An apple a day on the cider trail

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away and while I’m sure this only applies to the fresh fruit I will salute the adage with a toast of crisp apple cider. Summer is quickly fading and fall will soon be upon us and one of the few things that lifts my spirits when thinking of saying good-bye to the warm weather is the thought of all those fresh picked apples and the tasty creations they become.

One of the best places to enjoy the more mature of the many apple based beverages is in a region known more for its wine and cheeses than anything else. The Pays d’Auge area of Normandy, France is home to the “Route du Cidre” or Cider Road and a great epicurean extension from Paris. Only a few hours’ drive from Paris the region boasts fertile farmland and delicious cuisine using seafood, duck, and the famous Camembert cheese. For a leisurely fall getaway rent a car or hire a driver and follow the clearly marked route through the countryside.
CalvadosDriving from Paris you will enjoy small villages and traditional houses as you peruse this hilly region.  Make base at the heart of the Pays d’Auge in the village of Cambremer where you can enjoy historical buildings, a traditional market, and life in a French town. From here you can enjoy the Cider Route as one circuit or take several days to visit villages on the route and short detours to orchards not officially on the marked path. Following the signposts you will find several farms or distilleries advertising cider and calvados, a strong apple brandy.  Most distilleries are open Monday through Saturday, 10AM to late afternoon and offer tours of the orchards and/or production facilities. Many of these tours are led by members of the families that have been working the land and producing the cider for hundreds of years. You will discover how cider goes from tree branch to bottle and, of course, partake in a few tastings along the way.

Photo: Narisa Spaulding

Photo: Narisa Spaulding

 

This region has been granted appellation controlee status from the government for its ciders and calvados, meaning it has been certified as the specific region the product will be manufactured in and producers must hold to a set of defined standards. What is means for the consumer is consistently high quality and a wonderful drink to toast the beginning of fall.

 

Share This:

Behind the label: Noble Brewer

Previously reserved for the serious beer nerd, there is now an association, magazine, clubs, and more that revolve around the growing trend of homebrewing.

I was never much of a beer drinker (as noted when we toured Du Nord Distillery), but recently I have been finding brews that have such unique and nuanced flavors that there is no denying when done well it is an enjoyable art form.

A few weeks ago, I came across a company called Noble Brewer that was described as an etsy for homebrewers and beer lovers. I don’t know that I would describe it that way, but maybe as it grows. Even in the beginning stages this company is well worth a try and the founder, Claude Burns, was gracious enough to chat with me about beer and Noble Brewer.

Inaugural shipment

The idea for Noble Brewer started perculating after Claude noticed the Sam Adams Longshot Competition, which has been running since 1996 and pits east coast homebrewers aginst west coast homebrewers. Inspired by what was coming from the competition, Claude wondered why they couldn’t bring homebrews to the masses year round? Well, there were a lot of regulations to work around, but they were finally able to come up with a plan for giving “homebrewers an easy way to share their beer with craft beer lovers and provide an amazing experience for craft beer lovers.” And Noble Brewer was born!

As the numbers from the Sam Adams competition show, there are A LOT of homebrewers. So how do you find the right ones? So far, the brewers have found Claude and his team, but they have had so many responses that they have had to start a screening process. According to Claude, the ultimate goal is to build a community where members actually choose which homebrewers beers get brought to life. This would mean members will be involved from start to finish, almost like you work at a brewery! Members will choose the beers, see it go through production, get to enjoy the end product, and then give feedback to the homebrewers.

Currently, the beers are chosen by the team at Noble Brewer and then a local brewery, Independent Brewing Company in Oakland’s Jack London Square, works to bring the small batch recipes to large scale production. The brewery works with homebrewers to make sure the essence of the original beer is maintained and then bottles the new brew to be mailed out to Noble Brewer members. You won’t find these brews anywhere except in Noble Brewer member boxes!

heart on bottles

Can’t wait to get my shipment open!

inaug ship

cracked open

The Farmhouse Ale – my favorite of the two!

The inaugural shipment included two beers – Dudeling California Farmhouse Ale and Yerba Buena Cascadian Dark Ale. Claude said the office was split between these two completely different beers and I can see why. I would have voted for both, but my favorite was definitely the California Farmhous Ale. A nice refreshing, light beer for a summer day, but with delicate flavors. As Claude noted, this one is “a pretty unique beer.” Made with organic grains, organic hops, and local organic honey, you get the slight sweetness and earthiness. I am looking forward to our next shipment to see what new flavors, producers, and places we will be enjoying.

When I asked Claude why he is passionate about craft small batch brews he said he loves the history of beer and how craft allows people to recreate old styles and create new ones that are so unique and specific to a location and person. This is something you do not get with the large beer brands, but I am definitely learning to enjoy that history and taste of place. The Noble Brewer team’s goal is to “create an experience for members by connecting them to the homebrewers and their beers” and ultimately bring people together over a great beer. Well guys, I think you’ve done that and I hope you will be doing it for years to come!

Don’t forget Father’s Day is June 21st . . . this would make a great gift for any beer loving dad!!!

Share This:

Du Nord Craft Spirits: Behind the scenes

I have certainly had my fair share of beer and wine, but at heart I will always be a spirits girl. There is something about the vast array of scents, flavors, and mouth feel that excites and hypnotizes me. Which is why I am so excited to see a craft spirits movement blooming in Minnesota. People who are passionate about what they are doing draw me in like a magnet and if they have a bottle of vodka to sip while we talk all the better.

It was one of these magnetic stories that drew me in this past weekend. My husband and I found ourselves without a toddler in tow so I decided it was time for an actual adult excursion. With a little searching I came across the Du Nord Craft Spirits Distillery tour and Cocktail Room. The story behind how people came to do what they do and the history of a product have always fascinated me. This tour did not disappoint.menu

We arrived a little before our 3:00pm tour time at a rather non-descript building in an underdeveloped area of Minneapolis. Located just off of Hiawatha and the light rail line I had been past this block hundreds of times and had no idea this was here. Of course, in my defense the cocktail room only opened in January 2015 after Minnesota law changed to allow distilleries to offer more to drink on-site than just tastings. So we partook of the rewards of the law change with a couple of pre-tour cocktails. Both the Bee’s Knees and Du Nord Salty Dog were phenomenal – beautiful color and fantastic balance of flavor.

drinks

With our cocktails in hand we joined a small group of fellow spirits lovers for a behind the scenes look at this small operation. Started by a husband and wife team they are keeping it completely Minnesotan. The name Du Nord comes from the state motto, L’Etoile du Nord (The Star of the North). They are a grain to glass operation – all of the grain comes from Minnesota growers (directly from the farmer when possible), is distilled in house, and bottled for sale at local liquor stores. As our guide Ed told us, you will never see a Du Nord Rum because Minnesota cannot grow sugar cane.

Really keeping it Minnesotan they call the big copper one in the back Zelda - F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife :)

Really keeping it Minnesotan they call the big copper one in the back Zelda – F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife 🙂

So they have started with Gin and Vodka and are working on adding Whiskey and Bourbon (takes 2-3 years). The process of how science and art come together to create these elixirs was fascinating. I guarantee after learning about where and how they make the cuts, how good distilleries don’t strip away the flavor, and what goes into creating a unique formula you will have a whole new appreciation for quality spirits and the amazing things being done locally.

Aged barrels ready for their Whiskey and Bourbon . . .

Aged barrels ready for their Whiskey and Bourbon . . .

I am very excited to keep on eye on what Du Nord is up to since they are coming out with a few new formulas, including a new world flavor Gin (will have no juniper) that people will be able to vote on to pick which gets bottled and distributed, that whiskey and bourbon that will be sitting in the aged barrels, and as part of the Minnesota Distillers Guild working with the MN legislature to pass a bill that would allow on-site bottle sales similar to what you can currently do at wineries.

Until then, I will just have to head out to my favorite liquor store and pick up a bottle of L’Etoile Vodka and Fitzgerald Gin (named after famous Minnesotan F. Scott Fitzgerald). Or I can organize a group of friends for a bottling party where I get an even closer look behind the scenes when we get to help bottle the spirits and we walk away with a parting gift of our own. And of course there is always the Cocktail Room with great atmosphere, big windows to look in on the distillery, and even a food truck on-site for some Italian nibbles – happy hour here we come!

Share This: