Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What I've trained for

I have rewritten and deleted this overdue blog post about 4 times. I wanted to talk about the genesis of my decision to work with Justin and Karen at Oxheart in some epic sweeping fashion. But honestly, it doesn't matter.

How I got where I am is a way less exciting story than where I'm about to be.

In exactly ten days, I will leave Central Market. For a restaurant.

For the first time in my life, I get to write a wine list from scratch. I have been "taking over" wine lists and beverage programs my whole career. Now, the controls are entirely in my hands, and I'm more than a little bit intimidated.

I wish these prices weren't over 100 years old.
I've been packing up my apartment for the past few days, and I keep finding study materials. Practice tests. Flash cards. Tasting notes. Dictionary sized books. It has dawned on me that this is the moment I've been training for for the past six years. One could make the argument that for a while, I was so busy learning the rules of the game that I forgot how much fun it is to play.

The chance to start my own beverage program really isn't enough though. It needs an actual restaurant attached to it. The only way I could justify the kind of list I want is if I had a kitchen that was driven by people determined to blow minds. To show people something different and fundamentally delicious.

That's how I view Justin's food. Pairing beverages with it is like clinging to a bullet train for dear life. It moves so fast and changes so rapidly that it requires every ounce of my brainpower to keep up with it. It is the ultimate challenge for a sommelier, the kind that I would argue comes along only once in a lifetime.

Yes I have action movie references for everything.

Houston is the city that taught me everything I know about wine and service. I suppose I could have taken that experience to San Francisco or Chicago or New York and done ok. However, I am beaming with pride to say that I am helping open a restaurant in my hometown. I would rather fight for the future of Houston than join the already established culture of SF or NY. We are teeming with brilliant minds that are producing work that is already rivaling the more established restaurant cities. When a bunch of us get together for a pop-up it feels like my own personal rat pack.

This is how cool I felt during The Money Cat.

More than anything, everything has been so much goddamn fun. I cannot wipe the grin off my face.

Joining Oxheart is unquestionably the most weapons grade thing I have ever done, ever. Justin and Karen are an amazing team, and I am exhilarated to work with them. It will be the adventure of a lifetime. I cannot wait, and I hope to see all of you there.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

#TEXSOM 2011

Getting to volunteer at TEXSOM, for some of us, is like a holiday we look forward to all year long. I often underestimate how completely awesome it is to be in a room of hundreds of people who are all focused on exactly the same thing I am. In the real world you have to watch out for going way too far into why you wish more people would drink Huet Vouvrays and putting your friends to sleep. At TEXSOM you're drinking Huet, talking about Huet, and geeking out in a way that you only get to do very rarely.

One of the wines I was most excited about.


If the wines of Huet made noise, they would go "BIEW BIEW BIEW"


In the case of Chateau Musar, we talked about it, we drank it, and we met Serge Hochar. Every year, as the quality of the program gets better and better, so too does the brutal transition to reality get harder. The only solution I find is to try and reorganize the world around me to look more like TEXSOM, even if it's only a little bit at a time.


I was responsible for #5 of each tasting. It ended with me getting to pour 1969 Musar Blanc, I still don't know what I did to deserve that. Photo by Alfonso Cervola.


The speakers are amazing, and when we have time to listen to them, we sit and do just that. But more than once we had to miss out on full lectures, because we were in the back, popping foils and pulling corks a dozen at a time. I suppose someone could call that a bummer, but one of my favorite parts of TEXSOM is sitting in the back with the wines before the lecture. My little wine-nerd heart still goes pitter-patter when I'm sitting in front of an open case of Comte George de Vogue, or when I'm oogling a 40 year old selection of Musar:

OHMYGODOHMYGOD

I like those little private moments we get with the wines. When I get to handle and pour this much good wine in one sitting, all I can speak is whispered expletives. I think that's kind of what The Chairman was talking about when he talked about having a personal conversation with the wines.

A really nice new feature was the hospitality suites. Because after you spend the whole day drinking earth shattering wine, you really need a drink.

Nothing helps settle your stomach like a gallon of Amaro.



I saw this, and wondered if perhaps there was a bathtub full of wine at a beer conference somewhere else in the world.

The one thing that I think can't be said enough about TEXSOM, is that everyone eligible to compete should be competing. I am so disheartened by people who say things like "I don't want to embarrass myself" or "its too hard". Trust me, nobody is "ready" for TEXSOM. I got my ass handed to me the one year I competed, and it was instrumental in motivating me to study for my advanced exam. That's basically what the TEXSOM competition is: a free practice session for the advanced exam. NOT ONLY is it free, but you are allowed to attend the lectures for free. Lectures where they pour George Comte de Vogue 1er Cru, Sparkling Huet, 1975 Musar Rouge, and other power ballads. Oh, and if you place, you get at least a 1000 dollar scholarship. How is there not a waiting list of competitors?

Don't be scared of defeat of embarrassment. Moving forward will inevitably subject you to both. I am proud of the folks that have the guts to subject themselves to so much scrutiny, both in competitions and in the regular court tests. My policy has always been sign up first, figure out how I'm going to pull it off later.

Big congrats to Bill, Nathan, and Houston's own David Keck. I shameless root for Houston every time.

Stepping off the soapbox now, and telling you to get your ass to TEXSOM 2012. I'll see you there!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Beer VS Wine VS Food

So another thing about me, I did debate for 6 years. 4 in high school and 2 in college. Few things escalate my blood pressure more than a bad debate. This is why I stopped watching the presidential debates- they're not actually discussing anything, they're just flailing around in defense of their point of view and their party. They refuse to work together for a greater purpose (dissecting complex issues), and instead just bicker.

The discussion of beer versus wine, in similar fashion, threatens to hospitalize me. I put this off as long as I could.

This is what you do to me.

The biggest thing the debate about beer vs wine lacks is a criterion. How are we deciding which one is better? I personally think we choose a lot of BAD criteria for this debate. For example:

#1. Aging Potential

Is aging potential a good indicator of quality? Often it is. But is wine better than beer because it can age longer? No. In the wine world, we're constantly explaining that an old wine is not inherently superior to a young wine. Similarly, an old wine is not inherently more valuable than a young beer. A question more important than "can beverage X age well?" is "Should I age it?" 

#2. Number of Ingredients / Complexity of Production

Beer (usually) has more ingredients than wine. Does more ingredients make beer superior to wine? Or is wine better for (usually) requiring fewer additives? We need to drop this one because a complex production process does not equal a complex or intense flavor profile. Bud Light is basically made in a laboratory by rocket scientists, and it tastes like yellow fizzy nothingness. Stanko Radikon's Ribolla Gialla is made pretty simplistically, and is profoundly complex.

Beer can also excel with simplicity: single hop beers anyone? If we were talking about watches, mechanical complexity would have more desirability, but we're not. Beer and wine both involve a lot of manipulation and ingredients, and neither of them are superior for it. If number of ingredients directly correlates with quality, then I'm off to brew a beer made with the entire contents of my fridge and pantry. Then, I'm going to make a blend of 50 different varietals into one sparkling, aromatized, oxidized, fortified, maderized wine.

#3. RANGE OF FLAVORS

Problem, Sommelier?


BEER AND WINE HAVE THE SAME EXACT NUMBER OF FLAVORS PEOPLE. THE. SAME. NUMBER. I'm not talking about acid or tannin or sugar or IBUs. I'm talking about FLAVORS. Flavors like apples, tar, pine, cinnamon, bacon, strawberries, cheese, soil, leather, grass, bread, smoke, nuts. I CHALLENGE YOU TO POINT OUT A FLAVOR THAT IS UNIQUE TO ONLY ONE SIDE. Actually, I might have one: petroleum / gasoline, is there a beer that can do that? But seriously, give me a flavor that you think is unique to your beloved beverage, and I will show you how the other side does it too. Per request, here are a few of them:
Common beer flavors and their wine analogs:

Bready malty flavor: found in the majority of sparkling wines as a by product of autolysis, and frequently in sherries and other oxidative wines.

Smokey flavor: Common in a lot of wines with heavy American oak treatment. The degree of toast in the barrel will also influence the intensity of this flavor.

And fuck it, lets do it for wine:

tart cherry flavor: commonly exhibited in varying degrees of ripeness in flemish red and brown ales, and obviously lambics that add cherries.

I can play this game all goddamn day. While beer and wine hit about every flavor note in the book, they do it in VERY different ways. And even though they can both do a flavor, one side usually does one way more often than the other. If you want to start arguing over which flavors are inherently better in alcohol, I will come to your house and beat you with a bat.

Beer and wine have the same range of flavors. STOP arguing about it, for the love of god.

I'm going to go take a break and punch a wall.

...

Ok we're back! So before I blacked out, we were talking about BAD criteria to evaluate beer and wine. Now is that point where I throw out the only good one I know of:

Food Pairing

How is it a fair fight? Beer and wine have profound impacts on food pairing that has nothing to do with matching flavors together. Both beverages have chemical features that help them work with food. They are:

Wine:

Tannin- Tannin is the astringent, mouth drying sensation you get from a red wine (and occasionally a white wine). This bitterness comes from the anthocyanins found in grape skins. This mitigates fat in red meat better than damn near anything.

Acid- Malic acid, mostly. Beer people are often good cooks, but when you explain how acid in wine works with food they refuse to understand. Its pretty simple. When you squeeze a lemon on those raw oysters, the acid in the juice cuts the oceany fatness of the oysters. When you sip Chablis with oysters, you are basically drinking that lemony acid element, not to mention mirroring the salty mineral character of the oysters.

Sugar- sugar in wine slays spicy and salty food. If you believe wine can't handle spicy food, you're not even trying to understand what you're talking about. Sweet and spicy/salty are combined so frequently in food that it shouldn't be a shocker that sweet wine works with them.

Carbonation- Beer, you do get credit for being almost always carbonated, but wine does it too. Not only does wine do carbonation, but it does it at 6 atmospheres of pressure. Thats enough power to blow fingers off and poke out eyes, AND help douse the flames of a green curry.

Yes this is all very shocking.
Beer:

Hop Bitterness- Beer's astringency comes from the addition of hops, rather than grape skins. It plays as prominent and as effective a role in soaking up fat as tannin in red wine. And hey, get this on record- I believe hops suppress capsicum in extremely spicy food better than just about anything.

Malt sugar- Sugar exists in beer, and makes it a powerful weapon in the war against food. The mashing process converts the starch in the grain to sugar, and you turn that sugar into awesome excellent ethanol. But, just like in wine, often some of that sugar is left over. In the case of high alcohol beers, there a crapload of it left over. This is what makes Barleywine and Roquefort as epic a pairing as port.

Acid- YES, OK? Beer CAN contain acid. Sours are called sours because they have acid in them. It works pretty much the same way with food that acid in wine does, although it is important to note that beers that contain a palpable amount of acid are driven by Lactic acid, which isn't quite as potent as Malic acid. But lets also be realistic and notice that the VAST majority of beers are not sours.

Carbonation- Carbonation goes a long way to deliver the flavor of said carbonated drink, and to mesh with any remaining food flavors in your mouf. Beer is carbonated, almost always. This is excellent.

There are other questions that deserve answers in the saga of beer versus wine, but Beer vs Wine vs Food is the big one. It is the Superbowl of alcohol and food pairing. And, *SPOILER ALERT* there's an extremely strong case to be made that there is no overall champion in this sports match. 

I'm done ragefacing. I've got a lot more to say, but its about time I got off the computer and got some "fresh air".
I don't even drink!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Failing the MS / Overdue shout-Out

One of the best meals I ever had in my life was the day I learned I had failed all 3 portions of the Master Sommelier exam.   

It's three weeks away from the MS, I've taken a lot of time off to study at the last minute. I know this isn't going to fill the grand-canyon sized void of knowledge and preparation I need to pass, but I'm going through the motions. Well I got sick. Real sick. I got my first sinus infection. I couldn't smell.

One third of the MS exam is a tasting of 6 wines in 25 minutes that requires 75% accuracy to pass. This is a herculean feat even for someone with a bloodhound nose- it is impossible to do if you cannot smel.

So for the first time in years, instead of letting a cold run its course, I went to the doctor. They gave me a bunch of fancy antihistamines and such, some of which were injections. Most importantly, they gave me 20 pills of Amoxicillin.

"You can't drink alcohol while you're taking this."

"What if I have to?"

"Nobody has to, sir."

"I'm studying for a wine test. And uh, then I'm taking the wine test. Part of the studying and testing involves drinking. Its the hardest wine test in the world."

"Oh I see."

"Well not drinking but tasting. I'll be spitting it out, is that ok? Also, I'm really nervous, and generally could use a drink."

"I would recommend not drinking until you absolutely have to. It will reduce the effectiveness of the Amoxcillin."

"Shit."

While I took the meds, I noticed the pain of my sinus infection going away, but I still couldn't smell. All my wine friends offered to organize about a dozen practice tastings for me. Every time I had to say, "Don't waste your wine, I'm nose-deaf."

The date neared. I was coming out of my freakish sickness, but I was tortured with stress. I feel asleep in piles of flash cards and guildsomm printouts. I wanted a drink so bad, but I couldn't risk my nose not working on the day of battle. The day I would be able to drink again would be the last day of the test, when they give the results.

I withdrew from everyone I new, and by the time I got to the Four Seasons in Dallas, I was numb. I bought a bottle of orange juice the day before my tasting portion. I cracked the seal and took a big sniff. Nothing. It tasted like nothing. I was fucked.

This is we waited, and freaked the hell out.

I was sitting in the bar of the Four Seasons, an hour before I was going in to the tasting portion. The price of a glass of the cheapest Pinot Grigio was more than I had in my pocket (I got paid the next day, but it was still pretty lame).

I called the cocktail waitress over and asked, "Hi! I know this is unorthodox, but could I have 4 dollars worth of Pinot Grigio? It's all I have till tomorrow."

She smiled and said "Don't worry about it, keep your money. Here's a few ounces."

Will never forget.


So I gave her my four bucks, and I'm staring at what must have been exactly two ounces of wine sitting on the table. Fear. Anger. Depression. This my last chance for my nose to get its shit together and work for me. The Court of Master Sommeliers does not give you a make-up date if you can't smell. You just take the tasting portion again. 800 dollars. I will remember everything that happened for the rest of my life.

I picked up the glass, shoved my nose in it, and inhaled. Lemons. Crumbled chalk. Lime zest. Unripe pineapple. Onion skin. Crushed aspirin. My head swam. I almost dropped the glass. This was the first time I had successfully received olfactory stimuli in almost a month. I'm pretty good at not crying during moments of intense emotion, but I very nearly lost it here. My sense of smell and taste came back to me about 30 minutes before I had to go taste. I'm not a religious person, but I'll go ahead and call it a miracle.

The waitress came back a few minutes later,

"How does it taste?"

"Fucking incredible. This wine tastes fucking incredible."

"Well, uh... I'm glad you like it so much."

I was ready to tear the fabric of space and time apart with my anger if I didn't get a chance to actually smell the vinous gauntlet that was going to be laid before me. And I got my chance. I failed fair and square. Can't talk about what I called them. But I will say this: the second before you begin, they say "Please enjoy the wines." It wasn't hard, they were delicious.

Failing the MS is hard on everything. Your mind, your body, your soul. I had realistically low expectations of myself for my first go at it, but it was still very hard. I was standing at the reception, watching everyone mingle and drink krug and console and congratulate, and I felt like my soul was rotting. I hadn't had real food, drink, or human interaction in what felt like months.  I had to do something. Fast. Between the stress of studying, the isolation of being incredibly sick, and finally hitting a roadblock in my wine studies, I was going insane.

Rewind 6 months. When I was first trained at Central Market Dallas in August 2010, my trainer was the then- beer and wine manager, Jennifer Uygur. She is a very strange, very organized, towering woman who invited me to dinner at her house the first Sunday of my training. There she revealed to me that she had put in her two weeks notice so that she could open a restaurant with her husband, David Uygur (he used to be the exec at Lola's). They were gonna call it Lucia, and it was going to be traditional Italian with in-house charcuterie and all that jazz. The dinner was epic, but I had to go back to Houston before I could see the restaurant open.

Fast forward 6 months. I'm sitting in the empty bathtub of my hotel in my suit. I text Jennifer something to the tune of "I just got beaten to death by the MS exam, any chance I can get a table tonight?"

I went by myself. When I walked into Lucia, Jennifer hugged me and asked,

"Do you need some wine?" I nodded.

"Do you want me to pick it out for you?" I nodded again.

"Do you want some Lambrusco while we figure it out?" I kept nodding.

My cell phone battery died right when I sat down, ending all of the consolatory texts I was getting. I sat at a marble counter facing the kitchen. When my server brought me a huge slab of fragrant bread, I realized I haven't sat down to a real meal in a restaurant in what felt like months. It was also the first time in almost a month that I could taste my food.

I remember the bread so distinctly, it had a thick crunchy exterior that smelled faintly of hazelnuts, and a soft chewy interior. This wasn't normal bread, this is what bread tastes like on the dinner table of Valhalla. I dream about that goddamn bread. They bake it in house.

I started off with the charcuterie plate. It had warm Lardo on crackers, two different kinds of salumi, little chunks of bread with liver pate on them. The moment the plate hit the table I also got a glass of the only non-Italian wine on the list: Moric Blaufrankisch. If you're not a wine nerd and aren't sure how hard you should freak out over Moric, know this: it's really fucking good. Its one of those wines where I hold it up to the light and say to myself, this is why I chose wine as my focus, no other beverage can taste like this. What does Moric actually taste like? It tastes like perfectly ripened red fruit. It tastes like the Grave Digger running over cars that are full of terrorists. It tastes like gravel and granite. It tastes like soldiers returning home safely from war and seeing their families. It is in perfect balance, like a universe ruled by justice and love. Yep.

This is what Moric fucking tastes like.

I had duck confit and Gnocchi for my primi. It was so simple and earthy and savory. The bitter cold outside made me appreciate how thoroughly hot each little pillowy bite of Gnocchi was. The last bite still had steam rising off of it. The Moric sliced through the duck fat like a knife. Like a Shun.

David took a brief moment from running the kitchen to stop by and ask me how everything tasted. I'm positive it sounded like crazed rambling, whatever I said. I hope he took from it that I was shell shocked by the food.

Secondi, I had a grilled duck breast. Because who gives a shit, really? There were a lot of really amazing looking dishes, but I wanted more duck, and so that's what I ordered. It was medium rare and it was intoxicatingly gamey and rich. There was also an accompaniment that I don't remember precisely- but it had mushrooms and foie gras and it tasted like hopes and dreams. I'm feeling woozy and whip my head to the right and can see a bottle of Moric that is mostly empty. It's 9:30 and I still see Jennifer darting all over the restaurant, leading the charge. My server asks me, "You doing ok?" It sounds far away. "Do you need more wine?" I nod. She dumps the rest of the Moric in my glass. I pick up the glass, and feel the how light the glass is, and an awesome wave of calm washes over me. I must reiterate: Moric and the duck worked so well, I might have almost perished with delight.

I couldn't decide between the desserts, so I got two of them. One was a chocolate panna cotta with orange, and I had cannoli. I had french press coffee. And I was finishing the Moric. Let's be real friends, I was kinda drunk. And it felt GREAT. I had forgotten the sensation of just tying on a good buzz and enjoying life. My wine, coffee, and dessert intermingled on my palate like a mosh pit. Pistachios kicking chocolate and orange in the teeth, who shoves french press coffee into Moric, who headbutts the cannoli.

I was so busy looking at the jars full of preserves everywhere on the walls of the restaurant that I didn't notice the check hit the counter. The tab was really reasonable. I paid and started to search for Jenn.

When I had dinner at her house 6 months ago, I asked her if I could have a jar of her and David's home-made Mostarda. They had, pear, cherry, and I think orange mostarda. I wanted pear, but I forgot to grab it. She tried to grab me some before I left but we never got around to it.

I found her, and she asked me how everything was. I can't remember what I said but I know I was babbling. I did by best to tell her it was one of the greatest meals of my life, but I know I fell short. I asked her,

"Hey can I buy a jar of Mostarda from you?"

She paused, "Well its not really for sale... but I guess I did offer you one a while ago."

She came back with two jars. "Cherry or fig, you have to pick only one. Just take it." I picked cherry.

"Are you sure I can't pay you for this?"

"Nah, just make sure to tell people if you enjoyed the food."

Enter this blog post. Jennifer and David Uygur are directly responsible for rehabilitating me from the sanity-destroying events leading up to and during the Master Sommelier exam last year in Dallas. They reminded me why I get up in the morning, why I study what I study, and work where I work. They are wonderful people, and their charming restaurant is actually a war machine of authentic Italian cuisine and amazing wine service. I will remember my meal there for the the rest of my life.


David and Jennifer. Photo from D Magazine.


Lucia is located on 408 West Eighth Street, Suite 101, Dallas TX 75208.
The phone number is 214-948-4998 

Go to the bank, take all of your money out, and give all of it to Lucia. I was delighted to hear that due to their huge popularity, reservations are very hard to get a hold of. Call early.

Next time I'm preparing for the MS, I will remember to stop and relax a bit. I hope I get to take the exam in Dallas again, so I can go eat the bread at Lucia until I'm unconscious.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Put your money where your mouth is

Ok, I've loosely committed to waxing poetic about the tension between beer and wine nerds on this bleg. While I let my exact position on this feud marinate, can I ask you a favor, Houston (and rest of America)?

Please do more Beer vs Wine dinners. Please.



I think both sides are too worried about their own nonsense to bother giving the other side an audience. But I'm telling you, this can be the most fascinating exercise.

I'd be a rich man if I had some denomination of currency for every time I heard someone talk shit about how beer or wine doesn't work with food.

"Wine is too sour to go with food."

"Beer is just pairing flavors, it doesn't have tannin and acid like wine."

"Wine can't handle spicy or salty food like beer can."

"Beer isn't complex enough to make truly epic pairings."



I hear this garbage all day long. I hear it from novices and experts. I hear it from restaurants, from retailers, and from distributors. Everyone has an opinion, but no one cares to defend it. I implore you, opinioned beverage geeks:

Put your money where your mouth is, and throw down. Quit talking about it, and start trying to prove it.

Your bickering is PROFOUNDLY unproductive in terms of making Houston a better city to drink in. I know working together is often too much to ask, so the next best thing could very well be conflict: with Houston's palate as your theater of war.



I'm available to help, but I'm just asking for ANYONE to start something. The only time I've ever heard of this happening is The Petrol Station vs Central Market. I think that was a good start, but we can go further. We can think bigger. Please. Put up or Shut up.


Beer vs Wine: Whoever wins, you walk away with a buzz.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Unrealistic Fantasy #1: Cans

Unrealistic Fantasy will be a recurring piece where I wish for something that I know in my heart will probably never happen.

#1: I think it would be cool if all alcohol would be available for purchase in cans.

The fantasy came to me somewhere between the announcement that some company in Panama has started selling Irish whisky in a can, and my discovery that Asahi was producing 1000ml cans. Whisky in a can (bad whisky) is a pretty insane idea, because if we learned anything from Four Loko, people don't consume cans in "servings". They drink the whole goddamn thing, and if its a can of Four Loko, they break into the zoo and try to fight/eat the animals.  Asahi was pretty cool, because they were making many different sizes of cans. It was the first time I realized that can size didn't need to be fixed on 12oz.

It finally took flight in New Orleans at Avenue Pub when hanging out with Liz Dowty and John Mitchell. We wondered out loud, wouldn't it be cool to have Charteuse in can?


I might also have learned how to shot gun beer less than a month ago (the enabler tricked me into it). I thought it would mar the reputation of beer and cans in my eyes. Far from it, it poured gasoline on the fire of curiosity.

Anyway, craft beer is getting up in everyone's face about how they're "taking back cans". Traditionally cans have been relegated to cheap gross adjunct lager. So in recent years, we start seeing high quality beers being put in cans. Some have been doing it for a while, some just started. This slightly irks me, because it reminds me of how annoying it was when the wine industry wouldn't shut up about screwcaps and how revolutionary they were. Every time someone told me how crazy it was when they tried plumpjack reserve in screwcap I couldn't yawn hard enough. Oh yes, vino-lock, glass corks. Please, tell me more. Either you want oxygen transfer or you don't, stop writing books and blog posts about closure methods. *stares at camera indicating I'm aware of my double standard*

But you know what? Cans are pretty utilitarian. They're incredibly light, they're easy to recycle, they're unquestionably airtight, and block 100% of harmful UV light. Its the ideal vehicle to pass to your girlfriend with a large purse to sneak into a movie theater (nothing is more embarrassing than dropping a glass wine bottle in a theater). Why is beer the only category that gets this kind of extreme utility?!

People, I'm tired of this. ITS TIME WE TAKE BACK CANS! FROM BEER DRINKERS!

We could learn a lesson from the beer industry: high quality booze can exist in cans. Nay, it should. With that, here are the top 5 things that will never be put in cans that I want to see canned.


#5: Nonino Picolit Grappa




Nonino was the first grappa distiller to ever produce a single-varietal grappa. They first did it in 1973, and they chose a rare fruilian white grape called picolit. This produced a grappa that was hauntingly delicious, driven by fruit and spice. They also pioneered the movement of putting grappa in beautiful, albeit maddeningly fragile decanters. It would only make sense that they be the first grappa producer to can their flagship grappa. If you subtracted the cost of the decanter, a 12oz can would run you about 100 dollars. They'd probably find a way to make the can a work of art. Nonino: a family of talented jerks.


#4: Orval



When it comes to beer, I am fiercely loyal to trappist beers. When it comes to trappist beers, I am fiercely loyal to Orval. Trappist monks are famously severe, but Orval is especially uncompromising among the seven trappist breweries. It only makes one beer (1.5 if you count petite orval), it only uses one bottle shape and size, and it doesn't package in kegs. Orval is a bottle conditioned Belgian pale ale, and it goes well with the food category of "everything". They are the perfect candidate for the first canned authentic trappist beer. A six pack of 12oz cans would probably run you about 35 dollars. And you'd look like a total badass if you showed up to anything with a sixpack of Orval.


#3: Chateau D'Yquem



Ok, if you're curious why you or anyone ever should like D'Yquem, check a few posts back. But basically, Chateau D'Yquem would be the most unbeatable one-upper at a party:

"Hey man, check out this beer! Its called 'gubna' and its an imperial IPA! In a can!"

"Thats cool man."

"What are you drinking?"

"This? 2001 Chateau D'yquem."

"Is it, uh, Belgian?"

"It's one of the rarest, most expensive dessert wines on the planet."

"How much did you pay for that can?"

"600 dollars."

"You're an asshole."

*sips smugly*


#2: Veuve Clicquot
So, I didn't mean for this to turn into an LVMH fan blog. And its really not, because I think LVMH has been an overall negative influence on the word of booze. But lets ask ourselves: what is the goal of LVMH? To inflate high end wine prices, and get rich as hell in the process. So, if LVMH was the first company to put true french champagne in cans, the novelty would be so outrageously profitable that money raining from the sky just seems inevitable. Veuve Clicquot is not the best champagne in the world, but it is one of the most recognizable and consistently solid quality. Nevermind the difficulty of designing a can that can safely contain 6 atmospheres of pressure- this is the champagne that needs to get put in cans, fast. Because holy crap, LVMH stands to make so much damn money from doing so. Points to Coppola for putting the Sofia sparkling wine in a can (I think they're way too small), but its time we had THE sparkling wine put in cans. Hey, CIVC, get on this now. You'd likely pay something around 25 dollars for a 12 oz can.

However, if LVMH did want to put the best champagne in the world in cans, I'd be cool with that too.

#1: Fernet Branca



Fernet Branca is already WAY too popular within the bartender and sommelier communities, but goodness gracious, can you imagine how hard we'd all lose our jobs and wind up in the gutter if they started making fernet branca in CANS? Some of us would be hospitalized, others would become drifters, panhandling for just enough change to make it to that next can of Fernet. Want to wipe out the wine and cocktail industry in your city? Four words: Fernet Branca Vending Machines. For approximately 20 dollars a 12oz can, you can pretend to be a sommelier, and drink an unhealthy amount of Fernet in one sitting. It'd be a good joke to throw a couple into an icechest full of normal beer at a barbeque.

*guy blathering about something inane*
*pops cans and takes a big sip*
"OMG WHO POISONED THE BEER"

Curiously, beer nerds do not seem to be afflicted with an obsession for Fernet Branca. I don't know how you guys dodged the bullet on that, but good job. I do like Fernet, maybe just not as much as my peers would prefer.

Shout out to Argentina option: Fernet & Coke in a can. I bet that one could happen one day! Jack Daniel's proclaims "Jack and Coke: America's cocktail." as they release canned jack and coke. Thats cool. I'll be over here enjoying Argentina's cocktail instead.

So, that's it. I think cans are incredibly functional, and a bunch of fun. If any of these five boozes get put in cans, expect to see me wearing something like this, with zero irony:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Blog Readers

I'm proud that people have responded so positively so early on to my bleg. One thing I wanted to draw attention to that I think is awesome: apparently a decent amount of traffic towards this blog recently came from forums about off roading and another blog devoted entirely to Z-28s. This is awesome.

I am definitely interested in sharing my views with communities other than say, the Houston food and drink scene. I would also like to share them with groups of people that love muscle cars and build vehicles designed to traverse hell itself. What other groups of overtly tough, Americana laden people am I aiming for?

-Hunters (ESPECIALLY bowhunters)

-Anyone involved in racing

-People who are overzealous about concealed handguns

-Anyone who is into survival

-Anyone into classic rock

I guess what I'm trying to say is, I wish Ted Nugent read my blog.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A positive letter to Anheuser-Busch

Dear Anheuser-Busch,

I have been seeing your products since I was old enough to remember visual stimuli. I have only recently formed a concrete opinion about your beers, as I have only been paying close attention to beer for about a year.

I think those Clydesdales are super cool.

So Stompy!


Your best selling beer is Bud Light, and it's an adjunct lager. The Beer Judge Certification Program in their 2008 Beer Styles guide defines Bud Light and its cohorts (Miller Lite, Coors Light, etc) as a
"Light American Lager".

This beer style is typified by

"Little to no malt aroma, although it can be grainy, sweet or corn-like if present."

"Very light body from a high percentage of adjuncts such as corn or rice."

"May seem watery."


"Designed to appeal to the broadest range of the general public as possible."

"Strong flavors are a fault."

Typical alcohol by volume range is 2.8 to 4.2 percent.

"Commercial Examples: Bitburger Light, Sam Adams Light, Heineken Premium Light, Miller Lite, Bud Light, Coors Light, Baltika #1 Light, Old Milwaukee Light, Amstel Light"


Hey little guy!

You know it's an adjunct lager. You know because you make it. Personally, I don't like any of the beers listed in the aforementioned commercial examples section, including Bud Light. As it is the number one selling beer on the planet earth, you are probably well aware that my lack of endorsement will not cause the brand to implode on itself. Because you absolutely print money. You are so rich you could probably have me killed. But why would you bother? Please spend the money you had set aside for assassinating me on making more Bud Light. Oh you were already going to do that? Ok.

I really will not stick my neck out and try to argue that your beer is inherently gross. I will only express my dissatisfaction with it in normative terms like "I personally feel that Bud Light tastes like a hate crime." I do know that a lot of people drink it for a lot of reasons, so it is pointless for me to really discuss the flavor or lack thereof in Bud Light.

What I want to talk to you about today, Anheuser-Busch, is your gimmick.

As I'm sure your Death Star market research department (or watching tv) will tell you, Coors Light and Miller Lite both have a ridiculous gimmick that they will not shut the fuck up about. I'd like to briefly rage about them with you:


GIMMICK #1: The Cold Activated Bottle
DONT DRINK IT YET                                                           OH SHIIIIIIIIIIIIT


I think Coors started this nonsense with a color changing label. This is a completely stupid gimmick that reminds me of the Hot Wheels cars that changed color in cold or warm water back when I was little. But I guess its not completely insane because it honestly does let people know the exact temperature adjunct lager becomes tolerable: cold as the apocalypse.

Plus, I must concede that I like the word choice of cold "activated" bottle. Its dynamic. It makes me think of "TURN YOUR KEY SIR". It certainly implies something more significant is going on when you chill the bottle other than some paint on the outside of the bottle changing color. Even though this gimmick does contain an iota of useful information, I still feel like its ridiculous. It's not like people are gently warming it in snifters or some crap. Its Coors Light. Any freedom-loving, redblooded American knows exactly how to drink Coors Light and ALL other adjunct lagers. Nuclear winter cold.


GIMMICK #2: The Vortex Bottle
IT MAKES THE SHAME GO IN YOUR MOUTH FASTER!

So I thought my intelligence was being insulted with the cold activated can, but my mind got real blown with the Miller Lite Vortex Bottle. Gun barrels are rifled on the inside- this is a series of small grooves that are in a spiral pattern. These grooves cause the bullet to spin as it exits the barrel. This helps promote accuracy and a further distance the bullet travels. Last I checked, this has nothing to fucking do with beer (except maybe someone shooting their television when they imbibe too much Miller Lite). Seriously, the only thing they can claim is that it promotes "marketplace differentiation". Which is an implicit concession that it has zero effect on anything that involves making Miller Lite taste better. "It's specially designed grooves let that great pilsener taste flow right out!" Oh my god, hang yourselves.


GIMMICK #3: The "My Bud Light" Bottle



You made a beer bottle that people can write stuff on? At first I was disgusted. How does this show me when the beer is ready to drink? HOW WILL I GET IT OUT OF THE BOTTLE WITHOUT A VORTEX? How does this gimmick explain, in the most insulting way possible, that this beer is cold and delicious and buxom women will flock to me as soon as I open it? How does it dodge the fact that this beer is THE DEFINITION of a cheaply made, mass produced, aggressively marketed opiate of the masses? It doesn't.

You put a blank canvas on the 1# selling beer in the world (albeit a small canvas). You didn't invent an arbitrary phrase like "Triple hop brewed"- which means nothing to people that love the beer and is a joke to people who know how these beers are actually made. You basically put an etchasketch on a beer bottle. For what feels like the first time ever, you gave up on trying to convince the world that bud light tastes good. Instead you gave people that drink bud light something that takes their mind far away from even questioning whether bud light is cold, refreshing, lady-attracting, or delicious. You used clever misdirection with a clever gimmick.

Anheuser-Busch, you did something that not only didn't piss me off, but it honestly made me want to buy your beer. Trust me, I won't actually buy Bud Light ever, but I want you to know that I think you've stumbled across something brilliant.



Hey, Miller-Coors, come in here, I was just talking to Anheuser-Busch. Yes this concerns you too.

Adjunct Lager makers of the world, hear my plea: everyone knows these beers are, by design, nearly flavorless. So can we please drop the act about how the beer tastes or how refreshing it is and all that crap? Bud Light, you put something genuinely novel on your beer bottles, and it has NOTHING to do with the flavor of the beer, the coldness, or the speed with which you can potentially consume it. That is awesome. You will never convince anyone who knows what they're talking about that Bud Light is a delicious beer. The people that do think its delicious probably don't care about real beer. So it would make sense to maybe market almost entirely on novelty.

Honestly, a vortex bottle is ridiculous. I think its stupid because you're implying it does something. It doesn't. As long as you're spinning bullshit, why not go all the way and be full on ridiculous? I have some ideas for all of you:

-Try the new Coors Light Magnetized bottle! It relieves joint pain, promotes mood stability, and enhances cell phone reception!

-Check it out bro, its the new Miller Lite Beer Bag! 75 bucks for an entire garbage bag full of beer!

-Hey Becky, have you heard about the new Lady Bud Light? Its Bud Light, but for us! *pink bottles with flowers and kittens and spatulas*

COMPLETELY NOT JOKING EXAMPLE: An adjunct lager in cans that has instructions on how to shotgun it. How to hold it, maybe a weak point in the bottom of the can that makes it easier to vent. It would be outlawed almost instantly, but you'd get famous as hell in the process.

BUT JUSTIN you say. OSAMA BIN LADEN WAS KILLED. THERE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS GOING ON IN THE WORLD THAN YOUR HATRED OF BEER MARKETING.

Oh you want a reference to current events while still staying topical? Boom:


Here we go!

Friday, April 29, 2011

What does "Weapons Grade" mean? Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love D'Yquem

 So you're a nuclear physicist looking for a lighthearted blog about warheads. Sorry, but this is a blog about alcohol. 

Let's slow down for a second to answer a fluffy nonsense question: What does it mean for something to be "weapons grade"? Well the literal meaning refers to weapons grade or enriched nuclear fissile material like Uranium or Plutonium. As a young nerd, my imagination was captivated by images of gas centrifuges, scientists huddled over massive bomb casings. Years of work, the most brilliant minds in the world, millions of dollars (now billions) being spent to make the deadliest thing we could put our minds to. Its a sick wish, but someday it would be neat to witness a mushroom cloud. Preferably a demonstration, from a safe distance, with adequate protection; but the world is a sick place and I'll take what I can get. All that power and destruction is absolutely fascinating.
As a political science major, I had no shortage of test questions and classroom discussions about totally awesome things like the exact total mega-tonnage of all the worlds nuclear warheads. I remember having an final essay question about the legality of a laser weapon that maims, and does not kill soldiers, and how it pertains to the Geneva convention. I knew I was going to fail that class, so I think the last line of the essay was something cheeky like "If its powerful enough to burn soldiers' eyes out of their heads, its powerful enough to set the physical Geneva Convention document on fire."



I was a political Science major and a Philosophy minor. These two concentrations, while they mean a lot of different things to a lot of people, spoke two very clear messages to me:

1. Everybody in the whole world wants to kill the shit out of everyone else. Usually for the darkest, most insane reasons possible.

2. Pretty much nothing can be known with certainty, especially confirming or denying the existence of God, free will, moral absolutes, or aesthetic ideals.

Needless to say, I started to lose passion about a degree plan that made me want to hang myself. So on a whim, I took Wine Appreciation with Kevin Simon over at the Conrad Hilton College at UofH. I was so hooked, I had my certified pin before the class was over.



The thing is though, my creepy obsession with guns and airplanes and bombs never really stopped, it just kind of... mutated. Early on, I read about Chateau D'Yquem and how their selection process of shriveled grapes was so intense, they would go over the vineyards 12 times. Looking for individual berries. Their selection process was so severe that an entire vine bush would yield maybe a two ounce glass of wine. The facility is state of the art. Some of the greatest minds in winemaking work those vineyards and manage that vinification. The more I thought about it, these people are making something just as fantastic as nuclear warheads. In Hungary, they enrich a dry wine base with Puttony baskets full of sweet aszu paste, which makes one of the most shock and awe inducing wines in the world: Tokaji. BUT OH WAIT, GO BACK TO D'YQUEM. Did you know these people are bottling the world's most expensive sweet wine in NEBUCHADNEZZARS??? Sorry, let me translate for non-wine-nerds.

A 750ml bottle of 2005 Chateau D'Yquem costs about 500 US dollars on release. A Nebuchadnezzar is a 15 liter bottle. How much did D'Yquem decide to charge for this HAMMER? Approximately  $20,000. They will be making 100 of them for every vintage, starting with 2005 on. When I heard about this, I almost blacked out from joy. A 15 liter of D'Yquem might be the definition of weapons grade, as I use it.

OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD *blacks out*




This blog is called "Weapons Grade" to celebrate the fruits of the labor of the greatest boozemakers in the world. I've spent a modest amount of time studying war and the instruments we wage it with, and I have a penchant for hyperbole, so oftentimes I find myself exclaiming, after tasting something particularly delicious,

"That is weapons grade."

The intensity of a glass of D'Yquem actually is the perfect explanation. A half bottle will last a lifetime (Pappas Bros here in Houston has a 375ml bottle of the 1811 vintage). The sugar and acid are balanced on the edge of a razor, and the finish goes on forever. A few drops is really all it takes. And that is truly weapons grade. Only instead of scorching earth, it makes people happy.

And for me, weapons grade is a term that wine made me say. This has trickled down into spirits (see first photo). But yeah, I guess beer can tag along too. Its purty good.


I suppose as an afterthought, the term "weapons grade" does reference the dark heart of man just a little bit, and I think that might be a healthy dose of perspective in this chronically self-important industry.

The world is full of madness. It is full of crazy people who are desperate to use terrifying weapons against innocent people, for all kinds of of stupid, hateful reasons.

Horror even occurs for no reason at all, 310 we killed by a tornado in Alabama yesterday. Sometimes I wish I had a line of work where I could do more for people affected by these things.

If the Asteroid comes, my colleagues and I probably will not be let on the spaceship. But while we're here alive on earth, we will use every ounce of brainpower to bring you something rare, unique, and wonderful. We're not building bridges or putting out fires, but we are stewards of one of the worlds most compelling and accessible pleasures. As dark as the human condition can be at times, I feel like my job is pretty essential. I'm proud of it, so here's to studying and promoting something weapons grade that puts smiles on faces, instead of melting them off.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Beer and Wine Adventures in Orleans (the new one).

I had originally intended to write a wine-centric post to balance out all the beer nerdiness of my maiden voyage, but I'm afraid this was a beery weekend for me. Apologies.

I spent my Easter weekend in New Orleans with Adrienne. We loosely intended to eat at restaurants and walk around doing fun stuff but trying to look as little like tourists as possible. A good start was avoiding Bourbon Street. I'm pretty sure tourists drinking hand grenades kill more brain cells per capita than people huffing paint thinner.

New Orleans is known for its awesome puddles.


I finally got to visit a place I had been wanting to visit for a while: Stein's Deli. Flashback two months ago. I asked Lindsey at Spec's downtown where in the hell I can find Cantillion lambics. He said the closest place he knew was some deli in New Orleans called Stein's. I went on the internets. I got on the googles. Found Stein's and promptly had to pick my jaw up off the floor. The website might as well have read "A list of all the beers Justin Vann wants to drink that aren't available in Texas." Cantillion. Castelain. Schlenkerla. Rochefort. Nogne. I called, incredulous.

"Hi, I was calling to see if you actually have all these beers that you have listed on line in stock."
"Uh, yeah."
"So you actually have Cantillion?"
"Yeah, we have them, Boon, Drie Fontenien, and like 5 others. I'm getting some Cuvee de Champions, and if you like sours [ I DO ] we have the Goudenband and Duchess."
...
"Hello?"
"Sorry I'm just flabbergasted. We can get like, one of those beers in Houston."
"Well, uh, surely you have a specialty beer store somewhere there that you can special order them."
...
"Hello?"
"I manage one of the largest selection of beers in the city. They're not approved for sale by the TABC."
"Ah. Well let me get your number so I can pass it on to my Shelton Bros. Rep. He'll give you a call."
...
"If they're just for your personal consumption, you could come buy some here."
I just might do that if I find the time to make it up there. You've been incredibly helpful, what's your name?"
"Dan Stein. Here's my cell number, I'll give you a call back in just a second, I gotta sweep the floor."

I want to get wasted with these guys.


This guy Dan, his operation is hard as nails. It's a little Jewish Deli on Magazine Street. The first thing my eyes found was a shelf on a metrorack with an ample amount of every Fee's and Bitter Truth bitters. I see the celery bitters. I want them. Community tables. The place looks dilapidated. I can't tell who looks more grizzled, the employees or the customers. I see coolers. I see more metroracks. My heart is pounding. There's a line of people blocking access to all the beer and I fantasize about throwing a chair to scatter them to get out of my goddamn way. I can identify at least ten sick beers at a distance from the color of the label and the bottle shape. Everything else goes blurry, I grab an empty wine box and start going to town.


Fuck fuck FUCK SHIT HOLY DAMMIT


For those of you who aren't in the industry, here's what causes this frenzy: No matter what the booze, we professionals have to study it. And when we do study it, we come across things we want to taste really bad. Maybe we've never even seen a bottle in real life, but from what we know, we're reasonably sure we'll love it. The suspense builds. You know it's out there, and that one day you're going to find it and drink the FUCK out of it. Then one day you're farting around in the liquor store, and there it is. Staring you in the face. Maybe it's wildly expensive. Maybe you overdraft your bank account. Maybe you couldn't afford it until someone accidentally gave it a price tag meant for a candy bar. You likely don't care, because you've been waiting a long time and your curiosity has mutated into a pathological obsession. Woe unto the chattel that block your path. People are swirling around you, buying vodka, adjunct lager, box wine, soda, chips. You try to contain your glee. You pick it up, and you grin like an idiot. Nobody knows why you're so excited. You float to the register. When the money finally changes hands and the bottle is in your legal possession, your brain craps every last drop of serotonin into your head, and you're drunk. You haven't even opened the bottle yet. Maybe its underwhelming when you actually try it. Or maybe its so good you trip balls and talk to dead family members and figure out the meaning of life. Either way, I believe that hunt is a joy that unites all us alcohol professionals.


Happiness is surprising yourself with alcohol.


A few examples of unicorn bottles that I spent much time hunting at various points in my booze journey: Namazake, all Pappy Van Winkle products, Vin Jaune, Germain-Robin Brandy, S.A. Huet vouvrays, etc. Well, I been learnin me some beer in the past six months, kay? And God Bless Texas but there are some beers the TABC has not seen fit to allow us to consume. Beers that sound really good to me, like REAL lambic, that isn't cloyingly sweet, and cuts like a knife with freakish acidity. Stout made with OYSTERS. French beer de garde. Trappist beers that I've never tried before. Imperial Oatmeal Stouts made with Kopi Luwak (read: catshit coffee). I knew they were out there. Adrienne wanted to go on a trip. To New Orleans. Stein's is in New Orleans. Lot of beer I haven't had, that is being sold in Stein's. When can we leave?

I freaked out hard because there were so many beers there that I had wanted to try for a long time, and I found them ALL AT ONCE. I clearly annoyed the crap out of all the regulars by pacing the coolers, and loudly filling what came to two cases of beer on the counter, holding up the line like a complete tourist jackass. Sorry, but I caught a herd of unicorns, I'm high on life. We shared a Reuben, it was the best I've ever had in my life. We got back to the hotel and I popped a Castelain. It was heavenly.

Improvise!

BUT GUESS WHAT BEER NERDS

There are indeed other beverage categories in this world than beer. We went to dinner at Stella!
It was the bomb. We made friends with the wine director, John Mitchell the night prior. It's always a blast to watch other wine people work. We got the tastin' menu with wine pairings. No Dom perignon please. He replaced it with Robert Weil. He also switched out the cali cab with more burgundy. 2001 Lafarge Clos de Chene Burgundy. It was rill good. 1993 Banyuls with a chocolaty peanut buttery fancy thing was the bomb. FINALLY got to try rose Txakoli, which John (in proper somm showoff fashion) poured from an authentic Txakoli decanter. Where did you get it, I asked. Basque country. Of course. Crap. 1991 Lopez de Heredia white rioja? It's what dreams are made of, silly goose.

I'M SORRY WINE NERDS BUT I GOTTA SAY THIS

I was still thinking about that beer at Stein's. I mean my head was in the moment, getting crunk on VEP chartreuse with Adrienne and eating funky minardises. But here's a question I can't get a satisfactory answer to: why is it so hard for epic beers like these to get a spot on the menu in fine dining restaurants? And no, for fucks sake, I don't mean instead of wine. I mean alongside it. I guess part of my little boozehound heart wished there could have also been a beer pairing option on a place like Stella!'s list. I wish high quality beer had a regular place in fine dining.

I know I'm not the first person to ask this question. I know there are restaurants that have excellent beer menus that one could consider "white tablecloth". But those restaurants seem like an exception to the rule. I feel like in my corner of the world, there are not any beer places that strive to serve really fine food, and no fine restaurants that have a desire to have an esoteric, if not comprehensive beer program. I see restaurants with more tea or coffee selections than beers. Why are we going so deep on wine, liqour, coffee, tea, and just glazing over beer? Do I sound like a conspiracy theorist? Because I feel like one.  I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.

It's getting late, and I have to open tomorrow. I'm skipping over delmonico's, and green goddess, which were excellent meals, with sick wine. Here's one thing that I cannot glaze over though:

All of these pictures were taken by Adrienne Byard.

Bleg post number 2, completed.

Friday, April 22, 2011

BECAUSE YOU NEEDED MORE OPINIONS FROM THE INTERNET

Hey gang.

In an effort to force myself to write again, and to infect the internet with my nonsense, I have started a blag.

I just picked some colors that I kind of like, but, lets be real- the blag layout is probably hideous. Sorry.

Anyway, for those of you who don't know me, my name is Justin Vann. On the twitters, I'm @Whiskyplz. I'm 26, and I'm the beer and wine manager at Central Market in Houston TX. I'm an advanced sommelier, a certified wine educator, certified specialist of spirits, and recently, a certified cicerone (I enjoy mispronouncing it to sound like chicharones). I also recently failed the Master Sommelier Exam for my first time. It was an honor to even be let in the building, and I will be back. Don't worry if you don't know exactly what those are or how they're different. It just means I really like taking tests about alcohol. I have a little pin that I can put on my lapel for each of those distinctions. I keep them all in a little Del Maguey clay mezcal cup. I'm told I'm too modest, and that I should indulge in a little self promotion occasionally. We'll just say I'm covering that by assuming the internet wants to hear what I have to say.

Oftentimes I think of stuff that I wish I could tell people, and I think "Dang, it would be so convenient if I had a blag. I should get me one of those." Here it is.

SO

Enough introductions. What did you want to talk about Justin? Thanks for asking, internet:

The first time you start getting interested in wine, they call it "the wine bug". You go about your day and think about stuff, but your mind keeps drifting back to wine. What does this taste like? Why do they make it this way? What food would this go good with? You ponder these things out loud and it annoys the shit out of everyone around you. You forget about it for a day or two, then you find you've lost 4 hours in a Barnes & Noble because you've been reading The Oxford Companion to Wine.

You have the wine bug. So itchy.

I became afflicted with said bug around 21. Maybe a year and a half after that, I got the liquor bug. I bought a bunch of cocktail books and I spent tons of money I didn't have on damn near everything. I frequently tell people I drank fernet branca before it was cool to do so. Unfortunately, that just means I wasn't cool when I was drinking fernet branca. Oh well. I even went to bartending school, before I was smart enough to realize its a scam. Never did get to be a bartender, but my friends and I threw some rad parties with our newfound ability to make grasshoppers, rusty nails, harvey wallbangers, and other underaged drinking throwup-causers.

Got to be a sommelier at the probably way too early age of 22. Got to be a wine director after that. I jumped the restaurant ship last year in lieu of retail paradise: Central Market. Back at Brand X, I had responsibility for like 25 beers total. Most of them were adjunct lagers. I arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed at CM, took one look at the 500 beers on one wall, and quickly realized I didn't know anything about beer. Had to fix this. Can't sell a product I know nothing about.

I drank a lot of beer at Agora when I was in highschool. But I didn't bother to remember what any of it tasted like, or where it came from, or how it was made.

I started studying beer out of a sense of duty to know about what pays my bills. But quickly I found myself really digging deep. How is this dumb beer made? Why does it work with the foods it works with? I begrudgingly found myself enjoying learning a lot about beer. I signed up for the Certified Cicerone exam on a whim, and actually passed. It was a hard test, and it reminded me a lot of the wine tests I've taken in the past. I wondered all kinds of beer questions out loud, and it annoyed the shit out of everyone around me.

So that was last year. I took the MS exam since. For those not in the know, the MS exam is the most respected wine test in the world. Fewer than 200 people have ever passed it. Its the furthest career goal I have in this world, and its probably a little foolish of me to assume that all my problems will go away when (if) I get that gold and red pin.

Wine is what pays my bills. Wine is what makes the majority of the money at all the places I've worked, CM included.

I'm studying for the MS exam again. I have a better idea of what to expect, and I'm studying accordingly. Not as hard as I should be, but hey, I'm easing my foot back in the water.

What is honest to god freaking me out, dear internet, is that while all logic dictates that I should be daydreaming about wine, I'm not. I'm thinking about beer.

Fucking beer. Why? I don't know. I'm a somm. I'm not supposed to care about beer this much.

Let me say that its not hard for me to pick my favorite child: wine. So much. I love the hell out of wine. But I'm also struggling to contain my enthusiasm for beer. My professional friends notice. "You won't like this, it's not beer." Who doesn't like jokes? But I get nervous. Part of a reason I started this blag is to talk out my alcohol identity crisis. It's clear to me that I'm being judged to various degrees for my newfound love of beer. Best case scenario people think I'm going through a phase. Worst case scenario they think I've given up on wine. Come on people.

I talk to beer people about wine. I talk to wine people about beer. It makes my head want to explode. I think what I'm starting to see is that both sides feel certain things are given that the other side doesn't. Maybe only one side is right (beer WAS discovered first, pat yourselves on the back) but I feel like there are far fewer certainties in the discussion of beer and wine than both sides are objective enough to admit.

And hey, I'll admit I'm not objective either. But I'm not satisfied with the discussion of wine, beer, and liquor in the context of one another. So you see, internet, this is why I've chosen to barf my opinion all over you. Sorry. *dabs with napkins*

That's probably enough for now. I look forward to sharing too much about myself under the guise of talking about alcohol. Buh bye now.