Going to Grape Lengths: Pt. 2

Last week we covered grape’s different roles in wines made from underripe and…let’s just say very overripe sates. Today we’re going to chat a bit about putting grapes on the hot seat so to speak. Intentionally heated wines that is.

Madeira and The Dutch: Out of the Fire and Into the Cask

“C’mon, Hancock. Leave some room for the rest of us!” – Franklin probably

There was a romanticized version of American history taught to me well throughout my public schooling. I think that’s probably true for a lot of people to be honest. It wasn’t until college American History that I learned the genuinely fun fact that our Founding Fathers were pleasantly buzzed during the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. And rightfully so. It was a scary thing they were doing committing all that treason and what not. A little liquid courage goes a long way when one needs to sign a document that could have you drawn and quartered. But what was it that they were drinking? Well the preferred drink at the time was Madeira, a lovely beverage from the region of the same name in Portugal.

Madeira has a history that begins during the age of exploration and like many stories from the book of booze it began as one thing and ended up as something entirely different. Much like the founding fathers bolstering their spirits with spirits, early explorers stocked their ships with alcohol for the voyages ahead. Intensely long stays on the ocean blue and the hot Sun’s continuous presence led to eventual spoilage of the wines they had picked up from ports of call in Portugal. After some time this style of heavily oxidized, nutty and straight up boiled wine became a flavor preference not only for the sailors but the people they brought it to at the ports they visited.

USS Are We There Yet

Making a trip around the world in just to cook and age your wine is not what we would call efficient, though I imagine it would be a mean marketing gimmick in 2019. Thus, the Estufagem (bless you!) process was created. Estufagem, or ‘stoving’, emulates a long sea voyage on the more tropical parts of the ocean. There are a few ways this environment is re created, from circulated hot water to barrels exposed to hot steam. The most time intensive and interesting involves barrels being stored high above the ground in hot rooms for up to a century. Should you find yourself looking to kickback and drink like a revolutionary, there are many available types and brands of Madeira out in the world waiting for you to discover.

Here at vomFASS MOA we have a very special Whisky produced outside the city of Mumbai in India. This Whisky is aged for 6 years in 98 degree heat giving it an uncommon maturity for other Whiskies of the same age. ‘Amrita’ has an alcohol of 45.6% and a decidedly maderized quality about it. It’s a deliciously different Whisky and we will be happy to give you a taste next time you find yourself in Bloomington, Minnesota!

A different approach to stocking ones vessel with valuable wine was employed (albeit anecdotally) by the Dutch. The Netherlands Natives had reservations concerning cooking/spoiling the wine on long journeys. To prevent the maderization of their precious cargo they would first distill the wine into what could be equated to concentrated wine. This wine spirit, called Brandewijn or ‘burnt wine’ was, for all intents and purposes, eau-du-vie or unaged brandy. They popped that hooch into barrels with machinations of reconstituting later on with water. Of course as you have no doubt guessed by now, people preferred this different alcohol and interests shifted in favor of brandy.

Cognac is said to be the wonderful outcome of forgetfulness and neglect much in the same way Tokaji MUST have been (nobody sets out with hopes and dreams of drinking mold wine, right?). Hundreds of years ago grapes from Cognac were cheap and they made cheap uninteresting still wine. That wine however sold well. Eventually after having been concentrated down through distillation, someone popped that hooch into a barrel and promptly forgot about it at the port. Upon returning some considerable amount of time later it was discovered that, hot dang, Cognac is delicious. The motif here is necessity breeding ingenuity and ingenuity leading to now long established traditions and products. Cognac is the most famous brandy in the world next to Armagnac and Calvados (made from apples) and we only stumbled upon it because we were trying to preserve our precious wine.

Whether cooked beyond recognition or distilled into something entirely different, grape based alcohols seem to be endlessly versatile. Grapes truly seem to be Homo Sapiens favorite fruit.

Satiate your thirst for brandy anytime at our vomFASS location in The Mall of America. We stock a plethora of world class Cognac from the Seguinot family, Armagnac from the DeLord family and other worldly brandies. We offer 10 year old, 25 year old and vintage 1973 Armagnac to a 12, 20 and 50 year old Cognac. Other options include a phenomenal 20 year old Italian brandy and 15 year old Spanish brandy from the Sherry Triangle in Jerez. You will also find a wonderful apple brandy from Madison, Wisconsin and a 20 and 25 year old Calvados from Normandy, France. If I still have your attention, you should also know about our Pear eau-du-vie and Kirsch eau-du-vie, both beautiful unaged brandies.

Stay tuned next week as we wrap up our journey with tales of Italian Grappa and a foray into the world of natural wines.

Will O’Reilly spends his days surrounded by brandy. Find him, and the brandy, at vomFASS in Bloomington, MN.

Going to Grape Lengths: Pt. 1

The sushi of wine.

That’s right we’re talking about grapes! Over the next few weeks we will discuss the many fermented faces of grapes and the integral parts they play in many a famous and sometimes not so famous beverage.

There are over 10,000 different wine grape varietals in the world. As hinted to above, grapes’ role in getting us buzzed transcends their use in wine making and in fact for some spirits/adult beverages, wine is only the beginning.

The Early and the Late: Champagne and Tokaji Azsu

Grape meet human, human meet grape. Fast forward a few thousand years and you’ve got one of man’s best friends. Wherever we went we made sure we were never too far from one another, mostly because wherever we went we were sure to bring vines with us. Rudimentary fermentation practices led us out of the dark ages and into a period when the first carbonated wines were stumbled upon by monks who just so happened to have a hard time making still wine. Falling in love with the idea of sparkling wine they continued to perfect it. Thus solidifying the style as desirable. Very, very desirable. Champagne itself is a region in the north of France famous for it’s bubbles. Sparkling wines made in this region, using only the traditional method (Method du Champenoise), as well as any of the three grapes allowed for Champagne, are the only wines that can be called true Champagne. The region has very chalky soil and is significantly cooler. Grapes destined for Champagne are picked intentionally early meaning a high acidity and a low sugar content, given that they haven’t had enough time to fully ripen. Without an early harvest the wine’s acidity would dwindle over time and be over come by the inherent bubbles leading to an unbalanced wine. The Low sugar content however is either left as is or in most cases adjusted by adding a Dosage (a combination of wine and sugar) which allows for different sweetness levels of the, more often than not, rather dry Champagne. The traditional flavor profile of Champagne can vary dramatically but you can expect citrus, green apple, cream, biscuit and almond. Here at vomFASS at our location in Mall of America, we carry several gorgeous Champagne options. On the zestier end we carry, “Marie-Hanze Eaux Belle Brut.” Bright, fresh and tart, this is on the less yeasty side and definitely mouth watering. “Noel Bazin Blanc de Blanc” retains the citrus and lively fruit but we pick up that warmer autolytic, brioche quality that I personally live for. Rounding out our lineup is “Jacquesson Brut Cuvee 736.” Utilizing all three traditional grapes, (Pinot Noir, Pinot Munier and Chardonnay) this Champagne is beautifully rich with a heavenly mousse and flavors like buttered toast, elder flower and ripe red apples. Lastly if you’re the type of person who enjoys the saltier treats in life, be sure to pair your popcorn or french fries (seasoned of course with Viola’s Seasoning Salt for French Fries, available at vomFASS Twin Cities) with a bottle of Champagne. I know it sounds weird but trust me, they are BEST friends.

As is often the case with early alcohol production, we have only the mistakes of others to thank for some of the world’s finest drinks. How in the world the though we first stumbled upon Tokaji Aszu is beyond me…

Pictured: You right now.

While an early harvest of grapes offers the potential for beautiful sparkling wine, patience and borderline neglect go a long way when one strives to create a legendary beverage. In the northeast of Hungary it would appear to the uninitiated that the grapes have been totally forgotten. Wet conditions followed by warm drying heat and sun mean the grapes that hang on vines here…well…they get moldy. And over the course of the long ripening season they shrivel. This shriveling removes virtually all moisture and leaves all the delicious, now concentrated, sugar. Side note: this mold is responsible for some of the most famous wines in the world. Botrytis Cinerea, AKA Noble Rot, is what makes Sauternes the grand pappy of desert wines. On the wrong vineyard Botrytis is a vintage killer, on the right vineyard Botrytis can be responsible for liquid gold. Back in Hungary these shriveled moldy little grapes are hand selected and separated from the rest of the flock to be mashed up into a paste. Later this paste will incorporate its sweetness into a base wine that will be set aside in oak to be aged for literal years. Tokaji Aszu, like Champagne, has several different levels of sweetness. Now make no mistake, Tokaji Aszu is leagues above Champagne in terms of sugar content but like the Dosage, ‘puttonyos’ handles the level of sweetness in Tokaji. Referring to the original method of measuring out sweet and moldy grapes with baskets, ‘puttonyos’ is now used as a general measurement for sweetness in Tokaji Aszu, bare minimum of which is 120 grams of sugar per liter. This is a wine that has historically been celebrated and consumed by both nobility and plebs like me. Heck, even Dracula appears to have stocked the stuff in his cellar (coffin?). Supposedly due to it’s sugar content as well as a little bit of alcohol, the finest of Tokaji Aszu’s (or more probably it’s even sweeter sibling, Eszencia) have the potential to age for hundreds of years.

If you have a sweet tooth but the idea of moldy wine sends you running for the hills, drop on in and try some of our Portos. Sweet, rich, complex and produced by the oldest Port house in Portugal, Kopke. Also on our shelves here in Bloomington, MN, is a set of late harvest Mueller Thurgau wines from Anne Amie Vineyards in the Willamette Valley. One similar to an ice wine and another closer to a Sherry. Also stocked on our shelves is a luscious Australian desert wine made from the famous Pedro Ximenez grape. Averaging 30 years old, this sweet treat contains wine vinified in the 1940’s.

Whatever product you tend to fancy from the world of fermented grapes, vomFASS will likely have something for you. Tune in next week as we continue our deep dive into the world of grape based alcohols.

Will O’Reilly had a grape time writing this. Find him at vomFASS in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Drinking Local: All Things Minnesota

Pictured: Minnesota in June

Ah, the North. Home to hot dish, Spam sandwiches and sub zero temperatures for 13 months out of the year. It’s like Winterfell but the locals have a different accent, dontcha know. Yes the food is weird and the weather feels like it should be spelled in all capitals but there’s a lot more happening here beyond those two talking points! For one, (and the focus of this week’s post) Minnesota is home to a healthy amount of distilleries, breweries and scenic wineries. After all, we need something to warm us up in the winter and to keep us cool in the summer!

Outside of the high quality, small batch and craft distilled products under the vomFASS label, we also stock quite a few MN products!

Vino:

Carlos Creek winery in Alexandria, Minnesota, (easy to find, hard to leave) has been producing wine since 1999. Here at vomFASS in Mall of America, you can track down a number of their products available for purchase. Minnescato is an inspired homage to the much loved Moscato. It sparkles, she’s sweet and any hot dish would be lucky to pair with this wine made from local Minnesota grown grapes. For red wine lovers who don’t have that sweet tooth, Carlos Creek produces a Marquette from the grape of the same name which was developed by the University of Minnesota…It really doesn’t get more Minnesotan than that.

Also on our shelves you can find Round Lake Vineyards Frontenac Gris and Brianna. Two semi sweet options made for those long summer nights up at the cabin. Brianna has a decidedly tropical personality while the Frontenac Gris is packed with explosive notes of cranberry. Round Lake Vineyards is located just North of the Iowa border but that doesn’t stop them from frequently visiting us to drop off a sample bottle or two, come on in and give their wine a try!

Beer & Cider:

Beer is my first love. I’ve never met a brew I didn’t like. Okay maybe not that habanero IPA I had in Manhattan but that’s neither here nor there. A local Minneapolis Brewery, Boom Island, stole our hearts here at vomFASS Twin Cities. We carry their Dubbel, Tripel, Quad and Saison Belgian style ales as well as their Russian imperial stout, ‘Kollusion’ which is made with Dunn Bros. coffee and aged in Tennessee Whiskey barrels. Seriously consider picking some of this up, I don’t know where else this is still in stock other than our shelves.

Our Ciders are from Milk & Honey out of Cold Springs. “Alchemy,” an ice cider made from MN’s own Chestnut crab, is mellowed in bourbon barrels and sports a hearty, sweet and smooth personality. We also carry four other drier sparkling ciders also from Milk & Honey. If you’re on the lookout for ciders with a bit more depth and less of that alcoholic apple juice quality, be sure to check out the Milk & Honey products in our store!

The Hard Stuff:

Far North Spirits, Panther Distillery, Vikre Distillery and Rockfilter Distillery. All hand picked by us to stand tall on our shelves here at MOA in Bloomington.

Far North Spirits you will find…well, far north up in Hallock, MN. Basically put your toes in Canada and fall backwards and you’ll land in Hallock. We carry their Nordic style spiced rum, “Alander” and it would seem like the distillers unlocked the secret of distilling holidays because this tastes just like Christmas. Also on our shelves is ‘Roknar’ a rye whiskey from Far North (which we will be discussing more in next week’s post all about rye) that was bottled specifically for vomFASS after we tasted through their single barrels and picked our favorite! Panther Distillery from Osakis, MN, near the dead center of the state is well represented on our shelves. We carry “Saint Paul,” a three year old straight Bourbon, “Pike Street, which is another three year old bourbon, as well as “Spiked Apple” and “Minnesota 14 Maple” which are both sweeter and flavored two year old corn whiskeys. Vikre up in Duluth utilizes water from the mighty Lake Superior to produce their alcohol. If you are a fan of gin or absinthe or just happen to be a curious drinker, come in for a sample of ‘Ovrevann’. Meaning Lake Superior or Upper Lake in Norwegian, ‘Ovrevann’ is Vikre’s Aquavit. Definitely worth a taste. Finally from as far south and as far east as you can go here in the North Star state you’ll find Rockfilter Distillery in Spring Grove, MN. We carry their two year old bourbon, ‘Giants of the Earth’ which has a mash bill made up of corn, winter rye and sorghum. This one is for the fans of the bolder bourbons.

Minnesota is home to a hard working bunch. Here at vomFASS in MOA we stock the fruits of all that labor. I find that Rockfilter’s mission statement says it best:

“Our Norwegian ancestors fled a cold, hard place for a colder, harder place. It didn’t make them bitter, just busy. Like them, we continue to make the best of it. We farm. We make bourbon. Happily ever after.”

Whichever Minnesota beverage you choose to enjoy this summer, take a moment to appreciate who made it and where it came from. Happy drinking everyone. Skol!

Will O’Reilly is a Minnesota native who enjoys Minnesota spirits, wines and beers. Find him at vomFASS Twin Cities.

Oh What a World…of Whisk(e)y! Pt. 3

Our final foray into the wold of whisk(e)y takes us home. So don your reds whites and blues and tell Johnny to strike up the band because baby it’s time to talk about America!

Corn, barley, rye and wheat. The usual suspects of whisk(e)y production across the globe. The United States is to be thanked for taking those ingredients and birthing a few of her own original spirits. Namely, Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey. Like Scotland and Ireland we have our own set of regulations to follow when producing America’s finest. Though you will notice they are…shall we say, more relaxed? This is a recurring theme with alcohol production here in the states. Comparing America’s craft beer market, responsible for IPAs incorporating habanero peppers as well as Rocky Mountain Oyster Stouts (if you are unaware of what this means, do yourself a favor and keep it that way), to brewers in Germany, you will notice QUITE the difference. The Purity Law of 1516 firmly regulates beer production in Germany. It declares that that the only ingredients to be used are water, barley and hops (yeast as well but no one knew what the heck that was in 1516).

This is all to say, we do things our way and tend to let innovation and ingenuity run a little wild!

Bourbon! Originally crafted in Kentucky and now made as far and wide as Minnesota, is a spirit whose mash bill (or recipe) must be comprised of at least 51% corn and can be distilled to a proof no higher than 160. The remaining 49% is up to the distiller and can vary dramatically from producer to producer. Upon entering the ageing stage, this spirit must be no stronger than 125 proof Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels. New barrels. Every. Single. Time. The luckiest of those bourbon barrels make their way to Scotland to be used in Scotch Whisky production. It is important to note that there is no minimum age requirement for Bourbon. Many enter the market at no older than just a few months. More often than not you will find Bourbon to be a fuller feeling, sweeter spirit on the palate with kisses of char, smoke and vanilla. We currently carry several different Bourbons at vomFASS in MOA. Panther Distillery in Osakis Minnesota produces “Pike Street” and “Saint Paul,” both 3 year old Bourbons. A personal favorite of mine is made as far South and as far East as one can travel in Minnesota. “Giants of the Earth” is a 2 year old Bourbon distilled by Rockfilter all the way down Spring Grove, MN. Produced for vomFASS are “Two Georges High Corn” and “Northern Plains” Bourbons. The former being produced from 81% corn and the latter being a blend of Kentucky and Wisconsin Bourbon.

Tennessee Whiskey! Decidedly NOT Bourbon in the way Cremant is not Champagne. Varying by a small margin technically but worlds apart in history, these two spirits have one key difference: Charcoal. Here we go with the weird America stuff again. Tennessee Whisky is produced the same way Bourbon is but just before barreling the clear corn spirit is filtered through sugar maple charcoal. Some people make their own charcoal by burning whiskey soaked sugar maple while others simply soak the charcoal with the soon to be whiskey. Tennessee Whiskey will have a smoother personality, a taste similar to Bourbon and of course a rather distinct charcoal presence. Tennessee Whiskey is also a killer song by Chris Stapleton.

To be covered in a future entry you can also find Rye and Wheat based whiskey here in the USA. More specifically you can find them on our shelves at vomFASS at Mall of America! Next time you find yourself in our neck of the woods be sure to ask about our, Two Georges line of whiskey. We can get you a taste of the Bourbon, Rye and an exceptionally unique Wheat Whiskey.

Indeed, whisk(e)y has many faces. Some of which are specific to the land in which they were first born. Others are finding new homes across the world as people strive to satisfy the thirst for high quality spirits we all seem to share. Whichever expression you are to enjoy next we hope you’ll do so with a bit deeper of an understanding and appreciation for the history and labor behind each Whisk(e)y.

Will O’Reilly continues to talk about the world of alcohol long after you stop even listening. Find him at vomFASS on level 3, north, in Mall of America!

Oh What a World…Of Whisk(e)y Pt. 2

Sláinte!

Welcome back to week two of breaking down the many faces of Whisk(e)y. Today’s focus: Ireland!

With the discovery of perfume distillation 500 some odd years ago, you, me and everyone we know have the Irish monks to thank for turning their noses up at perfume and eyeballing instead those yummy looking ferment hungry grains. The Emerald Isles’ traditional spirit experienced some serious ups and downs in the years between 1890 and 1990. Between an increasing appetite for Scotch across the board and effectively being cut off from major markets due to a less than friendly relationship with England, Irish whiskey went from the hot ticket to the kid with cooties with relative swiftness. Fast forward through the popularity nose dive and it wasn’t until about the 1980s that attention turned back to Éire and her beautiful Uisce Beatha (again meaning ‘Water of Life’, only this time in Irish). Indeed, the increased interest in this Irish beauty is certainly palpable. Nowadays it’s a product you can see more and more of on retail shelves not only in the states but all over the world.

Irish Whiskies available exclusively at vomFASS
Photo Cred: My wonderful coworker Lynn!

Commonly triple distilled, generally unpeated (but not always!) and made from malted and unmalted barley and other grains. For Whiskey producers unmalted barley and grains like corn offer a nice price break considering both are less expensive than malted barley. Like Scotch, Irish Whiskey must be aged for a minimum of three years in oak barrels. When enjoying a nice glass of Irish Whiskey, you’ll more often than not find it to be on the lighter side than others. With notes of cereal grain, honey and flowers Ireland offers a strikingly different spirit when compared to Scotch, especially Scotch from the Islay region. The key noticeable difference for my palate when comparing Irish Whiskey and Scotch comes from the triple distillation process which creates a lighter distillate with much more subtlety. Irish Whiskey on the whole is more liquid poetry than anything. Light, friendly, approachable, it does not demand that you acquire a taste for it but rather it asks for you to just simply listen and enjoy the song it has to sing.

Here at vomFASS MOA we carry four expressions of Irish Whiskey from one producer in Dublin as well as their Single Malt Moonshine. “Against the Grain” is a corn mash Irish Whiskey aged 5 years in Bourbon barrels and Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. This is a beautiful expression of a Single Grain Irish Whiskey, one of the most approachable spirits in the store and a personal favorite. “Stephen’s Choice” and “Jack’s Choice” are 5 and 11 year old Single Malt Irish Whiskies, respectively. The former being a more traditional approach and the latter actually being finished in Sauternes casks, Stephen’s Choice and Jack’s Choice are not to be missed. At 14 years, “Brother’s In Arms” is the oldest Irish Whiskey in our store. This expression shows off a wonderfully complex Sherry cask influence through notes of fruit, spice and more gourmand hits of toffee and caramel. While not technically a Whiskey but rather an unaged Irish spirit, our Single Malt Irish “Moonshine” shows an array of explosive herbs, pepper and a rich, crisp backbone. Surprisingly easy going for it’s 55.5% abv. Drop on in sometime and let us pour you a sample or two!

Before you go, let us discuss Whiskey v. Whisky. What is the deal with that seemingly complicated parenthetical ‘e’? The Irish call it whiskey and the Scots call it whisky and stateside we mostly call it Whiskey with the exception of some (I’m looking at you, Maker’s Mark). It seems to be a remnant of translation and here in the U S of A, it stems from the melding of cultures. That little ‘e’ seems to have been brought over by the Irish during their influx into the great American melting pot. It also found wide spread use in American spirits due to the shrewd attempt at associating American spirits with the, at that time, more expensive and exotic Irish spirits. Today, the ‘e’ finds it’s home in Irish and most American whiskies. Whisky sans ‘e’ can be found of course in Scotland (as it is the law) but also in Japan, Australia and literally every other Whisky producing region in the world.

Next time you’re in vomFASS at Mall of America, have a taste of this 6 year old Indian Whisky.
Photo Credit: Lynn again!

Will O’Reilly likes to talk at length about the world of Alcohol. Come chat with him at vomFASS in The Mall of America.

Oh What a World…Of Whisk(e)y!

Alcohol! With many different cultural expressions all over the globe its often easy to confuse one expression with another. Take Whisk(e)y for example; Whisk(e)y itself isn’t so much a product as it is a process. Or rather a product that is defined by a process. And that process has different rules and regulations depending on the dirt your standing on. Some of us prefer Bourbon to Rye or Irish Whiskey to Scotch Whisky. But do you know the core differences between them? The answer is more than just geography. Breaking down the different faces of Whisk(e)y and what the deal is with this seemingly silly parenthetical ‘e’ will be the goal of the coming weeks blog entries. So stay tuned!

As a general rule of thumb I don’t like to generalize about the vast world of alcohol too much. Lumping things together in one category and slapping a label on it does a disservice to the nuances and creative mold breaking that takes place at, say, different Scotch distilleries. That said, for ease of conversation, I’ll be speaking a bit generally today. So take this with a grain of salt and understand that the alcohol rabbit hole goes deep. There’s always something more to be learned about each one of these products and the people (heroes?) making them. Conveniently, after your thirst for quality Whisk(e)y has been stirred up you will be able to find some excellent expressions of Scotch, Irish and American Whisk(e)y available at the vomFASS Mall of America location.

This week we are going to focus on Scotch. What is single malt Scotch? Single malt Scotch Whisky is a product that comes from one single distillery as opposed to a Scotch blend which is a product containing the Whisky from multiple distilleries. Historically produced using malted barley, and only malted barley for single malts, Scotch begins it’s journey being double distilled in large copper pot stills. Scotch, by law, must be aged for a minimum of three years in Oak barrels. These Oak barrels are primarily former Bourbon barrels (which by law in the US can only be used for Bourbon ageing once) or former Sherry casks. Only produced and aged in Scotland you will find this Whisky being distilled and aged in a few different regions, five of which are officially recognized.

The Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, Islay (pronounced, “eye-la”) and Campbeltown make up Scotland’s main Scotch producing regions. Here at vomFASS Twin Cities inside the Mall of America we carry a healthy supply of world class single malt Scotches from almost every region (even the not so officially recognized parts. Cool!). Our selection includes, but is by no means limited to, a 17 year old offering from Auchentoshan in the Lowlands. This is one of the outlying triple distilled scotches. The dram is smooth, warm and delightfully complex. From the Highlands we offer a bold but refined 20 year old Glengoyne. Appropriately, Speyside takes up the most real estate here at vomFASS MOA as it is home to the highest density of distilleries in Scotland. A personal favorite of mine is the dark and mysterious 19 year old Inchgower. I love to pour this for guests looking for a Speyside Scotch that thinks a little outside of the Speyside box. Bunnahabain 26 is our one and only single malt offering from Islay. Next to it’s other Islay brethren, Bunnahabain 26 does not cloud the drinker in a plume of peat smoke. Rather, this unpeated offering showcases notes of the ocean that surrounds the Islay region while caramel and soft vanilla permeate the drinking experience. Should you wish to get to know these beauties better than I can describe them, we not only offer in store samples but we regularly hold Scotch classes as well as wine tastings and Mediterranean cooking classes too!

Aside from being a geographically specific spirit (similar to Champagne, Cognac or Tennessee Whiskey) Scotch is produced under strict regulations established long ago that are still practiced today. True, practices have changed and expanded since the first Scot discovered how to make Uisge Beatha, or The Water of Life, such as the incorporation of Wheat and Rye grains and triple distillation practices at a few distilleries. But at its core, Scotch remains a liquid tip of the hat to the wonder of tradition and the inexorable push of alcohol based ingenuity. All the while instilling in it’s drinker a true sense of place. Cheers!

Check back next week as we continue our journey down the winding Whisk(e)y road to Ireland.

Will O’Reilly studies all things alcohol. You can find him at vomFASS inside the Mall of America.

vomFASS Wins Again!

 vomFASS recently received the results of this year’s iTQi Superior Taste Awards Ceremony which was held in Brussels, Belgium.

 

The International Taste & Quality Institute – iTQi – is the world’s leading organization iTQi 2016.pngdedicated to testing and promoting superior food and drink. Once again, we have received awards for our high-quality fruit balsamics from the iTQi!

The Superior Taste Award is a unique international recognition based upon the blind judgment of some of the most prestigious Chefs and Sommeliers in the world who are opinion leaders and experts in taste.

vomFASS is extremely pleased to announce that we were, once again, able to achieve excellent results with our in-house specialty balsamic vinegars including the following:

  • Apple Balsamic Vinegar –  3 Stars and the Crystal Taste Award (granted to products that have received 3 stars, 3 years in a row.)
  • Blueberry Balsamic Star – 3 Stars
  • Passion Fruit Balsamic Vinegar – 3 Stars (Coming soon to vomFASS at Mall of America)

The star ratings are defined as follows:

3 Stars = Exceptionall products with 90% and more of total marks

2 Stars = Remarkable products with marks between 80% and 90%

1 Star = Notable tasting products with marks between 70% and 80%

Stop by vomFASS at Mall of America to taste these award-winning products and many other superior taste award-winners to decide which are the winners on your palate!

Fair Trade is Good Trade at vomFASS

One of the many reasons I am proud to own a vomFASS shop is the ethics and caring demonstrated by vomFASS International. One example is the relationship vomFASS has and the support we provide for the work of Father Shay Cullen, who is the founder of the PREDA Foundation.father_cullen

Father Cullen was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize and other Human Rights awards. Father Shay Cullen founded the PREDA Foundation in 1974 to promote human rights, justice and peace. He strives to eliminate child abuse and promote respect for children’s rights. The purpose of his projects is to:

  • educate for peace
  • free children from brothels and jails and
  • give them a chance to recover in therapeutic homes and be reintegrated and have a happier life free from jails, brothels, traffickers, violence and abusers.

The foundation operates protective therapeutic recovery shelters for the victims. There are 89 professional Filipino staff implementing the 12 projects for Preda. (visit http://www.preda.org for more information).

Filipinos in Mango field
PREDA stands for People’s Recovery, Empowerment, Development, Assistance Foundation

PREDA’S Mission statement

  • To work for just laws and their implementation that will empower the poor, and protect their rights.
  • To protect the weak and the defenseless especially children and women exploited in demeaning labor, especially prostitution.
  • To come to the assistance of the sexually abused and develop Fair Trade programs that will help alleviate poverty and exploitation.

PREDA products are safe and healthy. The dried fruit and fruit purees are chemical free and are fairly traded. Adherence to Fair Trade practices guarantees that the families who make these products benefit directly from them. Fair trade also promotes training and supports farmers by providing benefits such as medical insurance. Customers can be assured that there is no child labor, sweatshop conditions, and exploitation of any kind.

vomFASS is Fair!

vomFASS helps and supports the local economies with fair prices and premium payments to producers to improve working and living conditions. We source the fruit pulp for our customer-favorite Calamansi Balsam Vinegar, Mango Balsam Vinegar and Wild Mango Balsamic Star from a PREDA plantation. A percentage of sales of these products in contributed towards the planting of as many as 2,000 mango trees a year.

As a vomFASS owner, I am proud to be associated with PREDA’s humanitarian efforts. As a vomFASS customer, you can enjoy your food even more, knowing that it is ethically sourced and supports these noble projects.

Enjoy!

Tamra (a.k.a. Tomboy Tam)

Wild about Wild Mango Balsamic Star

We recently added a new Star to the constellation of specialty balsamic vinegars at vomFASS at Mall of America! If you’ve loved our Mango Balsam Vinegar, your palate will leap over the moon when you taste Wild Mango Balsamic Star! Mango Salad

How are Stars made? 

As you may recall, vomFASS makes all our fruit balsamics at the world headquarters in Waldburg, Germany. We use fresh fruit, press it into juice, ferment it  and incorporate the magical vinegar “Mother” bacteria, before it is aged to perfection. Our “Star” balsamics are basically the same process, with one major difference: they have a higher concentrate of fruit (or honey, in the case of our Honey Balsamic Star). The additional fruit results in a sweeter, thicker, lower-acidity specialty balsamic that is to die for (except for the fact that it’s such a healthy condiment!)

Our new Wild Mango Balsamic Star is composed of mango puree and mango vinegar. It has the full, fruity taste of ripe mangoes of the “carabao” variety, grown on a fair trade plantation in the Philippines (read more). You may enjoy it for refining summer salads, meat or fish dishes or as a base for barbecue sauce.  It’s an exotic complement to desserts, oatmeal or cocktails. Personally, I love it in sparkling water and as a marinade for shrimp or pork. It pairs beautifully with any vomFASS extra virgin olive oil, our organic Avocado Oil, Styrian Pumpkin Seed Oil and Chili Sunflower Oil. It’s also yummy paired with our Lemon Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Blueberry Balsamic Star, such as in this salad recipe.

Mango Blueberry Watermelon Salad ~ Serves 6-8

Watermelon_Feta_Salad

Ingredients: 

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1 T. shallots, finely minced
  • 2 T.  vomFASS  Blueberry Balsamic Star
  • 2 T.  vomFASS Wild Mango Balsamic Star
  • ½ cup vomFASS Lemon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • vomFASS Salt and Pepper to taste

For the salad:

  • 8 cups salad greens
  • 3-4 cups red watermelon, rind removed, seeded, and cut into cubes
  • 8 oz. feta cheese, cubed or crumbled
  • 2 cups blueberries OR 1 cup black olives
  • ½ cup (2 oz.) fresh mint leaves, minced

Directions:

  1. Whisk together the shallots, vinegars, salt and pepper.
  2. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until emulsified.
  3. Taste for flavor and seasoning. Add a little olive oil if less tartness is desired.  Add a little honey if additional sweetness is desired.
  4. Place the greens, watermelon, feta, blueberries or olives and mint in a large bowl.
  5. Drizzle with enough vinaigrette to coat the greens lightly and toss well, but gently.
  6. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately.
Tip: Store any leftover dressing in the refrigerator. To make this dish more savory, use black olives instead of blueberries.

Enjoy! 

Tamra (a.k.a. Tomboy Tam)

How to ID authentic EVOO

Pouring olive oil in the salad over a spoon

The news is full of information about extra virgin olive oil. On the one hand, we read and hear about the benefits of incorporating more high quality extra virgin olive oil into our diets for healthier hearts, brains and general well-being. On the other hand, there are reports that up to 70 percent of extra virgin olive oil on U.S. store shelves may not be 100% authentic. In fact, it may not even be olive oil! What’s a health-conscious, earth-aware consumer to do?

My advice is to find a reputable source you can trust, such as vom FASS, and stick with it. While this statement may seem self serving (since we sell extra virgin olive oil at vom FASS) you may use the following three questions to help you evaluate the authenticity and quality of olive oil from any source.

Q: Where does the olive oil come from?  The more information that is available, the more likely it is to be reliable. 
– Wholesalers or directly from growers and producers?
– Country of origin and region within a country?
– Specifically which olive groves and trees?
– Who is the grower and where is it pressed?

vom FASS Answer:
We have long-term relationships directly with family growers and small producers in Italy, Greece, Spain and France from whom we source our extra virgin olive oil. vom FASS selects supplier partners whose sustainable and ethical production philosophy match our own high standards. The founder of vom FASS in Germany and vom FASS staff personally visit olive oil growers before harvest to inspect the quality of the olives to determine whether vom FASS will include that harvest in our offerings. As a vom FASS owner, I’ve had the opportunity to visit vom FASS product suppliers to see for myself where the trees grow that produce our olive oils and meet the growers and producers.

Our short, controlled supply chain (grower to presser to vom FASS) eliminates the opportunity for tampering along the way. The packaging includes the relevant IGP designation that guarantees a product originating from a region or a country whose quality, recipe and characteristics can be traced back to its geographical origin, as well as controlled organic certifications, as applicable. Finally, in our own food laboratory (vom FASS Germany), state-certified food experts continuously monitor the quality of our products.

Q: How has the olive oil been handled?
– How are the olives picked?
– How much time elapses between picking and pressing?
– What is the pressing method?
– How much time between pressing and packaging?
– How is the product packaged?
– How long before the product ends up on the store shelf?
– How is the product stored on the store shelf for tasting and purchasing?

vom FASS Answer:
Our suppliers hand pick their olives and quickly and carefully transport them to be pressed locally within 24 hours of picking, so there’s no chance of pre-crushing or fermentation due to transportation or storage. The olives are mechanically (no chemicals) cold-pressed according to the EU and International Olive Council‘s designation and definition of “extra virgin.” Our oils are unfiltered, with the exception of Pepone, which is lightly filtered.

The oil is immediately packaged and sealed in vom FASS’s unique “bag in box” (BiB) system, labeled with origin and specific batch information and shipped to vom FASS. The sealed BiB is not opened again until it is tapped in a vom FASS shop. Even after tapping it, the oil remains in that BiB on our shelves in our beautiful Amphora (crocks), protected from air, heat and light until the customer samples the fresh taste and purchases the bottles we fill for them.

vom FASS manages inventory forecasting to ensure we are able to get the new harvest oils on our shelves as soon as they are available. This means our customers have the unique opportunity early each year to taste very fresh extra virgin olive oils just a couple of months after the olives are picked, when it has a very green, grassy and pungent flavor. That “green” taste mellows out after a few months.

Q: How does the olive oil smell, taste and look? 

vom FASS Answer:
There are five key factors that determine the flavor of olive oil (a future article!), but in general, the following characteristics can help you identify authentic, fresh, quality extra virgin olive oil:

  • Sniff it: you should notice a fresh, green or fruity aroma. If it smells “off” or rancid, stop there. Hay, cardboard, vinegar, mud and mustiness are some of the aromas that indicate an olive oil has gone bad. It has to pass the “smell test” before you even consider moving on to a taste test. Read more about identifying rancidity or “fusty” olive oil.
  • Taste it: Open your mouth, breathe in to dry your palate, and then take a little sip of oil from a spoon or glass – yes, just the oil! Real, quality olive oil should have a flavor – green, grassy, fruity, peppery, pungent, bitter – all of these flavors are hallmarks of good extra virgin olive oil. No flavor or a musty taste or greasy mouth feel are not good signs of a fresh, quality olive oil. Read more about tasting olive oil.
  • Visually evaluate it:
    • Your first visual cues should include the information on the labels:
      • Does the label list any ingredients other than 100% extra virgin olive oil?
      • Does it identify the geographic origin? The more specific the better.
      • Does it state DOP, PGI (Protected Designation of Origin and quality certification) or IGP (less stringent) indication of geographical protection?
      • What is the best by or harvest date?
      • Is there a batch or other specific identification information?
    • The appearance of the oil itself isn’t necessarily an easy way to pinpoint authenticity, but look for:
      • Color may range from vivid green to gold to pale straw.
      • An unfiltered extra virgin olive oil may be cloudy and/or have sediment. Don’t worry – that’s just more flavor and nutrients!

At vom FASS Mall of America, we are proud of our authentic extra virgin olive oils. We love to talk to you, guide you through the tasting process and help you select the extra virgin olive oil that is right for your palate and recipe!