Following the second annual Taste Tours Tuscany last spring at Casali di Bibbiano, a magnificent Italian country estate and winery, I headed to Umbria, a lesser-known but equally wonderful wine region. My trip was focused on learning more about Sagrantino, a red wine grape that has been making a lasting impression.
Starting in the 1990s, American brewing has undergone a steady resurrection from the decades-long decline since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. By the late 1970s, the industry was dominated by a handful of heavy hitters, with only 79 registered breweries nationwide. By June of 2013, there were 2,538 registered American breweries, an increase of over 400 since 2011, the year New Hampshire passed a law making it easier for small-scale breweries to operate. From bitters to Belgians, stouts to sours, and just about every pale and porter in between, America has most definitely rediscovered its brewing voice.
Gluten free, lighter than most craft beer, and lower in alcohol and calories than wine, hard cider is fast becoming America’s new brew. Not since the young, passionate days of the craft beer industry have we seen such breathlessness to get into the game. Research firm IRI recently reported sales of cider increased more than 65 percent from October 2011 to October 2012, compared with wine sales increasing 5.6 percent and craft beer 13 percent during that time period.
“We have 166 taps between the three bars,” says Joe Kelly, owner and visionary of Thirsty Moose Tap House in downtown Portsmouth, which opened last July. The upstairs bar was first to open, followed by the downstairs events area, which caters to anyone looking for great live music, private parties, and more of a lounge atmosphere. Kelly, a serial entrepreneur, had the idea for this concept after a trip to California and a visit to the well-established Yardhouse. “I truly expected someone else to build this type of restaurant sooner,” he says. “Portsmouth is the best town in the area to live, work, and own a business. Fortunately, the timing was right and we secured an awesome space.”
In the heart of Sonoma Valley in California, the Russian River flows south through acres of highly sought-out vineyards. The Russian River Valley is an American Viticulture Area (AVA), or appellation, one of many sub-appellations within the broader North Coast appellation. An AVA is a geographical area of wine grape growing legally determined by the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The region became an official AVA in 1983, expanded its boundaries in 2005 and again in 2011, and now has more than 15,000 acres of vineyards, 200 grape growers, and 75 wineries. Many wineries in California and beyond produce wines from grapes sourced from this area.
A rum craft distillery has arrived in New Hampshire. Sea Hagg, owned by Heather Hughes and partner Ron Vars, became the only rum maker in the state when they opened last year. And Hughes has just won a award given to a handful of small businesses around the country under the auspices of SCORE, a division of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Sea Hagg’s flagship product is their Silver Rum; they now also make Amber, Peach, and Blueberry. The molasses used for the distillation comes from Louisiana, and the fruit used is local; the aging barrels are charred according to the company’s specs.