Welcome back to the fourth and final installment of our Beer, Wine and Cheese Festival! As promised, I said I’d take you on a tour of a real, live festival! That’s just ahead, but if you’re still in the mood for tasting, please visit!
Between the Bluffs Beer, Wine, and Cheese Festival
This past weekend I attended the Between the Bluffs Beer, Wine, and Cheese Festival in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Being the second day so far this year where temperatures climbed to a nice 70°, the festival was packed! Held on the historic Oktoberfest grounds, the festival hosted a Wine Trail tent, three different beer tents, and a smattering of greasy and grilled cheeses to fill your gut!
Yes, that’s a picture of me wearing a pretzel necklace. It was made by my festival attending friend, Cat, and it’s an accessory I highly suggest you don should you attend a festival like this. The festival lasts for 3 hours and if you’re planning on walking out of there on your own two feet, you’re gonna need some food at some point!
There was live bluegrass music, a food and shopping tent, and good times had by all! Now in its 11th year, the number of attending breweries has increased from 11 to 70 different vendors! Many of them local to Wisconsin, however some were national brands such as California’s Barefoot Wines and Louisiana’s Abita Brewing Company. The food and shopping tent had t-shirts and beer gloves aplenty, but what we hit up were the jalapeno cheddar brats and some fresh Wisconsin fried cheese curds! Mmmm
Jess’s Video Making Debut!
Ok, this part requires a little introduction. First off, I’ve never made a video before, and it was REALLY really loud at the fest grounds, so hopefully you can here what little info I share. But mostly you should know that because I’d been drinking for almost an hour when we started taping these clips, that my “reporting” skills are practically nonexistent. But hey, welcome to the festival!
Riveting live action reporting, isn’t it folks? Well, I’ve got good news and bad news: the good news is there’s a closing statement video in which I give directions around the festival that slightly resemble the ones Scarecrow gave Dorothy in Oz. And then the bad news is I couldn’t get my actual interview with some festival attendees to upload here, so if you’d like to see the interview, please bounce over to Facebook where I’ll share the video on my page! The gentlemen offered their favorite drink choices and how best to enjoy the festival as a new attendee.
How was your weekend? Did you wear a pretzel necklace? Would you like to? They’re delicious!
Can’t wait to hear how you all spent your weekends! See you in the comments section.
It’s the third installment of our Beer, Wine and Cheese Festival as this month’s Guinea Pig Diaries series! If you’re just tuning in, fear not, there’s still plenty to go around! You can learn about beer by going here, and/or about wine by going here!
Today’s post is about a subject which I’m quite fond of: cheese.
Growing up in Wisconsin, this tasty dairy treat comes in all shapes, sizes, consistencies and colors. I wish I could’ve sampled them all and shared with you, but my digestive track would sooo be on strike if I did that. When sampling cheese, moderation is key, but there’s really no better partner for a good beer or wine than a nice, flavorful cheese, is there?
This post won’t even begin to cover all the yummy cheeses out there, but here are 6 kinds my friends and I tried and all agreed, we’d gobble them up again!
Six Tasty Cheeses You’ll Want to Try for Yourself
1. Boursin Garlic and Fine Herbs
Creamy and spreadable, this cheese goes amazingly with crackers and I recommend it with Pita Bites Black Olive and Feta crackers. YUM! I was first introduced to this cheese through a Boursin Stuffed Mushrooms appetizer at my Oscar Party, and they were delectable too. Some herb cheeses can be overwhelming in their salty spices and overpower the cheese itself, but this one was downright addicting! I couldn’t stop eating it! It’s light, not too salty, but definitely savory and you’ll want to let it melt across your taste buds!
The second of our soft cheeses we sampled, this brand favorite is the one I buy when I’m looking for a guilty pleasure treat. Organized into perfectly portioned wedges, I dare you to eat just one! This was my first time trying the sun-dried tomato and basil mozzarella and I must say I’m particular to the plain old Swiss one, but this was tasty too. The key flavor is definitely the sun-dried tomato. You won’t really need a flavored cracker with this one, it’s pretty strong on its own, and I think best with pretzels.
Not sure how wide-spread the Crystal Farms brand is across the country, but it’s pretty common around here. If you’re a fan of simple, light, medium-soft cheeses that go well with anything, this could be the one for you. The process for making havarti cheese involves washed cheese curd, so the flavor is typically on the subtle side. I think this would be a good cheese to add into your favorite mac and cheese recipe as it’s a comforting flavor. And it complements both sweet and salty sides. We tasted it with wasabi sauce, bavarian mustard and bumbleberry jam!
Another brand I seek out to indulge in guaranteed goodness! I highly recommend the Dubliner cheese from this company, but we tried their gouda this time. Joe was a big fan of this one. Smooth and mild, gouda cheese is similar to a havarti in that it’s also made from washed curds, but then it’s placed in a brine solution to age and the amount of time a gouda cheese has aged is what gives it its flavor. This gouda was creamy, despite its solid form, and delicious. It has a slightly sour aftertaste and went best with cracked pepper crackers or a roast beef sandwich. The adventure seekers could throw on some wasabi with it!
Raclette cheese is a semi-firm cow’s milk cheese that is most commonly used for melting, but I don’t know if I could wait that long! This crumbly cheese was the standout during our wine tasting and I would say is similar in consistency and taste to a parmesan or romano cheese. It has a little bit of a nutty flavor and was amazing beyond words with jam! To find this particular brand of raclette, you’d need to visit Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin – a popular tourist city with theme parks, shopping and places to eat galore! Market Square features various Wisconsin gift items, but the owners also make their own cheese and offer tastings. Should you find yourself driving through Wisconsin, I encourage you to stop at any number of “Cheese Chalets” and pick up some real Wisconsin cheese!
Saving the best for last (in my opinion), if you can find Bellavitano at your grocery store, GET IT! I am quite possibly in love with this cheese, at least my admiration falls deep. Made in Wisconsin, this family-owned and operated brand combines the savory cheddar you love with the boldness of a parmesan and then soaks it in the wine and berry notes you’d find in a merlot. I think the taste of this cheese is a slice of what Heaven would taste like. Again, if you can find it, buy it! Cause I’m not much for sharing when it comes to this cheese. 😉
Those are some of my favorite cheeses, how about yours? Have you tried any of these before? What is the first one you’ll go looking for?
And inquiring minds want to know, if you were a kind of cheese, what kind would you be and what is your best food pairing?
It’s been a fun month this April despite the dreary weather we’ve had in the Midwest. Hosting numerous beer, wine and cheese tastings I feel downright indulgent! And it got me thinking about collections. Collections are guilty pleasures aren’t they? I’m betting I’m not the only one with a growing wine accessory collection.
I’ll Show You Mine, If you Show Me Yours…
Wine Charms –
I think one of the first items I received in my wine collection was a set of wine charms, and since then we’ve accumulated a few more! Wine charms are a fun and unique way of decorating one’s glass so throughout the night, as bottles go, you’ll remember which glass is your glass! Charms can be fun little rings around the stems of glasses, or even stickers meant to easily peel off when the night’s over! Here are a few of our charm sets – lovely gifts courtesy my honey’s mom! Thanks, Sharon!
Wine Stoppers –
If you’re not planning on finishing the bottle off that night, you may want a few wine stoppers on hand. We have some decorative ones, but we also have 2 that act both as a pouring spout and a stopper, which is nice I think for white wines especially. The photo below also shows off our wine aerator. Best used for red wines, an aerator does several things: First and foremost, it allows air back into the wine to show off its aroma and flavor a little faster than just leaving the bottle top open to vent. But it can also come with a strainer and catch any sediment in the bottle so it’s not going in the glass. We really only pull ours out when we’re trying to be fancy.
Ever plan on bringing a bottle of wine to a friend’s house, but feel like you have nothing to safely store the bottle in during travel? I love this little wine sock for that reason! It’s cute and practical when you’re taking your wine on the road! *And I mean that in the most safest of contests, you should always, ALWAYS buckle your wine bottle up when driving.* 😀
Those that have hung around The Happiness Project for awhile know I like my wine on the go. I’ll just say wine hiking is not for the faint of the heart, and do so at your own risk. Since then, another great gift from my honey’s mom was this portable wine cooler! It comes complete with compass and whistle! You’ll have to ask my Joe how they work because since the last time, he’s in charge now…
Wine in a Box –
Another wine travel aid is wine that comes ready to go – in a box! A fabulous road trip companion, it stores easily in the back seat or trunk, boxed wine does not have to taste like it was aged in a box! Joe and I are particular fans of the Bota Box collection and during hard economic times, this really is the way to go if you’re hosting a party.
Wine (in a box) For the Movies! –
Again, followers of this blog will recognize a little hobby of mine, which is sneaking wine into the movies! Who can afford the monstrous prices of soda these days? I’d rather sneak this little guy in my purse. There are several brands which are good, but being a nerdo for a play on words, I’m a fan of Bandit wine when I play Drinko McSneakery. This wine is best enjoyed with girlfriends, free plastic water cups from the concession stand (hint: do fill with water so as not to look conspicuous and to stay hydrated at the cinema!), and a movie along the lines of Twilight, Breaking Dawn Part 2. Trust me, it will make the movie better!
Those are just a few of my favorite wine accessories! What are some of yours? Do you have a favorite wine charm or stopper? Would you drink wine in a box? It’s getting cool now!
Almost as cool as this…
Until next time, happy weekend everyone!
Welcome to Round 2 of the Guinea Pig Diaries and this month’s Virtual Beer, Wine and Cheese Festival! It’s been Tasting City at my house lately, and I CAN’T WAIT to share with you our fun finds!
Top (or Not) 12 Wines in our Tasting!
We’ll start with the whites and work our way ahead!
1. Frontera Moscato
A Chilean South American white wine, this moscato is anything but bubbly. Upon first pour, it’s smooth and golden in color. It’s got a sweet taste to start, and the finish is almost pear-like. This moscato is a dry, tart white and would pair well with most any dish.
2. Bel Arbor Chardonnay
From the Bel Arbor Vineyards in California, this chardonnay is blended with apple and melon fruits. It’s tart – like kick up your taste buds tart. I think it would best be paired with light appetizers or pasta with seafood. I served this white wine with a citrus marinated chicken.
We interject for a Thumbs Down:
3. The Infinite Monkey Theorem – American White Wine
Not all wines can be winners, but of the dozen we sampled the past week, this one was really the only BAD one. Brewed and sold (in a can!) only in Denver, Colorado, my honey picked this up on the road as something for us to try. At 13% alcohol, this carbonated white is a very bubbly, light champagne in color. Unfortunately, neither its aroma or taste matched its fun packaging or color. It had a slightly skunky aroma to it, even though we did pour it into wine glasses. The fizziness of this particular wine is not a light refreshing bubbly, but more like the candy explosion equated with Pop Rocks! Not a soul at our tasting finished their glass of this wine. Buyer Beware.
We now return to our regular tasting! And the rest were all spectacular!
4. Lost Island Wines – Apple Cinn-Ah-Mon and Exotic Fruit
Purchased at a local winery, these fun bottles were the party people of our picks! Fun and festive packaging matched with fruity wine blends, Lost Island was a taste bud fave! To start with, the Apple Cinn-Ah-Mon, at 12% alc, smells just like apple pie! It has a cool, crisp start with a warm cinnamon finish. Creators and owners of Lost Island Wines already boast of an even better bottle for next fall premiering more apple and spice for that cozy autumn season. They may want to start selling it now as Wisconsin has failed its attempt at achieving spring season. Could mean more nights in with a blanket and a glass of Apple Cinn-Ah-Mon!
The Exotic Fruit was the perfect blush to lead us toward the red wines. Similar to a White Zinfandel, Exotic Fruit has notes of passionfruit and berries. It smells like a delicious perfume that I would love to get my hands on! Seriously, you’ll want to wear this stuff! It is sweet, but not sugary, clean and smooth. A definite re-buy in my book!
5. Fancy Pants – Red Wine
With a label declaring “I Wear the Pants!” this California red wine was another popular guest at the tasting! At 13% alc, you’d never guess its mass appeal. This wine was the first one everyone took a full glass of at the end! Fancy Pants is a mixture of cherry and plum fruits, and expectedly is a dark ruby in color. The plum was the standout flavor for me and it was great with hard cheeses, which I thought brought out the sweetness of the wine. Fancy Pants is a perfect wine to share with girlfriends, not too dry and not too sweet, but a perfect blend of red wine goodness.
6. Apothic Red
A staple at my book club meetings, Apothic Red wine is an affordable red wine blend of a rich zinfandel, smooth merlot, flavorful syrah, and bold cabernet sauvignon. The name comes from the word Apotheca, which was a mysterious place where wine was blended and stored in 13th century Europe. It’s a dark red in color with hints of mocha and vanilla in the taste. It’s full, or should I say filling (*wink*), smooth, fruity, but not too sweet.
This bottle came from the Laithwaite Wine Club my honey is a part of, and which I’m most privileged to be privy to on special occasions! Blended in Sonoma County, CA, a land that is good to the zinfandel’s dark skinned grape. It combines red berries, white pepper, and cinnamon with its entirely hand-picked and sorted grapes, then is aged in oak barrels. The entire process living up to its namesake Kore – or beauty. It is crimson in color and goes with anything you’d serve at a Thanksgiving meal! To taste it is silky smooth, warm, but not too alcoholy to enjoy on its own for a great night in!
8. Folonari Chianti
A tasty and affordable chianti! Something tells me even Hannibal Lector wouldn’t snub his nose as this Folonari blend! Made in Italy, the Folonari family has been winemaking since 1825 and pioneered the production of wine in a bottle so that people, such as you and I, could enjoy a fine wine in the comfort of their own home! Cheers to Folonari! This chianti was ranked #41 in the Wine Spectator Top 100 and has cherry, strawberry and floral notes. The aftertaste seemed almondy to me, and would be a great introductory chianti to anyone who’s unsure of whether they’d like one or not.
Another of the Lathwaite Wine Club collection, this pricier bottle is made by Paolo Masi in Tuscany, and is a Gold Medal Winner at the Mundus Vini 2012 world’s largest international wine competition! The chianti uses the sangiovese grape which grows well in the Tuscany area and makes for a warm and inviting flavor; this particular chianti adds in notes of sweet cherry, spice and refined tannins. It’s a medium garnet in color with a lovely berry aroma. It pairs well with most foods, but especially pastas and hard cheeses!
Little Black Dress is the fashionable wine that partners with charities to support women and their success. I already like this wine! Add to that great cause some notes of black cherry and blackberry and we have ourselves a sharp, dry red! This one is more robust at 13% alcohol content, but definitely tasty! With its sleek label and saucy branding, this is a great gift wine for the professional women in your life, or even for a night out with your besties. Wear your heels!
Best kept for the end of the night, this port wine has a 17% alcohol rating. Made in Western France where the brandy industry is popular. This bottle is a mix of wine and cognac. It has a warm, sweet beginning with a robust, alcohol finish. If any Midwesterners have been feeling chilled to the bone this long, long, loooooong, long winter, then port is for you! Light in color, this liquid leaves a layer on the glass from its syrupy nature. If eating the crust of bread puts hair on your chest, then drinking a thimble full of this will warm your belly up!
All wine tastings should end with the dessert wine, typically very sweet and good in small doses – if you know what’s good for you! Sampling another bottle from local winery, Lost Island Wines, this dessert wine was more dry, but still sweet in nature. It had a gorgeous rose gold coloring. The taste at first screams chocolate but mellows to more berry afterward. It’s a light, velvety wine that could leave you licking your lips to taste every last drop! Best when paired with…more chocolate!
That’s it for our Wine Tasting! Tune in on Friday for Guilty Pleasures – Wine Accessories!
Until then, what’s your favorite wine to drink? Do you prefer red or white wines? If you were a type of wine, what kind would you be? And if you say wine in a can, we can no longer be friends.
Welcome back to the Guinea Pig Diaries – where we’re having a Beer, Wine and Cheese Festival! So come drink with me all month long! Every monday we’ll focus on our favorite beers, wines, and cheeses and at the end of the month, we’ll tour a real LIVE BWC Fest plus share our Top Picks!
Today we’re talking BEERS!
Allow me to introduce my partner in crime, my boyfriend Joe, and longtime beer connoisseur. Say hi, Joe! You can tell I didn’t have to ask twice for his help with this project.
A Bit of History:
There are two kinds of beers: ales and lagers.
Ales have been brewed for over 5,000 years! The term ale comes from the German “alt” meaning aged. And ales come from the top fermentation yeast and are typically served at room temperature.
Lagers have only been around for the last several hundred years. They’re made from bottom fermentation yeast, and their creation was actually an accident that no one understood until the invention of the microscope, where the new yeast strain was actually visible. They are typically served at cooler temperatures.
The Four Key Ingredients:
Water, Yeast, Malt (most commonly barley), and Hops.
The water and yeast combine to start the brewing process, and yeast is the ingredient which makes the drink have alcohol in it. Barley is a type of grain that as it sprouts, produces sugar. The yeast feeds on these sugars during the brew process. And hops are climbing vines that produce flowers or “cones”. Hops is what gives the beer its bitterness and its aroma. Mmmm!
Time to Start the Tasting!
Just like with wines, when doing a tasting, you’ll want to start with your lightest beers and move to the darker ones. This allows your palette a clean transition.
Hefe-weizens are usually light colored beers. The name translates from “Hefe” meaning unfiltered or with yeast and “weizen” meaning white beer, for its light color.
Franziskaner Weissbier – Light yellow in color, bubbly, and a little cloudy. This is a smooth, malleable beer that is well received on its own or with the smorgasbord of summer snacks one finds at a barbecue. We tried it with lightly salted pistachios and the combo was heavenly. A little sweet, fizzy, and crisp!
El Hefe Bavarian Style Hefeweizen – From local Pearl Street Brewery, a great starter beer or transition beer, the Hefe is a light ale packed with barley and wheat and notes of banana and clove. It’s most commonly served with a lemon slice for complimentary flavor. Now, the Hefe can get a rep as the “girly beer,” but don’t underestimate this Bavarian style wheat beer. It’s crisp, packs a punch, and I love the citrus notes!
Heineken Premium Light – Brewed using a horizontal fermentation process, this lager has a wheat color, and licoricy aftertaste. Overall it is smooth and another great pick for mixing with meals because its light and mellow.
Redd’s Apple Ale – Ok, no lies. This girl loves a good cider, but Redd’s is marketed differently. Though it’s made with apple, Redd’s is a true ale, and not a cider. It’s made by MillerCoors and meant to rival such carbonated faves as Mike’s Hard and Twisted Tea. If you look on Beer Advocate’s rating site, this one did NOT do well. For avid beer fans, such as my honey, I wouldn’t expect a high ranking for this fruity, fizzy drink. But I’m a fan! It’s crisp, a little tart, and only starts out fizzy. The first few gulps are bubbly indeed, but it mellows right away. This was again, a negative on Beer Advocate, but just going off of taste and fully noting that I am desperately seeking summer – I would totally grab a case of Redd’s and hit the beach with my besties!
Mr. Beer – Ever wanted to try making your own beer? Now you can! Even without a brewery in your backyard. I bought my honey the Mr. Beer, Beer Making Kit and it’s not half bad! With a recipe and care instructions, Joe bottled 8 liters of homemade beer. Classified as a pale ale, this batch was a light medium amber color and very fizzy. To smell, it’s quite sweet and a little syrupy to taste, but still fresh. Upon further inspection, it smells like brown sugar. Quite enjoyable indeed, and it gave my honey a new appreciation for those who work daily in the brew making business.
Killian’s Irish Red – With a dark, rich amber color, this beer is smooth, full, and a bit darker than the previous ones. It’s sweet to smell, and one that I didn’t mind swirling around my mouth to enjoy. I think this beer would go well with red meats, hard cheeses, and peppery foods.
India Pale Ale:
Described as the “star of the hop world”, IPA’s first came about while the British were colonizing India. Originally, all the beer they sent down was spoiled by the time it got to the soldiers, so they added in more hops and more alcohol – both of which have preservative qualities – and voila! The IPA was born!
Smuttynose IPA – From the Smuttynose Brewing Co., this IPA is known for its sedimentary gold color. I thought it had a bit of a sour smell, but that didn’t translate in the taste. It definitely lingers on the tongue with what I described as a funky, but friendly, aftertaste.
Beer Advocate website defines the Double IPA as this: “Take an India Pale Ale and feed it steroids, ergo the term Double IPA. Although open to the same interpretation as its sister styles, you should expect something robust, malty, alcoholic and with a hop profile that might rip your tongue out.”
Hopslam – From the Bells Brewing Co., Hopslam is befitting its name from its inclusion of six different hop styles. Add in some grapefruit and floral notes, a generous malt bill, and a dollop of honey = Hopslam. The label itself proclaims “A biting, bitter, tongue bruiser of an ale. With a name like Hopslam, what did you expect?” This beer will wake you up!
Porters are the first beer in the world to receive national distribution. The two most likely places the porter got its name from are the “train porters” who sold the beer along the rails or from its sea passage to other “port towns.” The darkness and cloudiness of port beers come from the early, albeit inconsistent, brewing process of the 1700’s, and helped mask any flavor imperfections.
Samuel Adams Maple Pecan Porter – Joe and I actually toured the Sam Adams Brewery in Boston, MA and had a great time! It turned both of us into fans – both for the beer’s taste and because the company gives back quite a bit of funds into local history preservation!
The Maple Pecan Porter is so dark I could barely see through the glass! The maple syrup and pecans give this beer a nutty flavor, but there’s a definite coffee taste as well. I would describe this slightly bitter, full-bodied porter as the perfect beverage for a cozy night in.
Those are the beers I was drinking, how about you? Do you have a favorite kind or brand of beer? What are you wanting to try next? Have you ever toured a brewery before? Joe and I always try to hit up at least one winery or brewery on vacation; they’re pretty fun!
If you’ve tried any of these beers, which is your fave?
Until next week, CHEERS!
Hello, hello everyone! I hope you’re all well rested from last month’s Sleep Study, because this month is all about fabulously savory treats!
It’s a new month, so that means a new challenge on the Guinea Pig Diaries! Starting next week, we’re kicking off:
Next Week: Top Picks in Beer
Followed by: Top Picks in Wine
With a Side Order of: Top Cheeses
And the Grand Finale Tour of: A Real Local Beer, Wine and Cheese Festival!
I’m currently researching at the moment, but will be sharing my favorite selections soon!
What are your favorite beers, wines, and cheeses? Got any I should seek out?
See you all soon!