Monday, December 24, 2012

Top Ten Ancient Fire Moments in 2012

My friend Richard Auffrey has gotten me in the mood to offer something of a year in review. Each year in his blog entitled The Passionate Foodie Richard shares "top ten" lists in a number of different categories. I'm not prepared for that. And I'm not sure I'd just go and steal that idea, especially from someone who executes it so well. I'm a different guy which means I need to do something different.

As a beverage blogger I also stick my neck out on a weekly basis, offering my thoughts on drinks, food and occasionally the beverage business. I'm also the producer of award-winning home fermentations and do a fair bit of travel in search of new and interesting beverages. Taking all of this together it occurred to me that the highlights from those adventures in 2012 might make for interesting reading. If not, at least it will satisfy a sense of vanity having shared a bunch of "I did that" moments. Choosing what of my adventures should make the list and in which order they should go in was hard. Don't read too much into it. So here goes!

#10 - Kid Rock and Bud Light Lime

Margot and I went on the Kid Rock Chillin' The Most Cruise this year. Four days of music and partying. Of course that meant we saw, and to a lesser degree participated in, quite a bit of consumption. And not necessarily the good stuff. I'm not a Bud/Miller/Coors fan, but one of the nights I enjoyed a Bud Light Lime whilst sitting out on the deck watching the party rage on. Margot asked what I thought of it, it wasn't my first one but I think she was making some fun conversation, and I ultimately quipped that I could make a much better version of the beer at home. And in fact I did with an overwhelmingly positive response! The beer turned out to be one of our most well received brews of 2012. You might think it would be a warm-weather-only beer but it turns out that it is a very smooth drinker and is also good with food. We served it at our two-day Christmas party that wrapped up last night, proving that it even brings a smile in cold weather. Kid Rock is right, sometimes it is "the simple things in life, like when and where."

#9 - Award Winning Fruit Wine Making Tips

I was invited to speak at the WineMaker Magazine Conference again this year. The topic in 2012 was tips for making award winning fruit wines, something I am happy to say I have done five years in a row. I live in an area with lots of farms and farm markets so access to ripe and fresh fruit is something I am blessed to have. Fresh, ripe fruit is one of the most important requirements for making good fruit wine. On top of that you also need creativity, curiosity and a taste for fruit wines. During the 75 minute session the questions were rapid fire and I struggled to keep up with it all. Being able to share the breadth of experiences this occasion allowed was a real delight. The sharing from members of the audience was not lost on me and several projects later in the year were inspired by their participation.

#8 - Roses & Gold - A Man's Best Friend

In 2011, for the second time, I made a Rosé style wine from Concord grapes grown in a friend's yard. I didn't set out to make a sophisticated wine, rather I endeavored to use the fresh grapes to make a bright pink, slightly sweet wine that would put smiles on a lot of people's faces. The first attempt had come out OK, but the result in 2011 wowed everyone who tasted it. The grapes were more ripe and my basic process for making it resulted in a hugely pleasurable wine. Wanting to get feedback on my new wine I entered it into the WineMaker Magazine annual competition.

I was present at the award ceremony and as the first couple of categories were called none of the winners were present. When they got to the Concord wine category there were winners for Bronze and Silver, but again no winners were present. When the Gold medals were announced my name was called. What a great way to kick off my competition results, by both winning a Gold medal AND the first medal awarded in person that night. When I later reviewed the judging notes I found that I scored highly in color, aroma, flavor AND overall impression. I had scored big with a well made, balanced and delicious wine!

#7 - Tasting a Flight of Homemade Strawberry Wines

We can't move on from the WineMaker Magazine conference trip before sharing one more Ancient Fire Moment. In 2010 I attended my first WineMaker Magazine Conference and during that trip I shared my homemade strawberry wine. I went on to win gold medal for that wine. Once word had spread about the wine I also fielded a number of requests for the recipe and tips for making it, which I happily shared. In 2011 I didn't medal for my strawberry wine at this same competition, but was happy to see that I was back on track in 2012 with a Gold medal. This wine has been a special project for me since 2006, and the only one that I really feel like I "know" how to make from experience.

( Brother Mark, me, Amy and Brant comparing notes on homemade Strawberry wine. 
Thank you to Tim Vandergrift for this great photo with Daniel Pambianchi photo-bombing us! )

During the 2012 conference swap meet I was approached by two of the winemakers who had asked me about my recipe and process for the strawberry wine. And each of them was brandishing a bottle. With my own bottle in hand an impromptu comparative tasting was undertaken. What an amazing experience! All three of us made something a little bit different, due to both production choices and that we live in three different locations, each with access to different fruit. We each shared our production process and contrasted how what we knew about how the wines were made might have influenced the distinct outcomes. Some experiences make you realize you have found your people, and this one screamed it!

#6 - Staring at the Pacific Ocean from the Rocky Cliffs of the Oregon Coast

Living close the coastline we are a bit spoiled. With only a short drive we can walk along the New England shore and stare out at the Atlantic Ocean beyond. In 2012 my pursuit of new wine experiences took us to the Portland, Oregon area for the Wine Bloggers Conference. I had heard that the Oregon coastline was absolutely beautiful, very different in appearance to New England and not to be missed. On a day after the conference Margot and I planned a trip out to the coast. The drive itself was quite beautiful, first through the farmland of the upper Willamette Valley, then through the big pines of the Van Duzer Forest Scenic Area and finally the coast. Wow! The rocky cliffs and abrupt end to the land at the Western edge of Oregon is breathtaking. We stopped in many places along the way to take it all in.

#5 - Friendly Faces

In the last several years I've met a number of other area wine & food writers with whom I have forged stronger ties since. Being able to spend time exploring the world of food & drink with them this year certainly wasn't just one experience, but these moments would not be fairly exchanged for any object of value, they are the stuff life is made of.

So as I look back at another exciting year, I wish the happiest of times to Richard Auffrey (Passionate Foodie), Adam Japko (Wine Zag), Marie Payton (Life of Vines) and Todd Traskos (Vermont Wine Media). I can't wait to be out drinking and eating with all of my friends again in 2013!

#4 - Collaborating with Moonlight Meadery

Pro-am collaborations in the brewing world have been news-worthy in the last couple of years. I've always thought it was a pretty neat concept, but didn't believe I had ever made anything that might be of interest to a commercial producer. Then I made an orange and vanilla infused mead. And it took a top place in a regional competition. Michael Fairbrother from Moonlight Meadery asked if I was interested in commercializing the recipe. Really? Are you serious? I really did ask those questions. And the answer to both was yes.

A new mead named Summer Love recently went into the bottle and has been flying off the shelves from what I hear. The experience of making a mead based on a recipe of my own with Michael and the team at Moonlight was so much fun, something I would have never dreamed of.

#3 - Fighting Cancer with Wine

For a number of years now my Relay For Life team has hosted wine tastings to raise funds in the fight against cancer. In 2012 the team reached a new milestone in our efforts, having eclipsed $100,000 raised since 2003. (Not all of this was raised through wine tastings.)  In the context of larger fundraising efforts, $100K isn't a huge number, but when you consider it was raised by a group averaging 10 people each year, and in a very grass roots fashion you start to see why it is significant. When I first started making beer & wine I never imagined I would be able to combine it with a message of hope and do so much good in this world. I shared the history and current activities of my Relay For Life team in a series of posts this year, the most information I have shared about Relay and my fundraising efforts since the inception of my blog. My Relay thank you post, after the 2012 event, sums up the year we had and includes the link list to all the stories I shared. If you haven't read them I encourage you to spend the time. The people that stand with me in this fight are very dear to me, and sharing their stories was one of my fondest memories of the year.

I never set out to be recognized for my efforts fighting cancer, but awareness of my passion spread and recognition came nonetheless. In 2012 I was honored with a Mass General One Hundred Award. This award is given to individuals whose efforts in the battle against cancer have impacted lives and advanced the cause in a meaningful way. I was nominated by a friend (anonymously so this was a surprise) who felt my passion and energy deserved to be shared. Marie, thank you again for helping create a moment that made 2012 an incredible year for me!

#2 - Last Man Standing

There have been several competition moments in this top 10 list. All together it might seem like I am hugely competitive and getting recognition from competition is a primary motivator for me and my homemade creations. Not exactly. Competitions generate feedback and that feedback is hugely useful in determining what I am getting right and what I getting wrong. Adding the response from tastings to competition feedback gives me a more complete picture of how I am doing. I win in competition less than half the time I enter and the feedback is at least as useful when I don't win as when I do. I'm not actually as competitive as it might appear.

( Watching the Best in Show judging at the NERHBC was both exciting and nerve wracking. )

Winning Best in Show and Meadmaker of the year were highlights for me because they confirmed that the hard work and resources that I plugged into my projects in the last year were very well spent. I guess you could say I've learned a thing or two and I've used those lessons to get better. This type of recognition is motivating and that is why this was one of the top Ancient Fire moment in 2012.

#1 - Sharing My Creations

This isn't so much of a moment as it is the aspect of my mad science that brings me the most joy each year.

Trust me, all the hard work that goes into the beverages I make has to be followed with something fun or it really wouldn't be worth all the time! I love sharing the beverages that I make. Only a few of my friends recall family members who made their own beer or wine and most often the stories trend towards "it wasn't very good."  I think home brewing and wine-making has come a long way and while it still takes lots of hard work, I am always pleased to see these same people react so positively to my beverages. There is truly something special when you can hang out with friends drinking home brew, whether it be my own or someone else's. I make a lot of different beverages, and much more than I can drink. Sharing my beverages at tastings and as gifts brings me great joy and helps with my "inventory problem!"

( Margot and I brewing up another batch of beer to share with friends. Cheers! )

To my family, friends, co-workers and neighbors I wish you the very best during this holiday season. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!



BaldEagle90 said...

Merry Christmas Jason - about to enjoy some Summer Love as a post dinner drink in front of the fire.


Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks so much for the mentions & it is always cool to reflect back on a great year of food & drink. Hoping to make more memories with you in 2013!