A Different Sort of Wine: Tree of Life Kosher Pomegranate Wine

The Back Story:

Tree of Life Pomegranate WineI’m generally not a fan of fruit wine. In the offhand chance that a fruit wine producer gets it right, the result is so syrupy and massive that it makes it very impractical for even a small crowd of people to consume a 750ml bottle. Generally, I treat these as very situational dessert wines, maybe a component of sangria, something that requires either a hefty dose of chocolate or a much less condensed wine to cut through the flavor.

One fruit wine I’d never had before, though, was pomegranate. Enter a sample I received from Tree of Life.

Pomegranate is one of those trendy fruits that seems to find its way into a variety of concoctions, from fruit juices and mixed drinks to gourmet food and desserts. Much has been made of its health benefits, including antioxidants and the body’s rapid and positive response to its nutrients. Much has also been made of red wine’s health benefits, but pomegranate far and away dominates in those regards.

So what would happen if we combined the two? We get the benefits of consuming alcohol in tandem with the benefits of consuming pomegranate. You can do the math from there. The only thing that truly matters on this blog, though, is how it tastes.

The Results:

The translucency and purity of this wine is absolutely phenomenal

The appearance of the wine is a black cherry color with a bright purple, very pure translucency. Though I feared the wine, labeled semisweet, might be syrupy thick, it has a very traditional wine-like pour.

The nose of the wine is a very rich pomegranate scent with a delicately sweet quality. There is a very slight vinegary scent, almost imperceptible, but it is there. The alcohol, at 12%, is undetectable.

The mouth feel of the wine is surprisingly thin. It has the consistency of a lighter red wine, like a Beaujolais, but it has a very full texture. While I wouldn’t describe it as velvety, it does coat the mouth rather nicely. In texture and body, I would say it best compares to a glass of cranberry juice.

The flavor of the wine is a very basic, fairly pure pomegranate flavor, neither artificial-tasting nor overpowering. It doesn’t taste bitter, rotten, or cloying, as fruit wines often do, and the alcohol doesn’t contribute a bite to it. The flavor derives a certain dry acidity from its fruit, giving it a bit of structure that you can feel in your jaw. The flavor lingers on the tongue as well, a very pleasant way to end the sip.

I tried it both chilled and warm, with and without food. It pairs extremely well with a variety of flavors, from spice to more delicate fare. While I prefer it chilled, myself, it is just as enjoyable at room temperature.

For the Casual Drinker:

This wine, as best as I can equate it, is like drinking a pomegranate martini. It’s sweet, not syrupy, acidic, not dry, bold, flavorful, and very lacking in alcohol flavor. It’s a wine that would drink equally as well from a cocktail glass, martini glass, wine glass, with or or without ice, and with or without fruit. While the palate might be a bit too simple for experienced wine drinkers, the flavors certainly do not disappoint. 6/10

In Case You Missed It:

Wine: Semi-Sweet Kosher Pomegranate Wine

Producer: Tree Of Life

Region: Armenia

Varietal(s): n/a (Pomegranate)

Vintage: n/a

Residual Sugar: unknown

Alcohol: 12%

pH: unknown

Price: $11.99

Purchased at: Received free as an industry sample, available at http://drinktreeoflife.com

The Great Beer Region Experiment Part 5: South Carolina

The Back Story:

The South Carolina’s Brewer’s Association is my kind of people. Representing a quickly rising beer region, their website exudes a folksiness and almost wide-eyed awe at the growth potential of craft brewers in the state. To give you an idea of how new they are to the area, here’s an excerpt from their “About Us” section:

The SCBA originally began as Pop the Cap SC in 2005. Our mission at that point was to raise the allowable alcohol content in beer from 5% abw. That goal was achieved in 2007 with the help of the SC Beer Wholesalers, Total Wine and the overwhelming support of craft beer advocates. We believe that South Carolina will greatly benefit from enhanced beer laws in the form of employment, increased tax revenue and pleasing a large number of citizens who have a increasingly growing interest in craft beer.

What speaks volumes about their dedication is, unlike some other brewer’s association sites which seem to exist solely to hype all their members whether merited or not, this relatively small collection of brewers immediately took the fight to the legislature; their most recent project, H. 4572, just passed a few months ago: “Monday at 3pm, it will be official. Retail tastings/tours/sales at breweries and tastings at retail stores. YeeHaw.”

Yes… we can’t forget the YeeHaw.

One of the leading breweries in South Carolina, Thomas Creek Brewery states very plainly their dedication to the principles of craft beer:

All of the beer styles at Thomas Creek are artfully crafted in small batches, ranging from 3.5 Barrels to 60 Barrels at a time. We use only the choicest harvest of barley and grains from across the country, the freshest hops money can buy, and propagate signature yeast strains common only to our beers.

ABS Pumpkin Lager

Lager bottom fermenting, demo from the Appalachian Brewing Society

Of course, whether or not those principles are actually adhered to can be detected in the glass. Today’s beer will be the Doppelbock Lager, a decidedly different sort of lager. One thing you might be interested to know is that up until the middle of the 19th century, pretty much any lager you could find would be dark. The current pale style that dominates the market didn’t come about until German brewers began experimenting with brewing pale ales in the lager style.

What is the “lager style,” exactly? Lager, from the German word for storage, involves a much slower, much colder brewing process that incorporates slow, bottom-fermenting yeast. Contrast this with ales, which are generally top-fermented with yeast that ferments more quickly and at higher temperatures. Indeed, the terms “lager” and “ale” have absolutely no designation whatsoever on the body, depth, color, or flavor of the beer itself.

Let’s go to the board:

The Results:

Thomas Creek Deep Water Doppelbock LagerThe appearance of the beer is almost completely opaque, slightly cloudy, with a reddish brown translucency. The carbonation is very fine, though the head retention is fairly weak, completely dissipating in under a minute.

The nose of the beer is very dark, with a strong Hershey’s syrup scent mixed with a bit of black coffee, sweet malt, and fairly prominent hops.

The mouthfeel is full-bodied, a bit harsh, with a creamy texture that gives way to a very pleasant tanginess. The carbonation remains active without frothing up your mouth.

The flavor of the beer mimics the nose. There’s a distinct chocolate and espresso component, buoyed by a very pleasant malt and hops backbone. A slight nuttiness accompanies the mid-palate, and the finish has just a hint of a metallic undertone.

For the Casual Drinker:

This is a classic test of your beer preferences. If you don’t like dark beers, stay away, as this will be bodied similar to a black ale. If you do like dark beers, the chocolate and coffee flavors will most likely please.

The Conclusion:

This was a pleasant surprise for my first beer from South Carolina. I am, of course, a fan of my dark beers, and this one didn’t disappoint. For the price, this is a phenomenal deal. 7/10

In Case You Missed It:

Beer: Deep Water Doppelbock Lager

Producer: Thomas Creek Brewery

Region: Greenville, South Carolina

Vintage: n/a

Alcohol: 6.25%

pH: unknown

Price: $1.80 per 12 oz bottle

Purchased at: A Southern Season in Chapel Hill, NC

The Great Beer Region Experiment Part 4: North Carolina

As I was working my way through college, I held a multitude of jobs. I worked in retail, in restaurants, in a warehouse, in construction, in an engineering firm… a variety of fun and interesting places. My favorite spot, though, was a 6 month stint at a  now defunct North Carolina sports bar called Overtime. With a variety of local beers bottled and on tap, I should have been in a North Carolina beer lover’s mecca. Unfortunately, I was barely 21 at that point, still embracing my college tastes, and it took me months to even branch out from my macrobrew lager fare.

To be honest, I swore up and down that I despised dark beer. I thought it was ludicrous that people would drink a high calorie brew that tasted like liquid bread… getting drunk shouldn’t be so suffocatingly thick! On one of my off nights, I decided to head into work and get a beer while I did some reading for next semester’s class. I decided to give one of the non-cheap beers a try, and went with a Natty Greene’s Guilford Golden Ale, a Raleigh, North Carolina brew.

I was blown away! So that’s what I was missing! A beautiful nuttiness, very pure, with a pleasant hop flavor that was neither skunky nor watery. From then on out, I was willing to try any beer in the bar. My first experience with the Highland Brewing Company, out of Asheville, North Carolina, came from that revelation. Though Overtime didn’t carry the Gaelic Ale, their most widespread brew, they did carry the Oatmeal Stout. It was the first dark beer that I could quaff with a smile, and it changed my opinion on everything. It may or may not make a difference in your mind, but I now have an Asheville Brewers Alliance bumper sticker on my car.

On a side note, there’s The Great North Carolina Beer Festival coming up on August 28th, in Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, North Carolina (thanks to Jean at NCVine for the heads up!).

Enter the Kashmir IPA: Named after the hotly contested region between India and Pakistan, this beer is brewed with a large variety of hops, a couple of which I’d never even heard of before: Stryian Goldings, Mt. Hood, Fuggles, Magnum, and Willamette. What’s the connection to Kashmir? Kashmir is technically in India, and Kashmir is technically an IPA. I say this because if someone put this beer under your nose in a blind smell test, you might decide it’s something slightly different…

The Results:

Highland Brewing Company Kashmir IPAThe appearance of the beer is a very pure, very clear gold. Carbonation is aggressive with medium-sized bubbles, and head retention is fairly weak, with the head dissipating in less than a minute.

The nose of the beer is a bit weaker than a typical IPA. In fact, the initial bready and nutty aromas make it smell much more like a Pilsner. As the beer develops its aromas, it begins to resemble its style, displaying heavy notes of pineapple, buttered biscuit, and almond as well as a very light, lightly acrid hops smell.

The mouthfeel of the beer is a bit thin, with a lightly tangy activity. The carbonation foams and dissipates easily.

The flavor of the IPA is also slightly weak. The initial flavor is very lightly malty and metallic, with the metallic flavor coming forward more after the attack, joining a slightly yeasty note. The finish consists of mandarin orange with a slight bitterness.

For the Casual Drinker:

Like the last IPA I reviewed, this is a beer with a little more heft than the average beer drinker is used to. Unlike the last one, however, this IPA isn’t nearly as strong, making it qualify more as entry level fare. The flavors are fairly typical for an IPA, just more subdued, making it a good choice for getting your palate ready for heavier beers.

The Conclusion:

Though I didn’t paint an especially flattering picture of this beer above, make no mistake: it’s a very good beer, a serviceable IPA, and a worthy investment of under $2.00 per 12 oz bottle. 6/10

In Case You Missed It:

Beer: Kashmir IPA

Producer: Highland Brewing Company

Region: Asheville, North Carolina

Vintage: n/a

Alcohol: 5.6%

pH: unknown

Price: $1.75 per 12 oz bottle

Purchased at: A Southern Season, Chapel Hill, NC, also available online at Bruisin Ales

The Great Beer Experiment Part 3: Colorado

The Back Story:

Colorado, most famous for brewing the beer that tastes as cold as the Rockies exactly the same as every other U.S. macrobrew, is perhaps at the forefront of U.S. craft beer brewing. Looking through the list of brewers in Colorado, you might recognize many award-winning and nationally-distributed brands that have found their way into your grocery store or wine shop. New Belgium, Oskar Blues and of course Great Divide are just a few that I’ve seen in several shops in my neck of the woods.

Great Divide is one that won my heart after I tasted their Espresso Yeti. The world has seen numerous infused beers before, what with the chocolate stouts, espresso amber ales, and framboise lambics of the world, yet few of such beers that I’ve tried have attained a synergy in their flavor quite like the Yeti. The attention to detail and patience in the brewing pays off with a flawless transition from beer to coffee flavors, and ever since experiencing that, I’ve been itching to try more.

When I was browsing the beer selection at A Southern Season, a gourmet shop here in the Triangle, I came across a few of Great Divide’s product that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. Anyone who has been reading my blog for awhile knows that I’m a fiend for IPAs, and when I noticed that Great Divide’s Titan IPA was on the shelf, I just had to add it to the week’s beer schedule. It’s actually a struggle to only choose one beer to represent Colorado for this post, as I have several favorites among these breweries. Dale’s Pale Ale from Oskar Blues, the best beer I’ve ever had from a can, was a strong contender, as were several of New Belgium’s products. Of course, I CAN always review those later…

The Results:

Great Divide Titan IPA bottle and pourThe appearance of the beer is a deep gold with a slight amber tint. Head retention is impressive though still a bit short. The beer is also slightly cloudy, with some kind of large sediment suspended, and a very fine carbonation.

The nose of the beer is a classic IPA with bitter, hoppy notes, orange zest, and a sweet maltiness. It also has a slight metallic undertone.

The mouthfeel of the beer is fairly full-bodied, almost syrupy, with a consistency of frothed milk. The acidity is tangy and persisting.

The flavor of the beer is very full and very strong, with an immediate, malty attack and citrus and grassy components. As the flavors fade, the hoppiness comes forward, contributing a pleasant bitterness that coexists with the malty sweetness very well, lending almost a sweet-sour candy kind of quality to it. The finish is a nice blend of bitter hops, sweet malts, and a hint of copper. All in all, this was a very impressively flavored offering.

This beer went especially well with a steak-and-cheddar sandwich. It pretty much calls for a flavorful, big meal to fully compete with its heft.

For the Casual Consumer:

This is a nice, strong, full beer, not especially suited to the beginner’s palate. It has a very delicious, very pure flavor, but getting past the body is key. As long as you’re prepared for the IPA experience, you’re in for a real treat. Just make sure you don’t take too long to savor it… the shorter head retention means the flavors and carbonation will start to deteriorate after several minutes.

The Conclusion:

For a midpriced craft beer, this is a phenomenal option. As long as you can get past the aesthetics, which are a bit unnerving with the very visible sediment, you will appreciate the beautiful, full flavor. Priced at about $2 per bottle or $10 per six-pack, you’ll get your money’s worth and quite a bit more. 7/10

In Case You Missed It:

Beer: Titan IPA

Producer: Great Divide Brewing

Region: Denver, Colorado

Vintage: n/a

Alcohol: 7.1%

pH: unknown

Price: $2 per 12 oz bottle

Purchased at: A Southern Season, Chapel Hill, NC

The Great Beer Region Experiment Part 2: Kosher New York

The Back Story:

The Saratoga Race Course is the lifeblood of the Saratoga area

Funny story… I was actually in Saratoga Springs, home of today’s featured brewing company, Shmaltz, just a few weeks ago, and I had no clue that a brewery even existed in that city. I was much more focused on the foodie aspect of the trip, experiencing the fantastic cuisine in restaurants that sprung up around the horse-racing industry.

If you consider the alcohol-related industry, beer brewing doesn’t rate terribly high on the list of attractions. The Finger Lakes dominate discussion of New York, which makes sense considering New York is one of the “big four” states in the wine industry. A New York Riesling holds much more sway over the average consumer than a New York beer…

Which is really not fair at all. New York has a thriving craft beer industry; it’s just that these beers fail to find their way to most of the beer drinkers in America. In fact, some of the best Belgian-style ales I’ve had come from the area. There are some recognizable brewers in the area, Ommegang, Brooklyn, Adirondack, but I’ve yet to see close to 95% of them in any specialty beer shops in the South. Only the biggest will make it out alive, which is a shame, because the general rule of craft beer is the bigger they come, the harder they fall. And thus, we come to Shmaltz’s He’Brew Messiah Bold.

You know how Hollywood summer blockbusters go, right? High expectations, budgets bigger than the GDP of a Caribbean island nation, big names attached, movie posters everywhere, and more TV face time than all your state senators combined, all are symptoms of an overhyped movie that ends up being entirely forgettable. We fall for it every time, of course, hearing the goofy one-liners recited by everyone a month before the movie comes out, memorizing the best scenes of the movie compressed into a 30 second assault on the senses.

Such is the fate of He’Brew, which has a clever name, marketing scheme, and label, all things that immediately contribute to my wariness of a brand. I only decided to try it nearly a year after I’d first encountered it on store shelves. One thing I didn’t know until I actively set out to try this beer was that the beer is certified Kosher. Though this doesn’t particularly matter to me, not being of the Jewish faith, it is an interesting aspect that, quite frankly, I never considered applying to beer.

The Results:

He'Brew Messiah Bold Bottle and Pour ReviewThe appearance of the beer is very dark, almost black at first glance, but it has a very pure red translucency. Very brilliant color, and head retention is respectably long. Carbonation is very fine and calm.

The nose of the beer is surprisingly fruity with notes of a jam-like cherry, chocolate, coconut, and hops.

The mouthfeel of the beer is very smooth, somewhat full, and it coats the mouth rather decently. The carbonation is aggressive as it hits the tongue, but it’s not unpleasant, suiting the fullness very well.

The flavor of the beer is slightly strong with notes of carmel, hops, grass, and mocha. It has a very pleasant bitterness that persists through a finish of strong coffee. The finish, unfortunately, doesn’t want to stick around. It’s gone faster than (insert Randal-Graves-style Jewish joke here, then censor it).

This is a fairly strong beer that demands a more hefty meal: steak, pork, something marinated and savory. Anything less would crumble under the brunt of this beer’s flavors.

For the Casual Drinker:

The nose will definitely through you off, leading you to believe it might be lighter than its color would suggest. Make no mistake, this beer has the characteristics of a typical brown ale, which might be a bit unsavory for someone used to lighter beers. For someone used to the brown ale style, this might be a little lighter than you’re expecting. I wouldn’t say it’s terrible… just unimpressive.

The Conclusion:

It’s not quite at the level that you’d expect from a craft beer at this price point. It’s still a pleasant, agreeable brown ale that should at least demonstrate that the phrase “kosher beer” isn’t quite as scary as it would seem. 5/10

In Case You Missed It:

Beer: He’Brew Messiah Bold

Producer: Shmaltz Brewing Company

Region: Saratoga Springs, New York

Vintage: n/a

Alcohol: 5.6%

pH: unknown

Price: $1.60 per 12 oz bottle

Purchased at: Total Wine

The Great U.S. Beer Region Experiment Part 1: Vietnam

We will be visiting 5 regions, 4 of which are in the US, to find out what exactly is going on outside the normal beer world. I’ll also try to give a little bit of background and history for each region and style in the back story.

The lineup for the week is as follows:

  • Today: Hue Beer (Hue City, Vietnam)
  • Tuesday: Kosher He’Brew Messiah Bold (Saratoga Springs, New York)
  • Wednesday: Great Divide IPA (Boulder, Colorado)
  • Thursday: Highland IPA (North Carolina)
  • Friday: Thomas Creek Deep Water Dopplebock Lager (South Carolina)

As for today, let’s check out Vietnam before we dive into the U.S. beer extravaganza…

Hue Beer BottleThe Back Story:

The beer industry in Vietnam is rather different from that of the U.S. While the vast majority of the beer consumed in the U.S. is from macrobrews in North America and Europe, leaving craft beer to a much smaller market share, Vietnam’s beer industry is centered around local microbrews. There are around 300 microbreweries crafting a local specialty called Bia Hoi, or “fresh beer,” sold by the barrel to cafés and restaurants without preservatives, intended to be consumed the same day they are packaged.

Aside from that, there are a few major producers of bottled beer, one of which is the Hue Brewery. Partially owned by Carlsberg, the Danish brewing company and the 4th largest in the world, the Hue Brewery is basically a large-scale, single-beer producer, though they’ll also occasionally indulge in seasonal fare. That single beer, creatively named Hue Beer, is a pale lager, a similar style to the Budweisers and Millers of the world.

The Results:

Hue Beer PourThe appearance of the beer is a light golden yellow, rather dull, with head retention of only a few seconds. The carbonation is coarse and aggressive, and the foam has a soapy, filmy quality.

The nose of the beer is rather plain, though a bit heftier than a standard lager, with notes of acrylic paint, grass, walnut and green apples.

The mouthfeel of the beer is sharp, though a bit thin, and it fails to reach the mouth in any way. Once it hits the tongue, it dissipates. Pretty much everywhere but the tongue, the feel is fleeting.

The flavor of the beer is not quite as plain or as weak as the nose would suggest, though it’s still a pale lager (read:: comparable to Pilsner). Green apples, straw, and a very light floral, perfumey note as it approaches the finish. The finish itself is mealy, grassy, and bitter, a bit longer than expected but not nearly satisfying enough for a craft-priced beer.

This would be a beer that you’d use to cool down your mouth after a spicy barbecue or hot-wing-style meal… the alcohol barely comes through and is more cooling than warming. I would also give it the okay to sip in warmer weather, so long as it stays ice cold. This beer doesn’t develop in the glass; rather, it begins diminishing immediately, and the flavor becomes unpleasant once it strays from refrigeration temperature.

For the Casual Drinker:

There’s really not much to say here… if you’re a fan of American-style lager, you’ll probably like this beer. Pair it with a barbecue-style meal, something spicy, or anything that you’ll be grilling or eating outside, really. The real question is are you willing to shell out around $2 per bottle for it (that’s about the same price as a Dogfish Head, Clipper City, or a Bell’s craft beer).

The Conclusion:

To be honest, I was expecting something a bit more exotic than the typical American lager experience, especially at that price. I suppose if you want to experience an Eastern beer, you could shell out for it, but I’d just as soon sip on 3 Budweisers at that price. 2/10

In Case You Missed It:

Beer: Hue Beer

Producer: Hue Brewery, LTD

Region: Vietnam

Vintage: n/a

Alcohol: 5.0%

pH: unknown

Price: $2 per 12 oz bottle

Summer’s Almost Over… So Drink Up!

Though it may not feel like it here in the US, it’s almost time for the temperature to start dropping. Whether you’re enjoying a mild heat in New England, suffering through air quality warnings in the humid mid-Atlantic, or staying indoors to avoid the sweltering 110 degrees of the western deserts, all these hot times call for a crisp glass of white wine.

There are, of course, several styles to choose from, from the most aggressive, acidic thirst-quencher to the most pleasant, sugary summer sipper and many in between. If you’re planning to send summer out in style with a glass or two, I have a few recommendations that just might make the season seem less severe. Let’s go to the board:

Sauvignon Blanc: In case you haven’t been reading much of my blog, I can let you know that I swear by this grape. Especially those from New Zealand, the Sauvignon Blanc grape delivers a consistent experience whether it’s grown in France, California, or New Zealand: acidity with citrus flavors, as refreshing as a glass of ice cold lemonade. Very rarely a sweet wine, the Sauvignon Blanc is nevertheless a standard goto for inexperienced wine drinkers. Recommendations under $20: Barker’s Marque, Matua, Kim Crawford

Picpoul: Possessing an acidity and body similar to a Sauvignon Blanc, but with a lighter citrus (think lemon-lime) and more tropical flavor profile, the Picpoul is an underrepresented varietal wine here in the US. Typically from the Picpoul de Pinet region in Languedoc, France, this wine provides the same consistency as the Sauvignon Blanc. Also an aggressively dry wine, it’s still a very pleasant sipping wine. Recommendations under $20: Hugues de Beauvignac, Chateau Petit Roubie, Hugues Beaulieau La Petite Frog (3 liter box)

yellow and blue torrontes cartonTorrontes: Torrontes is a varietal wine that grows extraordinarily well on the western coast of South America. The combination of high altitude, long days, consistently mild seasons, and volcanic soil all create the conditions for a unique, fuller-bodied dry white wine to shine. Torrontes will have a floral and citrus profile, offering perfumey aromas that combine with a decent sweetness and acidity for a very soft, creamy experience. Novice drinkers will especially appreciate the straightforward flavors this wine offers. Torrontes is also a natural complement to most seafood dishes. Recommendations under $20: Gouguenheim, Yellow + Blue (1 Liter Tetrapak), Susana Balbo

Riesling: Riesling is a varietal wine that varies very greatly depending on its region and its winemaker. You can get syrupy sweet dessert wines, bone-dry, acidic tongue-tinglers, and everything in between with flavors across the fruit and floral spectrum. Depending on the terroir, you can also get a good dose of mineral or metal.  Recommendations under $20: Cono Sur, Dr. Loosen, Jacob’s Creek

What do you guys think? Any other recommendations for beating the summer heat? Need to know where to find some wines in your area? Leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to help!

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