Monday, February 20, 2012

Day Trippin' on a Liquid Mission to Harbor Country

There comes a time when everyone needs to get away for an afternoon.  This time was well overdue for two Chicago Mixologists.  We were ready to get away and experience SW Michigan's Harbor Country in all liquid forms.  Yes, we were on a liquid mission.  My most amazing friend, traveling companion and co-pilot, Ms. Lynn House, Chief Mixologist at Blackbird Restaurant, and I decided to go day trippin' on a liquid mission to SW Michigan one day in late December 2011 (no, not '63, Frankie Valli Fans).  We were armed with a Jeep full of gas, a bottle of Pineapple/Brown Sugar/Habanero Syrup, a Christmas tree ornament shaped like a margarita (compliments of The Cocktail Cottage), and a pre-bottled cocktail for Jill Sites at Greenbush Brewing Co. using Journeyman Distillery's W.R. Welter White Whiskey as a belated birthday cocktail. 

The first stop on our liquid adventure took us to David's Delicatessen in New Buffalo, Michigan where Joe treated us to one of their tantalizing iced tea creations using Intelligentsia's Pomegranate Tea, and a fine roasted cup of java to get the day sippin' started.

We felt it only fitting to stop at Journeyman Distillery in Three Oaks.  After all, we were on a liquid mission and we had heard through the Michigan grapevine that the newly released Bilberry Black Hearts Gin was available and ready for tasting.  A New World style gin, Bilberry Black Hearts Gin introduces a new flavor to gin lovers. Bilberries are closely related to North American blueberries and huckleberries. Bilberries produce single or paired berries on the bush instead of clusters, as the blueberry does. The fruit is smaller than that of the blueberry, but with a fuller taste. Bilberries are darker in color, and usually appear near black with a slight shade of purple.  We were both impressed with this gin interpretation that has a more fruit-forward expression with a gentler juniper  flavor profile.  We found that this would be an exceptional gin in the classic Gin and Tonic, Tom Collins, Gin Rickey and the French 75.  This would also make an exceptional gin style for lighter food pairings and brunch gatherings.  We also brought good tidings of cheer to our friends at Journeyman in the form of spiced orange honey syrup.  We mixed the syrup with Bilberry Black Hearts Gin and a little fresh squeezed lemon juice.  This syrup danced beautifully with the Bilberry Blackheart Gin and with a light dusting of Great Lakes Tea and Spice Co's Vietnamese Saigon Cinnamon, this would be a fantastic and simple cocktail to ring in the holiday cheer with family and friends. 

Greenbush Brewing Company, Sawyer, MI
Our liquid journey down Pure Michigan's Life Highway (a.k.a. Red Arrow Highway) took us to Greenbush Brewing Company in Sawyer, Michigan.  We both were excited to sample their beer offerings.  Lynn's beer flavor palate falls under the bitter and scorned IPA family side of the beer style spectrum, where my flavors fall under the lighter and less serious wheat side of the family. With our two completely differing palate preferences, we were ready for Greenbush Brewing Co.  Jennifer Piotter, reigning Beer Ambassador and Goddess of Charm, greeted us like we were family, so we decided to leave our tasting decisions up to our most awesome hostess who promptly chose the following for our sample flight.

My three favorites revolved around Apathy Oatmeal Stout, Distorter Porter and my winning, "I'll pick up a six-pack anytime I get the chance" vote, the Red Bud Wheat Ale.  What can I say?  I have a tendency to favor and prefer my German/Austrian ancestry roots when it comes to beer.  I return to my true blooded American roots with Bourbon.  I can handle an IPA every now and then and Triple IPAs just scare me.  They remind me of Triple Dog Dares, I run away every time with my tail between my legs from that prominent bitter, hopped-up flavor profile.  Even the "Quadruple-IPA Explorer of Hops," Lynn House, enjoyed the Red Bud Wheat Ale.  Described as a "directionally-challenged ale," we both found Red Bud to be a fun and unique expression of an American Wheat ale with just enough body to keep intermediate and advanced craft brew sippers happy and light enough to enjoy throughout the day.

Greenbush Tasting Flight

I mentioned that Lynn House is a worldly explorer of hops. She searches the world hoping to find the lost ark containing the most bitter of the bittered hops. She dreams of the day when someone creates a Quadruple IPA for her, and every year she adds this to the top of her Christmas list in hopes that this year will be the year her wish and dreams are fulfilled. Lynn's dreams were answered at Greenbush in the form of Anger Black IPA, described as "a haughty black India Pale Ale with a bit of pent-up attitude for those "special" days.  An addicting little cascadian black IPA using Belgian dark malts and dry-hopped for intense aroma. Release some bottled-up Anger and learn to enjoy life a little." Lynn didn't get angry; in fact, it made her very happy. She smiled, laughed and said, "oh yes, I am HOME." Another winning contestant for Lynn came in the form of Greenbush's Closure Pale Ale. Closure doesn't stick around long as a new and different hop variety is introduced every time they brew a batch. This is what Lynn calls a great "session" beer, in other words, something that can be sipped on throughout the day and enjoyed the entire experience. We both agreed there is a beer for everyone at Greenbush. Their beer stylings spoke true to the categories and came with great balance.

We decided to have some lunch while sampling our tasting flight, and Greenbush was a great place to grab a snack and a sandwich. Greenbush doesn't sport a large food menu. They don't need to - they focus on serving what they have for the day and we both agreed, they do it quite well. We each ordered the turkey cheddar melt with bacon and remoulade as well as the pub cheese and pretzels. The turkey cheddar melt was the kind of sandwich you want to make at home but never have the time. All paired exceptionally well with our tasting flight. It was heaven in liquid and solid form and all served at a bar stool in Sawyer, Michigan.

The next leg of our day trippin' journey took us to Hickory Creek Winery in Buchanan, MI. Mother Nature played some serious tricks with the Midwest winter weather.  We honestly felt like it was early November and not late December, with virtually no snow and temperatures in the 40's.  Driving down the back country roads leading to these fabulous SW Michigan wineries was half the fun.  These are the winter vines at Hickory Creek Winery as we entered the driveway of the tasting room.  

We sampled the 2009 Pinot Gris. This Pinot Gris is reminiscent of Alto Adige. Rich aromas of dried hay and floral notes. Fresh herbs on the palate with good acid structure. WONDERFUL - produced to huge smiles from our tasters.  Pictured with our Solstice Celebration mascot - the holiday ornament shaped like a margarita from The Cocktail Cottage.

Lynn's favorite tasting at Hickory Creek Winery was the 2009 Zero Oak Chardonnay with it's gooseberry and fruit forward flavorings, Lynn found the acidity to be perfect and very reminiscent of unoaked Australian chardonnays, and by far one of the best chardonnays she has tasted recently with its rich, ripe, and full-bodied flavor on the palate with a lengthy finish.

2006 Melange tasting pictured with our version of a roaving gnome - a margarita-shaped holiday ornament compliments of The Cocktail Cottage. This Melange, a cooler vintage, gives a bright ruby color. Slightly closed, but well-developed red fruit. This blend of Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon and Merlot has aromas of cherry, raspberry and currant. Toasty cocoa balances minerals and fruit on the palate. This has a lengthy finish with soft tannins. Drink now or cellar - - we chose to drink now...WONDERFUL.

Liquid mission accomplished.  Cheers to you, Michigan.  The world will soon find out just how cool you really are.