Sierra Nevada Barrel-Aged Beer A Special Treat

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot aged in bourbon barrels. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Sometimes the bottle is so fun you don’t want to open it. Sometimes it’s too big for one person. Eventually, though, it’s time to open that big boy to see what all the hoopla is about.

Such was the case with a special bottle of my sister gave me at the holidays.

A 750 ml, 15 percent ABV bottle of beer wasn’t something I wanted to experience on my own. So, I waited until a beer drinking friend was in town to open it.

What we had to share was a bottle of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot barleywine-style ale that had been aged for seven years in bourbon barrels in collaboration with Buffalo Trace.

The Chico brewery doesn’t even list this beer on its website. A Bigfoot is there. But not the one aged for seven years. I would be interested in trying it to see the difference.

A description about the beer on various websites other than Sierra Nevada says this, “Since 1983, Bigfoot Barleywine has captivated beer drinkers for its versatility—a force when fresh, and an adventure when aged. But the pinnacle of Bigfoot flavor? Hibernation in spirit barrels. And there are no distilleries more awarded than Buffalo Trace Distillery whose E.H. Taylor Jr. Collection honors the ‘Father of the Modern Bourbon Industry.’ Together we hand-selected Kentucky bourbon barrels to finish a seven-year vintage of Bigfoot Barleywine. If you’re lucky enough to hold this extremely limited bottle, may you enjoy it alongside the best of friends and family.”

PorchDrinking,com says this about the beer, “First released in 1983, Bigfoot was the second major modern American Barleywine to hit the market, after Anchor Brewing’s Old Foghorn, and it’s bold assertive Pacific Northwest hops and smooth full-bodied caramel-malt warmth have ensured that it remains an annual favorite among strong beer lovers. While there have been previous barrel-aged Bigfoot releases, including one of Sierra Nevada’s high-profile Trip To The Woods series, the Colonel E.H. Taylor is breaking ground at new levels of fancy, having been created through a refined blending process, much like a whiskey itself.”

It went down easy. While it was dark, it wasn’t heavy. It was a bit sweet, even chocolaty. It definitely had a unique, sweet taste. It was the perfect complement to hot tubbing after a day of hiking.

Would I buy it in the future? No, because there are better beers out there. But it was fun to try something unique. I don’t know how much my sister paid for this bottle, but I’m guessing it might have been one of the most expensive bottles I’ve had.

Tiny napkins a wasteful dining experience in Baja

Tiny napkins are the norm at restaurants in Baja Sur. (Images: Kathryn Reed)

Cocktail napkins should not be used as a dinner (or lunch or breakfast) napkin. They are too dang small.

That’s not the belief in Mexico, though. Well, at least throughout the Baja peninsula.

Restaurants in Baja are known for their penchant to provide napkins that can’t do the job. Well, they can, it just takes multiple napkins to get through an entire meal.

I’m not really sure how this is efficient. It seems like a waste of paper and a waste of money. It seems like an environmental nightmare.

These servilletas, which in reality are probably a hair bigger than cocktail napkins, are also usually thin. This contributes to needing more than one or two or three to get through a meal—even if you aren’t a messy eater or even eating something messy. It’s not like I’m eating barbecue or the like where more than one of any size napkin is necessary.

The worst is when the napkin is wrapped around eating utensils. Inevitably the napkin is ripped because it’s been secured by a wrapper that doesn’t want to come undone.

While many times a container of napkins is on the table, you can’t be guaranteed that is going to be the case. To me, this arsenal of additional napkins is evidence the original napkin is not enough to get through the meal. So, it’s not like restaurateurs don’t know there is an issue with the napkins.

I realize the size of a napkin is not usually something worthy of a rant. I just think if these restaurants in Baja would be helping the environment and customers if they would provide guests with a better, bigger napkin.

All of this makes me wonder what Mexicans do in their homes. What size napkins are they using? How many do they use in one meal?

Book signing, free beer tasting in Todos Santos

Life is about pairings. What could be better than books and beer?

I will be signing copies of my latest book Sleeping with Strangers: An Airbnb Host’s Life in Lake Tahoe and Mexico on Dec. 9 from 4-6pm at El Tecolote Bookstore in Todos Santos.

Sleeping With Strangers BookEach sells for $20 or 400 pesos.

In the courtyard where I’ll be signing there will be free Moschcat Beer tastings. Moschcat is a Baja artisanal brewery. Taste the new Ultra Lager and Vienna Lager.

Militar Galleria next door to El Tecolote will be having an artist’s reception the same day from 4-8pm for Terryl Tagg. Her work will be paired with wine.

El Tecolote is on H. Colegio Militar, very close to the corner of Alvaro Obregon. It’s next to El Refugio restaurant.

If you miss the book signing, El Tecolote will keep stocking the book, or it may be ordered at your favorite bookstore outside of Todos Santos, or online. And Moschcat, it will soon be available on shelves in local stores, restaurants and bars throughout Baja Sur. Track the venues online.

Bounty of Butte County ag tantalizes taste buds

Olive trees at Calolea Olive Oil tasting room in Bangor. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

With agriculture being a multi-million dollar industry in Butte County, it’s no surprise those involved in it want to celebrate what they bring to the table.

That is exactly what the Sierra Oro Farm Trail is all about. For $40 (the cost this year) people were able to visit an array of ag related businesses, taste their goods, learn about what they do and get deals on purchases.

The monthlong harvest celebration in October included wineries, olive oil, meat, cheese, jams, lavender, rice and more.

An array of wine and hard liquor to taste at Hickman Family Vineyards. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

According to the 2021 Butte County Crop & Livestock Report, the estimated gross value of agricultural production was $609,955,303, which was $15,429,406 less than 2020. The 10-year average for Butte County is $713,185,710.

This was my first year to experience any aspect of Oro Trails. My friend, Kristin, invited me along for a day of wine and olive oil tasting. While I have gone to a handful of wineries in the area, it was my first time to visit all of the places we went to on this particular Sunday.

The view from Hickman Family Vineyards in Butte County. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

We headed to the Bangor Wine Region, a place I had not heard of—though that is not saying much. We skirted around Oroville, where we came across acreage that made me feel a bit like being in the El Dorado County wine region; probably because Bangor is in the foothills and a former Gold Rush town. The familiarity I felt also had to do with the unpretentious nature of the wineries themselves. The hospitality and openness of the owners and workers clearly let you know you were not in Napa or Sonoma counties. The emphasis was on the product, not on sales.

First stop was Hickman Family Vineyards where more than just wine is poured. Spirits from Cobble Ridge Artisan Distillery are also part of the offerings. These are made down the road by family members.

Inside the Hickman tasting room. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This winery has been open since 2011, while the distillery opened its doors five years later.

I left with some bubbly and grappa moonshine.

Next up was Spencer-Shirey Wines. A few campers pulled in while we were tasting because owners Mary Spencer and Kimball Shirey allow a few trailers to spend the night—for a fee, of course. What a tranquil place to call home while on the road.

Then to be steps from great tasting wines—especially the reds, well, I was a bit jealous we had to keep driving.

An array of delicious choices at Calolea Olive Oil. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Drive we did, though, to great olive oil. Those trees—they seemed much larger than what I’ve seen before. Monica and Michael Keller at Calolea Olive Oil have Mission, Manzanillo and Tuscan olive trees.

With so many flavors to taste, it was hard to pick a favorite. Nonetheless, I was able to narrow it down to buy a few gift bottles.

The entire experience makes me want to explore more of what Butte County has to offer during Oro Trail days in 2023.

Refusing to consume wild mushrooms growing out back

A group of Chlorophyllum molybdites grow in a back yard in Chico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

You know it’s not a keeper when the nickname is vomiter.

I love mushrooms, but these ones ended up in the green waste bin.

The iSeek app says this about the larger cluster of fungi that was out back: “Chlorophyllum molybdites, which has the common names of false parasol, green-spored parasol and vomiter, is a widespread mushroom. Highly poisonous and producing severe gastrointestinal symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea, it is commonly confused with the shaggy parasol or shaggy mane, and is the most commonly consumed poisonous mushroom in North America.”

After reading this, mom used disposable gloves to rid the yard of these fungi so she wouldn’t have any poisonous residue on her hands or regular gardening gloves (Mom’s the gardener—by choice. That’s why the yards look so nice.)

These fungi were pretty in some ways; this mostly had to do with them growing in a cluster. Pictures don’t do them justice because in some ways they looked like the top of a regular button mushroom—only much larger. Many were wide, as though the top were a parasol.

 

Some people say chlorophyllum brunneum mushrooms are edible. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Growing nearby these vomit-inducing shrooms were a cluster of shaggy parasols (chlorophyllum brunneum), according to iSeek. They looked more like stunted lollipops and were brown in color.

Looking at these two types of mushrooms it would be hard to believe anyone would think they were the same. That’s why I wonder if the app got one of them wrong since the info on the first one said it can be confused with the second. The two varieties growing in our back yard looked nothing alike.

According to OutThereOutdoors website, “Shaggy parasols are similar in flavor to portabellas but are more concentrated, with a nutty mineral character, making them perfect for classic mushroom dishes from pizza to pasta to stroganoff.”

Even so, I’m not about to eat them.

I would want better confirmation than an app on my phone before cooking with a foreign fungi randomly popping up in my yard.

Now, that has not always been the case. I know what a morel looks like. A few sprouted in my yard in Tahoe, and those were very tasty.

B.R. Cohn Winery full of musical history

 

B.R. Cohn Winery in Sonoma County has beautiful grounds and good wine. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A large guitar outside of a winery is a good indications the roots to the place have something to do with music.

B.R. Cohn Winery in Glen Ellen was founded by Bruce Cohn in 1984. Before he made a name for himself in the wine and olive oil industries, Cohn was a force in the world of rock ‘n roll.

He started managing the Doobie Brothers when the band formed in 1970 in San Jose. He was 22. Part of his duties early on also included being the sound mixer on tour. He later managed Night Ranger.

Cohn bought the Sonoma County land as a refuge from all the travel. He sold the grapes to other wineries to start with. Then in 1984 he created his own winery—thus began the legacy of B.R. Cohn Winery.

Six years later he started turning the 8 acres of French Picholine olive trees into award winning olive oil. Olive Hill Estate has more than 450 of these trees.

Cohn took the winery from 500 cases to nearly 85,000.

The grounds at B.R. Cohn are sprawling, with various areas available to rent for weddings or other gatherings. With a backdrop of vineyards, the Sonoma Harvest Music Festival is an annual event with a capacity of 4,000.

A guitar stands in tribute to the founder of B.R. Cohn Winery. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While Cohn created an empire of sorts, he also accrued $25 million in debt, according to the Press Democrat newspaper.  The weight of it led Cohn to sell his namesake winery in 2015 to Vintage Wine Estates. This was the bank’s idea. The newspaper said, “Bank of the West finally stepped in and engineered a sale of the winery to Vintage Wine Estates of Santa Rosa.”

The wine conglomerate also owns Clos Pegase, Cosentino Winery, Girard Winery, Kunde Winery, Laetitia Vineyard & Winery, Owen Rose, Sonoma Coast Vineyards, Swanson Vineyards, and Viansa Sonoma.

In the deal Cohn held onto 21 acres in the Sonoma Valley and made a go of it with Trestle Glen Vineyards. He eventually sold it in 2020.

Those who work in the tasting room at B.R. Cohn say the founder still drops by on occasion. They’ll even play the Doobie Brothers on the soundtrack for those who request it.

 

Free wine tasting, cave tour a rare find in Sonoma County

Most wineries in Sonoma and Napa counties require reservations for a tasting and then charge at least $20 for what is often less than a glass of wine when all is said and done. And no longer are you guaranteed the fee will be applied to the purchase of a bottle.

So to come across a winery that offers a free tasting as well as a free cave tour is a rarity. Welcome to Alexander Valley Vineyards.

It had been a number of years since I was in the valley, let alone this winery. I’m not sure there is such thing as an ugly vineyard, but there are certainly some locations that are more stunning than others. This is one of them.

This valley is home to 42 wineries, with 15,000 acres of vineyards.

Alexander Valley Vineyards offers free tours of its wine cave. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The Sonoma County tourism website says, “Alexander Valley AVA outlines the path of the Russian River as it flows from Mendocino County southeast to Healdsburg. Over the ages, the river meandered across the valley, leaving deposits of gravel underneath the alluvial soil—ideal conditions for growing great Cabernet Sauvignon, and somewhat similar to the best vineyard soils of Bordeaux. To the west, the AVA includes mountain vineyards where the grapes enjoy million-dollar views.”

The valley is named after Cyrus Alexander. The fur trapper came to this iconic Sonoma County region in the mid-1800s. In 1962, his granddaughter sold the land to Harry and Maggie Wetzel. Their first vintage was in 1975. Today the winery is run by the third generation of Wetzels.

Of the 720 acres the Wetzel family owns, 220 are planted with wine grapes.

On a recent cave tour and tasting the guide was asked how it’s possible to offer free tastings. He smiled and said it’s because with the land being in the family so long the property taxes are so cheap. It’s one way they can give back to those who visit the area.

The original winery has been turned into the tasting room.

On a warm July day it felt good to go into the wine cave. The 25,000-square-foot area is naturally 58 to 62 degrees. While it can hold 8,000 barrels, usually 6,000 fill the space.

Construction on this cave, which is the fifth largest wine cave in the state, started in 1998. Another one is slated to break ground soon. It will connect to the current one, which will then make Alexander Valley Vineyards (AVV) home to the third largest wine cave in California.

Sin Zin is probably what AVV is best known for, but there are so many other varietals that are better. Well, their regular Zinfandel is wonderful, but so too are the Cabernet and Merlot. I also left with a red blend and Chardonnay.

What was so refreshing beyond not having to pay to taste, was the friendly vibe. There was no pressure to purchase anything. The tour in the cave was incredibly informative and interesting, with the education continuing in the tasting room one pour after another.

The tasting room is open every day from 10am to 5pm, with cave tours at noon and 2:30pm.

Baja culinary scene goes far beyond traditional Mexican food

Poke Loko near Las Tunas has scrumptious bowls. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Food. It’s one of the main reasons to visit Todos Santos.

Friends in the U.S. have a hint of jealousy in their voice as they say I must love the Mexican food in Baja California Sur. It’s as though they know what they get at home isn’t authentic. And it’s not.

Nomada in La Paz is known for using fresh, local, organic ingredients. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

So much Mexican food north of the border is full of gooey cheese as well as covered in heavy sauces. Most plates come with rice and beans. I’m not sure I have ever been served rice in Baja.

Huevos rancheros at La Esquina in Todos Santos is always a sure bet. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

And the tortillas, well, they alone could be the reason to eat Mexican food while in Baja. I’m partial to flour, though corn ones are available. Light, thin and full of flavor. Not the super chewy ones that are the norm in the U.S.

Love cheese? Then this is the sandwich for you at Bleu in Las Tunas. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

As a vegetarian I have not had a problem finding something to eat. While not all of the vegetables used at restaurants are grown locally, many are. This just adds to the freshness and flavor. It doesn’t matter the meal of the day; I haven’t gone hungry when I’m in this magical town north of Cabo San Lucas on the Pacific side of the peninsula.

Oysters are the main seller at Oystera in downtown Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

For the three winters I lived in Todos Santos La Esquina was my go-to breakfast place after tennis. Nothing changed when I was back for a visit in June. Huevos rancheros is one of my favorite entrees there. The tomato sauce on top is super tasty. The breakfast burrito is so large I regretted not making it two meals. It was just so good that I could not stop eating.

The menu at Santos Pecados is full of Mexican cuisine. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

But it’s not just the Mexican food I love in Baja Sur, it’s the variety of cuisine that is so wonderfully delectable. After all, people living there don’t want to eat the same thing day after day so variety in restaurant food is as important in Baja as it is anywhere.

Tre Galline in Todos Santos has pasta dishes so good there won’t be leftovers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

One of the three new places in Todos Santos that I dined at included Oystera. It’s one of the more expensive places too—and looks it. They seem to be catering to the Cabo crowd. I was there twice—both times with people who live Cabo, so the marketing seems to be working. Three items on the menu are for those not into eating anything pulled from the water.

Enchiladas are a top seller at Alma y Manny in downtown Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

One of my favorite meals was at Poke Loko in the Las Tunas area of Todos Santos. All of the bowls can come without fish. The only disappointment was tofu was not an option as a protein substitute. The service, presentation, and flavor were all outstanding.

Built at the site of an old sugar cane mill, Oystera in Todos Santos had its one-year anniversary in June. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While Bleu is now closed for the summer, I made it in for lunch last month. The Monet sandwich was rich and decadent. A soft baguette was full of brie, manchego and Swiss cheeses with grilled spinach, roasted red pepper and zucchini.

The empanada at Bonjour Madame in Las Tunes is choke full of spinach. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It was a wonderful treat to eat out so much, dine on delectable foods, to share the meals with so many different friends—and not to be broke when the bill came.

Provecho!

Poor chili harvest in Mexico leads to Sriracha shortage

Drought made the spring harvest of chili peppers in northern Mexico dismal at best. This in turn has led to a shortage of Sriracha throughout the United States and everywhere it is exported.

Many people think Sriracha is imported into the United States, but it’s actually a Southern California company that makes the spicy sauce. David Tran started Huy Fong Foods in Irwindale in 1980. Chinese by birth, Tran immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam.

A few bottles of Sriracha sit on the shelf at El Sol Dos market in Todos Santos on June 23. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

“Sriracha is actually made from a very special type of pepper that only grows in the southern U.S. and northern Mexico,” Murray Tortarolo with National Autonomous University of Mexico, told NPR.

The company has not disclosed exactly where in Mexico it is sourcing the chilies, but said it is hoping the fall harvest will be more successful.

“We have several sources sometimes and we don’t want them to know who each other are,” Donna Lam, executive operations officer for the company, told the Los Angeles Times.

Huy Fong Foods uses about 100 million pounds of chilies a year.

Prior to a 2017 lawsuit with Underwood Farms all of Huy Fong Foods’ chilies came from the Ventura County outfit. Since then chilies have come from Mexico, New Mexico and California. Today, Mexico is the sole provider.

This spring the company sent an email to customers stating, “Currently, due to weather conditions affecting the quality of chili peppers, we now face a more severe shortage of chili. Unfortunately, this is out of our control and without this essential ingredient, we are unable to produce any of our products.”

The bottle with the rooster and distinct green cap is a favorite in cuisine of all kinds. Sriracha is super popular in Vietnamese food. Often a bottle of it is on the table at Vietnamese restaurants much like ketchup is at a burger place.

Marketing research company IBISWorld said in 2019 Huy Fong Foods controlled nearly 10 percent of the U.S. hot sauce market. At that time the hot sauce was a $1.55 billion market.

However, according to NPR, “The original Sriracha is actually Thai—and comes from the seaside city of Si Racha, where most residents haven’t even heard of the U.S. brand, which is now being exported to Thailand.”

Drinking beer to help the people of Ukraine

Alcohol is often the drug of choice to numb oneself to the realities of life and war. But what if buying a beer or two could do something more, something good for others?

Breweries throughout the world are being asked to brew RESIST—a Ukrainian anti-imperial stout. So far only two breweries in California are doing so, with one being Secret Trail Brewing in Chico.

Cans at Secret Trail’s RESIST are being sold for $15 each. Remember, this is a fundraiser. The beer is good, really good. The money is going toward the Red Cross humanitarian relief effort.

The recipe is online as are other ways to help people in Ukraine who are trying to survive while their country is being shelled and destroyed by the Russian military for reasons only dictator Putin knows. The recipe was created by brewers in Ukraine.

The Drinkers for Ukraine website says, “We’re not being prescriptive when it comes to the beer’s packaging and label design, all we’re asking is that brewers use the name, and Ukraine’s national colours. For the rest, use your creativity.”

Secret Trail’s can has a map of Ukraine in blue and yellow, with RESIST in yellow.

The Chico label says, “We brewed this Imperial Stout for the people and the brewers in Ukraine. Brewers in Ukraine have seen their livelihoods wiped out, and in some instances their businesses destroyed by Russian strikes. It is a collaborative effort amongst breweries worldwide to show our support for the brewers, and all the people of Ukraine, and large portion of the proceeds will go to the Red Cross Humanitarian Relief Fund. As you enjoy this rich wonderful beer, know that you are doing good for those in need.”

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