Friday, January 24, 2014

List of Houston Craft Breweries (updated)

List updated 5/25/16.

I know this is a wine blog, but I love beer too.  And the Houston craft beer scene has exploded in the past few years, with lots of new breweries and a new annual craft beer event, Big Brew.  I want to taste all the new beers and visit all the new breweries, but I can hardly keep track of them.  So I'm posting this list of Houston craft breweries for my own use (and yours).  Have I missed any?  (I'm sure I have...)

11 Below Brewing (Houston)
8th Wonder Brewery (Houston)
Apogee Brewing (Houston)
B-52 Brewing (Conroe)
Bakfish Brewing Co (Pearland)
Brash Beer (Houston)
Buffalo Bayou Brewing (Houston)
City Acre Brewing (Houston)
Cyclers Brewing (Montgomery)
Fetching Lab Brewery (Alvin)
Fort Bend Brewing (Missouri City)
Galactic Coast Brewing (Dickinson)
Galveston Bay Beer Company (Dickinson)
Galveston Island Brewing (Galveston)
Holler Brewing Co (Houston)
Ingenious Brewing (opening in 2016 in north Houston)
Karbach Brewing (Houston)
Lone Pint Brewery (Magnolia)
No Label Brewing (Katy)
Saint Arnold Brewing (Houston)
Saloon Door Brewing (Webster)
Sigma Brewing Co (Houston)
Southern Star Brewing (Conroe)
Spindletap Brewery (NW Houston)
Texas Beer Refinery (Dickinson)
Texian Brewing (Richmond)
Town In City Brewing (Houston Heights)  
Under the Radar Brewery (Houston)

For more discussion on craft beer in Houston, check out this episode of Houston Matters on KUHF. (It's also about Texas wine, but I'll get to that later...)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

No corkscrew, no problem.

Need to open a bottle of wine and missing a corkscrew?  Mirabeau Wine has a solution for that...

I must add that shaking up your bottle of wine is not generally recommended, for reasons explained here.  However, not being able to open your bottle of wine qualifies as an emergency, and drastic times call for drastic measures.  So I love having a backup plan, and I'd totally do this in a pinch.

Can You Scratch and Sniff Your Way to Better Wine Choices?

Author Richard Betts, Master of Wine, thinks you can. The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert explains the flavor and structural elements of wine to help consumers find wines they will like, with scratch and sniff spots to illustrate the wine aromas.  The book is short – about 22 pages – with thick cardboard pages and colorful pictures.  It’s quick to read, but you can go back again and again to get more familiar with the smells.  The book includes a fold-out infographic tucked into the back cover (scroll down for a picture), which helps you match the wine aromas you like (which you just figured out from sniffing the book), with actual grapes and regions.

I believe that even a tiny amount of wine education will dramatically benefit a consumer’s buying and drinking experience.  Wine professionals realize that the most challenging thing for the average consumer is to consistently choose bottles they will like.  That’s one reason people tend to buy the same wines over and over again.  Looking at a bottle and accurately predicting what it will taste like requires quite a bit of wine knowledge.  The next best thing is to be able to describe what kind of wine you like to a knowledgeable sales person who can point you to some good options.

But how do you describe what you like?  Wine (like many things) is all about the vocabulary.  You know the tastes and textures you like, but how do you describe something so subjective?  You get familiar with common wine adjectives and how they're used.  Then you and the person in the store will be speaking the same language.

This book takes the reader through all the usual categories of wine flavors – red fruits, black fruits, citrus fruits, stone fruits, tropical fruits, spices, herbs, flavors from oak, wine faults, etc.  The innovation here is the use of scratch and sniff to aid in the descriptions.  After all, how many of us can readily call these smells to mind?  (Calling to mind specific smells is a big part of studying and appreciating wine, and why we all need to practice and improve our scent memory!)

Using scratch and sniff to explain wine aromas is a great idea, but I questioned whether the smelly spots could actually mimic wine aromas well enough.  It turns out many of them do, and a few don’t.

The scratch and sniff areas for these smells were surprisingly true to life:

  • Grape
  • Red fruit
  • Black fruit
  • Stone fruit (mainly peach)
  • Pear
  • Dill (a very sweet version)
  • Flowers
  • Grass

These smells were less successful:

  • Mineral
  • Leather
  • Bacon
  • Butter
  • Vanilla

I’m curious about how long the smells will last.  I remember the scratch and sniff books from my childhood losing their scent after a couple of years.

Though this book is short, the information is great, and Richard Betts has done a good job of simplifying a subject that many people find complex and intimidating.  I could see this being a fun coffee table book and conversation piece.  It’s something that could be very useful for a novice, but still fun for an expert.  If I ran a wine bar, I’d buy a few of these and leave them scattered around on the tables.

I started wondering, why don’t wine producers put scratch and sniff stickers directly on the labels?  It turns out that a few have.   Domaine Bourillon DorlĂ©ans from the Loire Valley in France put a scratch and sniff label on its Vouvray.  And Mirabeau en Provence worked on a scratch and sniff label at one time also:

I suspect most winemakers would find the scratch and sniff representations of their wine to not smell nearly as good as the wine itself, and maybe not want people to prejudge the wine based on a smelly sticker…

P.S.  Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan’s One-Minute Wine Master is another book that aims to make wine more accessible by helping consumers describe their wine preferences and select wines they will like.  Her book uses a quiz about food and drink preferences to recommend wines.  It also has brief descriptions of lots of different grapes and types of wine, so it contains a lot more information and can work as a handy reference.  Both books are good, but Betts’ scratch-and-sniff approach is for someone who wants a very simple introduction to the subject.  The One-Minute Wine Master is for someone who wants to delve into the subject more deeply.  If Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan's book is the "one-minute" version, Scratch & Sniff is 30 seconds.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Wine Bar Review: 13 Celsius

I know, I know, I am very late to this party.  I’ve been hearing amazing things about 13 Celsius for years, and since I don’t live near it, I didn’t get around to visiting until a few weeks ago.  Big mistake.  This place is great, and I plan to go there as often as possible.  Here are my impressions after my first visit.

Atmosphere:  Comfortable, with an elegant-yet-rustic sort of vibe.  Suitable for showing up in whatever you wore to run errands earlier in the day, or dressing up and taking a date.  I like the variety of seating options - sofas, tables, or bar.

Wine List:  Extensive.  2 full pages of wines by the glass, with I don’t know how many more pages of bottle options.  And a wide variety of wine styles.  For instance, I’ve been meaning to try orange wines (wine made from white grapes, but using the method for making a red) for a long time (I’m late to that party too), but hadn’t seen them available anywhere.  13 Celsius had 5.  BY THE GLASS.  Pretty amazing.

Oh, and you know that full 2-page list of wines by the glass?  You can have any of them as a 3-oz pour also.  Double amazing.

I've heard that the name 13 Celsius comes from the temperature of a wine cellar (about 55 degrees Fahrenheit), and wines here are indeed served at the proper temperature.  I'm always amazed how many "nice" restaurants will serve a room-temperature red wine.  A good wine bar should pay attention to service temperature, and I appreciate that 13 Celsius does.

Food:  The menu ranges from the standard wine bar fare of bread and meat and cheese (albeit with a wider variety of options than most places), to Panini, to larger hot meals.  I had bread and cheese and a deliciously hot-out-of-the-oven pretzel.

Service:  One of the most important features of any good wine bar is a knowledgeable staff, which 13 Celsius definitely has.  Even if you know a good bit about wine, you'll still appreciate some guidance in selecting from their extensive list.

Bottom Line:  This place has earned a spot on my shortlist of favorite places to drink wine in Houston.  I just wish it hadn't taken me so long to get there!

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Science of Carbonation

America's Test Kitchen just posted a great video about the science of carbonation.  It explains why your New Year's Champagne turned out better if you drank it from a flute-shaped glass.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

That Weird Habanero Wine at HEB

Have you seen (or tasted) the habanero-infused wine at HEB?  I tasted it in the store months ago and bought a bottle to cook with, but it wasn't until recently that I figured out how I wanted to use it.

First, the wine:  it's called Cabanero Red, and it tastes like a fairly inexpensive Cabernet-based blend from California, with flavors of ripe currant, herbs, vegetal notes, and some smokiness.  Because the wine is infused with habanero, you get some heat in the back of your throat on the finish.  It's also moderate on tannins, which can increase the perception of spiciness.  I don't find it very spicy, certainly not too spicy to drink, but I have a high tolerance for heat, so your experience may vary.  According to this article, the wine was produced by HEB in an effort to create more wines that pair well with Tex-Mex food, and I think they achieved their goal.  

The wine could certainly be drunk on its own - it's a decent wine - but I think cooking is where it works best.  I was inspired by this recipe from the New York Times to put together an easy crockpot bean dish using Caberno.  Here's what you need:

Easy Crockpot Pinto Beans with Bacon and Cabanero Red
4 15-oz cans of pinto beans, rinsed
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 medium (or 1/2 of a large) onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 cup chopped white mushrooms
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 large sprigs of rosemary
4 strips of bacon, chopped
2 cups Cabanero Red wine
2 teaspoons lime juice

Dump everything into the crockpot except the lime juice.  Stir it and cook it on low for 6 - 8 hours.  When the time is up, fish out the rosemary sprigs, add the lime juice, and add salt and pepper to taste.

The beans come out tasting like wine, but not in an overpowering way, nor are they particularly spicy.  If you want more than just a hint of heat, you may want to add some chile peppers or cayenne.  I always cook with whatever I have on hand at the time, so feel free to increase, decrease, omit, or substitute ingredients with creative abandon.  This is not a fussy recipe.

I think this wine would also work well in a sweet/spicy glaze, maybe for ham.  What do you think - would you drink this wine, and if so with what?  What would you cook with it?

Happy New Year!