Sunday, October 12, 2014

Farm to Tap?

Breweries are popping up everywhere in Sacramento County. Vacant warehouses, abandoned storage facilities, one side of the two-car garage and as my kids used to call it, the "little bathroom," have all been transformed into brewing dens of iniquity.

With the Exception of...

A creek runs beside it...sort of?

Followers of this blog know that my ultimate passion is storytelling, and to do least as well as I do, requires relentless hours of qualitative research. (Wow, I'm really beginning to sound like a grad student!) Thus, I am always a sucker for a new location that will provide my readers with enough information to cause an avalanche of interest. Goat House Brewery, located in the lush, sprawling...more like crawling hills of Lincoln, CA provided a much needed escape from said relentless qualitative research.

The plan for the first weekend in October was to drive north to wine country to do an interview for an independent study project. As luck would have it, my car, Kenji...yes, that's what I call him, decided to extract a few don't have it, hundred dollar bills from my pocket by simultaneously killing a starter and blowing the rear calipers of his braking system. If this were not enough, the mechanic, or Devil worshipper, attempted to send me to an early grave by charging $429.00 for the starter alone. I don't remember much after this phone message, but fortunately, I was referred to a reliable ex-convict who did the work provided that I buy the beer. (He actually was a certified mechanic...just had a little trouble with the IRS, NRA and a slight misunderstanding with two of his three ex-wives)
Beer and wine on the same sign?

Speaking of Beer
I was able to reschedule the winery visit for later, but still had a day to do something a little closer to home. The Farm to Fork festival had taken place the weekend before, and while there, I met a few local brewers who mentioned a new place in Lincoln. Being a wine person, beer, or more accurately for my taste, ale, has become a new passion of mine and anything to do with farming is in my blood. (Okay, a few chickens and a garden = farm. Goats coming soon)

Relying on their recommendation, I called Goat House Brewery after recovering from car repair sticker shock, to make a reservation for a visit. (Info on Google said reservations were required...Not any more!)

Rustic? Maybe.

GoatHouse Brewing Company is a family affair, and owners Mike and Cathy like nothing more than welcoming families to their little piece of heaven on Earth. Located just a few miles northeast from beautiful downtown Lincoln, this dot com, moving and shaking couple searched for many years until they found exactly what they were looking for....a farm! As  Bay area transplants, they had the nerve to want to raise their children with a quality of life reminiscent of days gone by where running through orchards, catching butterflies, fishing and getting dirty was the norm. To hear Cathy, a former marketing executive, tell it, she did not want to die at her desk! So...they loaded up the truck and they moved to...Lincoln, CA?

Yes, that's exactly what they did. Damned the torpedo's,  these good people wanted their slice of American pie! Not the concrete jungle, or laptop death syndrome, they wanted a quality of life that included a farm, good schools, animals, dirt, crops, serenity...and of course, beer. Got to love these folks!.

What They Do
The drive to Lincoln has changed in recent years. Subdivisions, strip malls and a large casino occupy what was once hundreds if not thousands of acres of hop fields. Hops being one of the main ingredients in beer brewing are all but extinct in the area now, but the Johnson's have not let his deter their dream. They with a bit of ingenuity have installed as Cathy describes, "The Mike and Cathy Hop Growing System!"

Ingenuity at its' best!

Hops, Humulus Lupulus, are unique creatures. A member of the Cannabibaceae family, they are cousins to those munchie inducing, herbaceous, five finger leaf plants that when added to fudge brownies, give them...character? Anyhoo, you get the idea. Grown on sturdy trellises made of rope, or other materials, the "bine" grows by intertwining itself around the rope or other support system. This occurs autonomously; it is often believed that the bine follows the sun, but after conducting more research, I could find very little to substantiate this claim. However, hops do need an abundance of sunlight to grow, and the Johnson's system is a must see when you visit.

Bines braiding themselves
In addition to sunlight and support, hops need rich loamy soil to grow. Given the best conditions, the plants grow upward rapidly...sometimes 10-12 inches per day. It is not uncommon for hops to grow 20 feet high or more.

Bine vs. Vine

Hops, unlike grapes grow on a bine. Unlike vines, that have tendrils (petiole...the stalk between the leaf blade and the stem) and suckers that after making contact with an object for an extended period of time, attach themselves for support, bines are more aggressive. These plants have sturdier stems which form a helix around it's support system. They also have downward pointing bristles to aid in climbing. This gives the stem a rough feeling texture.
Inside the Hop
Lupulin...Da Money!
Cathy was more than kind to give me a lesson in all things Hops. Picking a cone from the plant, she expertly ripped it open for me to inhale the pungent, familiar aroma.(Smells like a good amber ale with a hint of citrus, honey and spice. Yum!) The lupulin gland is the yellow, sticky glob of essential oils and resins that are the main source of aroma and bittering compounds in beers. The Bracteoles are the protective leaves of the hop cone that yield more oil and resin, in addition to tannins and polyphenols. What are polyphenols you ask? The easy answer, they are antioxidants
found in red wine and dark chocolate that offer several good health benefits. So you see, beer is good for you. drink up!

Where were we?
Reaching for the sky!

Okay, back to the beer...and other stuff that they do. In addition to hops, the Johnson's grow citrus and nut trees, have bee hives for honey and raise goats for milk to be used in a future cheese making endeavor. All of this contributes to the family friendly atmosphere of their little slice of American pie, but there is something else that brings out the kid in all of us. Fresh, old fashioned soda!

Using honey from their bee hives, cream from goats milk and water, a real old fashioned cream soda, hand made and served with the foam blowing over the rim is just plain sinful! Being lactose intolerant didn't prevent me from indulging a bit...okay, I inhaled the cool, slightly sweet beverage like it was the last supper. Admittedly, it was awesome, and I should note...this is the perfect libation not only for the kids, but for those who wish to venture back to a simpler time in history. It was amazing. Another must stalk item on their list.

Water, cream, honey, Yum!

Let's talk beer...finally!

Mike has been brewing beer since his teenage years. Cathy describes him as a "Mad scientist" when it comes to creating his brew. On this visit, they were serving several beers with names that were more indicative of Mike's sense of humor (He is hysterical!) and the beers' characteristic. (Very accurate)

Beginning with a honey Hefeweizen, which was smooth and slightly sweet with a tropical tinge and a serious honey laced mouthfeel, (wine speak ala brew) each brew offered for the day was unique. Mike definitely has a way with words and a way with brewing. As I listened to the throngs of visitors
describe what they tasted, it was great to see that everyone's opinions were valued. I had more than one total stranger educate me in some way about the differences they were tasting in comparison to other breweries, and at least one other patron willingly accepted my half tasted barley wine without worrying if I had cooties. In short, everyone was friendly and other members of the family took great care to see that I and others were enjoying ourselves.

The Badonkadonk!
More about the beer

My personal favorite of the day was the award winning "U-so Fresh" brew. Made with wet hops as opposed to dry or pelletized hops. This was an amazing, as the name says, fresh tasting, beer with a good balance of citrus and floral tones. The kind of beer that you crave when you really want something with finesse. I wanted to make this sample last, and nearly ordered another. Moving onto the Hoppa di Peppa, made with a blend of several fresh peppers from their garden, one customer said that he had tasted peppered beers many times and that this one was not nearly as peppery as some. I had never had a peppered beer, and was quite surprised that the pepper flavoring was nice. I'm not sure what I would drink it with, but recently, I have been into pepper jams, so this brew will have to be revisited with food. Unlike drinking wine with a meal...which I do not like, beer accompanied with food agrees with me. Still, I do not have enough experience to say what I like with what. The U-So Fresh...I'm thinking a seafood salad?

Moving on. Before going to the Dark side, I inquired about the barley wine, correctly named, "The Badonkadonk!" For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, it basically means having a big butt! I thought it was funny when Mike asked if I knew what a "Badonkadonk was considering that this accurately describes my rear appendage. Anyhoo, this beverage is exactly as described, huge! High alcohol, high tannin, heavy and loud...a sistah girl with attitude in a glass no less, this beverage is not for the faint of heart.
Full spectrum sampler
Cloves, coriander, citrus, and honey. Tasty beyond simple, but too much for me. I could though, imagine enjoying this beer seated in front of a fireplace, curled up next to someone special and gnashing through a chunk of beef jerky while watching an action thriller. This is definitely not chick flick libation.(Depends on the chick and the flick, just sayin'). Anyhoo, this is a big mama jamma!
The hapless stranger seated next to me ended up finishing it off as I bade hime farewell to take more photos.

Converted barn into tasting room

As I stood to go take a few more photos, Mike asked me if I was going to try the Darkside. This was a huge stout with a rich, slightly chocolatey flavor. The Badonkadonk had killed any chance of savoring this beer, so I hurriedly sipped through it. Fortunately, hapless stranger had not left and he received the lion's share of this sample as well.


Due to some glitch in politics surrounding serving and selling beer, the Johnson's at this time can only offer two ounce samples for two dollars each or a flight.(Check menu board) However, you can purchase a growler.(1/2 U.S gallon) I like the idea of samples as this will allow you to not only taste what is offered, but also allow you to become familiar with the beer without delving into a full glass.(Pint) Mike has autonomy in what he does, and seasonal offerings are sure to be unique. The sample servings also invite conversation as guests can intermingle and share their thoughts with one another in the large, open tasting room. This I believe is what makes this location so special.

Cozy, friendly, open!
For starters, the room is large with picnic tables crafted from timbers salvaged from the original Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. Following the philosophy of being good stewards of the environment, the tables are beautiful and rustic. The interior walls are crafted from the original exterior planks of the building which used to be a barn on the property. The Johnson's have retained the rustic feeling with an open air quality that allows the evening cool breeze to flow through freely. A juke box with music to suit any taste sits near the entry way, and a patron with a penchant for the Village People repeatedly  serenaded us with the Y.M.C.A. (Still have that tune in my head!)

Ooo Rah!
Final thoughts

GoatHouse Brewery and Tasting Room is an excellent place to become familiar with beer. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, and owners Mike and Cathy do their best to make you feel at home. I give this place two slaps upside the head for beer, and that's a good beginning, and three slaps upside the head for ambiance. However, Mike get's a huge smack on his Badonkadonk for brewing beer with personality like his own. Catherine though, get's the highest marks for being a real sistah girl who knows how to treat folks well. I appreciate the time they took to show me around and share their story, but mostly I thank them for being role models to those who believe in following their dreams. Good on ya, folks!

Until next time,



GoatHouse Brewery and Tasting Room
600 Wise Road
Lincoln, CA 95648


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Hear no evil, Speak no evil, Ksee-no-Mavro?

Friends with Benefits

My friend Stephen, who I had only met in the cyber world of social media dropped me a line one day asking me if I would like to drive to the city, (San Francisco) and meet a few winemakers from Greece. Okay, more accurately, the conversation went like this:

Stephen: "Hey you busy this week?"
Me: Uh, why?
Stephen: "Check your email!"

Considering that we had never met in the physical world, .and I had no memory of how he got my email address, until I remembered how we ACTUALLY met...which is another story worthy of a blog post,  I hurriedly opened the email which contained a VIP entry into the world of Greek wine. Having never experienced any wine from this archipelago in the Aegean Sea, and with little knowledge that the birthplace of wine, (Think Dionysus) would actually grow grapes and produce wine, I eagerly accepted the invite.

The Experience

In attendance
The Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco is not easily accessible. Tucked in an alley between several buildings, I nearly spent as much time trying to find the location as it took me to drive from Sacramento. *Note: when calling to get directions, ensure that the person you speak to has either lived in San Francisco...within five miles of the hotel that is, and manages to get to work without getting lost, or can hand the phone to someone who is capable of at least indicating which alley not to drive through, lest you become ensnared by a hapless, evil,  delivery driver blocking you in for an eternity. Not one to get discouraged, after all, there was wine to be sampled, I persevered and eventually was able to drop off the keys to my car with a very cheerful valet and search the labyrinth of endless hallways in this five star, non air conditioned, travel destination.

On more than one occasion as I searched for the room where my palate would be tantalized, I would bump into a ever so quiet speaking concierge who, barely audible, would direct me to another equally silent speaking concierge. Perhaps due to the weather, a sweltering 98 degrees, which by San Francisco standards is akin to a day in Hell, the staff may have been speaking in this way to avoid generating more heat.
After what seemed like an eternity, (about three minutes) I located least someone who looked like his Facebook profile, and the party was on! (Another hour...they were running a little late.)

Pavlidis Michael
The Grape
Xinomavro - (Acid-black) is the predominant native red grape varietal of Macedonia, Greece. Known for their aging potential and high tannins, this wine grape is a true must stalk varietal. The berries are tight clustered, dark and rich. Almost similar in appearance to Zinfandel grapes, but nothing like them in character. The initial sip tasted like a viciously tart Pinot Noir; light, but explosive. A second sip, stained my teeth purple. I could have sworn that I was drinking an angry Syrah. The texture was almost leathery with a hint of smoke. I had to step back a few times and scream,"What the heck is this?" After settling in and calming down no less, I concluded that...I needed to sample a different bottle.

Bad idea!

The next bottle provided another round of complexity that eventually lead to the need for food as these wines have a "Smack you upside the head" quality. Plowing through a plate of cheese, I eyeballed a female winemaker who surely had a wine with a bit less punch; maybe a little softness? I mean after all, when introduced, she was soft spoken, demure, polite, and well, seemed almost shy.
Nope! Her wines were in my opinion, capable of putting hair on your chest! Regaining my composure and wiping the sweat from my brow...the room was now full, and it was REALLY hot.  I ambled over to an open window, contemplated hurling myself through it, but instead, caught a lung full of San Fran's finest polluted air. The breeze felt good no less, and the wine was beginning to do what wine presented to a less than full stomach does. (Think acid reflux!) Stephen came over and we began a not yet finished conversation about my thesis and how this experience may contribute to my study. As we conversed, I couldn't help but say that the experience thus far was enlightening and that the wines of Naoussa were some of the best I had tasted in a long time. (They are still leading the pack...just sayin'.)

There is a ton of info on this elusive varietal on the barely visible link below: (Be patient...takes a minute to load)

Removing the bias,  let's stick to the story of how much this wine was enjoyed by all in attendance at this San Francisco soiree.

To describe these wines, we'll use words like dense, perhaps. Or,  tannic? Yep! Mysterious? Most definitely!  The winemakers didn't leave us wondering as they brought a huge selection to sample from.  No two were alike. Being a bonafide Rhone Ranger who loves nothing more than deep, dark, eclectic wine grapes, Xinomavro did not disappoint. (Nor did the wine that Pavlidis Michael introduced. Yum!)

The crowd in attendance was diverse, which to my delight was unexpected and yielded some much needed additional data for my thesis project. With this, I was able to gather a mixture of humorous and critical  information  about the wine from several people that I spoke with. (Those who could after an hour of sampling, still form complete sentences...just sayin'.) Some remarked that Xinomavro reminded them of Pinot Noir due to its' tart characteristic. (Mouth puckering is an understatement) Others, who like me, could not find a definite characteristic, said that the wine was remarkably well structured and complex. (We were the one's still standing after an hour.) No least within my earshot, had anything negative to say. (Nor would I care if they did.)

Small selection of wines from Greece
With flavors, that, ran anywhere from tart pomegranate to bold cherry and everything in between, each wine had a lingering finish that almost tasted of a hint of olives or some other is it a fruit or vegetable type food. It was very difficult to discern what this "extra" taste was as it could not be aligned with the familiar pepper, earthy or vegetal finish of domestic American wine. This was wine that required serious contemplation, reflection and conversation.

Did I forget to mention food?

First round of munchies!
 To accompany the wine that was served, a selection of cheese, olives and meats were made available. Being one of the a few people who do not enjoy wine with food, (Okay, I confess, Petite Syrah paired with peanut butter is a fetish of mine), the wines paired nicely with each offering and did not overshadow, or complicate the palate. Taking Stephen's advice to eat before sampling...lest there be no food left, I would have to say that the plethora of cheese samples were my favorite. I thoroughly enjoyed the contrast of textures against my palate and found that each wine remained solid combined with the food. Although I do not care for olives, or pickles, the wine paired well with whatever type of olive was served.(They didn't look or taste like the salty, red booger filled jar variety, so I ate a few. Yum!) There must have been several carnivores in attendance as the Prosciutto didn't last long enough for me to venture into the world of swine and wine. Instead, I stuck with the Brie.

One of my favorites!

Wine and more wine!

Moving from one winemaker to the next, (the language barrier was eliminated by a common love for grape juice), was a study in art and sign language.  Each had their own style and creative influence that made their wine that much more enjoyable. I wish that there were more translators in attendance who could convey what this American sistah girl had to say about the wine, and who could divulge more pertinent details about their philosophies. Instead, a vigorous nodding of the head and the universal thumbs-up sign were enough to communicate how much I was enjoying  myself. The winemaker's in turn, had mastered saying, "Thank you!"
The most difficult thing for me was selecting and remembering which wine was which. (I did recognize a few Greek letters, but the way they were slung together, looked more like sorority/fraternity call letters than names of wine.) Every piece of literature that I was given was written in Greek. Only a few had contact information written in English. Thankfully, I have been able to keep abreast with what's happening with this group of winemakers by way of Facebook. This in itself has been a blessing, as it allows me to share the passion for this wine with other wine consumers.
A solo act for sure!

To say that there was a definite favorite among those in attendance would be unfair. However, I did happen to procure a bottle of a unique blend from a Mr. Pavlidis Michael. No, it's not the photo to the right and slightly above with the wine glass, but if you look at the beginning of this writing, and check out the photo with the selection of wines, it is the one with the big orange graphic. Yes, this was the wine of all wines...a Greek Bordeaux! The politics of how this wine was created, I will leave to the winemaker. However, I do enjoy a rebel spirit, and this wine provided just that. Think of the Bordeaux varietals that are dominate: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Now, no cheating, substitute one of these aforementioned wine grapes, and replace it with Xinomavro. Boom! Can you say, Orgasmic? Now you know why this one came home with me.

Whats Next?

They're doing well!

Obviously, the wine is making some noise here in the U.S. Unfortunately, it is not easy to least not where I live. One small specialty store, (Corti Brothers, Folsom Blvd.) carries a few (2) bottles, and being a cheerleader for this wine is causing them to consider stocking more. (Thought about gathering a few folks and picketing outside until they comply) I was impressed that the wine steward knew about this grape, but also sad that few if any ask for it by name. (He dusted off a bottle just for me!)
The price point for Xinomavro runs $20-60 per bottle. Rumor has it that because each winery only produces a small amount of wine...less than six thousand cases annually, it will be difficult if not impossible to find in all locations. Bummer!

After sampling nearly all (just kidding) of the selection of wines that were offered, I must add that because Xinomavro was the guest of honor and there were a few white wines available...mainly Sauvignon Blanc, each bottle of Xinomavro remained excitingly different. Seriously, there were no two alike which is a testimony of the artistic ability the winemakers. 

Winemaker Georgia Foundi

The Future of My Wine Cellar

It's a tough existence...traveling, taking photos and learning about all things libation. However, as mentioned before,  I am becoming a little bored with domestic wine, and relish an opportunity to try something different. The wines of Naoussa are definitely something to add to the eclectic wine consumers' cellar. (Not for the faint of heart...seriously) I look forward to adding more of these rare gems to my collection. (700 bottles and counting...yep, I need a few more!)

I highly recommend  the wines of Naoussa, and give them five slaps upside the head...and that's a VERY good thing, for uniqueness, quality and age ability. Please take the time to explore and savor these wonderful wines...if you can find them.

Don't hate...somebody has to do this gig!

Until next time,