Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Coffee Talk (and other Seattle Beverages)

Flying back and forth as I regularly do, I have noted that Alaska Airlines is touting that it proudly serves Seattle based Jones Soda, which is made with cane sugar instead of high fructose syrup. (Should you be interested in the hazards of high fructose corn syrup I highly recommend Greg Critser’s Fat Land: How Americans became the Fattest People in the World. However, I don’t believe Jones Soda is on the Weight Watchers’ Diet…but again I digress.) Jones Soda is genuinely good, as confirmed by my two sons regularly leaning on me to buy some whenever accompanying me on a supermarket jaunt.

Recently I noted that Eric Asimov in the New York Times dining section was reviewing root beers from across the nation and his tasting panel had recommended Thomas Kemper root beer (“Softly carbonated with spicy vanilla and wintergreen flavors. Cane sugar, honey”) again a favorite of my sons’ (actually, they take a particular shine to their cream soda.) The Times article indicated the soda pop is made in Seattle. Perhaps it is, but apparently the company has recently been swallowed up by some corporate behemoth based in Portland.

If you want to try our designer waters then looking for locally produced Talking Rain which is available in the natural state or in various iterations of blended mountain spring water and fruit juice.

Personally, I don’t drink soda pop. As those in the Northwest well know I am an oenophile, but I also appreciate microbrews and the occasional cocktail. Tip of the day: if you fly Alaska affiliate Horizon Airlines and it is after 11 a.m. they will offer you a glass of a complimentary Northwest wine or microbrew. That is just one of the many charms of flying Horizon (Probably they offer the free drink to mellow you out following one of their frequent delayed flights. Ahem. Their flight crew is laid back though, and has a droll sense of humor. Also their ala cart option allows you to bring that enormous roller bag onto the ramp, and have it stowed and returned on the tarmac, sparing you the agony of baggage claim. But don’t think you can get away with trying this with your steamer trunk.)

Back to controlled beverages: a couple of local breweries for your consideration include:

The Pike Brewing Company (1415 1st Avenue), very convenient to the Convention Center, with a pub. They brew nine beers including the imagination inspiring Kilt Lifter.

My personal favorite is the Elysian Brewing Company (1221 E Pike) (dangerously close to my office and not far from the Convention Center either), described in an earlier blog posting. Besides five on going regulars, they have seasonal brews. Since I don’t know what the brew will be for late September (it could be Night Owl Pumpkin Ale) I guess you will have to go there to find out. Be advised, Elysian beers have higher alcohol content so plan accordingly.

If up for an expedition across the Lake (aka Lake Washington) then a visit to the Red Hook Brewery in Woodinville. Only a stone’s throw from Microsoft this is a haunt of fit, well groomed, smart-casually dressed wunderkind unwinding after their days of making billions. They feature eight ales (you can order one of those cute samplers) and have decent pub grub. I have never done the tour though– I prefer immediate gratification.

Speaking of dangerously close, neighboring Red Hook (it is a very short walk) is Columbia Winery.

While not Washington’s best wine, this is a premium producer of very nice wine. (There are over 600 wineries in Washington State, and many are world class. Washington is the second largest producer of wine in the United States and most of it is very good; we don’t produce plonk.)

Washington growers have recently gotten into Italian varietals and Columbia produces a very nice sangiovese. Of course, they have fine cabernets and merlots. I am not nuts about their chardonnays and Rieslings, but I am not big on oak and malolactic fermentation typical of American whites. (By the way, the red grapes and most of the white grapes are grown east of the mountains, aka east of the Cascades. The wines are sometimes made on the Westside). My staff has held a number of retreats in their meeting rooms and this is a lovely facility. The wine tasting is fun and the gift shop is full of temptations for the gourmet cook/entertainer (including the Laguiole corkscrews and Riedel stemware mentioned in an earlier blog.) Apparently Columbia is quite committed to responsible drinking as I had to enter my birth date to access their website.

Across the street (though driving is advisable) is Chateau St. Michelle. This property is gorgeous. It was only built in the 70’s and resembles a French chateau, has handsome gardens, and peacocks stroll the grounds (pretty but mean – don’t attempt to touch). I prefer Columbia wines but Chateau St Michelle’s are certainly quaffable. The tasting room is quite grand, and the gift shop is any yuppies’ dream – lots of Waterford crystal and the like (not an advisable investment for those who drink a lot of wine in light of probable glass fatalities.) Chateau St. Michelle has a wonderful Summer Concert Series, regularly advertised on KWJZ: 98.7 Smooth Jazz. You bring a picnic dinner, sit on a blanket, eat, drink wine, and enjoy the concert: I have heard Manhattan Transfer, Ottmar Liebert, the Chieftains, and the Gypsy Kings at St. Michelle.

One memorable night during a concert my wife and I attended there at sunset the Spirit of Washington Dinner train passed through the grounds while hot air balloons hovered overhead. During a marathon concert one Labor Day we heard Oscar Peterson, Joe Sample, and then David Sanborn. Important note: you are only allowed to drink Chateau St. Michelle wines during one of their concerts; security personnel will confiscate other labels and spirits – I have seen it happen.

Due to the magnet effect of the two described above there are now a rash of wineries (or tasting rooms) in Woodinville. They include Silver Lake, Facelli – a Google search indicated ten, so you can get in plenty of trouble should you attempt to make a day of it.

Of course you know that Seattle’s official drink is the Latte, and arguably coffee fueled the high tech revolution that occurred in Seattle. So when ordering from one of the countless cafes that offer it you might find the vernacular that follows helpful:

Barista: preparer of espresso based drinks. Typically the initial career of many young Seattleites.

Latte: single shot of espresso with steamed milk

Cappuccino: traditionally equal parts espresso, steamed milk and frothed milk. Many coffee shops will add much more milk than this in the belief that bigger is better.

Americano: single shot of espresso with 6+ oz of hot water. Apparently this term originated from an Italian insult to Americans who asked to have their espresso diluted.
Mocha: cappuccino or latte with chocolate syrup added.

Hammerhead aka A Shot in the Dark: a shot of espresso in a coffee cup that is then filled with drip coffee.

Double: Two shots of espresso with the same amount of all other ingredients. Just to make things confusing some shops will treat a double as double everything keeping the proportions the same.

Skinny: skim milk

Tall: ask for this and you will get a short drink.

Grande: medium

Vente: big; usually includes a second shot.

So, know that you will have a considerable number of local beverage options when you attend the conference, and good luck getting what you want when you order. You might want to carry an Italian dictionary.

Michael K. McKeon
Dean of Admissions
Seattle University