Crispin Hard Cider, Honey Crisp

Crispin Hard Cider, Honey Crisp

There’s that guy you know. Every circle of friends seems to have one. He makes money, and he lets everyone know. When he gets back from a skiing trip to Europe, he lets you know about that too. He uses a lot of product in his hair, gets mani-pedis, and dates a series of interchangeable, vacuous young girls that he usually picks up at the gym. His watch is aerodynamic and expensive looking. He doesn’t just sit–he lounges everywhere. You tolerate his ego because he can be entertaining, and sometimes he shows up with an expensive bottle of liquor.

In the world of cider, his name is Crispin. (For the record, we are talking about hard cider, not apple juice.) And Crispin has definitely tossed a great deal of cash at a marketing team to make their branding seem trendy, classy, and classic. That’s not to say it’s a shallow, soulless cider. But the flashy externals always put a question mark over the quality of the content.

I am not a dedicated beer drinker, so The Man patronizes my quirk of drinking cider instead. On a recent beer forage trip to Dorn’s, he carried home a bottle of Crispin’s Honey Crisp hard cider. This is one of the artisanal varieties they produce, and it’s flavored with organic honey. After a chill in the fridge, we popped the top off the 22 ounce bottle and poured the pearly cider.

It tasted of fresh apples, spring water, green grass, and honey. It was definitely crisp. It was absolutely made from apples. But it lacked that intrinsic cidery flavor of old, fermented apples that lingers in the back of your mouth. It was too clean and clear. Too young. And it took me a while to identify the lingering round notes of cardamom that haunted my mouth.

I would drink Crispin cider again. I would even like to try some of the other varieties they offer like the sake style or the Belgian Trappist inspired cider. And they’ve apparently got Fox Barrel Cider, a line made from pears. But when I want a good bottle of cider, I’ll still reach for Cidre Bouche.

Honey Crisp, 22 oz.
6.5% ABV


The Girls Love Sailor Jerry

Sailor Jerry

I could make pirate jokes at this point, but I like to think I’m a little more creative than that. (Okay, so we do have Pirate Nights where we drink Piraat and make horrible puns and painfully tacky jokes, but that’s different. That’s drinking.) I’m not even going to make a joke about drinking Sailor Jerry all night and waking up to feel like you’ve been carousing with burly sea men.

Save it for Pirate Night.

But I have found the ladies do love Sailor Jerry. Even the ones that claim they don’t care for the hard stuff (heehee).

Having my book club ladies over so often, I’d gotten tired of having wine all the time, so I switched over to girly mixed drinks for a while when we had people over at the house. A half-bottle of Sailor Jerry spiced rum had been lurking behind the Bombay Sapphire and some odd Mexican liqueur that arrived as a gift. I suspect several of you have the same thing–a few odd bottles of assorted beverages in a cupboard or cabinet that you keep forgetting you have.

So I pull out the bottle of rum with the tattoo pin up girl on the front and try to decide if this is one of those bottles of liquor that have been handed around and regifted because it’s just plain nasty. I love rum, but Sailor Jerry looks to cute to be good. The story has a glossy Disney-esque spin put on it–the rum is actually named after a real guy, Norman Collins, who did tattoos for sailors in the Pacific for decades. Which is why the bottles have the classic old WWII pin up girl art on them. (Once you finish off the bottle, you’ll notice there’s one on the front of the label, and another lady on the inside of the front label.)

Sailor Jerry, inside bottleThe brand actually popped up as a clothing company that honored the art that Sailor Jerry created with his tattoos. Maybe it’s odd for clothing and rum to go hand in hand, but I suppose someone decided to give it a try. Come to think of it, a lot of rappers or ‘TV celebrities’ have their own line of anything they can stick their label on, so anything goes.

Rum has a long history, usually tied to the West Indies and sailors. Being made from sugar cane, it would be plentiful in the area, and being distilled, it would travel well at sea for great lengths of time. But early rum, like early humanoids, was pretty rough, and sailors often added spices like cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg in it to make it taste less like pickled Neanderthals.

Like any other type of alcohol, there is a wide range of qualities, styles, flavors, and variations of rums. Sailor Jerry is a nice middle-of-the-road quality and it’s spiced so it tastes of cinnamon and vanilla with maybe a hint of nutmeg. This is not a sipping rum, and you probably wouldn’t get a lot of people willing to do straight shots of it. It tends to hit your mouth with abundant flavors, like your grandmother’s purse, when you’re expecting something simpler. It’s great to mix with things though. But what to mix it with?

I have a circle of friends that don’t drink (I know, what?), so I borrowed a favorite of theirs and added Sailor Jerry. Toss 1 or 2 cups of frozen berries in a blender, top off with limeade (we swear by Simply brand), and blend until it’s a party going on in there. Pour in your desired amount of Sailor Jerry (I usually eyeball it based on the people drinking, but somewhere at 1/2 cup or so), and some fresh mint leaves. Very gently pulse the blender a few times to get the rum swirling around and the mint leaves thrashed but not minced into bits. Pour into a pitcher and top off with half again that amount of ginger ale.

There’s usually one girl that says “I can barely taste it–make it stronger next time”, and she’s usually the one in a half hour asking for some water because the room got a little swirly. Not that I’m suggesting in any way to purposefully get people drunk. But for guests who aren’t comfortable with a beer or a glass of scotch, try something fun like this. (And you can make it without rum for those guests not drinking so they don’t feel singled out.)

So now I know that Sailor Jerry is a staple on our liquor bar for impromptu gatherings and other events where beer and wine just isn’t going to cut it. It’s smoother and tastier than some of those cheap brands, and the next day you won’t feel like you went overboard and were given the kiss of life by the ship’s parrot. At least the rum won’t make you feel like that. I surely don’t know what else you get up to in your spare time at parties.

Sailor Jerry
$15-18, 750 mL


Maduro Oatmeal Brown Ale, Cigar City Brewing

Maduro Oatmeal Brown Ale

Back in college I ran a cigar shop. This was the height of the cigar madness of the late ’90s and I think the most expensive cigar I sold went for $35 a piece. Not per box, but per cigar. How do you sell expensive cigars like that? You’re a female and you lounge around the shop smoking a double corona maduro (yes, that’s the big black kind of cigars).

So when The Man gave me a pint of beer to try and told me it was Cigar City Maduro, I had to resist the urge to undo a few buttons, fondle the pint glass, and offer to show him my humidor. There’s a vast difference between a maduro cigar and a maduro beer. I’m not so sure I could sell a $35 beer, even in my best push-up bra. But this is yummy beer.

Tampa and Ybor City is quite famous for cigar making back in the day. The whole area is still steeped in the musky scent of aged tobacco and Cuban ex-pats. What else would you want after a long day of rolling cigars in a non-air-conditioned warehouse? A tasty beer. Which would be why there have been breweries in Tampa just as long as the cigar warehouses.

Cigar City Brewing started up in the heart of the tobacco capital of Florida with the intention of making the best beer in the country from the best ingredients, etc., etc. I think it’s a copy-and-paste job that most microbreweries insert into their ‘About Us’ page on their website. Don’t let that hold you back. CCB makes a collection of tasty beers.

At The Top, The Man likes to get a pint of CCB’s Maduro Oatmeal Brown Ale because it’s usually on tap, and it’s generally friendly to whatever we might have for dinner. As per its name, this oatmeal ale has a good quantity of oats in with the barley. ‘Maduro’ is translated to ‘mature’, which in cigars means the tobacco is aged long, mellowing the flavor and leaving it sweeter.

This dark, molasses-colored beer has lovely notes of cocoa, malt, hops, and roasted coffee. There are hints of smoke and nuttiness, and even moments of vanilla in the background. But even though there is a rich collection of flavors in a single pint glass, it’s never crowded or overbearing. It’s actually quite amicable and ready to make friends with many kinds of food.

It’s fairly easy to find Cigar City beers here in G’ville but they’re usually bottled. Jai Alai IPA and this Maduro are the two most popular. I really want to try the Espresso Brown Ale next. There are some places that have CCB beers on tap, such as The Top (and the Maduro goes great with the Tempeh Rueben with the tempeh substituted with seitan). The Maduro is totally different than my usual cider (shown above), one being fresh and crisp while the other is mellow and friendly.

Having a CCB Maduro isn’t quite as fun as leaning against my cigar counter, blowing smoke rings from a huge maduro cigar, making customers quiver uncertainly. But it’s just as tasty on a warm dusk night.

Cigar City Brewing
3924 W Spruce Street, Suite A
Tampa, Florida 33607

Tasting room:
813.348.6363, ext. 206
Sunday to Thursday | 11:00am-9:00pm
Friday & Saturday | 11:00am-12:00am


Donnybrook & The Beer Monogamy Myth

Victory, Donnybrook Stout

Before I bring down the wrath of thousands of Guinness lovers upon my head for what I’m about to say, I will preface this with the emphasis that there’s nothing like a Guinness beer. But…. No, wait! Just listen for a minute while you sip your beer.

If you’ve not had a lot of Guinness, and not developed a deep, abiding love for the beer, then this whole post might be lost on you. Guinness appears dark and brooding, as beer goes. It has a head on it that looks like you have to chop a hole in it with an ice fishing saw. Yet it is creamy. Almost milky. And underneath that is the bright, soulful, yeasty, hoppy stout beer. There are a good many people that are devout Guinness drinkers.

The Man is a diehard Guinness lover, through and through. The glassware in our home is a seemingly endless supply of Guinness pint glasses. (Not my ideal stylish home entertaining statement to make. Dorothy Draper would have to go lie down if she saw this.) He will give any sketchy, sh!thole bar a chance if they claim to offer Guinness on draft.

So you can imagine the evening we were at our home-away-from-home bar for a relaxing drink on the patio, and we were casually told of plans to switch the place over to carrying only American craft beers. It took a moment for The Man to realize this meant Guinness was included in that sweeping gesture, as it’s from Ireland. There was a brief twitch of his bottom lip and a wild look of panic in his eye as he imagined having to go elsewhere for his favorite draft beer.

But lo, the angels played their harps and flower petals fell from the sky. Hope was offered in the form of a new beer that was similar to Guinness yet made in the U S of A. Victory Brewing Co. is gaining support for its Donnybrook Stout as a beer similar to, or even better than (gasp!), Guinness. The Man clung to this mad hope like Bob Barker clung to his career as host of The Price is Right.

It took some doing, a few false starts, but eventually the Donnybrook arrived on site and was ready to pour. It wasn’t quite as tarry brown as Guinness but it had a lovely creamy head on it. The Man had a ceremonious sniff, then a sip. He made me sip it, and then nearby friends had to try it. There was shrugging of shoulders and shaking of heads. More tasting. More grunting among the men at the bar. Then with very little fanfare and a remarkable lack of earth shattering chaos, Donnybrook was declared a perfectly good swap for Guinness. I was expecting a hoard of irate Irishmen frothing at the mouth and brandishing shillelaghs to appear through a crack in the floorboards.

It was actually a few weeks later that the true impact of this arrival was revealed. After quite a few delicious Donnybrooks, a Guinness connoisseur can have a Guinness and realize what the Donnybrook is missing. Guinness has always had this lactic mouth feel and a tangy aftertaste as an entertaining contrast. So does the Donnybrook. But the Donny lacks Guiness’ burnt caramel undertones that actually muddle the flavors quite a bit. So with the Donny you can taste the hops, yeast, roasted barley, and the full clean cresting flavor curve better.

That’s not to knock Guinness. It’s still a tasty beer that is much lighter and flavorful than the dark color would suggest. In fact, there’s the rumor of the bloke that tried the Guinness diet–only Guinness beer, a little milk for calcium, and a vitamin C supplement for a week, and you’ll be fine. As far as we’re concerned, it remains a rumor since the guy’s blog has disappeared (aliens?!). But that won’t stop college guys across the country from trying their own Guinness diets, I’m sure.

If you like Guinness and want to send us all kinds of hate mail for suggesting Donnybrook is at least as good as your favorite, I invite you to have a Donny first. We don’t believe in this one-or-the-other TV show contest thinking. We’ll have a Donny and a Guinness at the same time if it is an option. There’s no such thing as beer-monogamy. I checked.

Have a Guinness to calm your nerves if you have to, and then try a Donnybrook Stout. If you still need to rail at us for having an opinion, sit on your shillelagh.

Victory Brewing Co.
Donnybrook Stout
420 Acorn Lane
Downingtown, PA 19335
[Brewery & Restaurant!]

• On tap at Loosey’s
Downtown Gainesville


Guinness Stout
[Dublin location offers museum and bar!]

• Found on tap at a variety of local establishments such as The Top, Durty Nelly’s, and Gator City.


Dogfish Head, Namaste

Dogfish Head, NamasteI’m not a girly-girl but I’ve never much cared for beer. I am German. I come from a long line of German drinkers. My last name is synonymous with beer. Every time I say I don’t like beer, I can feel generations of ancestors turning in their graves.

When The Man and I first started dating, he told me he was going to teach me how to love beer and spicy food. Not doing so good with spicy food, but he’s making headway with the beer. I am starting to appreciate beer the same way I appreciate wine and cigars. Unfortunately, he likes the super-hoppy IPAs which make my face want to turn inside out.

I don’t know what I like yet. I haven’t found it. But I’m searching. I used to shoe shop and go a little crazy when I found a pair of Steve Maddens in my size on clearance. Now I impulse-buy beer. What? Yes, I had my first pointless beer splurge the other day. It’s hard not to when you’re standing at the Great Beer Wall in Ward’s. “I would look GREAT holding that bottle!”

Not quite that silly, but since I don’t know what I like, I am willing to take a few wild shots in the dark. Hence the bottle of Dogfish Head Namaste Ale that chilled in the fridge for three days, staring at me, while I decided if I was going to try it. It’s ale, brewed with orange, lemongrass, and coriander. Unusual.

The Man decided on scotch one night, but I wasn’t up for that, so I opened the Namaste. It was a pretty little drink, reminding me more of a good cider than a beer. The bouquet of flavors are balanced and work in harmony. The orange and lemongrass add fresh notes, while the coriander mellows it with a soft earthy tone. It creates a variety of delicate, false flavors that flirt with the tongue without revealing themselves. Hints of lavender, caramel, cardamom, and pear surface barely long enough to wink playfully before disappearing.

“Namaste” is one of those multi-use terms, like ‘aloha’ or ‘dude’. The simple meaning is “the spark of god in me honors the spark of god in you.” Or some such hippie variations. With that same spirit, I am approaching beer. Starting slow with a mild, frilly beer like this Dogfish Head variation. Namaste.

Dogfish Head
750 mL bottle | $7-9

320 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971

#6 Cannery Village Center
Milton, DE 19968


Southern Tier, Farmer’s Tan

Southern Tier Farmer's TanSouthern Tier is a classic made-for-TV story of small business success. At the turn of the millennium, there seemed to be a hundred new microbreweries popping up every day. And like garage bands in suburbia, many were just something for guys to say they did in order to get pretty girls to talk to them. A few–rare few–made it to the big time, and Southern Tier was one of those.

We were in Upstate New York visiting family last summer, and the thing you may have noticed about people from Upstate New York is that they are fiercely proud of where they’re from. (And the accents.) (Oh, and the attitudes.) So of course we were constantly being offered wine, beer and food made locally. Including Southern Tier beer. Most drinkable and accessible were Phin & Matt’s, IPA, and Harvest; but they have a significant roster of every-day and seasonal options.

Fast forward to this summer, back in Florida of course, and it’s 98 degrees at 11:00 PM, with humidity at approximately 300%. We wander down to our favorite pub to take refuge in the air conditioning. The Man is delirious from the heat and forgoes his usual Guinness in favor of a Southern Tier beer. Perhaps dreaming of the cooler New York weather. Farmer’s Tan. On draft. Yum.

Farmer’s Tan is a summer seasonal pale lager, classically light colored, with the distinct malty and grassy flavors of barley and wheat. The mouth feel is somewhat thick, but very cool and crisp overall. It finishes with clean, bitter hops. This summer/German style lager is sweet but balanced nicely with undertones of hops and a non-sweet finish. Hmmm, so if you used to drink Heineken before you became a beer geek, then you’ll indubitably like Farmer’s Tan.

Although pale lager is hands-down the most popular style of beer world-wide, it’s often sneered at by beer aficionados. Mostly because many of the epic, lowest-rated beers are pale lager. It’s about statistics really, but we’ll leave that to the math nerds to explain. Pale lager was invented fairly recently by a German who took the concepts of pale ale brewing (warm fermentation of pale malts) back to Germany and grafted them into the traditional lager style of brewing (cool fermentation).

Lagers and ales traditionally tend to be low ABV, usually 4.5% to 5.5%, but with these new fangled microbreweries pushing their creative limits with flavors, they’re also increasing sugar content, which increases alcohol content. Although Farmer’s Tan is at 8.6% ABV, you can find some specialty brews up to the 9.9% or higher mark. If you’ve ever had to drink alcohol while sweating out in the hot sun, you’ll know why a lower ABV on a mild beer is so attractive.

I’m not going to bore you with a lot of details about beer, bottom-fermenting yeast, ale, hops, nanobreweries, continuous fermentation, malt liquor, ale wives, or saccharomyces pastorianus. Books, huge volumes of books, have been written about making beer, the history of beer, our love of beer, and why beer makes the world a better place. In this heat of August in Florida, I just want a cold drink on a muggy summer night, and a good seat on the patio to people watch. I urge you to do the same.

If you happen to wander downtown Gainesville and swing past Loosey’s, we’ll probably be out on the patio with a cold drink. I suggest you stop in and try a Southern Tier beer. Or peruse their selection of domestic microbrews for something else that tickles your fancy.

Southern Tier
Farmer’s Tan [summer seasonal]
Draft at Loosey’s


Glenrothes Whiskey

Glenrothes Whiskey

First of all, this is not a lesson on what the Vs and Ss and assorted letters on a bottle of whiskey mean. Nor am I going to debate the distillation process, spelling, or origins of ‘proper’ whiskey. We are only talking about one thing here. Glenrothes Scotch. Scotch being the kind of whiskey made in Scotland. Almost everything else about Scotch can and is heavily argued over passionately drawn lines.

Our liquor cabinet is home to a varied assortment of excellent bottles of fine alcohol and wine, moderate every-day options, and the scurf of questionable stuff re-gifted during the holidays or left over after a party. You can usually measure our enjoyment of it by how much dust has settled on the bottle. There’s usually a respectable bottle of scotch nestled in with the Bombay Sapphire Gin and whatever vodka I am drinking at the moment.

The Man has been a big fan of Glenfiddich for a while, but from time to time, he splashes out on something else. We have a Glenlivet bottle and a Clynelish bottle now edging out the port bottle’s space. The obviously absent bottle is the Glenrothes. It was quickly shared with friends and finished off.

We came across the Glenrothes Select Reserve at Dorn’s–a short, stubby bottle in a sea of glamorously tall scotch bottles–and at a price just shy of $60, The Man decided life was too short to be boring. On the way home, we stopped and shared a first glass with a friend on his back patio. Enduring the early summer humidity and meditating on life as a grown-up while you wait for your ice to melt is not at all a terrible way to spend an afternoon.

The Select Reserve is a non-vintage-specific “house” bottle created by their in-house Malt Master. It is a surprisingly young- and bright-tasting blend, with citrus and vanilla high notes and a lingering orange liqueur fragrance that oddly reminds me of Halloween. Unlike our usual Glenfiddich, the Glenrothes has very little of the smoky peat flavor that is a signature of many traditional scotch makers. But it lacks that rough edge that sub-par scotch often has. It is smooth and caramel-creamy, with a buttery mouth feel that slides into a breathy finish.

Not only does Glenrothes reuse American and Spanish oak casks (sherry and/or bourbon) as is tradition, they have a cooperage on site where they rebuild, check, and mix planks from casks so the interaction between the wood and whiskey create unique flavors and characters. On their website, they have a collection of videos that elaborate on the scotch making process and Glenrothes’ style of processing, which I recommend if you have any spare time. These are scotch geeks, if there is such a thing.

Glenrothes produces a variety of vintages (their Malt Master has since retired, so there’s no telling what will happen long-term to the brand), and they seem to stick to their recognizable stubby round bottle. We returned to Dorn’s to scout out another bottle of the Select Reserve without any luck. They did have a bottle of what was possibly the ‘John Ramsay’ vintage behind the counter for $500, but that was a little too pricey for us. Maybe after we win the lottery.

The Glenrothes
Select Reserve
750 mL bottle, $45-65


Spotted Cow Ale

Spotted Cow AleFriends of friends are from Wisconsin, and whenever they visit home, they make every effort to bring back as much of this beer as possible because the New Glarus Brewing Co. does not export outside of the state. That shows dedication. Dedication in these friends that love the beer, and dedication in the brewing company for not selling out and going commercial.

We were just gifted with two bottles of this Spotted Cow Ale from the latest long-distance beer run, and on our first weekend off, with the game on TV, The Man popped open the first one. Spotted Cow is unfiltered and often has sediment at the bottom after making its long way to Florida. This is brewers yeast, and the brewers recommend rolling it gently to mix in the sediment. It’s rich in vitamins and flavors. Healthy beer? Why not?

Chilled, this is a surprisingly light yet yeasty farmhouse-style beer, with bright citrus notes and a sweet finish. It’s clear and bright amber but slightly cloudy. The mouth feel is incredible, almost syrupy and a little crystalline like raw honey. And there are these hints of floral back notes that evolve as you get deeper into the glass.

New Glarus touts its use of indigenous ingredients, so they exclusively use locally grown barley and wheat malt. And this particular brew incorporates some local corn, since that’s one thing Wisconsin has a lot of. Of note, this is also cask conditioned ale, also known as ‘real ale’ by aficionados.

The Man loves hoppy beer like traditional Belgian brews (some of these take my breath away), but he was appropriately amused by this unusual ale. Being mild and citrusy, and only about 4.8% abv, this would be an excellent summer barbecue and pool party beer (if you could get your hands on a quantity).

So this is another reason to like Wisconsin–besides all of the cheese, of course. New Glarus doesn’t have to export their product and are shameless about not wanting to. They may keep their mom-and-pop, old fashioned, small brewery attitude towards ingredients and processes, but they’re modern about technology. Find them on their website, or on Facebook and other social networking sites. And if you’re lucky enough to visit the brewery, take some pictures for us, and bring back some beer!

New Glarus Brewing Company
2400 State Hwy 69
New Glarus, WI 53574
(608) 527-5850


Cidre Bouché

Cidre Bouche Brut de Normandie

Cidre BoucheThe most annoying thing about randomly buying a bottle of something-or-other to try is that sometimes you kick yourself for not picking up more than one bottle. We found this at Dorn’s while mooching around for something besides the three bottles of wine we came for. I’m not a beer drinker but am more than willing to explore cider. The French label made me hesitate (nothing to do with that fact that I barely passed my required French classes in high school). I thought we might be overpaying for a sub-par bottle of something the French wouldn’t make their nervous little dogs drink.

This cider was lovely though. Very light and sparkling. Very good mouth feel. Balanced flavor curve from beginning to end. Very fruity without even the slightest hint of insincerity. Absolutely no doubt that the flavors of the cider were the elements of its origin, from the dry soil and clovered orchards, to the tight and tart apples, to the oak aging barrels. This cider tasted of the story of its creation.

For a 750mL bottle of cider in the $10 price range, we were glad we took the risk of random selection. If the price jumped to $18 or $20, it would still be worth it.

Recommended as a solitary drink, or with cheese and other light snacks so you can thoroughly enjoy the delicate flavor palette.