Monday, February 22, 2016

Get Well Soon—Sick and Twisted Brewery, Hill City

Like many good stories…this one started with wine.

The story began when Rob and Kim Livingston had an idea—they wanted to bring a winery tasting room to the Black Hills.  They searched for business partners and found an Oregon winery looking to expand.  In 2011, the initial Naked Winery Tasting Room was opened in Custer, and the Hill City location soon followed.  (Read one of my very early blogs about Naked Winery's opening here.)  
Rob and Kim jumped into the world of wine head first.  They expanded their tasting room in Hill City while expanding their clientele.  They brought in additional wines and blended their own. 
But this is not the end of the story.  Quite far from it.  It is actually the beginning of another story.
Not long after Naked Wines became a success in the Black Hills, Rob and Kim knew they wanted to diversify.  Rob had long been a beer lover, especially of beer heavy on hops that add the strong, biting flavor.  It was a match made in heaven between the wines already at the tasting room and the beer Rob wanted to produce, so he again expanded, and Sick and Twisted Brewing was born.
Sick and Twisted stays in the same vein as Naked’s wines—a little bit of naughty and a whole lot of fun.  If you blush easily, some of the names might make you uncomfortable, but if you take your beer more seriously than you do yourself, this is the place for you.
On any given day, Sick and Twisted has 18 beers on tap, but that doesn’t include numerous other batches that might be brewing in back.  Rob and Kim both love to cook, and this love is where many of the beer ideas originate.  Rob creates all the recipes, and always makes sure to have a variety of styles on the menu.  For instance, there is always an ale, a stout, and an IPA from which to choose.
Though these are the “usual” suspects most expect to see, there are many very unusual options here as well.  Yes, a blonde ale is common.  But what about a watermelon blond ale?  An IPA is also common.  But what about a Black Hills spruce tip IPA?  Other unique features include Juicy Ginger and Sour Puss—both fun, citrusy options.  Then there is the Sexy Senorita, a chocolate, coffee, chili stout. 
As Rob comments, he is “having a gas” making these beers.  The twinkle in his eye is visible when he talks about his creations.  One especially has him grinning.  At the Great American Beer Fest in 2012, he saw a peanut butter beer.  He came home determined to make his own.  He took his Nut Hugger, an already earthy and nutty beer, and added peanut butter.  Each time he makes it, he changes the jelly flavoring.  However, also each time he makes it, it is a huge success.  The last time Rob poured this at a tasting event with the public, the first keg tapped out in an hour and twelve minutes; the second was gone in an hour and fifteen minutes. 
Sick and Twisted’s story continues with Rob’s newest project, the exclusive contract for producing Rushmore beers.  The names and labels will not only reflect the four presidents on Mount Rushmore, but they will also be unique brews.  The first is Honest Abe, a red ale for President Lincoln.  The Never Lie Porter represents George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson is on the label of Declaration of Independence IPA.  Perhaps the most unique Rushmore beer is the Big Stick Lemongrass for President Roosevelt, a lemongrass and mint beer inspired by a mint julep. 
Sick and Twisted cans several beers and fills growlers too, so these unique Black Hills beers can be enjoyed no matter where home is.  Food options consist of pizzas, sandwiches, soft pretzels, and cheese plates.  Fun events, including comedians and costume parties, are a continued example of the fun vibe Kim and Rob try to encourage here. 
The story of Sick and Twisted all started with a love of wine.  However, the appreciation of beer soon followed to continue to thicken the plot for Rob and Kim Livingston.  They are having a ton of fun taking the “pecksniffery” out of both quality wine and craft beer.  They take customers on quite an entertaining trip, all via a pint of beer.  Luckily, their story is not finished yet. 

Easy Amber—This is the beer for beginners and Bud Light lovers.  Just 4% alcohol and only 1.5 IBU (international bitterness units), this is a light-bodied beer any drinker will love.

Naughty Red Head—The imperial red ale is a beer for all year.  The more serious beer aficionado will enjoy this one due to its slightly heavier alcohol and much heavier IBU (43.1) than the Easy Amber. 

Peanut Butter and Jelly—So unique and so popular, this is a medium-bodied, nutty, earthy beer.  Mix this with the smoothness of peanut butter and the sweetness of jelly, and the PB&J is a hit.

4th Anniversary Hop on Top—“Hop heads” will unite behind this fourth generation IPA. This is Rob’s personal favorite; he loves the citrus and grapefruit with the hop finish.  At 102.7 IBU, this beer packs quite a punch.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Proud to Be The American--Firehouse Wine Cellars, The American

President’s Day is such an American holiday.  A time to celebrate two of the country’s most important presidents and their birthdays:  George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  Truly, there may be nothing more American than this day, when many workers get a needed break from the job.  No, nothing more American, except maybe baseball…and hot dogs…and apple pie…and the Marquette grape.

Yes, the Marquette grape.

It is one very American grape.  It’s a hybrid, meaning that is was “sexually” created by mating two other species of grapes together.  This happened in the American Midwest at the University of Minnesota in 2006. It is the grandchild of Pinot Noir, a French grape, but just like many great Americans, Marquette’s grandparents migrated to the U.S. to experience life in the New World.
 Marquette is not just a great American because it was “born” here; it is an example of the American resolve, the grit and guts it takes to find glory in this country.  Bred specifically to withstand harsh conditions, Marquette grapes can grow in shorter growing seasons while the vine's roots survive extremely harsh winters when temperatures drop well below freezing and wind chills down into the negative digits.  Yet, it has concentrated sugar and balanced acid if left on the vine until the perfect moment before picking.  This means that this fruit can make quality American wines in places that have not before been known for their wine trades.
South Dakota, home to Mount Rushmore—the Shrine of Democracy—is a perfect place to grow this patriotic grape.  Firehouse Wine Cellars in Rapid City makes this wine from its estate Marquette grapes grown just outside of Rapid at Old Folsom Vineyards.  These grapes were picked in 2014 on September 13.  I had the honor to help pick on a very chilly Saturday after a hard freeze and snow just two days before on September 11.  Despite the early snow (one of the earliest in the area in the past hundred years), the rest of the growing season was superb, and just over 10,000 pounds of Marquette was picked that weekend. (Want to know more about growing grapes in South Dakota?  Click here.)
Firehouse wanted to pay homage to its loyal citizen grape and the history of this particular grower; it did so by naming the wine The American.  Mike Gould, owner at Old Folsom Vineyards and Firehouse partner, wanted to name this wine to honor his grandfather, who came over to the United States more than one hundred years ago.  Mike’s granddad sailed all the way over to the New World from Italy and started a successful life here.  It is a fitting tribute for both the wine and the history of the grape grower.
The American proves its character from the first glance. A beautiful, medium-bodied wine, the garnet color reflects its stellar bloodline as a Pinot Noir descendant.  The smell was also reminiscent of its grandpa, with just-ripe plum, wet earth, slight mint, and green pepper; all these same elements showed through to the palate as well, then led to a spectacular spicy finish.  What a food friendly wine The American is with cheeses, salamis, and artichoke dip. 
Truly, The American is an impressive example of Marquette.  This is just one in a number of Marquette wines being produced throughout the Midwest that shows what these vines can do with a few years of maturity and a good growing season.  Firehouse winemakers have done a great job of letting the elements of this up-and-coming grape show with just the right amount of intervention in the cellar.  Wines like The American will only continue to increase the prestige and popularity of one of America’s great Midwestern grapes.
So happy President’s Day, Americans!  I hope you enjoyed this day by patriotic gestures like saluting important presidents with a glass of a very tasty—and very American—red wine.  See what loyal Marquette can do for its country by sipping The American, and then see what you can do for your country by enjoying local and American wines.  God. Bless.  America!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Ode to the Broncos--Colorado Wine

The beautiful state of Colorado is known for many attractions:  the picturesque Rocky Mountains, majestic Pike’s Peak, upscale Aspen, and (most recently) legal marijuana.  However, on days like today, Super Bowl Sunday, there is only one reason for which Colorado should be known…football…and the Denver Broncos!

As an ode to my neighbor state—the city where my daughter lives and the team that my son adores—I am revisiting some of the fabulous wine times I have had in Colorado.  It is a wonderful place, a beautiful place, a fun place…a place everyone should visit.  Go Colorado.  Go Denver. Go Broncos!

Colorado's largest AVA, the Grand Valley, is a booming and budding wine region.  Though barely in its adolescence, the region shows signs of greatness in the years to come.

An early Grand Valley wine producer, Canyon Wind Cellars set the standard for other Colorado wineries making wine from estate-grown fruit.  Started in the 1990's, this winery shows what all Grand Valley wines can be. 

Kenneth Dunn at Hermosa Vineyards is a perfect example of what it takes to make wine.  Many winemakers start with their passion and curiosity, and this is true here.  Kenneth is also the quintessential small winemaker who greets his tasting room guests himself, with a huge smile!

Though the Grand Valley grows the majority of the grapes for the state, many wineries call the eastern side of the state home.  Denver gives an amazing backdrop for urban wineries to flourish.  Balistreri Vineyards in the Mile High City is the perfect mix of traditional and modern in a beautiful facility.

Infinite Monkey Theorem is one such winery that has embraced the urban winery vibe.  Fun and funky, IMT makes wine from Colorado Grand Valley grapes while being a pioneer in alternative packaging formats.  Such an obvious success has been reached here that a recent expansion to Austin, Texas continues to show the truth of the expression, "Yes, we can." 

Today, I will forgo the beer and enjoy the Super Bowl game with a Colorado wine in hand.  My Ode to Colorado will continue with a glass of Canyon Wind Cellars high end line Anemoi with an Anemoi Notus, a blend of Colorado Petite Verdot and Syrah.  Cheers to Colorado, its wines, and its football!

Go Denver Broncos! 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Let’s Get It Started—Press Start, Rapid City

           Tony DeMaro and company were on a mission:  a mission to create a total adult play land in Rapid City…a mission to put the final touches on projects started years ago...a mission to give the Black Hills the best entertainment.

First there was Murphy’s Pub and Grill, the cool, modern sports bar with forty beers on tap and contemporary pub-style food. 

            Next there was The Blind Lion, the ultra-hip speakeasy hidden below Murphy’s with frequent live music and delicious menu options to pair with the best, hand-crafted cocktails.

            Then there was Kol, the trendy eatery featuring the beautiful coal-fired oven that cooks up the tastiest tidbits to eat while sipping on beautiful concoctions from the bar.

            After this, there was Ignite, the Vegas-style night club that takes over after Kol closes, with pumping DJ beats and a VIP section for bottle service, all while watching acrobats swing from the ceiling.

Yet something was missing.
            Where was the casual spot to meet friends for a cheap beer?  The dive bar where everyone wants to hang out?  The one-of-a-kind place to impress friends with…great gaming skills?!

            Finally, all Tony’s bases are covered to provide any type of entertainment on Main Street, Rapid City.  Though it is the latest step in what many consider adult Disneyland, Press Start is definitely more of a beginning than an end.

            Press Start rocks a whole different vibe than Tony’s other establishments.  Saying it is a dive bar is actually quite a stretch.  True, what many consider “cheap” beers are on tap:  Schlitz, Hamm’s, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Bud Light, and Old Milwaukee.  These beers are served in nothing other than red Solo cups.  However, the full bar also features a Boulevard beer, an O’Dell IPA, an oatmeal stout, and other quality selections. 
Beer + the red Solo cup = drink up!

            One reason to come to Press Start might be for the old-school beer selection, but the real motive is probably for a totally different reason—the arcade.  Yes, most customers come to get started on the plethora of vintage video games housed underneath Kol.  Over 50 arcade games from the 1980s and 1990s dot the colorful, Tetris-style floor.  Tony partnered with Marc Lynn, owner of nearly 200 retro games.  Marc wanted others to enjoy his games as much as he did, and partnering with Tony for Press Start was the venue to allow this to happen.
The "ladies" room door, bar decor, and Tetris floor.
            The games one might expect are there—Pac Man, Ms. Pac Man, and Donkey Kong Jr.—but there are other unexpected options, too.  Tron and Dragon’s Lair are very rare selections; so rare, in fact, there are only 14 known Dragon’s Lair machines left in the world, making the one in Press Start very special.  There are also pinball machines, arcade shooters, and skee ball games…and the list goes on.
Vintage games galore!
Of course, patrons can play these games for personal satisfaction, but that is only half the fun.  Once a new high score is achieved on any game, the player gets a free drink.  If 50 tickets are earned on the shooting or skee ball games, a free drink is again awarded.  Most of these games still only cost a quarter, showing modern inflation who’s boss.  A few of the ticket games do cost two or three quarters, but even that is a steal of a deal in 2016!

Though I am by no means a gamer, one of my friends was back in his element.  He went straight to Q-bert to get in the video game groove.  Next, he moved on to Dig Dug as his senses became more accustomed to the dark room and bright lights.  Finally, he challenged himself with Frogger and had nearly reverted back to his college days of almost thirty years ago.  Then, as his video-game addiction nearly set in again, he remembered “having no girlfriends in college” (his quote, not mine) and stepped away from the machines just in time to go home to his beautiful wife.
Back to the glory days.
As for me, I went straight to Ms. Pac Man (females unite) to try my hand at this game for the first time ever.  (I know I mentioned I wasn’t a gamer, but did I mention my total lack of hand-eye coordination?) When I actually reached the second screen without losing all three of my lives, I felt as if I had conquered the world!  My coordination (or lack of) got the better of me on Dig Dug and Frogger, so I decided to make friends with some actual gamers.
Must. Document. Gaming.
Press Start has quite a following of regulars.  The two gentlemen I watched have had high scores (and won drinks) on multiple games.  Frogger and Pac Man are two of their favorites.  They see Press Start as a cool place to go with reasonably-priced drinks and entertainment.  They both love the ambiance that takes them back to a simpler time in their lives.  It’s fun and comfortable, lively but not obnoxious.  It is a way to play while still being social, qualities lost on today’s gamers glued to their iPhone or X-Boxes all alone at home. 
Gamers unite!
          Press Start is surely not the end of the ever-evolving entertainment provided by Tony DeMaro and his team.  They continue to prove they are no “one-trick pony” with each new business they open.  Murphy’s filled one niche, while The Blind Lion filled another.  Kol and Ignite definitely attracted additional patrons, but there was still a gap.   

          This gap has been filled.  Press Start has launched yet another revolution in downtown Rapid City entertainment…and it only takes a quarter to begin.