in relation to the volume of whisky involved. The whisky is then filtered carefully.

Packaging

The final stage in the production of Scotch Whisky is packaging and despatch. Most Scotch Whiskies are marketed at home and abroad in branded bottles.
In some instances, for commercial reasons, Scotch Whisky may be shipped overseas in bulk. When blended Scotch Whisky is shipped abroad in bulk, either at original strength or suitably reduced, it is exported in glass lined stainless steel tanks or casks of varying size according to the market. The bottling is then carried out by distributors or agents overseas.


Q. What is the Origin of VODKA?

A. Vodka is a drink which originated in Eastern Europe, the name stemming from the Russian word 'voda' meaning water or, as the Poles would say 'woda'. The first documented production of vodka in Russia was at the end of the 9th century, but the first known distillery at, Khylnovsk, was about two hundred years later as reported in the Vyatka Chronicle of 1174. Poland lays claim to having distilled vodka even earlier in the 8th century, but as this was a distillation of wine it might be more appropriate to consider it a crude brandy. The first identifiable Polish vodkas appeared in the 11th century when they were called 'gorzalka', originally used as medicines.

Medicine and Gunpowder

During the Middle Ages, distilled liquor was used mainly for medicinal purposes, as well as being an ingredient in the production of gunpowder. In the 14th century a British Ambassador to Moscow first described vodka as the Russian national drink and in the mid-16th century it was established as the national drink in Poland and Finland. We learn from the Novgorod Chronicles of 1533 that in Russia also, vodka was used frequently as a medicine (zhiznennia voda meaning 'water of life').
In these ancient times Russia produced several kinds of 'vodka' or 'hot wine' as it was then called. There was 'plain wine' (standard), 'good wine' (improved) and 'boyar wine' (high quality). In addition stronger types existed, distilled two ('double wine') or more times.

Since early production methods were crude, vodka often contained impurities, so to mask these the distillers flavoured their spirits with fruit, herbs or spices.

The mid - 15th century saw the first appearance of pot distillation in Russia. Prior to that, seasoning, ageing and freezing were all used to remove impurities, as was precipitiation using isinglass ('karluk') from the air bladders of sturgeons. Distillation became the first step in producing vodka, with the product being improved by precipitation using isinglass, milk or egg white.

Around this time (1450) vodka started to be produced in large quantities and the first recorded exports of Russian vodka were to Sweden in 1505. Polish 'woda' exports started a century later, from major production centres in Posnan and Krakow.

From acorns to melon

In 1716, owning distilleries became the exclusive right of the nobility, who were granted further special rights in 1751. In the following 50 or so years there was a proliferation of types of aromatised vodka, but no attempt was made to standardise the basic product. Types produced included; absinthe, acorn, anisette, birch, calamus root, calendula, cherry, chicory, dill, ginger hazelnut, horseradish, juniper, lemon, mastic, mint, mountain ash, oak, pepper, peppermint, raspberry, sage, sorrel, wort and water melon! A typical production process was to distil alcohol twice, dilute it with milk and distil it again, adding water to bring it to the required strength and then flavouring it, prior to a fourth and final distillation. It was not a cheap product and it still had not attained really large-scale production. It did not seek to compete commercially with the major producers in Lithuania, Poland and Prussia.
In the 18th century a professor in St. Petersburg discovered a method of purifying alcohol using charcoal filtration. Felt and river sand had already been used for some time in Russia for filtration.

Vodka marches across Europe

The spread of awareness of vodka continued throughout the 19th century, helped by the presence in many parts of Europe of Russian soldiers involved in the Napoleonic Wars. Increasing popularity led to escalating demand and to meet this demand, lower grade products were produced based largely on distilled potato mash.

Earlier attempts to control production by reducing the number of distilleries from 5,000 to 2,050 between the years 1860 and 1890 having failed, a law was enacted in 1894 to make the production and distribution of vodka in Russia a state monopoly. This was both for fiscal reasons and to control the epidemic of drunkenness which the availability of the cheap, mass-produced 'vodkas' imported and home-produced, had brought about.

It is only at the end of the 19th century, with all state distilleries adopting a standard production technique and hence a guarantee of quality, that the name vodka was officially and formally recognised.
After the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks confiscated all private distilleries in Moscow. As a result, a number of Russian vodka-makers emigrated, taking their skills and recipes with them. One such exile revived his brand in Paris, using the French version of his family name - Smirnoff. Thence, having met a Russian émigré from the USA, they set up the first vodka distillery there in 1934. This was subsequently sold to a US drinks company. From this small start, vodka began in the 1940s to achieve its wide popularity in the Western World.


Q. What is the origin of GIN?

A. The first confirmed date for the production of gin is the early 17th century in Holland, although claims have been made that it was produced prior to this in Italy. In Holland it was produced as a medicine and sold in chemist shops to treat stomach complaints, gout and gallstones. To make it more palatable, the Dutch started to flavor it with juniper, which had medicinal properties of its own.

From Dutch courage to William of Orange

British troops fighting in the Low Countries during the Thirty Years' War were given 'Dutch Courage' during the long campaigns in the damp weather through the warming properties of gin. Eventually they started bringing it back home with them, where already it was often sold in chemists' shops. Distillation was taking place in a small way in England, but it now began on a greater scale, though the quality was often very dubious. Nevertheless, the new drink became a firm favorite with the poor.

The formation by King Charles I of the Worshipful Company of Distillers, where members had the sole right to distil spirits in London and Westminster and up to twenty-one miles beyond improved both the quality of gin and its image; it also helped English agriculture by using surplus corn and barley.
When King William III - better known as William of Orange - came to the English throne in 1689, he made a series of statutes actively encouraging the distillation of English spirits. Anyone could now distil by simply posting a notice in public and just waiting ten days. Sometimes gin was distributed to workers as part of their wages and soon the volume sold daily exceeded that of beer and ale, which was more expensive anyway.

The Gin Riots

The problem was tackled by introducing The Gin Act at midnight on 29 September 1736, which made gin prohibitively expensive. A license to retail gin cost £50 and duty was raised fivefold to £1 per gallon with the smallest quantity you could buy retail being two gallons. The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, and Dr. Samuel Johnson were among those who opposed the Act since they considered it could not be enforced against the will of the common people. They were right. Riots broke out and the law was widely and openly broken. About this time, 11 million gallons of gin were distilled in London, which was over 20 times the 1690 figure and has been estimated to be the equivalent of 14 gallons for each adult male. But within six years of the Gin Act being introduced, only two distillers took out licenses, yet, over the same period of time, production rose by almost fifty per cent.

Respectability, high quality and patronage

The Gin Act, finally recognized as unenforceable, was repealed in 1742 and a new policy, which distillers helped to draft, was introduced: reasonably high prices, reasonable excise duties and licensed retailers under the supervision of magistrates. In essence this is the situation which exists today.
These changes led to more respectable firms embarking on the business of distilling and retailing gin and it became the drink of high quality, which it has since remained. Many companies established themselves as well-to-do manufacturers, often becoming patrons for major enterprises; one such was the sponsorship of the attempt to discover the North West Passage 1829-33: the attempt failed, but the expedition did establish the true position of the North Magnetic Pole.
Gin had been known as 'Mother's Milk' from the 1820s but later in the century it became known as 'Mother's Ruin', a description perhaps originating from the earlier 'Blue Ruin' of the prohibition era in the previous century.


Q. What is Tequila?

A. First the history: Tequila was first distilled in the 1500-1600's in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. Guadalajara is the capital of Jalisco and the city of Tequila was established in about 1656. This is where the agave plant grows best.

The agave is not a cactus as rumored, but belongs to the lily family and has long spiny leaves (pincas). The specific plant that is used to make tequila is the Weber blue agave. It takes 8-12 years for the agave to reach maturity. During harvest, the leaves are cut off leaving the heart of the plant or pina which looks like a large pineapple when the jimadors are done. The harvested pina may weigh 200 pounds or more and is chopped into smaller pieces for cooking at the distillery.

Tequila was first imported into the United States in 1873 when the first load was transported to El Paso, Texas. In 1973 tequila sales in the US topped one million cases.

There are two basic types of tequila, 100% blue agave (cien por ciento de agave) tequila and mixto. The 100% blue agave tequilas are distilled entirely from the fermented juice of the agave. All 100% agave tequilas have to be distilled and bottled in Mexico. If the bottle does not say 100% blue agave, the tequila is mixto and may have been distilled from as little as 60% agave juice with other sugars.

Grades of tequila:

  • Blanco: 100% agave tequila that is unaged and untreated with additives.
  • Reposado: 100% agave, "rested" tequila that has been stored in oak between two months and one year.
  • Anejo: 100% agave, aged tequila that has been stored in oak at least one year.
  • Mixto blanco: mixto tequila that is unaged.
  • Mixto reposado: mixto tequila that has been stored in oak between two months and one year.
  • Mixto anejo: aged mixto tequila that has been stored in oak at least one year.
  • Joven abocado: mixto tequila that has been treated with additives to achieve an effect similar to aging.

As the tequila is aged in wooden barrels, usually oak, it becomes smoother, with a woody taste and golden color. Aging may disguise the agave flavor and few tequilas are aged longer than three to four years.

Each distillery in Mexico is assigned a NOM number that shows which company made or bottled the tequila.

There is no worm in tequila, that is Mezcal which is a whole different animal.


Q. How many types of Beer are available to Drink?

A. Here are the different styles you may come across at our stores or your favorite local brew pub.

Ale - originally a liquor made from an infusion of malt by fermentation, as opposed to beer, which was made by the same process but flavored with hops. Today ale is used for all beers other than stout.

Alt - means "old". A top fermented ale, rich, copper-colored and full-bodied, with a very firm, tannic palate, and usually well-hopped and dry.

Amber Beer - an ale with a depth of hue halfway between pale and dark.

Barley Wine - dark, rich, usually bittersweet, heavy ales with high alcohol content, made for sipping, not quaffing.

Bitter - the driest and one of the most heavily hopped beers served on draft. The nose is generally aromatic, the hue amber and the alcoholic content moderate.

Bock - a strong dark German lager, ranging from pale to dark brown in color, with a minimum alcoholic content of about 6 percent.

Brown Ale - malty beers, dark in color, and they may be quite sweet.

Burton - a strong ale, dark in color, made with a proportion of highly dried or roasted malts.

Christmas/Holiday Beer - these special season beers are amber to dark brown, richly flavored with a sweetish palate. Some are flavored with special spices and/or herbs.

Dopplebock - "double bock." A stronger version of bock beer, decidedly malty, with an alcoholic content ranging from 8 percent to 13 percent by volume.

Hefe-Weizen - a wheat beer, lighter in body, flavor and alcohol strength.
Ice Beer - a high-alcohol beer made by cooling the beer during the process to below the freezing point of water (32 degrees Fahrenheit) but above that of alcohol (-173 degrees Fahrenheit). When the formed ice is removed and discarded, the beer ends up with a higher alcohol-to-water ratio.

India Pale Ale (IPA) - a generously hopped pale ale.

Kolsch - a West German ale, very pale (brassy gold) in hue, with a mild malt flavor and some lactic tartness.

Malt Liquor - most malt liquors are lagers that are too alcoholic to be labeled lagers or beers.

Muncheners - a malty, pale lager distinguished from the darker, heavier Munich Dark beers by the term "dunkel."

Octoberfest/Maerzen/Vienna - a copper-colored, malty beer brewed at the end of the winter brewing season in March.

Pale Ale - made of the highest quality malts, the driest and most highly hopped beer. Sold as light ale or pale ale in bottle, or on draft as bitter.

Pilsner - delicately dry and aromatically hoppy beers.

Porter - a darker (medium to dark reddish brown) ale style beer, full-bodied, a bit on the bitter side. The barley (or barley-malt) is well roasted, giving the brew a characteristic chocolaty, bittersweet flavor.

Stout - beer brewed from roasted, full-flavored malts, often with an addition of caramel sugar and a slightly higher proportion of hops. Stouts have a richer, slightly burnt flavor and are dark in color.

Sweet Stout - also known as milk stout because some brewers use lactose (milk sugar) as an ingredient.

Wheat Beer - a beer in which wheat malt is substituted for barley malt. Usually medium-bodied, with a bit of tartness on the palate.

Try these beer and food pairings: Stout with spicy chili. Hefe-Weizen (with a lemon twist) with spicy mussels in cream sauce. Raspberry Wheat Beer with a chocolate hazelnut tort. Pale Ale with a caesar salad (with a smoked meat). Walnut Ale with a lamb kabob with onions and peppers.


Q. How many 12 oz. servings are in a regular-sized keg?

A. If we lived in a perfect world, you would get 165 and 1/3 servings. Unfortunately, all bars see a good amount of waste from cleaning the tap lines, over-foaming pints, bad taps and common spillage. It's sad to think about all the beer that goes to waste. A moment of silence please...


Q. How much lighter is light beer?

A. Most breweries produce their light beers at about an average of 30 to 40 less calories from their premium brand (per 12 ounce serving). As for the alcohol, it can vary from an average of only 0.4 percent to as much as 1.5 percent alcohol by volume, from light to premium depending on the brewery.
Your best bet is not to worry about the calories in beer at all, but rather watch what you eat. In a 10 to 15 minute walk, or even 30 minutes of sleep, most people will burn off the difference between a light beer and regular beer. So maybe that double cheeseburger (McDonald's runs about 480 calories for their double cheeseburger) is the culprit of your growing waistline and not the innocent regular beer.
Don't blame it on the dark beers either. Guinness Draught only has 120 calories compared to Bud Light which has 110 calories (per 12 ounce serving).


Q. Why are Belgian Lambics so sour, and sometimes have a funny smell to them?

A. Lambics (a Belgian-style in origin) are indeed sour, with generally unfamiliar aromas to most beer drinkers. And, that's the intention.

Lambic brewers let nature do the leg work via spontaneous fermentation. This is accomplished in open fermenters where wild yeast, bacteria and other micro flora get to do their funky job on the beer.
Not only do they ferment the beer, but leave very peculiar by-products like those barnyard or horse blanket smells and provide the acidic sourness you might taste. The average pH of a normal beer is around 4 to 4.5 and the average pH of a Lambic beer is around 3.5, which are means they are pretty close to vinegar.


Q. Is stout really good for me?

A. Stout is good for you, in moderation. Long used as a restorative and by nursing mothers, stout contains a variety of vitamins (as do most beers). The link between moderate but steady consumption of beer and a healthy heart has been clearly documented.
A series of studies by Dr John Trevithick and Dr Maurice Hirst of the University of Western Ontario into the role of the antioxidants contained in darker beers, such as ales and stouts, showed that these beers are influential in protecting the mitochondria in eye cells. The suggestion from the study is that an ale or stout a day will help prevent cataracts from developing.

 

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