Changes Are Here

Greetings loyal readings!

I’ve been talking about it for a couple of weeks now, but All Things Beverage is going to experience some change. From this point forward I will be focusing largely on non-alcoholic beverages. There are a few reasons for this change.

1. I want to niche down and have greater focus on non-alcoholic beverages. By doing this, I hope that I can deliver better content to you, my readers, and give you a better experience.

2. I have not been consuming alcohol for some time now (just a simple, personal choice), and I believe that in order to write and present honestly on the topic you need to actually drink what you are discussing. That being said, all of the reviews I have posted for whiskey, wine, etc. are all products I have personally tried and tested.

3. I feel more connected to this part of the beverage industry and I want to explore it further.

I hope these changes don’t sway you away, but if they do, I thank you for stopping by and being part of this experience. However, all of my old posts about the alcohol industry will remain here on the site in the category: “Alcohol Archives.”

Along with the re-focus, I am also implementing some changes to the timing and methods of content delivery:

- Every Wednesday there will be a new blog post. There may be other posts throughout the week, but there will be a piece of content delivered to you every Wednesday.

- All Things Beverage will have a greater presence on Facebook. I have put up a page, but really haven’t done much with it. I am hoping to engage with my audience more through Facebook.

- I will also be engaging my e-mail list more. So if you haven’t signed up yet please do so!

Please excuse the housekeeping as I tidy up the site. I am still in the process of organizing my content so it will best serve you. I am very excited for these changes and updates. I sincerely hope that it lends to a better experience for you in the future. It has been awesome for me to be a part of this thus far and I eager to see what the future will bring.

Kind regards,

William Bentley

Stop Buying Wine for the Label

With November here the Holiday Season is approaching us quickly. At the wine shop where I work , that means a crowded store and customers frantically purchasing gifts. When I talk to a customer one of the most frustrating things to hear is, “Oh, I just shop for the wine label.” Or, “I love the name of this wine, I have to buy it!”

There are so many amazing wines out there, and you’re concerned about how pretty the label is? You’re going to enjoy wine a lot more if you start focusing on what’s on the inside of the bottle.

I was on the wrong end of one of these gifts before. A few years ago, received a bottle of wine all wrapped up and thought, “Oh great, I love free wine.” The bottle in question turned out to be a low calorie, diet-style wine (I cringe calling that product wine), and turned out to be the worst beverage I have ever drank, ever. It tasted like watered-down, sour grape juice, with hints of Robitussin and artificial sweetener.

When I unwrapped the bottle, and I tried not to let the frustration show on my face. I knew exactly what the product was, and I knew it would be terrible. The person I received the gift from proclaimed, “I hope you like it. I don’t know anything about wine, but I thought the label was cool.”

Do yourself a favor, and a favor to all those around you. Stop buying wine solely for the label. It will save you loads of embarrassment if it’s a gift, and your palate will thank you if a purchase for yourself.

Let me throw this disclaimer in there. If a wine has a really cool label, it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad product, and the winemaker cares more about marketing than wine. That is not what I’m saying. There are some awesome wines, made by some creative and artistic companies. Their labels kick ass, and so does their wine. There is the other side to the coin as well. You will some fantastic wines with awful, gaudy labels (Alsatian wine anyone?).

Imagine you are shopping for your boss. You find a bottle of wine with big, bold colors on the label and really stupid name. When you buy this wine, you’re taking a chance. It could be anywhere from amazing, to utterly horrible. Why chance that?! Especially with the person who signs your paycheck. You know what it’s like to receive a crappy gift. It’s awkward. But when someone gives you a great gift, you will go out of your way to show gratitude. I know it’s a bit subtle, but it won’t go unnoticed.

So here’s what you do instead. And the best part is, it’s super simple. Ask for help. Go up to the shop owner or employee and say, “Excuse me, I need to get a gift for someone, but I know nothing about wine. Can you help me find a good bottle?”

While I know it’s not fun to say you know nothing about something, don’t be embarrassed. That’s what the employees and wine salesmen are there for. They want to help you, and they want to educate you. People work in a wine shop because they love wine and they are eager to talk about it. No one is going to judge you because of your lack of wine knowledge. And if they do, they don’t belong in a customer service environment.

So if you want to enjoy wine please, please stop buying it for its label or goofy name. Especially if you’re giving it as a gift. Ask for help, you will get it; and everyone will be grateful for that.



Pappy’s Gone Missing: A Pappy Van Winkle Theft

If you’re a Bourbon enthusiast you know that the fall allocation of Pappy Van Winkle Bourbons are here. Some people will go to great measures to get their hands on this hard to get whiskey; and then there are those that go to great lengths to capitalize on the insane demand.

So how far would someone go? How about stealing 65 cases of the Whiskey, totaling over $25,000? Yes, this really happened. Someone jacked 195 bottles of whiskey from the Buffalo Trace Distillery this month. Police have yet to make an arrest, but they believe this to be an inside job. They state that It’s not feasible, nor is it plausible that someone from outside the Buffalo Trace Distillery would orchestrate a theft like this.

Normally the 20 year Bourbon retails for around $110 – $130, but can fetch a much higher price on a secondary market. Some bottles have even gone for four figures!

There is a lot of hype around the Pappy Van Winkle Bourbons, and for good reason. They are some the most complex, well-crafted whiskies you will find on the market. You can find my review of the Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 Year Bourbon here.

So if people are going to such extreme measures to get their hands on this Whiskey, how the hell is the average consumer supposed to get a hold of it? I have a few tips:

  1. First I would call around… a lot. Try to get the owner of the liquor store on the phone. Just so you’re fairly warned, you can expect a lot of chuckles and “Yeah right!” from this approach. However, with some diligence and a lot of calls, you might have some luck.
  2. Seek out well-established, high grossing liquor stores. Larger stores have more buying power and can command more from distributors and sometimes can get a better allocation. I suggest calling them up and asking to speak with the owner. Some shops having waiting lists, find out how you can get on it. The sooner you act the better your chances are of getting your hands on some illusive whiskey.
  3. When talking to the shop owner, suggest purchasing a certain amount of other products in the store so you can have access to the Whiskey. While it may get pricey, you might be able to get some fine Bourbon, and hopefully a few other good wines or spirits to go along with it.

Now, even if you follow those steps, there is a very good chance you’ll come up empty-handed. If you cannot getting any Pappy Van Winkle allow me to suggest a few substitutes:

  1. 368291377524165408Parker Heritage Bourbon Whiskey – While this Bourbon isn’t particularly easy to get a hold of either, it’s not as illusive as Pappy. Furthermore, this year’s release is a bit special. Sadly, earlier this year Heaven Hill Distilleries Master Distiller, Parker Beam, was diagnosed with ALS. To help raise money for the ALS Promise Fund, the 2013 Parker Heritage release is taking $20 of every bottle sold and donating to the organization. You can find more information about the Promise of Hope Campaign here. And while the 2013 Bourbon is a bit different than the Pappy as it is a rye driven bourbon, not a wheated recipe; it is certainly a whiskey that Bourbon enthusiasts can truly enjoy. If you are looking for a wheated recipe, look for their 4th Edition (2010). That year’s release was bottled at cask-strength, non-chill filtered, and made use of a wheated mash bill. The 2013 release should retail around $90.
  2. Larceny Bourbon - This Bourbon does have a wheated mash bill and should be readily available. Heavy bodied with a nice, full mouth feel, Larceny is quite the whiskey for a $30 price point. And as an added bonus you can find some amazing mail-in rebates for Larceny. Talk with your local shop owner to see if they have it in stock, and ask about the rebate. The latest one I saw allowed for $20 off a 1.75 L bottle and $10 off of a 1.0 L bottle!
  3. larceny_lrg???????????????????????????????Rock Hill Farms – I know, it’s not a wheated Bourbon. However this is some phenomenal Bourbon for the $40-$45 price range it commands. Full bodied, silky and rich, this whiskey comes highly recommended if you can find it. I reviewed this Bourbon earlier this year and you can check out my more detailed tasting notes here.

I know Pappy Van Winkle Bourbons are tough to come by, but please refrain from trying to steal it! Try a few of the Bourbons I listed above, or if you have any other suggestions for substitutions, leave a comment below!

- Bill

Plungerhead Zinfandel 2009: Bargain BBQ Wine

Labor day has come and gone, but there is still plenty of time to fire up those grills and make some delicious barbecue. Want an inexpensive, yet delicious Zinfandel to go along with those ribs and burgers? Allow me to present the Plungerhead Zinfandel 2009 from Lodi.

Plungerhead Zinfandel 2009

It was vinted and bottled by The Other Guys, Napa, California. The wine is 14.9% ABV. In the glass it has deep, dark shades of violet and red. As it swirls around it leaves a thick lace. Aromas of plum, blackberry, raspberry, and anise are present. Big dark fruits dominate the scents this wine gives off.

The initial tastes are almost all plum and blackberry. The wine is definitely fruit forward and fairly jammy. Notes of oak are subtle at best. This wine is medium bodied, not overly big or bold. The tannins are soft and not overtly robust. The finish is presented with a fair amount of oak and spice accompanied by notes of blackberry and hints of cherry, tobacco, and pepper. The finish is a bit short, with the tannins becoming a bit sharper.

The jammy nature of the wine lends itself well to be paired with savory and tangy barbecue sauce. Meanwhile, the high alcohol level and tannins allow it to cut through fat nicely. It can usually be found for around $11-$12, a great buy for a late summer cookout.

Score: 7.1 – Great

Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 Year Bourbon

Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 Year Old Bourbon

Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 Year

Fall is right around the corner. That means pumpkin pie, apple picking, and most important the fall allocations from Bourbon distilleries. I thought this was good timing to post a review of the Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 year old Bourbon.

This particular bottle is from the Fall 2011 allocation. If my research serves me correctly, it should be a combination of Whiskey from the Buffalo Trace Distillery and the Stitzel-Weller Distillery reserves. It is 107 proof and was aged 15 years in new, charred oak casks. This is a wheated Bourbon recipe so the mash bill consists of corn, wheat instead of rye, and malted barley. Just looking at this bourbon is impressive. It possess deep, golden amber hues. You can almost see the viscosity in the snifter. Nosing the whiskey there is quite a bit of complexity present. It starts off a bit smokey and oaky, slowly evolving into notes of molasses, vanilla, citrus and a hint of tobacco. A big flavor of rich, toasted caramel makes itself know upon first sip. After a few moments there is a subtle shift to vanilla, oak, toffee, and leather.

Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year in Snifter

The Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Bourbon in a Snifter

At 107 proof this is a big bodied Bourbon. Viscus and silky, it coats the palate perfectly. It is intensely smooth and is comparable to drinking liquid silk, if that makes any sense. The finish is ultra long, flavors of leather, citrus, toffee, vanilla, cedar just linger on and on. This Whiskey is extremely satisfying, amazingly complex, and supremely well-balanced. It really is a true gem.

Score: 9.7 – Amazing


Drinking Wine and Have a Headache? It’s Not the Sulfites.

Working in a wine shop, I have been asked countless times about wines and sulfites. The some of the common things I hear are, “Sulfites give me terrible headaches,” or, “Red wine gives me a headache, I think I’m allergic to the sulfites.” When customers present these statements to me, my first question is usually, “How are you with dried fruit? Does it give you any issues?” or, “Does tuna fish give you a problem too?” or, “Do you ever get headaches from eating deli meat?”

More often than not, most people will say no, illustrating that a sulfite sensitivity is not the issue. While there are people who do have sensitivities and allergies to sulfites, the problems that arise are more asthmatic and respiratory in nature. There is a small percentage of the population that is allergic to sulfites and being exposed can be much more serious than a simple headache. 

In the wine-making process, sulfites play a crucial part. They can be used to control the effects of wild yeast strains for fermentation, and also help preserve the wine once it has been bottled. Sulfites are naturally present in wine; and many, many winemakers add sulfites for preservation’s sake.

While there is not definitive research that proves exactly what causes headaches in all people, there are a few things that have been known to cause issues. However, before going any further, allow me to stress that I am not a medical professional, nor is this information in any way medical advice. It is merely an inquiry into what can cause headaches as a result of drinking wine. That being said, here are some of the potential culprits:

1. Amines – They are organic compounds found naturally in wine, more specifically on wine skins. The two main amines found in wine are histamine and tyramine. Histamine is usually more prevalent in red wines than white wines. There are some people who lack the proper enzyme, diamine oxidase, production to break down histamine. When histamine is not broken down, one of the symptoms is headaches. Excess tyramine in the system can cause an increase in blood pressure which can also result in headaches.

2. Alcohol – One of the byproducts of the fermentation process. Alcohol is a known diuretic. Diuretics can cause dehydration and strip the body of electrolytes. This problem can certainly result in headaches.

3. Over consumption – This is usually the most common cause of headaches. The over consumption of wine, coupled with an inadequate intake of food and water is a recipe for ill-results. Drinking too quickly can likely cause headaches as well.

There may be other triggers for wine-related headaches, but these are wildly perceived to be the big three. So what now? What steps can be taken to mitigate the wine-headache dilemma?

1. First and foremost, monitor your consumption of wine and balance with proper food and water intake. For each glass of wine, try to have a glass of water; alternate between wine and water. Also pace yourself, I know some wines are “highly gulpable”, but know that doing so will most likely make you sick.

2. Try not to drink on an empty stomach (this doesn’t me junk food). Having proper nutrition is important. If you are suffering from wine headaches, eating a meal before hand can help. Not only will it mitigate the issues that arise from water, electrolytes and nutrients being stripped from your body; it will also supply your body with the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that can be helpful in decreasing the negative effects of wine consumption.

3. Don’t drink if your exhausted, or at least take it easy. This is pretty straight forward. Exhaustion is a well-know cause of headaches. If your body is run down and tired, consuming wine (or any other form of alcohol), is only going to make things worse.

4. Pay attention to the wine you’re drinking. Red wines generally have higher levels of histamine than white wine. This is also true of Champagne, but to a lesser extent. Wines from Chianti tend to have higher levels of tyramine, as does Riesling; while varietals like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and wines from Bordeaux tend to be on the lower level of tyramine concentration. If amines are the issue, look for wines that may have lower levels.

5. Taking an a non-drowsy anti-histamine can be helpful if you belief histamine is a root cause of your headaches. Allow me to reiterate that I am not a medical professional and you should consult with your doctor before taking any sort of medication (especially if taking with alcohol).

Generally speaking, moderate consumption, paired with proper intake of food and water can go a long way to enjoying wines without the headaches. It is the safest and most natural remedy. If after that you’re stilling experiencing problems, talking to a doctor should be the next step.

While the exact cause of wine related headaches is not yet fully understood, I think we can put the sulfite-headache correlation to rest.


Boylan’s Ginger Ale

Boylan's Ginger Ale

Boylan’s Ginger Ale

Drinking Boylan’s soda is like taking a step back in time. The Boylan Bottling Company was established in 1891 and has been producing quality soft drinks ever since. Today’s review will be for their Ginger Ale.

The soda is a pale, golden color; super clear and pristine. The scent it gives off is a refreshing mix of ginger and citrus. It is much lighter than its mass-market counterparts. Coupling this with the perfect carbonation level, lends the soda to be ultra crisp. Citrus and ginger mingle together harmoniously through the finish. The flavor slowly subdues and there is a very faint hint of spiciness from the ginger. Boylan’s Ginger Ale is approachable, refreshing and delicious. Follow this link to see where you can find Boylan’s Ginger Ale near you.

Score: 8.2 – Superb

Single Malt Scotch Whisky: A Quick Guide

Auchentoshan Pot Stills

Two Pots Stills at the Auchentoshan Distillery

Last weekend, working a shift at my local wine and liquor store, I was helping a gentleman select some single malt Scotch Whisky for himself. Normally when I offer recommendations, people just want a gift for a friend, or just ask me to pick out something for themselves within a certain price range; simple enough. However this customer was different. He had tried some Scotches before, had an idea of what he liked and didn’t like, but did not know how to navigate the world of Scotch Whisky to find something new.

It was great being able to discuss Whisky with him and help broaden his education on the matter. Hopefully I can do that a little more today. There are so many different types of Whisky (or Whiskey) made all over the globe. Today I’m going to focus on single malt Scotch Whisky, which can be a confusing subject. When faced with making a purchase, it is important to be equipped with some basic knowledge so you can make an informed decision, and not waste your money.

To start let’s by defining what single malt Scotch Whisky is. Here are the criteria it must meet:

  1. Distilled in Scotland
  2. Produced from only water and malted barley at a single distillery by batch distillation in pot stills
  3. Aged in oak casks for at least three years in no other country than Scotland

Under Scottish Law there are three protected regions and two protected localities.

Protected Localities

  1. Campbeltown –  comprising the South Kintyre ward of the Argyll and Bute Council as that ward is constituted in the Argyll and Bute.
  2. Islay – comprising the Isle of Islay in Argyll.

Protected Regions

  1. Highland – comprising that part of Scotland that is north of the line dividing the Highland region from the Lowland region.
  2. Lowland – comprising that part of Scotland that is south of the line dividing the Highland region fromthe Lowland region; and
  3. Speyside – comprising of the wards of Buckie, Elgin City North, Elgin City South, Fochabers Lhanbryde, Forres, Heldon and Laich, Keith and Cullen and Speyside Glenlivet of the Moray Council as those wards are constituted in the Moray (Electoral Arrangements); and the Badenoch and Strathspey ward of the Highland Council as that ward is constituted in the Highland (Electoral Arrangements).
Single Malt Scotch Whisky Regions

A map of Scottish Whisky regions

Let’s start with the Highlands. This is the largest area and thus produces the largest amount of variation in whisky characteristics. Whiskies can range from light to heavy bodied, be sweet or dry, and can even have some smokey peatiness. The distillery the whisky comes from will largely determine how it is composed. For instance, whisky hailing from Oban will be light and have a maritime feel to it as it is from the Western coast. Traveling further inland you will find Aberfedly which posses more creamy and malt driven notes. Here are a few notable distilleries from the Highlands: Dalwhinnie, Glenmorangie, Oban, and Aberfeldy.

Next up, the Lowlands. As the name implies the Lowlands are nestled in Southern Scotland. Whisky from this area tends to be light in body and color. You will find that is little to no smokey or peatiness with these Whiskies, and they tend to have grainy and floral notes. For someone who is new to the world of single malts, the Lowlands is a good place to start. Notable distilleries include: Glenkinchie, Auchentoshan, and Blandoch.

The Balvenie Doublewood

A bottle of Whisky from Speyside: The Balvenie Doublewood

Speyside technically rests within the Highlands region. It is located in the Northeast portion. Whiskies from Speyside tend to be honey and vanilla driven. You’ll get notes of dried fruit, nuttiness, and hints of spice. For someone who is used to drinking American Whiskies, Speyside Whiskies are a great segue into Scotland’s single malts. Speyside is also the home to the most distilleries, so there is a lot to choose from. Here are a few of them: Cardhu, The Macallan, The BalvenieGlenfiddich, and The Glenlivet.

Campbeltown was once a thriving area for whisky production, boasting numerous distilleries. Since then, there has been significant decline. Currently there are only a few distilleries open and legally producing. They include: Spingbank, Glen Scotia, Glengyle (bottling under the name of Kilkerran). Campbeltown Whiskies can have some variation – Springback has three bottles that are all different – but they can generally be described as a bit smokey, oily, creamy, and possessing some salinity.

Islay (pronounced “eye-la”) is the last region on the list. It is an island just west of Campbeltown. Whisky from this area tend to be smoky, robust and powerful. You’ll get some nutty notes, occasionally some dried fruit and also some salinity; very much a maritime influenced whisky. Islay’s style of whisky is my favorite coming from Scotland. There are not a ton of distilleries there, but some of the better know ones are: Laphroaig, Coal Ila, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, and Lagavulin.

You may remember a post I did awhile back regarding the pronunciation of some famous Scottish distilleries. Often times the names of the distilleries are not pronounced phonetically. Go back and check it our for some authentic pronunciations.

Now that you’re armed with a little more knowledge, what’s the best to go about trying some of these libations? What if you aren’t ready to pony up the cash for a whole bottle at your local liquor store? Well there are three convenient options:

  1. Seek out a reputable bar with a good whisky selection. Generally speaking, the closer you are to a big metropolitan area, the greater your chances are of finding a bar with a good selection. Talk to the bartender, tell them your interests and ask for a recommendation.
  2. Another option for sampling Whiskies is joining a Whisky club or purchasing samples online. Take a look at these places:

3.  Lastly, you could try looking for tastings to go to. Some are free, but most will have a fee (usually about $50-$200 depending on the event). This is a great way to try many, many different Whiskies. Just be careful, it is far too easy to have one too many at these events!

I hope this basic overview helps. I will be posting more information in the future, but if you have any questions in the meantime, please ask!