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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Siciliano's Black Friday Equipment Kit Sale

By Doug Dorda

If you're brave enough to venture out this Black Friday, be sure to stop by Siciliano's Market. Besides having the all the beer (or harder stuff) you'll need to help you unwind after a long day at the mall, our beer- and wine-making equipment kits—i.e. the perfect gift for the libation enthusiast on your list—will be on sale for this day only. See below for details, and good luck out there, people.

Beer-Making Equipment Kit Deals

Each of these deals will provide you with one version of our beer-making equipment kits as well as two cases of clear 12-oz amber bottles, a wine thief, and a copy of How to Brew by John Palmer. Aside from the ingredients and, in one case, a brew pot, these deals include just about everything a first-time brewer is going to need to brew.

  • Doug's Deluxe Equipment Kit Deal, $135 – With this package, you get the Brewers Best deluxe equipment kit. You will also receive two cases of 12-oz amber bottles, the wine thief, and a copy of How to Brew by John Palmer. These items, sold separately, are a combined value of $158, making for a total savings of $23. Please note that the deluxe kit does not contain a brew pot—this is the deal to consider for those who may already have a 5-gallon kettle.
  • Doug's Beast of A Deal, $165 – With this package, you get the Brewers Beast equipment kit, as well as the two cases of bottles, wine thief and book. This kit contains everything that can be found in the deluxe kit, but also includes a 5-gallon stainless steel brew pot by Polar Ware, a test tube, and a vial of IO-San sanitizer. For those who need to purchase the complete package, look no further than this deal. Again, the total savings add up to $23, as the separate cost amounts to $188. 

Wine Making Equipment Kit Deal

It is important to note that the winemaking deal varies significantly from the beer-making deal. The least of the reasons behind that being there is no boil necessary for winemaking so a pot is of no concern.

  • Doug's Wine-Making DealFor only $130, you get the Vitners Best Winemaking equipment kit, two cases of 750-ml green Bordeaux wine bottles and an auxiliary 6-gallon glass carboy. The total cost for the items purchased separately would be $150, good for a savings of $20!

Friday, November 22, 2013

New Beer Friday, Michigan Micro Caps Edition (Nov 22)

By Chris Siciliano

Part game, part search engine
Good news, folks. Our pals down at Fusionary have released a major update to their popular Michigan Micro Caps mobile application. In addition to preserving the challenging gameplay that made earlier versions a hit with thousands of users, the updated app offers new location-based search functionality to help Michigan craft beer enthusiasts discover more of what they love: Michigan craft beer.

With new location-based functionality, users can employ their current location to find nearby breweries, or enter a zip code or city name to locate remote breweries, or they can browse the brewery directory by alphabetical order. Users can also search for breweries within one of eight sub-regions, including Detroit, Traverse City and Grand Rapids.

From our experience, the Michigan Micro Caps game provides the most up-to-date, complete directory of Michigan breweries available, including recently opened and soon-to-open establishments as well as all active breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs. Each entry on the list provides a portal to the brewery’s Facebook page, Twitter page, website, phone number and its location on a map.

In short, Michigan Micro Caps is not just a game. It’s a tool that every beer fan who travels the state looking for new craft beer experiences should have on his or her phone. Speaking of "craft beer experiences," that reminds us—here's all the latest to hit the shelves at Siciliano's.

*Michigan Micro Caps is available for both iOS and Android devices. Visit the Micro Caps website for more information and to download.

New & Returning Beers at Siciliano's

  • Angry Orchard Crisp Cider, $1.59/12oz, $1.89/16oz - "This crisp and refreshing cider mixes the sweetness of the apples with a subtle dryness for a balanced cider taste. The fresh apple aroma and slightly sweet, ripe apple flavor make this cider hard to resist" (source).
  • Sam Adams White Christmas, $1.69/12oz - "As crisp as the first snowfall of the year, this unfiltered white ale is blended with holiday spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, & orange peel. The familiar citrus and wheat characters of the ale are complimented by the warmth of the spices for a festive brew that’s perfect for the season" (source).
  • Sam Adams Merry Maker, $7.19/22oz - "This rich dark gingerbread stout entices with the aromas of the holidays.  The flavor of gingerbread comes alive, beginning with the smooth sweetness and heartiness of dark roasted malts and a touch of wheat.  But it’s the intensity and spices of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, & ginger that add a wicked kick for a jolly playful brew full of merry mischief" (source).
  • Delerium Noel, $6.49/11.2oz - A Belgian strong ale.
  • St. Bernardus Christmas, $12.99/750ml - "St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is the youngest descendant in the illustrious family of delicious Abbey Ales by Brewery St. Bernardus. This specialty beer of 10% alc. vol. is characterized by its deep dark colour, with a creamy, thick head and a full, almost velvety taste with a fruity nose. It's a seasonal ale, brewed annually for the holiday season. The long winter nights are perfect moments to savour this ale with or without friends and to enjoy its unique, complex taste and after-taste" (source).
  • Saugatuck Neopolitan Stout, $2.59/12oz - "Dark roasty notes balanced with creamy flavors of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla" (source).
  • Thirsty Dog Cerberus 10 Dog Ale, $3.39/12oz - "This beer is made with one grain and 4 Belgian yeasts, a deceptive golden color, and a malty palate lend complexity to this Belgian Trippel Ale" (source).
  • Scaldis Noel, $19.59/750ml - "This is a sweet beer with a pleasant flavour of hops. Indeed, for Bush de Noel, the brewer uses a traditional process which consists in placing hops flowers in the vats where the beer rests for four to six weeks by which time it will have reached full maturity, giving it a very distinctive taste" (source).
  • Left Hand Warrior IPA, $6.69/22oz - "Brewed only once a year with fresh hops hand-picked in Longmont, CO and Warrior hops straight off the vine from Yakima, WA. Warrior is brewed using a unique style called “Wet Hopping,” which requires only hops that are no more than a day from the vine. “Wet Hopping” imparts only a mild aroma, but an exceptionally fresh unfiltered hop flavor" (source).
  • Epic Escape to Colorado, $4.29/22oz - "Epic Brewing has been making high-strength beers in the land of low-strength (Utah). Rather than expand their operations there, they chose to open a 2nd brewery in a more encouraging state, Colorado. This is their first batch of beer brewed here in Denver. Big, fruity hop aromas" (source).
  • Atwater Shaman Porters, $2.89/12oz - "Atwater's newest Lager! A Porter traditionally brewed in the baltic region. We use the finest ingredients including Munich, Chocolate, and Black Malts along with German Hops to create the smoothest Porter you have ever tasted. Shaman's Porter will thwart any tricksters or evil spirits" (source).
  • Avery Old Jubilation, $1.99/12oz - "Our winter strong ale has a gorgeous mahogany hue, a hint of hazelnuts, and a finish reminiscent of mocha and toffee. No spices, just a perfect blend of five specialty malts. Cellarable for 2 years" (source).
  • Epic Big Bad Baptist, $11.99/22oz - "It’s Big, it’s Bad, Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, with Coffee and Cocoa Nibs" (source).
  • Left Hand Fade to Black Volume 5, $2.09/12oz - "This Rye Ale boasts a deep dark brown body with an off white head. This dark brew envelopes your nose with aromas of dark coffee, maple wood and hints of dark agave nectar. The flavor is an intense evolution that starts off with nut bread flowing into molasses followed by a taste of licorice. This lands on spicy rye notes all before being washed away by earthy hop, leaving behind a slight black pepper sensation. So put away the bathing suit, pop a bottle of this black beauty and watch summer fade way" (source).
  • Big Sky Ivan the Terrible Imperial, $16.49/750ml - "Big Sky Brewing’s Ivan the Terrible Imperial Stout is brewed according to the traditional style using English hops and the finest American malt. Its aroma and flavor balances well between esters of dried fruit and roasted cocoa with a slight bourbon presence. Ivan was aged for a minimum of three months in American oak Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels" (source).

Picture of the Week

Now this is bacon! Pork belly, cured & smoked
by the boss' brother, Mark Siciliano


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

New Product Spotlight: Wyeast 1217 (West Coast IPA)

Introducing New Product Spotlight, a blog series intended to inform Siciliano's customers of the latest new products to arrive at Siciliano's.

By Doug Dorda

We're pleased to announce that Wyeast 1217 West Coast IPA ($8.69), from the Wyeast "Private Collection" series, is now and will be available at Siciliano's Market for the remainder of this year.

This most prolific of seasonal yeast strains, offered through the months of November and December, plays host to a character trait that may have you experimenting the next time a recipe calls for an American ale yeast strain. The trait in question? Flocculation.

Flocculation refers to the ability of yeast to “grab” onto itself after alcoholic fermentation has ceased. Through this process, clumps of yeast become heavy enough to fall to the bottom of a fermentation vessel, and, in doing so, leave us with clearer beer!

The major difference between Wyeast 1217 and the classic American Ale strain (Wyeast 1056) is an increased rate of flocculation with less need for manipulation on behalf of the brewer. It is worth noting, however, that although excellent for IPAs, the 1217 strain is also ideally suited for malt-forward beers such as scotch ales, red ales, and brown ales. This is due to mild ester production, even at warmer temperatures. ('Tis the season to make winter warmers!) The specifics regarding the strain can be found below and on the Wyeast website.

I’d also like to take a moment to inform our brewers that orders for Wyeast are placed every Monday morning. We do this for two reasons: first, to ensure the freshest of yeast possible, and second, to allow for anyone to place special orders for large quantities of yeast or specific strains that we may not carry on a regular basis. If you wish to place a special order, simply call the store and leave the order for Doug, or email me at

Wyeast 1217-PC West Coast IPA

Beer Styles: American IPA, Imperial IPA, American Pale Ale, American brown ale, Red Ales, Scottish Ales

Profile: This strain is ideally suited to the production of west-coast style American craft beers, especially pale, IPA, red, and specialties. Thorough attenuation, temp tolerance, and good flocculation make this an easy strain to work with. Flavor is balanced neutral with mild ester formation at warmer temps, allowing hops, character malts, and flavorings to show through.

    • Alc. Tolerance 10% ABV
    • Flocculation med-high
    • Attenuation 73-80%
    • Temp. Range 62-74°F (17-23°C)
*Prices subject to change.

Friday, November 15, 2013

New Beer Friday, Perrin's Homebrew Challenge Edition (November 15)

Preamble by Steve Siciliano

One happy homebrewer at
Perrin Brewing Company
This past Sunday, fourteen teams of West Michigan homebrewers participated in a “homebrewing challenge” organized and sponsored by Perrin Brewing Company. Brewing on their own equipment set up inside Perrin’s enclosed front porch, the teams were given free rein in crafting batches of beer with wort and yeast provided by the brewery and hops donated by Siciliano’s Market. Local homebrew equipment manufacturer Coldbreak Brewing provided the immersion chillers for cooling the wort.

The fourteen team beers will be judged by Perrin’s brewers and taproom employees in January and the winning team will have the opportunity to brew their recipe on Perrin’s forty barrel system.

The wort used in Sunday’s event was taken from the grain bill formulated by Michael Carr, the Best of Show winner of the 2013 Siciliano’s Homebrew Competition. Carr brewed his American IPA recipe at Perrin Sunday morning and, according to head brewer Sam Shepard, the beer will be on tap at the brew pub in about four weeks.

Sherwood said that Perrin organized the challenge as a way of giving back to the homebrewing community. “We recognize how important homebrewers are to our continued success,” he said. “We thought that it was just a great idea using Mike’s grain bill as the wort for this event.” We think so too.

New and Returning Beer

  • Smuttynose Big A IPA, $2.59/12oz - "For our hopping regime we went with Cascade and Nuggets in the boiling addition. Centennials were added every 5 minutes for the last 30 minutes of the boil. We added Crystals into the whirlpool. Dry hopping was done in both the fermentor after primary fermentation and the bright tank. We used a mixture of Chinook, Nuggets, and Sterlings in the fermentors and whole leaf Centennials in the bright tank" (source).
  • Abita Andygator, $1.99/12oz - "A creature of the swamp, Andygator is a unique high gravity brew made with 2-row pale malt, German lager yeast, and Liberty hops. Unlike other high gravity brews, Andygator is fermented to a dry finish" (source).
  • Goose Island Lolita, $20.29/750ml - "You might think this is a Russian style girly beer (a little Nabokov for you), but instead it is a very sophisticated Raspberry Belgian Ale. Fermented with brettanomyces (the little guys who give us that tart zing) and fresh raspberries, this brew is bright yet deep with spices and edges of the fruits natural tart quality to give it a white wine kind of finish" (source).
  • Short's ControversiALE, $1.99/12oz - "Toasted pale ale with tons of citrus hoppiness" (source).
  • Vivant Plow Horse, $4.39/16oz (limit 1 4-pack/person) - "The famous Belgian hevy plow horse descends from medieval war horses that carried armored knights into battle. Eventually they became common work horses for family farms. Great strength and mellow temperament made them ideal for tiling heavy soil. This seemed fitting name for one of the biggest beers we make, as the recipe pushes the limits of our mash tun. Each batch is so packed with dark roasted grains that they literally spill out the top of the tank on brew day" (source).
  • Olvisholt Lava, $17.19/22oz - "Smoked imperial stout with a thick brown head. Sweet with chocolate and roasted malt in the flavour. The aftertaste is roasted malt, smoke and warming alcohol. Aroma of smoke chocolate and a bit of alcohol" (source).
  • Leinenkugel Snowdrift Vanilla Porter, $1.49/12oz - "Leinenkugel’s Snowdrift Vanilla Porter is a robust and velvety addition to Leinenkugel’s seasonal selection. This porter-style beer is aged on real vanilla to reveal rich layers of caramel, coffee and chocolate that is ideal for the season" (source).
  • Greens Enterprise Dry-Hopped Lager, $7.79/500ml - "Golden pale in color, the nose is a mix of citrus-floral aroma sensations, clean with a light malt taste, but with an herbal, hoppy aftertaste. Body and mouthfeel are light and refreshing" (source).
  • Cellar Brewing Lighter Shade of Pale Ale, $1.79/12oz - Commercial description not yet available. From Cellar Brewing Company, Sparta, Michigan.
  • Innis & Gunn Scottish Porter, $2.79/12oz - "This beer takes its inspiration from the history books. As well as using flavour-packed chocolate and crystal malt, we also added treacle (molasses) which gives the beer its rich, bittersweet character. 100 years ago in Scotland, treacle was used by brewers to create depth and sweetness and to give beers a richer mouthfeel and more rounded finish" (source).
  • Innis & Gunn Oloroso Cask, $7.09/22oz - "This beer takes its inspiration from the history books. As well as using flavour-packed chocolate and crystal malt, we also added treacle (molasses) which gives the beer its rich, bittersweet character. 100 years ago in Scotland, treacle was used by brewers to create depth and sweetness and to give beers a richer mouthfeel and more rounded finish" (source).
  • Batemans Mocha, $4.69/17oz - "A fresh coffee and chocolate experience brewed with genuine arabica coffee, fine Belgian chocolate and locally grown roasted malt" (source).

Shout Out of the Week | Chef Jenna from Amore on Eight West

During a recent segment on Eight West, Chef Jenna from Amore Trattoria Italiana
gave a nice shout out to Siciliano's Market. Thanks, Chef Jenna!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

New Beer Friday, A Walk in Florence Edition (November 8)

Steve at Pitti Palace
Preamble by Steve Siciliano

It was Sunday afternoon in Florence and Barb and I were dead tired. We had just left the Uffizi Gallery, and after the trudge up to the fourth floor and the five hours of working our way through the massive art museum we were running on empty.

The works by Botticelli, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Titian and Raphael roused our intellects and perked our senses, but the cumulative effects of two weeks of travel had taken a physical toll on our weary bodies. It was our last day in Italy.

Our plan after leaving the Uffizi was to find an outdoor café where we would sit for an hour or so, drink a few beers, and relax before an early supper. There was a flight to Frankfort the next morning and then a ten hour plane ride back to the states.

Santo Spirito
We walked on our leaden legs through Florence. Every seat in every outdoor café in every piazza, it seemed, was occupied by tourists and Florentines enjoying late lunches. We made our way through the Palazzo della Signoria, past its wonderful Neptune fountain and its magnificent Renaissance sculptures, over the jewelry-shop-lined Ponte Vecchio, past the massive stone walls of the Pitti Palace, where the Medicis once resided, and we kept walking until we found ourselves in the square in front of Santo Spirito, a church that has a wooden crucifix carved by a 17-year-old Michelangelo. We walked until we came to a little piazza where I spotted an empty park bench. “Sit down,” I said to my exhausted wife. “I’ll be right back.”

Inside a bar just off the piazza I bought two bottles of Pilsner Urquell. “Aprire?” asked the man behind the counter. Si, I wanted them open.

We drank the beer while sitting on the park bench in the piazza. We watched Italian men wearing scarfs reading the Sunday paper. We watched their wives standing in groups talking and their children chasing pigeons and eating gelato.

I have many delightful memories of our travels in Italy—from gazing in amazed wonder at the magnificence of St Peters, to looking out at rolling acres of vineyards and olive trees from the height of a Tuscan hill town, to drinking that rejuvenating Pilsner Urquell while sitting on a park bench in a piazza in Florence on a Sunday afternoon.

Here's to making your own delightful memories with a little help from Siciliano's and the newest beers to arrive on our shelves.

New and Returning Beer

  • Shorts Evil Urges, $2.19/12oz (limit 2/person) - "Evil Urges is a Belgian dark strong ale with a deep dark brown color. A sharp aroma of chocolate and molasses hits the senses, reminiscent of a rich liqueur. Aided by additions of Belgian amber candy sugar, the initial flavors are sweet and malty, with some unique, dark fruit qualities. This full bodied beer is defined by its roast malt character and slight black coffee bitterness that lead into an intense warming finish" (source).
  • Stone Double Bastard, $7.69/22oz - "This is a lacerative muther of a beer. The evil big brother of Arrogant Bastard Ale. It is strongly suggested you stay far, far away from this beer. Those foolish enough to venture close enough to taste will experience a punishingly unforgiving assault on the palate. ’Course there’s always the masochists" (source).
  • He'brew Jewbelation Reborn, $13.79/22oz - "With a brand new 20,000 square feet brewery in Upstate New York, Shmaltz Brewing is rarin’ to go with this year’s limited-edition Anniversary releases, including Jewbelation Reborn® (17 malts, 17 hops, 17% alc)" (source).
  • Southern Tier 2Xmas, $1.99/12oz - "Double spiced ale brewed in the tradition of Swedish Glögg" (source).
  • Southern Tier  Old Man Winter, $1.69/12oz - "With the onset of winter, the brewer’s mind turns to providing warmth. For our winter seasonal, Southern Tier offers Old Man Winter Ale, a rich and complex amalgam of hops and barley that will put the feeling back in your toes and lift your spirits above the snow. Old Man Winter throws a deep and inviting hue with a thickness that clings to the glass and the warmth of an open flame. Because of its high alcohol content, Old Man Winter is a heady brew that encourages sipping and pondering its essential richness. Drink it fresh now, or cellar some bottles to see how this old man becomes wiser with age" (source).
  • Boulder Beer Shake Chocolate Porter, $1.89/12oz - "Our twist on the traditional american porter, Shake chocolate porter is black in color with rich, dark chocolate aromatics and flavors and subtle coffee-like notes. This unique brew blends five different grains, including Chocolate Wheat, that along with cacao nibs create a devilishly delicious chocolate finish with a velvety mouth feel." (source).
  • Atwater Winter Bock, $1.79/12oz - "This malty, sweet, dark amber colored German-style bock beer is brewed with imported malt and hops. Its uncommon smoothness and impeccable taste make it the perfect companion for a cold night" (source).
  • Frankenmuth Christmas Town Ale, $1.69/12oz - "Brewed with American hops and sweet dark malts, the Christmas Town Ale offers a distinct taste that undeniably calls to mind the memories of Christmas past. The tree, the feast, the snow falling through the winter air and now Christmas Town Ale will all be a part of your holiday traditions" (source).
  • Scaldis Peche Mel, $5.49/12oz - "A fruit beer with big taste and out of this world peach aroma. Pêche Mel’s Dubuisson signature yeast gives it a peppery kick and keeps it from being too sweet. A unique beer that pours a deep russet color and forms an absolutely gorgeous rocky head. Think of it as the moscato of the beer world" (source).
  • D'achouffe Houblon Chouffe, $4.59/12oz - "A unique marriage between the English tradition of IPAs, the new American revolution of Imperial IPAs and the classic Belgian way of brewing. Houblon Chouffe, although very much hopped as it is, showcases the unique balance between a very strong IPA and a very special Belgian Tripel exclusively created for this ale (Big malty body, distinct dryness, expressive estery fruitiness). IBU: 59, Original Gravity: 1092" (source).
  • D'achouffe N'ice Chouffe, $4.59/12oz - "A dark brown, fruity, lightly hoppy, sparkling, strong beer and is not pasteurized" (source).
  • Dogfish Head American Beauty, $14.09/22oz (limit 1/person) - "More than 1,500 loyal fans of the brewery and band suggested an ingredient idea and the Dead-inspired story behind it. Our favorite was granola, from California Dead Head and craft beer lover Thomas Butler. “The components of granola – honey, toasted grains, oats and fruit – offer a lot from a beer perspective,” says Thomas, a chemist by day, homebrewer by night. “The idea is to have a bold pale ale that highlights the oats and honey with a nice ‘dank’ hop selection.” American Beauty is brewed with all-American malts and hops, granola and little bit of soul. It’s malty with a big hop kick, and notes of toasted almond and honey round out the flavor profile and balance out the hop bitterness" (source).

Picture of the Week

Big Bass Lake, Irons, Michigan
(A far cry from Italy, but not a bad place to spend the day)


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Boss Abroad: Six Days in Loro Ciuffenna, Tuscany

In the fall of 2013, Siciliano's Market owners Steve & Barb Siciliano spent two weeks in Italy. What follows is an account of one leg of that trip.

The streets of Loro Ciuffenna
By Steve Siciliano

Loro Ciuffenna is a small town tucked in the southern foothills of the Pratomagno, a range of medium-sized mountains located in the northeast region of Tuscany. The town was built up along the sides of a deep gorge and, if you’re brave enough, you can cautiously shuffle up to the waist-high railing of an ancient stone bridge just off the central piazza and gaze far down below at a tumbling mountain stream. Among the stone buildings that rise up along the steep cliffs is a water-powered mill dating from the 13th century, and just downstream from the mill is the small hotel called Casa Eugenia where Barb and I stayed during our six days in Tuscany.

Many Tuscan hill towns are surrounded by immense stone walls that were erected as protection from invasions during the middle ages. If you’re traveling in Tuscany by car, you park in lots outside those walls and walk up to the towns on steep, narrow, stone paved roads called vicolo (little streets). There are no walls surrounding Loro Ciuffenna—apparently it wasn’t strategic enough to be worth invading. But, as in most Tuscan towns, unless you live there or work there, you are not permitted to drive on the streets. After parking our rental car, Barb and I rolled our suitcases up and down the vicoli looking for Casa Eugenia.

The front door of Casa Eugenia
Because we were a bit frazzled after getting lost on our drive up from Chiusi, and because we had such a hard time communicating our predicament, we were euphoric that we were able to find the hotel so easily. That euphoria quickly dissipated after discovering that the only entrance to the hotel—a glass door—was locked. After a few minutes of knocking and peering into the dark lobby, Barb noticed a hand written sign—suonare il campanello—and after consulting our Italian/English dictionary we were able to deduce what the words meant—ring the buzzer. We kept ringing that buzzer for five minutes. Finally I left Barb with our luggage and walked back up the vicolo where I saw an old lady walking slowly behind two little white terriers.

“Buongiorno,” I said.

“Buongiorno,” she answered.

“Inglese?” I asked hopefully.

She stared at me. I pointed down the vicolo towards the hotel. “Casa Eugenia,” I said. “We’re staying there. The door is locked.” I made a gesture that I’d hoped would convey an attempt at opening a door.

“Eh?” the lady said.

“Casa Eugenia.” I said again, pointing. I put my palms together and laid my head on my hands. “We’re sleeping there,” I said, pointing again. “We can’t get in.”

She walked a little ways down the vicolo until she spotted Barb standing at the door with our luggage. “Ah,” she said, followed by a lengthy stream of (to me) unintelligible Italian.

She began walking and not knowing what else to do I followed. After a few minutes we were in Loro Ciuffenna’s piazza. She stopped abruptly and pointed towards one of those little cafes with a few outdoor tables that in Italy are called bars.

“Andare,” she said.


“Si, si. Andare.”

Before the rain
I relunctantly left my new friend and walked into the bar. Two old men were standing at the counter drinking espressos and there was another old man standing behind the counter. All three eyed me suspiciously. “Inglese?” I asked the man behind the counter without much optimism.

“Yes, I speak English,” he replied in a British accent. I was so surprised to hear perfect English, let alone perfect English with a British accent, in a small hill town in Tuscany, and so relieved that I was actually able to explain my dilemma, that I had to restrain myself from hugging him. He happened to be the hotel owner’s father. He told me that his son Carlos was running errands and that his daughter-in-law Francesca was at the dentist. He made a phone call. “Carlos will be there in five minutes.” I found out later that Carlos’ Italian grandfather was stationed in England during World War II and that his father had been born there.

Carlos and Francesca turned out to be extremely charming hosts. They too spoke very good English, minus a British accent. Each morning they laid out wonderful breakfasts of sweets, fresh fruits, meats, cheeses, cold cereal, crusty Tuscan bread and huge, steaming cups of excellent coffee. They offered advice and printed out directions for our day trips in Tuscany. They gave us suggestions on where to eat, places to go and things to see.

After the rain
One morning after an all-night rain they convinced us that it would be too dangerous that day to drive. When Barb and I were walking through Loro Ciuffenna’s narrow streets after breakfast we saw that the tumbling stream had transformed into a roaring, deep-plunging, mist-generating torrent. We hiked up a high hill on the outskirts of town, up through neat vineyards and stands of olive trees to an ancient stone church. While we rested we gazed out at the mist-draped valley and watched bolts of lighting flashing in the distance. The next day we heard that some tourists had died in Chianti when their car veered off a rain-slick road.

On our last evening in Loro Ciuffenna we were sitting outside the bar in the piazza when the old lady walked up with her two little dogs. Communicating with fragments of Italian and a good deal of hand gestures, we learned that her name was Deena, that the names of her dogs were Romeo and Juliet, that her husband had recently died and that she was suffering from a lung ailment. She went into the bar and came out with a pack of cigarettes.

“Buonasera,” she said and smiled as she walked past us.

“Buonasera,” we answered.

Steve & Deena

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Revisiting Home Winemaking

By Weston Eaton

Perhaps I best begin this essay by noting what it is not about. Rather than providing detailed instructions on how to make wine from grapes or from a winemaking ingredient kit, I want to instead tell the story of my own home winemaking experience. For explicit instructions on making wine, visit Siciliano's Market or their website. What follows here is a description of what it takes to make wine at home, which I present as a primer for those interested in taking up the practice of winemaking, as well as to those of you who have wondered what I am up to out in my garage.

Although increasingly popular and visible, home winemaking is nothing new. Like all fermented products, making wine is essentially a means to preserve produce, in this case grapes or other fruit. All wine, of course, was once “made at home.” In particular, up until the industrial and scientific revolutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, home beer and winemaking in (Europe at least) was the providence of women working at home. However, along with the rise of science and technology came an increased division of labor between men and women, resulting in the masculinization and professionalization of beer brewing and wine making. While farmers and others continued to make wine from their own grapes, these historic processes were largely successful is separating lay people—me and you—from professionals. As a result, wine was something that was bought, rather than made for one’s self or family.

Steve Siciliano (left) and Wes Eaton
crushing grapes behind Siciliano's Market
In North America, the lay/professional divide was challenged by early homebrewing pioneers such as Charlie Papazian, whose “off-the-grid” ethic personified a movement bent on taking fermentation out of the hands of professionals, whose products were getting stale frankly, and redefining what fermented products could and should be. From my perspective, the home beer making movement is key for home winemaking. However, there are distinct histories, which are likely due to necessary ingredients. Unlike beer, which requires malted barley, hops, and brewers yeast—items not normally grown in the yard—wine can be made from anything (although some ingredients, such as grapes or apples, are likely to produce superior wine than others, such as onions). Due to the accessibility of ingredients, home winemaking remained a practice passed down generation to generation, taking place in cellars, garages, and barns.

"I'm crushed," said the little grapes.
The distinction between beer and winemaking first became apparent to me while working at Siciliano’s Market. Whereas homebrewers were often younger folks generally new to fermentation, and were either in search of a new hobby or fascinated by craft beer and looking for a way to create their own, winemakers were often confident in their general understanding of the practice—they had seen their uncle, father, or grandfather make wine in the cellar or barn years before. When they did have questions, the trick was to introduce some of the ‘science‘ of wine-making–sanitization, yeast, sulfites, pH, gravity, and so on—in ways they were comfortable with and that enhanced, rather than intruded upon, their vision for what winemaking was. Others, including myself, were introduced to winemaking as an extension of the repertoire of possible fermentation activities, including cheese and yogurt making, beer, and pickles. Grapes, however, were not alway available. In this way, I came to understand wine making as a seasonal activity, like maple syrup making, in that one makes wine when the grapes are ready.

Seasonality then is my first point in explaining my winemaking practice to inquiring minds. I use fresh grapes, grown near Allegan, Michigan, by Taylor Ridge Vineyards, although there are numerous vineyards one can order winemaking grapes from. Depending on the year, as well as variety, grapes are generally ready for harvest from late September until late October, which means you must be ready for them. Once picked, it's best to process your fruit within 24 hours, lest the fruit flies and elements dampen their quality. Most home winemakers think in terms of 6 gallon batches, which makes thirty 750ml bottles. A batch generally requires one hundred pounds of grapes.

Bryan Taylor of Taylor Ridge Vineyards
Processing your fruit is my second point. Again, the folks at Siciliano's can provide you specifics; my intent instead is to paint a clear picture of what it takes to make wine. First, your grapes need to be crushed and de-stemmed. One can indeed do this by hand, depending on the volume! Or one can use equipment meant for this, such as that offered for rent on site at Siciliano’s Market. [Editor's note: Contact Siciliano's for more information on renting our crushing/destemming equipment.]

Second, red grapes will ferment on the skins, in a large crock, plastic or stainless fermenter, whereas whites will have the juice pressed off immediately. Fermenting on the skins allows for the extraction of tannins and colors into the must, which is the fermenting liquid slurry. Once fermentation is complete, in about a week, the skins are scooped into a wine press and the juice is collected into a glass fermenter. Once sediment collects on the bottom, the wine is then transferred to a final fermenter, where oak is added, and the wine ages 'in bulk.' In fact, I set my wine aside, on oak, until the following year’s grapes are ready, and bottle only when I am getting next year’s vintage started.

With even this brief description, one can see that winemaking, for me at least, is a process that takes place over the course of the year, and that becomes ingrained in the seasons and in this way built up over time as a family tradition. I’m sure there are other ways to do this, ways that are suited to the constraints of other households and families. But this is precisely the point I would like to emphasize: Winemaking is a rich practice that takes place over the course of months, albeit in numerous short spurts of activity. Its rewards are both immediate—the satisfaction of transforming grapes into must, and activating fermentation for instance—as well as long term. This holiday season, for instance, my family will be enjoying my 2010 vintages.

Friday, November 1, 2013

New Beer Friday, A Visit to the Old Country Edition (Nov 1)

Preamble by Steve Siciliano

A Roman holiday
Due birre alla spina media, per favore.

I never thought I’d be saying those words so often in Italy.

Translation: “Two medium draft beers, please.”

Barb and I drank a lot of wine during our recent Italian vacation but we were expecting to do that. Italy, after all, shares with France the title of largest wine producer in the world, and a good portion of our trip was spent in Tuscany where some of Italy’s most famous wines—Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino—are produced. Each night we enjoyed wonderful meals that were enhanced by equally wonderful bottiglie of vino rosso. The fact that we would also enjoy bicchieri of drought Italian beer each afternoon was an unexpected but pleasant surprise.

We drank those icy cold glasses of Peroni or Moretti while sitting at the little outdoor cafes that are called bars in Italy. The bars are as ubiquitous in Italy as convenience stores and coffee shops are in the states. Besides offering alcoholic refreshments, the bars are where the Italians, and tourists, go for tiny cups of espresso, caffe machiatto and caffe latte. We certainly drank our share of caffeine in these establishments but we found too that a birre alla spina after hours of sight seeing in Rome and Florence or after exploring the magnificent Tuscan hill towns proved to be the perfect restorative.

For restoratives newly available state-side, see the list of beers below.

New and Returning Beers at Siciliano's

  • Lagunitas A Little Sumpin' Wild, $1.99/12oz - "Another Big Sister of the Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale…. Loads of Malted Wheat for a Curious Malt Foundation and a Light Color, But Our Belgian Yeast Leaves a Huge Flavor and Complexishness" (source).
  • Lagunitas Brown Shugga, $1.99/12oz (limit 1 6-pack/person) - "An aborted batch of their Old Gnarleywine ended up tasting nearly as good as that they were hoping for, so they bottled it. God bless capitalism" (source).
  • Abita Christmas Ale, $1.69/12oz - "As befits any Christmas present, each years offering is a unique product crafted with special care. Generally, this beer is a dark ale, however, the recipe changes each year. Available November thru December" (source).
  • Victory Winter Cheers, $1.79/12oz - "A wheat ale, combining German wheat and barley malts, oats, torrified wheat and whole flower Tettnang and Citra hops, this fruity and warming holiday brew delivers a refreshing finish, with spicy hints of banana, clove and citrus" (source).
  • Founders Backwoods Bastard, $3.09/12oz - "Big and delicious for your ’perty mouth. Expect lovely, warm smells of single malt scotch, oaky bourbon barrels, smoke, sweet caramel and roasted malts. A bit of earthy spice and a scintilla of dark cherries. It’s a kick-back sipper made to excite the palate" (source).
  • Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, $1.59/12oz - "Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale represents a time honored tradition of brewing a special beer for the holiday season. There are generous portions of barley malts and fine whole hops of several varieties, creating a brew with a full, rich and hearty character" (source).
  • Shorts Good Humans, $1.99/12oz - "Dry hopped double brown ale" (source).
  • Shorts Village Reserve, $1.49/12oz - "Fermented as “beer” from wort extracted from fully modified two-row pale malt which provides a beautiful straw color. This beer is aggressively hopped with Perle and Centennial hops. Its light body and low alcohol allow the hops to become more prominent throughout the beer. The floral aroma is attributed to heavy handfuls of centennial hops at the finish of the boil. Hearty handfuls of hops lend a grape fruity tone in the flavor and finish of the beer" (source).
  • Shorts Lil' Wheezy, $1.99/12oz - "A light bodied, heavily hopped, amber colored ale with predominant hop aromas of tropical fruit with compliments of sweet malt. The sole hop, Falconer’s Flight, has characteristics of dank earth and grassy hay-like flavors are balanced slightly by some full grain attributes before a big bitter shock strikes the back of the pallet and resonates sharply" (source).
  • Heavy Seas Winter Storm, $1.99/12oz - "Our 'winter warmer' ale, brewed with copious helpings of English malts and US and English hops, a ruddy hued 'Imperial ESB' in style. Full malty flavors dancing with powerful hop aromas and a lingering, firm hop bitterness. Seasonally available from mid October to February" (source).
  • Rogue Yellow Snow, $2.79/12oz - "Beeston Stout, Chariot Pils, Melanoidin, & Cara Foam Malts, Amarillo Hops" (source).
  • Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela No. 1 Pumpkin Beer, $14.39/22oz - "Ok, so the joke was that Jolly Pumpkin doesn’t brew a pumpkin beer. Well, now we do. Just this one. Packed with real pumpkins, hints of spice, and a gentle kiss of cocoa to liven the soul. An everyday easy way to fill your squashy quotient. Guess now folks will have to find something else to joke about" (source).
  • Virtue Cider Percheron, $21.59/750ml - "In Normandy, France, cider has been made on the farm for over a thousand years. Apples were carried from orchard to barn by cart, drawn by a big, grey horse—a percheron. The apples were milled and pressed into juice through straw—driven by that same horse—then fermented with wild yeast in used wine barrels. The resulting farm cider, or cidre fermier, was rustic and complex, with notes of both the farm and barrel. Percheron Cidre Fermier is dedicated to the big, beautiful horse of Normandy. Like its French cousin, it bares the unmistakable scent of the farm, a strong body, and a gentle finish" (source).
  • Shorts mixed 12-pack of limited availability beers ($20.09/12pk), featuring:
    • Shorts Black Diamond - "The new Schwartzbier brew, which translates into a German-style black lager, will be called “Black Diamond”— giving it a nod to winter and skiing. Visually, black lagers can be deceiving, featuring an opaque, black color and a full, chocolatey flavor similar to stout or porter. But unlike its dark cousins, Schwartzbier features a bottom fermenting lager yeast, which produces a medium-bodied brew with a smooth finish that will be worth savoring" (source).
    • Shorts Ginger Snap - "An English Dark Brown Ale brewed with cinnamon, molasses, and ginger" (source).
    • Shorts Mystery Stout - "This beer demands respect and respect it will have. Imperial Oatmeal Stout with cocoa and molasses. It is very strong and possesses rare flavor combinations which can overload even the most experienced beer connoisseur. Capture every bit of its warmth and wisdom, as it will demand all of your attention" (source).
    • Shorts Snow Wheat - "Snow Wheat is a light, clean, easy drinking Hefeweizen. This beer is categorized by a grain bill of 50% malted wheat and a German weizen yeast strain that is directly responsible for the distinctly complex flavors. Immediately evident are the esters of bananas and cloves that reflect similar flavors tasted, in this light clean easy drinking beer" (source).

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