Little Surprises Around Every Corner (but Nothing Dangerous)

The DeCiderTonight I consumed a cider that reminded me of Willy Wonka’s Inventing Room gum that doubled as a three course meal (remember Violet Beauregarde?)

Well, close to it. If you like the sweet / dessert part of meals. Which I do!

After trying a 50/50 blend of Southern Tier Choklat with Pizza Boy Coconut Cream Ale (and I couldn’t stop singing “sometimes you feel like a nut…Almond Joy!”), I was pleased to catch a glass of a new cider from The Vineyard at Hershey. As you may or may not know, it is against the law in PA for a brewery to make a cider, but it is fine to do at a winery, so thank goodness The Vineyard at Hershey / The Brewery at Hershey can pump out all three!

I haven’t had much to say about The Brewery since it opened in March of this year (The Vineyard opened in 2012 and that was totally off my radar), but I also find myself blogging about every seven months, so don’t take my silence as not noticing.

The folks at The Vineyard / The Brewery were integral in starting up Hershey Harrisburg Craft Beer Country – a marketing initiative to promote craft beer and beer education in the area (read more about it at abc27!) and prominent figures in the hosting of the Central Pennsylvania Oktoberfest at Penn National Race Course (can you find me in these photos?) They also hosted a series of summer concerts, labeled the Decked-Out Live Entertainment Series, which we enjoyed on those rare Fridays at home. I can certainly appreciate their enthusiasm and willingness to organize people for education and entertainment.

But here it is autumn…almost winter…and I’m looking for fall treats when this glass gets passed my way. It had about 4 remaining sips of The DeCider – Peanut Butter Caramel Apple Cider.

Strange, but true, this is hard apple cider that starts off apple…then fills in with sweet, yummy caramel…and ends with roasty, rich peanut butter flavor. I’m serious when I say I felt like a three-course meal! What an interesting combination. Their Twitter feed accurately states, “The DeCider leads taste buds in moments of indecision & crisis.” If you like peanut butter as much as I do, you’ll enjoy this cider.

My nephew is still too young to enjoy it with me, but the artwork did lead to a short talk on politics and history (and just a moment of wondering if his parents were sitting in The Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom while we ate pizza at home), and an even longer lesson in the differences between wine, beer, cider and distilled beverages.

So he got an education and I got a treat. And a bottle to take home and try again!

If you get a chance, I recommend it. I couldn’t survive on the stuff, but it certainly is an amalgamation of “yummmm” worthy of purchasing and sharing a bottle during this cider season. Keep being inventive, The Vineyard / The Brewery, and I’ll keep tasting the products as you roll them out!

Biltmore Tour (NC)

On Friday morning, we took advantage of the hot breakfast at our hotel, and sales of Biltmore tickets at the desk.  We drove to Biltmore (America’s largest home – the estate of George Vanderbilt –which was completed in 1895), and arrived before the doors opened, which, even on a weekday during the off-season, was a great idea.  We were ahead of the crowd all day, which was a nice way to see the place.   I didn’t actually check my pedometer, but I estimate between the House Tour, Garden Tour and over one hour spent walking the trails, we got in at least 5 miles. 

We also took the winery tour – a self-guided trip through the former stables and cattle barn.  The winery on Biltmore Estate has a large variety of products, and most of what we tried was good to very good.  They actually started the tasting as a one-on-one with the Chateau Reserve Chardonnay – an excellent chardonnay with smooth, buttery character, which is part of their premium tasting.  After that, everyone was herded into tasting groups where the wines were explained, and we were given the opportunity to taste eight of the twenty available wines.  Between us, we tried 16 wines, and most were very good.  There were a few that we didn’t care for (mostly Rose and semi-sweet), but our objections were based in flavor preferences, not the quality. We had Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay Sur Lies, American Chardonnay #21, White Century, Chenin Blanc, Limited Release Chenin Blanc, Grenache Rose, Cabernet Blanc de Noir, Pinot Noir, Cardinal’s Crest, Merlot, Limited Release Merlot, Syrah, Red Century and Cabernet Sauvignon.   

With a 10% discount on three or more bottles, and prices that were absolutely reasonable, we were happy to purchase a few bottles to take home.  What a nice visit we had at Biltmore!  I highly recommend it, but go early and go off-season!

Queen City Brewing (Staunton, VA)

Just off Interstate I-81 is the historic little town of Staunton, VA.  Brick sidewalks line the rolling hills of the downtown area, and old buildings appear to be restored into useful locations for the locals.  And tucked off on the north-west side of town is a great little spot called Queen City Brewing, which is Staunton’s first brewery since Prohibition.  We found it on Wednesday afternoon, and it’s taken me this long to post about it.

This place has a fabulous set-up for both brew-your-own and vint-your-own.  One wall was lined with the large glass bottles of wine in the making…it was so pretty to see all of the different colors with gentle back-lighting, and reminded me of the days when my father used to create his own homemade wines.

The brewing area was most fascinating – set-up like one of those supper kitchens (where busy working people can pay to create meals for the family that are easy to heat and eat). Just like finding all of the ingredients chopped and ready, this place has multiple barrels of malt, multiple brew kettles ready with mash paddles all lined up, water lines…pretty much anything a person would need at each workstation.  On our visit, there were two parties bottling, and the process appeared to be going very smoothly.  One couple was working together – this was her Christmas present to him.

Wade, the head brewer (and one would assume owner and creator, although we never confirmed that information) offered us each three samples in little plastic cups.  There were twelve styles, and we tried the following:
+ Bavarian Bock
+ Scotch Ale
+ King Rabbit
(an IPA/Tripple hybrid at 9% ABV)
+ Brass Rabbit IPA (very Brittish in style – made with Fuggles and East Kent Goldings, and dry-hopped with Cascade)
+ Queen’s Milk Stout (this was a thin…)
+ Imperial Stout (increased malt and hop flavor)

We made a mixed six-pack of 12 oz bottles containing Brass Rabbit IPA, Imperial Stout, King Rabbit, Scotch Ale and White Rabbit Apricot Wheat, then headed out of town.

A day without beer? (Edwin McCain & Sister Hazel Instead!)

We slept in until 8:30 AM (which never happens with D!), and didn’t check out until almost 11:00 AM.  Our night at Founder’s was a reminder that we aren’t as young as we use to be!

Before we could leave Grand Rapids, we went in search of Founder’s Breakfast Stout at several “Michigan Party Stores”.  We ended our search (without anything to show for our work – it just isn’t available!) at a very cool deli called Martha’s Vineyard on Union and Lyons.  This store is a destination!  Regardless of the merchandise, this place has such a sophisticated and tasteful appearance that I just wan’t to explore.  There was a terrific selection of wines and beers.  I swear they had every Rogue product, and multiple sizes and flavors of Lindeman’s products – that’s just the start.  They also specialize in deli products, pasteries and general produce and merchandise ranging from the expected to the ecclectic. Continue reading