Showing posts with label vodka. Show all posts
Showing posts with label vodka. Show all posts

Friday, July 24, 2015

Tasting Through Milwaukee

I had never been to Milwaukee before. I didn’t make it there during my traveling years and I hadn’t been there in the seven years I’ve been living in the Midwest. When I received an invitation to cover one of the biggest music festivals in the world that happened to be in Milwaukee, it didn’t take me long to say, “Yes!”

My friend Lisa, who was living in Green Bay at the time, met me in Milwaukee for a girls’ weekend.

Margaret Casey of Visit Milwaukee picked us up at the Hilton for our first day of tasting and touring.

Our first stop was at Indulgence Chocolatiers. I wish we had a place like this in Champaign.

Julie, the owner of Indulgence, fell in love with the chocolate shops in Europe and decided to open one in Milwaukee. She creates a selection of chocolate truffles, barks, and bars. Then, she pairs them with your choice of white wine, red wine, beer, whiskey, or cheese.

Everything sounded scrumptious and we finally settled on sharing chocolate & cheese and a chocolate and red wine pairings.

It was a great choice and I loved the pairings Julie had come up with. Our favorites were: Petit Nuage cheese with a Citrus Basil Honey Truffle; Riverbend Goat’s Milk cheese with Vanilla Malt Truffle; The Chook Sparkling Shiraz from McLaren Vale, Australia with Raspberry Chipotle Pecan Bar; and a 2012 High Valley Vineyards Cabernet from Lake County with Smoked Cherry and Pine Nut Bark.

We had more than satisfied our sweet tooth when we left Indulgence, but Margaret felt we should at least make a quick stop at PurpleDoor Ice Cream next door, where we fell for their Blackberry Quark and Ginger.

After the ice cream, Margaret drove us around Milwaukee a bit, pointing out some of the hot spots, including the LGBT clubs, historic buildings and Miller, the only major brewery left in a town once known for being a large beer producing area.

We next stopped at Great Lakes Distillery. I had sampled a few of their products before, but I had never been to their distillery to sample everything and I was excited to have the opportunity.

They have a full bar set up with their spirits for both tasting and mixing into cocktails. The spirits did not disappoint. I especially liked the Rehorst Citrus & Honey Vodka, the Rehorst Premium Milwaukee Gin, and Roaring Dan’s Rum.

All of the liqueurs here are made from Wisconsin products in small batches. The Pear Brandy was quite good.

Before we left Great Lakes we met with Founder Guy Rehorst, who gave us a quick tour of the distillery.

Lisa and I went back to the Hilton, where we found a gift basket of all things Milwaukee waiting for us from the tourist board.  

We changed for the evening and Margaret picked us up a little while later.

We headed up to Wolf Peach for dinner. It was on top of a hill with a great view of Milwaukee.

Wolf Peach is all about fresh and locally sourced ingredients and proudly display their vendors on their menu. Because of this, the menu will change with what’s in season and available. While some of the menu items we had may not always be available, we did try to taste some things that appear to be standards on their menu.  

Everything sounded delicious so we each picked a dish or two and decided to share it all.

The Roasted Mushroom Bruschetta was one of my favorites. The mushrooms were meaty and flavorful.              

By the time the pizza – which in itself was a meal – came out we knew we had ordered too much, but it was worth it to at least taste, with goat cheese and fresh peas and mushrooms.

We really didn’t plan on getting dessert, but when the chocolate parfait and lavender ice cream came out we couldn’t help but sample.
We also enjoyed the Crispy Cauliflower, with chickpeas in a paprika seasoning.



After dinner, Lisa and I headed to Summerfest for the first time. We got to hear the Doobie Brothers while sipping drinks on the Harley-Davidson VIP Deck. There were fireworks in the background and it was a pretty great setting to complete the first day in Milwaukee.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Grand Marketplace at Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival

I've attended many food festivals around the country and the Grand Market is almost always my favorite event. It's a chance to sample many different foods, wines, and spirits, as well as watch cooking demonstrations and meet personalities.

This year, the Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival, hosted by Caesar's Resort, moved their Grand Market outside for the first time. It was held in the park of Bally's Resort in Atlantic City. The weather cooperated and the outside location allowed some food trucks to join in the fun.

With the help of my daughter, Sam, I was able to enjoy lots of finds -- some new and some old favorites.

Guy Fieri's Fish Taco, from his new Bally's Restaurant, was a fan favorite.

14 Hands brought a fruit-filled Unoaked Chardonnay

Bay Shore served a delicious Lobster Bisque.

I was surprised that I hadn't previously sampled Absolut Texas, a limited edition worth trying.

Goodway Gourmet Cafe had scrumptious coconut macaroons.

Barefoot Wines has done it again, this time producing a must-try Tropical Fusion.

Sam loved Rigatoni's Famous Crab Cake

Delaware Spirits Spice Infused Rum with vanilla bean was smooth and tasty.

Sammy D's Philly Cheesesteak Dumplings was my favorite food.

I love my New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and won't forget Dryland. 

Waffatopia brought along yummy Caramelized Waffles. 

SKYY Vodka poured some great cocktails, including a Pear Vanilla. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Nothing Like Whole Foods Grand Market at South Beach

For those who have not been to the Whole Foods Grand Market at the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival, it is hard to describe. The “market” consists of three blocks (on the beach) of food, wine and spirits. There are three rows in each block offering more than anyone could ingest in one day. Still, we all try our best.

The food seminars on the Kitchen Aid states continued throughout the day and I got to catch some of the ones by Rocco Dispirito, Bobby Deen (mom Paula was also on the stage Sunday) and Countess Luann de Lesseps. They were all pretty full and the participants seemed to enjoy both the food and the cooking tips.

The Whole Foods booth was actually a group of booths, from which the samples added up to an entire meal on its own. I really enjoyed the Spinach Feta Pinwheel. It went down perfectly with a Pom Pomegrante Bellini. Speaking of the Bellini, The Wilson Creek Peach Bellini sparkling wine was just great.

It was pretty hot outside, but luckily there were also lots of cool drinks. One of the fan favorites (OK, mine too) was the Cruzan Rum Raspberry Mojito Ice Bar. For those who prefer tequila, Jose Cuervo had some cold samples of their new pre-made margarita. There was also sampling of Harmonie Liqueur, the new offering from Hipnotiq which is a cross between floral and fruity.

Just in time for Passover, L’Chaim is a new vodka brand with a Kosher for Passover wine made from beets. I didn’t get to taste it, but heard from a few that it was pretty good. I did try kosher (but not for Passover) vodka and I liked it, though it’s hard to beat Voli’s Vanilla Espresso, a favorite brand of mine which is low calorie, electrolyte-induced and just bought into by Fergie.

Ginger is finding its way into many cocktails this year and the Domaine de Canton French Ginger Liqueur is a great way to keep up that trend.

Bobby Flay was one of the network stars who were signing (and selling) copies of his book . Among others on hand with their books were Robert Irvine, Anthony Bourdain and Anne Burrell. Former Top Chef Michael Isabella was promoting his Washington, DC restaurant Graffiato, which I’ll have the pleasure of visiting in a few weeks.

After I left the market and I checked out of my perfectly located room at The National, I realized it was another great four days at the South Beach Food Network Wine & Food Festival. I’m sure I will be back next year. 

In the meantime, I will see some of my favorite chefs at the Food & Wine Classicin Aspen. Of course, that’s after my time in Delray Beach & Boca Raton… New York City… Arizona… Virginia & Washington… the Hamptons… and England!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Starting South Beach with The Q

February is one of my favorite months because it is the time of one of my favorite events. There is nothing that quite compares with the Food Network’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival for bringing together chefs and industry insiders.  This was my third year in a row attending and I was especially excited that I would also be covering for Ocean Drive Magazine.

My flight was running a bit late, but I arrived in time to get changed for The Q. I was staying at The National Hotel for the first time and was happily surprised at the locale – right in the center of all the events. I had a very nice room with a view and best of all it was just a quick walk out the back door to the beach. It happened to be the same beach The Q was set up on, at the Delano.

The Bubble Q had been my favorite event that previous years.  I had been disappointed to hear it would be cancelled, but happy to find out the new event, hosted by Moet Hennessy and called simply “The Q” would be very similar. I found that was certainly the case.

Emeril Lagasse and Guy Fieri hosted The Q, which served as the festival’s kickoff party. It was an eating frenzy, with some of the country’s best chefs serving a special barbecue dish of their choice. In addition, Moet Hennessy’s sponsorship of the event meant plenty of Belvedere Vodka, Moet Champagne and Hennessy Cognac.

As much as I hate to waste food, I did really want to take at least a bite out of as many items as possible. Here’s a sampling of some of the most memorable…

Chris Lilly passed out Big Bob Gibson barbecue, which was delicious, but was very rich so it was easy to leave it behind;

Dean Fearing of Fearings in Dallas had a superb BBQ Beef Taco that was a combination of sweet and savory;

Chef Yoshi Katsumura made Barbecue Wagyu Spareribs with Yuzyu sauce and candied skin, served with a Scallion Pancake and Watermelon Salad. It was terrific;


I really enjoyed my conversation with Nadja G. (check out my story at Cocktails and Joints). She is just so much fun and the pork belly she made was excellent;

The Hill Country Barbecue of New York offered some tender and tasty meat;

Chef Michael White prepared a yummy Grilled Pancetta with glazed figs and roasted pistachios;

Celebrity Cruises brought out a most delicious Spring Roll with white truffle barbecue sauce;

And, co-host Guy Fieri wowed all with food from his Tex Wasabi restaurant -- a Banh Mi Taco, served with barbecue chicken fried rice. 


For dessert, Godiva Chocolate had sweet treats for all, from drinks to mousse, to samples of their Belgium chocolate. Also there all the way from New York was the Big Gay Ice Cream truck, a big hit on a hot night.

Since the party was also the first night of SOBEWFF, many of the festival’s stars stopped by to visit the participating chefs. Andrew Zimmern, Robert Irvine and Rachael Ray were just a few who chowed down with their friends.

I stayed until the end and then headed back to The National Hotel for some rest. Day two at the Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival was going to be a big one for me that included lots of interviews, some time with Antonio Banderas, and more food, wine and spirits than you could ever imagine.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Day Filled with Columbus Food and Spirits


After my morning tasting and exploring the North Market, I met Amy Weirick, who works with Experience Columbus. She put together a full day and it started at The Candle Lab in the city’s Short North section. We had time to mix our favorite fragrances into a candle (I choose hot chocolate and marshmallow), and do a little downtown shopping before heading off to lunch.

We ate in the German Village, one of the many diverse neighborhoods in this Ohio city. Among the Cobblestone streets and brick houses was Lindey’s, a popular restaurant that was filled to the brim on this weekday. Amy ordered the Tuna Tartar, a favorite of hers, and I enjoyed a Spinach Quiche, that was very good with a hint of bacon.

We stayed in the area a bit longer to head over to Pistacia Vera, which means true pistachio in Latin. You will find some pistachio items here, but the focus is all French. Like my favorite stops in Paris, there are macaroons that melt in your mouth, airy croissants and a selection of tasty treats. (In a tribute to the neighborhood, they even have a German Chocolate Cake.)

Anne Fletcher, who owns the dessert boutique with baker husband Spencer, took us through the kitchen, where the smells of sweets permeated the air and we saw the fine ingredients from around the world.

I will definitely have to make a trip back there someday to also sample their brunch treats, such as Baked Eggs with cream and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in a tomato fondue.

We left the Columbus food scene for a while to tour some of the top spirits made in city, beginning with Watershed Distillery. Greg Lehman, who started the distillery with partner   Dave Rigo in 2010, took me through what goes into their vodka and gin.

As a gin drinker, I’m very familiar with the benefit of herbs in spirits, but the attention to that detail is one of the things that makes the Watershed Gin so good. It includes juniper, cinnamon, allspice, citrus peels, lemon, lime, orange and coriander, and all of those herbs are front and center for you to see before you taste.

The Watershed Vodka is made from only corn and distilled four times to 80 proof. I found it to be smooth and sweet, and I loved the unusual profile. I also love how they have utilized this space to delicately produce these spirits in small batches, keeping tight control on the quality.

The next stop was Middle West Spirits, where Ryan Lang was ready to tell us all about his spirits and how they built this fairly large facility “for production and to educate people.” Tours are encouraged as much as the tastings because the process is an important part of the Middle West products made by Ryan and partner Brady Konya.
A lot of detail goes into the making of the Oyo spirits with top-notch equipment, local ingredients, and lots of direction by this micro distillery’s owners. The Oyo Vodka is unfiltered and goes through 34 distillations.

The Honey Vanilla Bean is very light, with an opening mouthful of wildflower and a vanilla finish. While you don’t really taste the honey, Ryan says that’s what brings out the floral notes.

The can’t miss spirit here is the Oyo Stone Fruit Vodka, a start of cherries and apricot which bursts into just about every fruit you’ve ever tasted, and ends with a bit of a nutty flavor. The Whiskey is made from red winter wheat and is full of caramel and vanilla, without tasting as potent as its 80 proof.

Our final spirits stop was very different than the previous two. Brother’s Drake Meadery is more of a bar than a distillery with a tasting room, but it actually serves all those purposes. Mead is made from honey and is referred to as more wine than spirit.  Since 2007, the brothers Drake have used hundreds of different honeys and local ingredients to put together a collection of meads that is rather impressive.

While I’m not usually a big fan of mead, I did find a few that I really enjoyed. The Bergamot Blue is blueberry and takes advantage of the fruit’s slightly tart flavor to keep the sweetness down. The Apple Pie is very cider-like and quite good. The Pillow Talk uses lavender for an interesting flavor that is rather smooth and not very sweet.

From the meadery we went to the eatery, and one of the most well-known in Columbus, Ohio. I had heard nothing but praise for Basi Italia and I couldn’t wait to taste the creations of Chef John Dornback. We got to hear all about the ingredients (and love) found in these walls by the chef’s wife and co-partner, Trish, who joined us for dinner.

Trish and John had met in Cleveland and were married in 2002. A year later they began Basi Italia and the raves just kept coming. I was impressed from the start with the Gorgonzola/Parmesan Biscotti. We then nibbled on a scrumptious Duck Flatbread with caramelized fig-onion jam, fresh spinach and fontina cheese, as well as a yummy Zucchini Pronto, with toasted almonds and pecorino cheese.

A La Massa Sangiovese was perfect to get me in the Italiano mood, and the Fennel & Root Vegetable Cream Soup was excellent. Everyone's food looked delicious, but I had no problem with what I ordered.

My main course of Sweet Potato Gnocchi with roasted mushrooms and arugula in pesto was a great mix of flavors and I barely had room for the chocolate filled dessert (but I was really glad I squeezed in a taste).

The dinner was my final experience in Columbus – at least for this trip. I was happily surprised to find out about all the interesting food and drinks this city has added in the years since I had been there. I’m sure it won’t be another four years until I go back.