Drinking Religiously

Much of our modern drinking culture stems from the work of monks during the Middle Ages. Even though much of their lives were spent serving a higher calling by attending multiple church services per day and translating texts to other languages, the monks also provided medical care, farmed the land and among other things, produced beer and wine. Of particular note, the Paulaner Friars in Bavaria (Munich) created a beer that would sustain them during the fasting periods when richer food like meat (where with bread was a staple of the monk’s diet) was a no-no. This style is referred to as the doppelbock.

Behold…my beer-inator!

Behold…my beer-inator!

The bock family of lagers are strong and malty with no real hoppy character. At 6.0-7.0% abv, the bocks are smooth, creamy, and rich in texture with a caramel flavor. The Paulaner Friars took this style to the next level in strength and richness with the doppel (double) bock, where the beers were even darker and fuller-bodied, with an abv checking in around 7.5-8.0%; modern examples by craft brewers can take this up to an abv as high as 12.0% with toasty flavors entering the equation, essentially “liquid bread” to feed the monks. When the fasting period was over, the lighter and hoppier maibock (also referred to as helles lager) was consumed in celebration.

The Paulaner Friars called this the “Salvator,” which translates to “savior,” and to this day many doppelbock beers include -ator in its name in reverence to the foundation of this beer style. Fun fact: bock beers, where “ein bock” translates to “billy goat,” will frequently depict goats on the labels.

15ae3720-469a-4190-a953-8ebf2a79188f.jpg

Whether you observe Ash Wednesday today and the Lenten season, or you just want to introduce yourself to a new beer style that will warm you up during these remaining chilly days, reach for a doppelbock. Additionally, if you are a fan of Belgian Dubbels, try its lager counterpart to the east. Here are three for you to find.

b93127cc-2a89-4bca-b3eb-8358e5b3fce1.jpg

Paulaner Salvator ($11/6-pack): The granddaddy of them all, this beer has been made for 375 years. The Salvator has a creamy texture with a chocolate-covered caramel flavor backed up by light hoppiness to create balance on your palate. 7.9% abv

Ayinger Celebrator ($14/4-pack): darker and maltier than the Salvator, but drier on the finish, the flavor profile shows more of a toasted bread and espresso character. It’s kind of like drinking breakfast (which 500 years ago was exactly the idea). 7.2% abv

d51fe5ec-114e-4262-baf2-81ef926c36c6.jpg

Tröegs Tröegenator ($11/6-pack): Here is an American take on this style from central Pennsylvania, a region that traces its history to German settlers. The Tröegenator shows more of a reddish color than dark brown and has more noticeable hops and fruit than the traditional producers, but it still sticks to the malty character that defines the doppelbock style. 8.2% abv. NOTE: there is also a Bourbon barrel-aged version of this beer, where the alcohol is jacked up to 9.8% abv, available in 12.7 oz bottles that are about $15 per bottle.

Skip The Tie. Buy Him Booze!

This Sunday marks one of the highlights of the calendar. National Turkey Lover's Day? National Go Fishing Day? Well, if you love turkey and like or want to go fishing, then yeah...you will be on Cloud Nine. No, I am referring to Father's Day. Additionally, do you know what today is? Apparently, it is National Bourbon Day. What a great time to be a whiskey-loving father!

Yawn. Can I drink this?

Yawn. Can I drink this?

You may be looking for a gift for dear old Dad this week or anyone you know who is a father. Sure, you could go with the cliché gifts, but why?

A toolbox? Guess what...I haven't a handy bone in my body.

A tie? I don't use one in the wine and spirits biz. Things tend to be casual around here.

How about a service, like mowing the lawn or washing the car? Cute, but the grass and the car will be in worse shape that it was before.

Nah. Assuming dad likes a good adult beverage, skip all that stuff and buy him booze! You are in luck, good Father's Day gift shopper. You have more options at your disposal than ever before. I something interesting today when tasting products with Berkshire Mountain Distillers: they received the 50th distillery permit in the country back in 2007. Today, there are over 1,300 permits. Craft spirit fans rejoice!

What about wine? There's a style for everyone. White, pink, or red? Sparkling? New World or Old World? Perhaps Dad is also a cigar-lover and would enjoy some Port, Sherry, or Madeira along with a stogie. I also know if I see my father, I can walk in with a bottle of red wine and everyone will be happy. In fact...red wine is required prior to entry of my parents' house, or I get sent away.

Of course, you have beers, too. There are over 5,300 breweries in the U.S. alone. Europe has about as many, too. So many choices available to you!

This isn't a comprehensive buying guide, but here are some brews, wines, and spirits that I enjoy personally or have brought as gifts before. Any of the following would make a fine choice for the old man, with some emphasis on Bourbon for spirits. To all the dads out there, have a great day this Sunday and keep kicking ass in the parenting department! Your family will (hopefully) reward your efforts with something below.

Two Roads Brewing Rye 95 Tripel Blonde Ale ($10/4-pack): Fruity, hoppy, spicy, complex, and rich. It may not be an ideal drink for the summer, but it does taste fantastic. At 9.5% abv, it's a beast, but after a long day for Pops it can be very satisfying.

Goose Island Sofie Saison ($12/4-pack): This Belgian-Style Ale takes 20% of the beer and ages it in wine barrels with citrus peels. Golden in color, peppery, citrusy, and lively. It's a great way to treat Dad.

Ventisquero Grey Glacier Single Block Red Blend ($25): I remember how good the Single Block series is when Ventisquero's wines were presented in the classroom. This is a red blend of Garnacha (Grenache), Cariñena (Carignan), and Mataro (Mourvèdre) that is big and bold, full-bodied, and fruity. This has a surprising acidity on the finish that doesn't make this wine feel to heavy on the palate, and it is a steal at this price.

Schloss Johannisberg Riesling Grünlack (Green Seal) Spätlese ($55): If Dad is out there fishing and catching some trout, enjoying lobsters, or even sausages on Sunday, this is a killer pairing with any of those dinner options. Schloss Johannisberg is a single vineyard estate in the Rheingau region of Germany that has been making exquisite wines for 500 years. Pineapple, peach, green herbs, and a beautiful balance of acidity and sweetness make this an awesome wine to either enjoy now or let dad stick in the cellar to evolve further.

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve 120 Proof ($48): I really enjoy Knob Creek's flagship 100 Proof expression, but let Dad taste what their whiskey is like almost straight from the barrel. Bottled at this high proof, the Bourbon has a ton of character and fire, with toasted nuts, vanilla, caramel, and a little bit of smokiness on the finish. Get the fire pit going and grab a dram of this whiskey!

Berkshire Mountain Distillers Smoke and Peat Bourbon ($60): Out of western Massachusetts, Berkshire Mountain distills and ages all of their product on-site. This expression takes Berkshire's flagship Bourbon that was already aged four years, then ages it another six months in casks that previously held Laphroaig 10-Year Scotch Whisky. Plenty of smoke and medicinal notes from the peat, but does not overwhelm the corn-based sweetness of the Bourbon. Great for those who aren't sure if they should buy Bourbon or Scotch...this brings the best of both worlds!

 

A Salute To My Other Side

With a last name like Ambrosini, it is obvious that Italy makes up my family background. Italian culture didn't necessarily rule my house as a kid, but it certainly made an impact on me. Wine was not a huge part of my upbringing, but it was present here and there, mostly on special occasions. Food, on the other hand...that was an Olympic sport at Casa delle Ambrosini, as well as at the homes of my extended family (that will get a post on its own someday, because it is a well-deserved epic tale of eatery).

Photo credit: Rick Steves

Photo credit: Rick Steves

But today, I focus on the other part of my own cultural makeup. That is correct, I am not 100% Italian. My family history also traces back to one of Europe's most popular battlegrounds, Belgium. Yes, Belgium. Outside of my own family, I know of no one else in my social circle who is Belgian, and I love it. The reason for a post about Belgium today is that my one surviving grandparent (my father's mother) just celebrated her 92nd birthday this week. A Belgian native, she came to the U.S. in rather dramatic fashion, being whisked away as a teenager from the perils of World War II by my grandfather. They fell in love, started a family in pre-gentrified Brooklyn, New York, and the rest is history.

This story compelled me to learn more about this "Low Country," both as a kid and as an adult. I did research projects for grade school on World War II (where my grandmother was an unbelievable resource). I went to Belgian cafes and restaurants; Monk's Cafe in Philadelphia is one that immediately comes to mind as a great place for beers and Belgian cuisine.

Here at Flight School wine is a big part of what we discuss, but wine is not made in any real quantity in Belgium. It is, however, consumed at a rate of about 30L per capita (or three times that of the United States). Perhaps this explains my affinity for adult grape juice, but let's not forget about those delightful Belgian beers.

Trying to describe and pinpoint one style of Belgian beer is nearly impossible, sort of like blanketing "Italian wine," because you have a ton to choose from in the Belgian category. You could find any of the following: Trappist-style and Abbey-style; Blonde, Pale, Strong Pale and Strong Dark; Dubbel, Tripel and Quadrupel; Saison, Lambic, Flemish Sour Brown and Flemish Red...the list goes on. Now I am no authority on such subject matter, but if you need a resource I highly encourage you to visit the Beer Advocate style page. You will get to know all of the differences in styles and see examples from a wide range of producers.

As for spirits, Gin and fruit liqueurs are what you will typically find here in the United States. Prior to gin, Belgium was producing the predecessor to gin known as Jenever, which a distilled malt wine that has a richer, earthier flavor than gin's refreshing aromatic character. Within the last year, I encountered Belgian gin for the first time...and I couldn't have been happier to have done so.

From a food standpoint, mussels cooked in beer are one of my favorites. Sausages, pommes frites, and countless other seafood are delicious, too. You also can't forget about a huge array of chocolate and pastries for dessert.

So I raise a glass to my grandmother today with some tasty choices for you to try.

Saison Dupont ($10, 750 mL): Golden, citrusy, yeasty, and light-bodied with a touch of hops. An easy one to knock down, and the first Belgian beer I ever tasted.

Chimay Cinq Cents ($11, 750 mL): Peachy, malty, and loaded with green herbs and spices. While on the richer side, it is well-balanced with zestiness and refreshment.

Ommegang Dubbel Abbey Ale ($10, 750 mL): This is a sort of New World take on an Abbey-style ale, brewed with licorice, coriander, and orange peel. Very refreshing despite 8.5% abv and a fine way to usher yourself out of the winter.

Domaine des Quatres Routes Muscadet ($14): I had to throw a wine in somewhere, and this light-yet-creamy Loire Valley white wine makes a great partner with steamed mussels (mentioned above as a Belgian food staple) or clams.

Belgin Speciale Dry Gin & Dry Hop Gin (about $25 each): I would put the Speciale up against any of the larger brands. 17 different botanicals are used, but I definitely notice the cloves, thyme, and cardamom in this. Very clean and fragrant. The Dry Hop Gin adds a substantial amount of Belgian hops to the recipe, resulting in a fuller-bodied gin with a pleasant bitterness. The Dry Hop can be consumed either in a cocktail or on its own. 

Enduring The Big Game and Joe Buck: How To Drink On Super Bowl Sunday

(Warning: Contains some football and other sports content)

Long before I became interested in alcoholic beverages, I was a severe sports nerd. I still follow sports, but it doesn't consume my life as it once did. The days of watching a hockey game go into five overtimes on a Wednesday in February are over; I value sleep far more than my desire to stay up for a game. That being said, I have still been hooked on one sport and that is professional football.

Yeah, I know. The sport isn't perfect these days, and truthfully none of them are. Football game flow is choppier now and off-field transgressions are always in the spotlight. Basketball games come to a screeching halt with two minutes left in a half. Baseball can take forever since there is no clock. Major college sports is driven by the quest for the dollar. I get it, trust me. But with its ease of television viewing, ability to wager (where legal) and play fantasy games, I can't resist the call of the National Football League. 

So this little sporting event viewed by gazillions of people is being played on Sunday evening that I shouldn't really mention by name or some NFL executive's minion will beat down my door and give me a scolding, a fine, and perhaps take one of my children away as a penalty (Hint: it rhymes with "Duper Hole"). But this Sunday's championship largely isn't watched for the game itself (unless you live in Atlanta or a state north of Connecticut). Instead, we have large gatherings of friends, family, coworkers, and maybe even a few enemies. We watch the funny commercials and movie trailers. We have "square pools" and friendly wagers. We have tons of food and drink at the ready, because if you are getting started when the pregame shows are on, this is a 12-hour event for you.

This man hates your team. Image credit: Twitter @DrunkJoeBuck

This man hates your team. Image credit: Twitter @DrunkJoeBuck

Ah, drink you say? Indeed I do, because for roughly five hours, you have to hear Joe Buck, Fox Sports Lead Announcer, slight your team on Sunday (C'mon...you believe he hates your team with his commentary, no matter which team you root for). You can go in any direction you want: beer, wine or spirit. The key here is to get something you don't have to think about too much. Remember, you are likely at a casual party or focused intently on the game, eating many different things. Your party foods might be along the lines of nachos, pizza, wings, burgers, or pulled pork/barbecue just to name a few favorites.

I tend to favor low-alcohol beers, anything less than 6.0% abv and fruity and/or acidic wines low in tannin. Want a few recommendations? I have them for you below. Whether your team is in the game or you don't care about football, enjoy yourself this Sunday and as always...drink responsibly. 

If you are a beer person, rooting for New England: 

  • Berkshire Brewing Co. (Massachusetts) Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale ($6, 22 oz. bottle). This is the brewery's flagship product; it is malty and rich, but not crazy-high in alcohol at 5.2%. A good match with a simple burger.

If you are a beer person, rooting for Atlanta:

  • Pontoon Brewing Co. (Georgia) No Pants Pilsner ($9/six-pack). If you prefer a Lager style, this pine-scented Southern Pilsner is very refreshing, smooth, and easy-drinking, great with a plate of wings.

If you are a beer person who doesn't care about the game at all:

  • Ommegang (New York) Game of Thrones: Iron Throne ($10, 25.4 oz bottle). Sit back and watch the chaos and squirming from afar while you sip on this Belgian-style Pale Ale from Cooperstown, NY. That's right...I recommended a beer from the Baseball Hall of Fame location for a football game.

If you are a wine person, here's what we are tasting at the store this afternoon from 2:00-5:00pm:

  • Andrew Murray Vineyards Santa Maria Valley Viognier, (about $20). This white grape traditionally grown in the Rhone Valley of France has a second home in Santa Barbara County, California. Andrew Murray's expression is citrusy, floral, and has a honey-drizzled peach flavor. Great for Buffalo or "Hot & Honey" style wings.
  • Monti Guidi Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Riserva ($15). When the Montepulciano grape shows its best, it is a fruity, dry red wine. Flavors of sour cherries and blackberry jam with a touch of black licorice. Two years in barrel increased the wine's body and softens the tannins. Perfect for a sausage and pepper sandwich or just a slice of cheese pizza.
  • Bodegas Ateca "Atteca" Garnacha ($16). This Garnacha from Aragon, Spain is very full-bodied with soft caramelized red fruit peppery spice. I like this with a plate of loaded nachos.
  • The Federalist Mendocino County Zinfandel, Bourbon-Barrel Aged ($21). Zinfandel when made as a serious red wine is plush, soft, and very fruity/jammy. After the wine is fermented and aged as normal, it is transferred to used Bourbon barrels for six months to impart extra cherry and vanilla flavor. Even though the abv registers a whopping 15.5%, you don't even feel the fire from the alcohol. Great with pulled pork or brisket BBQ.

If your team is victorious:

  • Oban 14 Year Old Single Malt Scotch ($80): Treat yourself to what I feel is the most balanced flagship product of any distillery. It has just the right amount of fruitiness, malt, spice, and smoke. Congratulations to you! 

 If your team failed:

  • Water (Free, from the tap): Rehydrate and go to bed. No need to wake up the next morning both hung over and a loser.

I Survived Volleyball Night...Now It's Time For A Drink

When we moved to Connecticut over four years ago, I knew I needed to find a physical activity to do. It had been a LONG time since I had really broken a sweat aside from going for walks or hikes in a park, or eating jalapenos in the summer sun. Taking care of the kids and studying for wine school took up most of my waking hours for several years, and when I was done with that for the day, I wanted to do nothing.

Yeah, that's not good...

I used to play basketball. A lot of basketball, and over the years I just didn't like how my back, knees, and ankles felt when I was through. So when I looked in our town's Parks & Rec brochure, I said, "Oh...they do volleyball here. Let's give this a shot."

I showed up the first day, and when I watched people warming up I muttered, "What the #$%! am I doing here?" Fortunately, I stuck with it. To this day, returning a serve is still a coin flip proposition, but I did improve my setting, spiking, and blocking. People who had been doing this much longer than I have coached me up on my technique, too, and I was (and still am) happy to take the advice. As a result of venturing out of my comfort zone, I not only became a believable enough player, but I also met some awesome people who became friends.

And while the theme of this blog is to encourage you to step out of your comfort zone with your adult beverage purchases, I actually tend to stay rigid when I am looking for a post-game drink. Most nights I immediately head directly to the showers and bed. However, on the nights I choose to meet up with the crew at the bar or watch a game at home, I need something restorative after chasing down a free ball to the corner, absorbing punishing kills, or diving after a short tap over the net. I essentially play steel cage volleyball, so my body is always in need of repair.

That's me on the left back in August; I almost look like someone who can play volleyball! Soon enough, we'll be playing on the beach again. Hopefully, my friends don't mind their likenesses being used for my benefit.

That's me on the left back in August; I almost look like someone who can play volleyball! Soon enough, we'll be playing on the beach again. Hopefully, my friends don't mind their likenesses being used for my benefit.

Whether you are into running, cross-fit, weight training, or just going for a stroll, I'm sure you like to reward yourself for getting the blood flowing with a satisfying drink. Now, I will say this: I am no fitness expert, but I do find it important to re-hydrate with water or your electrolytic drink of choice. Directly replacing all those lost fluids and nutrients with booze will lead to feeling like garbage the next day. For a non-alcoholic drinkable meal, a smoothie made up of some proportion of frozen fruit, yogurt, banana, fruit nectar, and greens (maybe even a scoop of protein powder) does wonders for keeping you going. When I am in for the night, it's leftover pasta or a sandwich of some kind. Even when I go to the bar after playing, wings or pulled pork is a must for me.

So after proper refueling, here's what I typically reach for after my body has splattered itself on the court for two hours on a Tuesday night.

 

Abita Turbodog ($9/6-pack): Yes, a beer has made it into a post! This is a full-bodied brown ale that has all of the "brown" flavors going on: caramel, toffee, roasted nuts, and chocolate. It's a very good brew to have on-hand in the winter months. If I have zero inventory, well...I go for a Guinness Draught or Boddington's Pub Ale.

Two Roads Worker's Comp Farmhouse Ale ($10/6-pack): More beer! If I need something lighter but still loaded with flavor, I love a good Saison/Farmhouse Ale, a wild yeasty style that is traditionally made in winter to be sold in the summer. This Connecticut brewery's example is packed with tropical fruits and spices. I will happily knock this back year-round, along with Maine's  Allagash Saison (pictured, about $10/4-pack).

Whisk(e)y (any price point): On nights where I have exerted myself more than I expected to, or if the games are particularly intense, whiskey is in order. Bourbon, Scotch, whatever. As I write this, I am enjoying the Sons of Liberty Battle Cry Rhode Island Single Malt American Whiskey ($44). This is actually a distilled Belgian-style ale, which results in what tastes like breakfast: a bowl of oatmeal with almonds and baking spices. They also make the Uprising American Whiskey, made from a distilled stout beer for a few bucks more.

You have something you like to enjoy after a workout? Share it with me below!