Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Farm to Glass: Alberta's First Craft Distillery

The eat/drink local trend is a popular idea in modern society today. Supporting local agriculture and husbandry allows us to consume the freshest possible products, while making a positive impact on our economy. Here in Alberta we can eat locally sourced beef and corn, and drink locally with mead wine and craft breweries. Now we can add spirits to the locally-sourced mix; Eau Claire Distillery, located in Turner Valley, is utilizing a "Farm to Glass" approach in the distillation of their spirits.

This approach starts in the barley fields surrounding Turner Valley. Known as "the best barley in the world", some is exported out to the United Kingdom, where it is used to make some of the finest whisky in the world. Eau Claire uses barley and rye to make their spirits. The grains are harvested the old-fashioned way, with horse and plow. When they arrive at the distillery, the grains are put into the grinder and the husks are broken apart, to remove the bitter flavour from the husk. Then the broken grains are moved to the mash ton, boiling water is added, and flavours are extracted from the grain for 4 hours. The spent grain is removed and shipped to a local dairy farmer to be used as cow feed.

The next step is the fermentation tanks, where a specific yeast is added to develop desired flavour compounds. The fermentation process takes 48 hours, and will generate an alcoholic content of 6-8%. From there, it's off to the copper pot still with 2 different types of "towers": the stripping column, where the alcohol is taken up to 85% abv, used for whisky. The vodka and gin moves on to the second column, and distilled up to 95% abv. Once this occurs, "backwater" from the Sheep's River, fed by the Rocky Mountains, is added to proof the spirit.

There are 3 parts to the spirit when it comes off the still: the first part is the heads, the middle part is called the hearts, and the last part is called the tails. Eau Claire Distillery uses the hearts for their final products, to ensure the best quality. They distill the tails once more and put them into barrels for later usage in the blending process.

Despite the vast humidity and climate differences between Alberta and Scotland, Eau Claire has found a way to mature their whisky on-site. The floor of their aging room is composed of consistent clay, gravel and sand, which is irrigated every day, creating humidity and therefore replicating an aging warehouse in Scotland. The humidity comes from the floor, creating floral notes in the barrels on the bottom, and more earthy notes in the barrels on top. The whisky will age for 3 years before it is released to the public.

Eau Claire Distillery currently offers 3 spirits on their tasting bar: Vodka, Parlour Gin, and the Equinox. The Three Point Vodka is very smooth and creamy, with notes of banana and vanilla. Easy to sip on it's own or mix with soda water. The Parlour Gin is full of botanical aromas, followed by an herbal and spicy kick that doesn't overpower in the mouth. Their seasonal offering, Equinox, was my personal favourite. Springtime flavours of peach and nectarine with Eau Claire's trademark smooth finish make this spirit fantastic for your own customized mojito on the patio! 

Eau Claire Distillery's farm-to-glass approach with Alberta-born spirits takes the "Drink Local" trend to the next level. One sip reinforced for me the pride I have living on such great Alberta soil. The next time you're headed south of Calgary, stop by the distillery for a tour, a tasting and maybe a bottle or two. Click here for more information, or head down to Turner Valley for a tour, tasting and to purchase a bottle or two. As they say at the distillery: "May the Spirits be with You!"

Monday, April 6, 2015

Flights of Fancy: Springing into Spain

The arrival of Spring brings rebirth to the natural world. In my wine world, a new tasting group was born on Tuesday night when 5 winelovers gathered together to sample some wines from Spain, expand our knowledge base, and get to know eachother. All wines were sampled blind and structural elements as well as flavour profiles were discussed before each bottle was revealed. Here are my tasting notes for each wine:

Zesty acidity and a full body envelope a flavour profile of green apple, lemon, grated ginger and toast. Soft but focused tannins from fermentation in new French oak work in harmonious balance to create a well structured wine. Composed of 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia, this wine pairs beautifully with stuffed chicken breasts, roast goose and salmon dishes.

Refreshing and bright, with notes of honeydew melon, kiwi fruit and apricot on the palate. A touch of almonds on the finish reflect the oak fermentation. Imagine yourself on a patio in the summer sunshine, sipping on this wine while enjoying a prosciutto and melon pizza. Delightful!

3. Zeta Rosado Reserva Cava

Comprised of 100% Pinot Noir, this unique and charming cava shows essences of grapefruit, minerality and a floral hint. Light in body with delicate mousse and lively acidity makes this an easy quaffer. Would pair well with seafood pasta tossed in oil. Drink now.

4. Torres Celeste Crianza 2010

Fruit forward notes of strawberry and blackberry intertwined with black pepper, and a taste of toasted walnut on the long, smooth finish. Soft, fresh acidity and prominent but velvety tannins cast a sultry structure. An ideal wine for prime rib with au jus, and can age in cellar for 3-5 years maximum to soften the tannins.

Intense and powerful, with notes of blueberries, black currant and kalamata olives woven into firm tannins and a full body. This wine is excellent for food pairings, including charcuterie, beef stew and hard, strong cheeses. Decant a minimum of 2 hours before serving.

Aromas of cherries, caramel and a hint of musk combined with lively acidity and soft tannins. Spice notes on the finish add complexity. Very approachable and easy to drink. 

The next tasting is 2 weeks from now and will feature Pinot Noir. Parameters to be confirmed closer to the date.


Monday, March 30, 2015

The Pinot Noir Project: A Look at Spatburgunder in Germany

I have always been intrigued by German Pinot Noir, but it was a past season of the Bachelorette that became the catalyst for this post. (I know, I know...please don't laugh too hard at me!) The season that featured Desiree Hartsock traveled to Germany, and LOTS of red wine was consumed there. As sure as I am that Dornfelder and Portuguesier were consumed in the mix, there was almost certainly some Spatburgunder in those glasses on the one-on-one dates. After watching that episode, it became my mission to taste as many bottles as I could find locally.

Pinot Noir vines were said to be brought to Germany by Burgundian monks in the 14th century, and the first indication of Pinot Noir in Germany was formally documented in 1470. The varietal struggled to produce notable wines until recently, when advances in clonal research, lower vineyard yields and barrel aging shifted the winemakers' focus to produce higher quality Spatburgunder. The best examples tend to be full-bodied and smooth, with the traditional red fruit aromas and vegetal/herbal hints consistent with the Pinot Noir grape. These wines pair well with ham, poultry, charcuterie and game meats.

Germany's winegrowing area consists of 10 sub-regions that produce a variety of grapes. The sub-regions that I am going to focus on include the Rheingau, the Rheinhessen and the Pfalz. I wasn't able to find a Pinot Noir from Baden here in Calgary.

Elegant and refined, Ernst Bretz's 2009 Spatburgunder was my personal favourite in the tasting. Fresh acidity and soft tannins wrapped around a flavour profile of raspberries, green olives, and a hint of resin. Paired well with roasted pork loin. 

The Weingut Hans Lang 2010 Spatburgunder contains notes of wild strawberries, forest floor and mushrooms. The acidity really comes alive on the back of the palate. Velvety tannins and a smooth finish round out the mouthfeel. Drink now as the wine is close to fully developed. Decant 30-45 minutes for the fruit flavours to open up.

Andreas Bender's 2011 Pinot Noir is fruit-forward and approachable, with expressive notes of raspberries, ripe cherries, earth, and a hint of wet stone. Refreshing acidity and silky tannins create a graceful structure that includes a long, sleek finish. I enjoyed it best on it's own. Drink now.

Spatburgunder still has a long way to go to compete with similarly priced AOP Bourgogne wines in the Western World, but you can find some great values locally that won't break the bank. Perhaps in the future, we may see more quality German Pinot Noir options on the shelves in North American wine stores. Until then, the choices are limited but definitely worth exploring.