Happy New Year

FullSizeRender (1)The Year of the Monkey dawns on Feb. 8 so this seems like a good time to talk about baijiu, the world’s number one spirit by volume.

Never heard of it, you say?

Well, that’s about to change if baijiu producers have anything to say about it.

First a primer:

Baijiu, pronounced bye-joh, is sorghum-based, though it also can contain wheat, rice and corn. The name covers a pretty good sized family of products, kind of the way whiskey covers everything from high-octane peat bombs to postively syrupy corn whiskies. There are variations, but generally baijiu is fermented in solid, not liquid state, inside in-ground pits. It’s then steam distilled in goose-neck stills, aged in huge terra cotta vessels and then blended.

Unlike Western distilleries which usually run with a tight crew, making baijiu is labor-intensive. The saying is it takes an army to make baijiu.

It generally is bottled at around 100 or 120 proof (well above the typical 80 proof for vodka, gin, etc.) and is classed by aroma, such as “light,” “rice,” “strong” and “sauce.”

The taste — well, the taste is a little different. Some typical descriptors are blue cheese, mushrooms, soy sauce, fermented feet.


The push right now is to try to tame baijiu’s fire power by mixing it up in cocktails that respect and work with its distinctive flavor profiles. This is not the most imaginative drink but I think it makes a mean Bloody Mary. There’s a bar in New York, Lumos, that specializes in baijiu cocktails and probably a few dozen more places have started experimenting with the spirit.

Traditionally, baijiu is supposed to be drunk straight in small glasses, shot-style. Honestly, this is a pretty terrible idea. But if you are adventurous and like to try different things, I do recommend trying it in gentle sips with water to alternate. It definitely is supposed to be room temperature but I will not judge if you add a little ice.

Here are notes on a couple of baijius I tried.

Kweichow Moutai, this is the leading brand and recognizable by its distinctive packaging of a white bottle with a red and gold label. It’s what Chinese leaders used to toast Nixon’s historic visit to China. The way you drink baijiu is to pour it and leave the glass on the table while the aroma curls its way up to your nose. Do not, repeat not,  stick your nose in the glass. In this case, you get a pungent soy sauce smell that invades the room. Not bad, just powerful. Now take a sip. A small sip. Here is my official tasting note on that first swallow: YEEOWZA! Eyes watering. Tonsils on fire. … Let’s do it again!  Basically, it was a kick. To me baijiu is like a crazy peated scotch like Octomore. by Bruichladdich. It’s not the drink you reach for on the reg. And I would never, ever want to get drunk on it. But for something a bit different when you’re in the mood to scorch that esophagus, gan bei!

HKB Baijiu, this is a kinder, gentler baijiu developed specifically for the overseas market and with cocktails in mind. It’s 84 proof, more or less like a regular spirit, and sets the palate aflutter rather than aflame. Smells fruity with strong notes of melon, soy sauce is there but in the background. Take a sip and you start out with the tropical fruit — cantaloupe, and pineapple this time — laced with lemon juice then move on to something much more savory, almost curry-flavored, before finishing up with intense fruit. Took me a while to place it but then I remembered going to Chinese restaurants as a kid and having ice cream with canned lychee for dessert.

Other reliable brands: Wu Liang Ye, known for its floral notes, and Shui Jing Fang. If you want a baijiu made in America check out the Vinn distillery in Portland.

Here’s a baijiu cocktail recipe from Orson Salicetti, cofounder of Lumos:

The Luminosity

  • 6 seedless green grapes
  • 3/4 ounce of HKB
    3/4 ounce of a mix lime / lemon juice (50% lime juice + 50% lemon juice)
    3/4 ounce of elderflower liqueur (Pür Likör Blossom or St Germain)
  • 1 ounce Bombay Sapphire East
    1/4 ounce of agave syrup

    A few drops of Hibiscus Elixir (for a few days, infuse hibiscus flowers in 50% HKB and 50% water, sweetened with agave syrup to your own taste), plus one more seedless green grape for garnish.

    Muddle the grapes in a glass, and then add of other ingredients except the Hibiscus Elixir.  Stir, and then add crushed ice.  Top with a few drops of Hibiscus Elixir, and garnish with one more grape.

What will the Year of the Monkey bring us? Well, mischief, naturally, and supposedly we’ll be stirred out of the warm and comfy cocoons many of us snuggled into for 2015’s Year of the Sheep. I do not know if this means I will quit wearing yoga-pants-that-don’t-go-to-yoga 24/7, but I will keep you posted.


P.S. Updated this post when my resident Sinologist pointed out the “fortune” character on my red envelopes on my first photo was upside down. I assume I’m simply doomed for 2016 and that’s all there is to it.

Super Bowled Over

san-francisco-skyline-alamedaThe Super Bowl is in our neck of the woods this year and I have been in full roundup mode — to the point I practically feel like a rodeo cowboy. A rodeo cowboy who is afraid of horses because they are so tall and is only in it for the boots.

I wrote this about must-eat foods in San Francisco. I called it where to find the “eats of San Francisco” which I thought was tremendously clever but I guess a lot of you young whippersnappers are not familiar with that iconic TV detective series “Streets of San Francisco” so it got ’86ed. Also: Get off my lawn!

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco is a city with serious food game, whether playing as multi-starred cuisine served in a white tablecloth hush or a simple crab cocktail eaten amid the boisterous clamor of Fisherman’s Wharf.

And with the Super Bowl heading to nearby Santa Clara, the hungry hordes hankering for a taste of the local food scene won’t be disappointed. If you’re lucky enough to be among them — whether you’re looking to dine on one of the city’s iconic standbys or venture into cutting-edge cuisine — here’s a guide to 10 foods and drinks San Francisco is famous for and where to find them. READ MORE

I wrote this story on Super Bowl 50 related events. I thought this lead was rather cute, too, and am honor bound to note it was the suggestion of Child 1 which shows you that the apple not only doesn’t fall far from the tree but ends up being a smarter, brighter apple.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Super Bowl 50 will be a tailgate of two cities. The fan village and other activities are set in San Francisco, but the game will be played about 40 miles south in Santa Clara, home to Levi’s Stadium and the San Francisco 49ers (though the 49ers will not be playing in the Feb. 7 championship).

Here are some tips to help you get your game on.READ MORE

And I threw in this lineup of San Francisco sightseeing essentials, this on strolling through Chinatown and this on taking the ferry over to Tiburon to do one of my most favorite things in the world which is eat fried food next to a body of water and then poke through some cutesy shops.

So, all in all a busy month, which is the best way to deal with January.

Now, I just have one question. Any of you chaps happen to know which teams are playing Feb. 7?

Cheers, sportingly.

Much To Do About Nothing

old-typewritersMost days I write a to-do list, sometimes with a little commentary on the day’s events. It’s my version of journaling.

This being a time of taking stock I looked over the 2015 entries.

Here are some highlights:

Jan. 1: Four shots of bourbon = too many..
Jan. 13: Diet and exercise plan working great! If goal is to gain weight.
Jan. 20: Vacuum basement, install new modem, get tax info together.
Feb. 6: Rain? Rain!!
Feb. 7: Order new rain boots
Feb. 19: Plan wardrobe for Italy wine trip. Note: Leave large chin zit alone. Research adult, nay, geriatric acne. Geriacne?
Feb. 20: Buy really heavy concealer.
Feb. 21: Flesh-colored Band-Aid cover ups?
Feb. 22: F*ck it.
March 1: FYI, “che e davvero un grande brufolo” = Italian for “that’s a really big zit.”
March 2: Move boxes from basement to garage. Vacuum basement. Install new modem. Get tax info together: Priority!!
March 18: JUST DO IT! No idea what that was about, but it wasn’t getting the tax info together because …
April 14: Set everything aside and compile income statements and deductable expenses TODAY.
April 15: Identify new sources of revenue. Commit to sending out two good pitches a week.
April 20: Email of the day: “Your idea is underwhelming and if we do decide to cover this topic I will have a staff writer do it.” (Yep, that is a for-real email, friends.) So … My idea blows but you’re going to steal it anyway? Cool.
April 25: Plan wardrobe for Scotland visit, water repellent, not resistant, write pitches for trip to Islay scotch distilleries, vacuum basement, install new modem.
April 25: (later) Or, spend day writing hugely personal essay about family issues no one will (thankfully) read. Whichever.
May 12: Scotland rules!
May 29: Get ready for Spain trip. Resolved: Must swear less. Especially at breakfast. Sleep deprivation, heat, digestive distress no excuse for morphing into Terror of the Tour Bus.
June 8: Upside: I probably won’t see any of those people again.
July 5: Note to self: Avoid traveling to Paris during heatwave of the century.
Aug. 3: August! How’d that happen?
Sept. 1: Book dental surgery. Plan Ireland trip. Install modem. For real.
Sept. 2: Update software drivers to get printer, TV, etc., working with new modem,
Sept. 3: Buy new printer, TV, etc.
Oct. 6: Ireland rules! Remember deadline on Irish whiskey story is next Tuesday.
Oct. 6 (later): SH*T! Irish whiskey story due today.
Oct. 7: Irish whiskey deadline now extended.
Nov. 1: Set up photos for holiday stories. Write wine bargain piece. Check to see if already used Scrooge in previous holiday story ledes.
Nov. 1 (later): Wow, that’s a lot of Scrooge ledes.
Nov. 15: Reschedule gum surgery redo for Dec. 22, should be quiet week.
Nov. 17: Write polite but firm note turning down Brit. magazine assignment, Rates much too low.
Nov. 18: Oh, pounds, right.
Dec. 22: Note to self: Never, ever schedule gum surgery at Christmas.
Jan. 1: Super Bowl. Not Superbowl. Plan Uruguay trip. Start Valentine’s Story. VACUUM BASEMENT.

Things I was Thankful for in 2015

2016 is supposed to be a big year for me. As a Virgo the stars are on my side, my ship is coming in, my coffers are about to be filled and things are looking UP.

I absolutely believe in that forecast because, science.

But I have to say 2015 wasn’t too awful, either.

Five  highlights:

I finally went to Ireland. I went on my own, no huge agenda, just a couple of drinks and travel stories at the back of my mind. Used some miles, stayed in cheap or cheap-ish hotels and took public transit. Man, did I have a good time. I literally could not stop smiling. It was pretty enough and the weather was decent, too, but I’d say most of my joie de vivre came from the fact that for the first time in my five years of traveling I felt welcomed as opposed to tolerated. Also, and this is key, I visited five distilleries, one brewery, many pubs and zero museums.

A line up of Tullamore D.E.W. in Tullamore

A line up of Tullamore D.E.W. in Tullamore

I fulfilled a long-time dream of visiting the island of Islay in the Scottish Hebrides. Some people yearn for sunlit terraces overlooking the rolling Tuscan countryside. Me, I’m happiest when I’m striding along damp turf, bent double against a driving rain, a tot of peaty whisky ahead of me. This makes Scotland a very good choice.


I spent a couple of days in Paris on my own. I’ve been as part of a group before, but this was the first time I went where I wanted when I wanted. Which turned out to be the sewer museum because that is how I roll. Later, I was reminded of my visit as we all mourned the terror attacks.

... the Moulin Rouge ...

… the Moulin Rouge …

I kept a resolution to be more active. Sure, New Year’s resolutions are silly and corny — until they work. I made myself a promise 1-1-15 not to sit behind a computer for days at a time. I started hiking the Berkeley hills, wheezing my way along. I had a few lapses and am incredibly slow so I’m not exactly in Olympic shape but I dropped 10 pounds and can now make it to the top of the hill without passing out entirely. Go me.

I stopped apologizing for calling myself a writer. I have been putting words together for money my whole adult life. I wrote my first novel (five pages, subject: rabbits, fluffy) when I was 5 years old. But since I’ve never published a book and am not remotely famous I’ve always felt shy about claiming the term “writer.” For years, I had a staff job as a journalist and proudly called myself a reporter and didn’t worry about it. Then I got laid off and I was stuck. I wish I had video of the conversation I had with the border guy the first time I traveled out of the country. “What do you do?” “I’m a writer. Well, that is, I’m not a real writer, I mean, I guess, I do … write. Sometimes.” These days, “I’m a freelance writer,” comes trippingly off my tongue. Yeah, I’m not Hemingway but so aren’t a lot of other people.



Thanks for the memories, 2015. Let me leave you, and start 2016, with a mantra which I recently ran across and which I simply adore:

I am a middle-aged nobody, AND I LOVE WHAT I DO.



Holiday Spirits


Ugly Christmas sweater for you, check. Ugly Christmas sweater for your dog, if applicable, check. Ugly Christmas sweater for your vodka … oh. Don’t have one? Not to worry, SKYY Vodka is putting wee little blue-and-white Fair Isle sweaters on its bottles for the holiday.

To be honest, they’re not really ugly … but then neither is your fabulous sweater featuring Rudolf with a battery-operated light up nose, is it?

The SKYY sweaters are part of a bigger campaign that includes yarn bombing New York as well as bus shelters in Boston and Chicago. San Francisco buses will be getting wrapped up in woollies, too.

I guess that’s one way to foster a close-knit community spirit.

I wrote about seasonal spirits for the AP this week — it’s amazing how much effort some producers are putting into their limited editions. I was especially taken by a Christmas Pudding Gin from London made with about 100 pounds of the real deal. Christmas pudding? Gin? Two of my favorite things.

Here’s my take on drinking in the spirit of the season for AP:


Do you need a little Christmas spirit? And would you care to have said spirit served over ice or in a festive cocktail?

You’re in luck. Following in the footsteps of craft beer’s seasonal offerings, liquor producers are rolling out limited edition releases aimed at making spirits bright this holiday season.

Anchor Distilling Co. in San Francisco hits the trend from both the beer and spirits side. Sister company Anchor Brewing releases an annual Christmas Ale, holding back some of that beer which is then distilled and sold the following year as a white whiskey under the catchy label of Spirit of Christmas Past.

First released in 2013, the spirit changes each year because Anchor’s Christmas Ale uses a different recipe each year, says head distiller Bruce Joseph. He recommends trying it in an old fashioned for an “old fashioned white Christmas.”





Locke’s Whiskey

lockes-distilleryHappiness is finding an Irish whiskey distillery with your name on it.

Yes, friends, there is a Locke’s Distillery and I have been there.

These days the distillery is known as Kilbeggan, the name of the small town in County Meath where it is located, and there have been a few changes of ownership; it’s now part of the Beam/Suntory portfolio. But the original name is still up on the chimney and when you ask the hotel to get you a taxi they tell the driver to take you to Locke’s, so I am totally claiming it.

We’re probably not related by blood (the Lockes in my family are Welsh/English).

But we certainly are kindred spirits.

I visited Kilbeggan in September as part of a 10-day visit to Ireland. Because I am a big chicken (and unadventurous driver) I did not drive but took the train from Dublin to Tullamore for about 20 euros. I stayed in the Tullamore Court Hotel, which is large and modern so not so much with the olde country charm but it does have the virtues of being close to the train station (and walking distance from the Tullamore D.E.W. distillery), comfortable, clean and reasonable. I paid around $70 for a large double and taxied over to Kilbeggan, which cost 15-20 euros.

I did not get to go in this car, which would have been cool. kilbeggan-car

But I was driven in a very fine Mercedes

Patricias? Mexico Wants You


This is actually Cancun, on the East Coast, but it’s the only photo of Mexico I had handy. And I mean a beach is a beach, right?

Is your name Patricia? Mexico is calling you.

The Mexico Tourism Board has launched a campaign, “Welcome Patricias,” which celebrates the country’s survival of Hurricane Patricia this fall. There had been concerns the storm could be devastating but while it did cause damage, there were no casualties and no direct hits on the resort areas of Vallarta-Nayarit and Manzanillo.

Now, the tourism board wants to “welcome the good Patricias.”

More info on the campaign is at welcomepatricias.com. And to view campaign spots by the spokeswoman, Patricia Heaton — of course! — go here. 

For a chance to win, upload a video or photo showing you’re ready to visit Mexico. Twenty-five grand prizes are being offered that include airfare and accomodation for two to the Vallarta-Nayarit and Manzanillo region.

Name not Patricia? Not to worry, you just have to find one and invite her to apply.

Thanksgiving Wine

CharlesSmith_PorchWashington State winemaker Charles Smith has taken Thanksgiving wine pairings to the next level.

The challenge: Wine that will stand up to the mishmash of flavors that is the traditional meal. The solution: A pairing for every dish.

Here are his suggestions;

Roast Turkey – Charles Smith Wines Kung Fu Girl Riesling. Everything to the Thanksgiving meal is a combination of sweet and savory. Riesling is perfect.  

Mashed Potatoes –Mayacamas Chardonnay. Traditional style from Napa.

Green bean casserole – L’Ecole No 41 Semillon. Semillon is the unsung hero of white Bordeaux.

Cranberry Sauce – Daniel Bouland Beaujolais Chiroubles. Fruity, fresh wine from Burgundy’s other cousin

Stuffing – K The Beautiful Syrah. Stuffing is all things savory and Syrah is perfect.

Cornbread – Seghesio Zinfandel or A. Rafanelli Zinfandel

Roasted Vegetables – Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Sec

Creamed Corn – Chianti Classico. There are many reliable selections of Chianti.

Pumpkin Pie – Felsina Vin Santo, of course, there are many other choices of Vin Santo

Pecan Pie – Graham’s Six Grapes Port

I’m not saying I could survive this meal. But I am saying it sounds absolutely delicious.

Cheers, thankfully.



It’s OK to like nouveau Beaujolais



Today is Nouveau Beaujolais day, aka the third Thursday in November, when wine producers in the French region release their newly fermented wines, an old harvesting tradition turned successful marketing gimmick.

Which tends to bring two reactions from the serious wine world:

1: A shudder.

2. Earnest blog posts on how you really shouldn’t be drinking this super-young, super-fruity wine but should be concentrating on the region’s conventionally aged (and admittedly fine) “cru” wines.

To which I can only say, Lighten up!

The reason people like nouveau Beaujolais is because it’s fun. And if there’s one area of the beverage world that could use a little more fun it’s wine. There was a time when producers would go all out with schemes to get to market first for the 12:01 a.m. release time. This started with races from Beaujolais to Paris and extended to other parts of the world. Things are a bit calmer now with wines shipped in advance, but there’s still a bit of a holiday feel about buying and cracking open a nouveau Beaujolais.

And of course yes, there are great cru wines from this region, some of my faves are from the Fleurie region,

This year’s celebrations included 50 winemakers driving around Paris in vintage Citroen’s stopping at landmarks like the Eiffel Tower. Nothing is quite as it was in Paris following the tragic attacks last weekend, but organizers decided to go ahead, incorporating memorials to the dead in their ceremony. Here’s a good story from Quartz about the way Beaujolais day looks in Paris this year.

The big producer is Georges Dubouef, which has sent a zingy, fruity product to market this year, priced at around $10.Classic purply red color with aromas of banana and cherry cola (when we say fruity, we’re not kidding) and a taste of tart cherries with a bit more banana on the end.

I won’t lie to you. While I like bananas and cherry cola as much as the next person, this is not a wine to be sipped solo. But, happily, it gets along with food just fine and in fact is a rather good pairing for Thanksgiving; the tartness cuts through some of the heavy sweetness of the traditional dishes and really helps that dry turkey breast go down.

DuBeouef sent cute little scarves out with its samples this year. So having a beret handy from Child One’s job at that Gallic institution, Paris Baguette, and having a willing model at hand in Mr. Ho I present this picture which I think perfectly sums up the festive spirit of nouveau Beaujolais.

Here is Mr. Ho’s tasting note, btw: Not bad. I quite like it. Did they send it to you for free?


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