When in Brussels? Things to see and eat edition.

Welcome to Brussels!

Welcome to Brussels!

Is it bad that even the locals seem to think that their own city could use a little more sparkle?

When I arrived in Brussels is morning, the customs agent asked me what I was doing here. I replied, "vacation." To which he responded, "... what are you doing here?" 


The Grand Place in Brussels. A view looking towards Brussels Town Hall.

The Grand Place in Brussels. A view looking towards Brussels Town Hall.

Belgian Brewers Association.

Belgian Brewers Association.

He started to chuckle at his own wittiness, and I of course laughed with him. It wasn't super original, but you don't mess with customs. (Frankly, I don't even think they should be allowed to make jokes, especially after a red eye flight, but it is what it is). But the joke stuck with me because everyone seems to think Brussels is just.... Meh.

I wondered if all this were true?

And... I was happy to discover that it was all false! Is Brussels a city I would dedicate a full week of vacation to, maybe not. But it's definitely a working city with tons of charm.

First of all, it is definitely a working international city. It actually reminded me a bit of Washington D.C. A busy city during the day, with culture and restaurants around, but a very sleepy city after business has closed for the day.

I headed straight for my hotel to drop off my bags before exploring for the day. I stayed in a neighborhood called St. Catherine. This neighborhood is known for being off the main touristy drag and located near several great restaurants frequented by locals. I loved it! My hotel was located in the shadow of a great white church and the neighborhood was constantly filled with lively cafe goers. But I was determined to see as many sights as possible before settling down for a snack or two.

First, I went to visit The Grand Place, or main town square. It was beautifully ornate and seemed to shine more than usual on that perfect Sunday. While there I snapped a picture in front of the most successful Guildhall on the square, the Belgian Brewers Association. If you're interested, there is a brewery tour and tasting on the premises, but I decided to wait until the afternoon to partake in libations.

After seeing the sights for most of the morning, I was definitely in search of some food. I headed back to St. Catherine and stopped for a snack at Mer du Nord. It was an outdoor standing bar serving seafood. It was perfect. The staff was upbeat and friendly. The atmosphere was lively and exciting, and the weather was perfect. So I jumped in line and order the local specialty, shrimp scampi. I also ordered a glass of sparkling wine - it all hit the spot.

After that delicious pit stop, I continue on my own personal walking tour of the city. I headed toward the southern side of town. Walked by the Mannikin-Pis statue, but it was definitely a let down. If you haven't heard of the statue - it's basically a little statue peeing into a pool. I know - so silly. But people are obsessed. I found the people watching the most entertaining of all. 

After several hours of walking, it was clear I needed to stop for a Belgian waffle. I choose a classic version topped with speculoos. It was decadent and delicious.

After finishing that delicious waffle, I walked backed to St. Catherine and viewed some local street art. I was definitely fighting jet lag at this point, but I was determined to stop at a local bar and try local beers. I stopped for a drink at Mort Subite, it was traditionally a blue collar bar that is now known for local charm and classic Belgian brews. I ordered the grimbergen blonde - it was refreshing with some deeper flavors more commonly seen in ales. 

All in all, a highly successful day in Brussels. I am proud to say I proved that customs agent wrong - there is plenty to do in Brussels for vacation. Until next time!



The Blog is Back: 2015 EUROTRIP Edition

Of course my pre-flight ritual involves wine. 

Of course my pre-flight ritual involves wine. 

Hey there wine nerds. 

Long time, no see. I know, totally my bad, no need to whip out the sassy looks.

Good news is, I'm back with a vengeance. And I'm kick-starting the blog campaign from Europe. I am traveling Europe with my family and will be blogging on my favorite sites, food and of course wine!

Until next time.



What is Mead?

As with most topics I raise with friends, I hear of the first from a podcast. I know, big time shocker that I am a public radio nerd. But one day I was listening to one of my favorite shows and they began to discuss Mead. And it lead me to think - what the heck is mead anyways?

History of Mead.  Mead, plainly put, is fermented honey and water. After that the styles can vary quite a bit. If the recipe includes just honey, water, and spices - it may be referred to as honey-wine. However, many brewers at hops and brew mead that more closely resembles honey-beer. 

When I Think of Mead, I think Small Distilleries.  While researching this post, I came across a few websites that featured a few small distilleries. As a fan of small wineries, one of my goals in the coming year is to visit small distilleries and local breweries more often. A few that I have on my wish list include:

  1. Breuckelen Distillery, Brooklyn, NY.  This distillery produces a gin called "Glorious Gin." I am becoming more and more interested in gin these days, and with a name like that, how can I pass it up?
  2. Greenbar Distillery, Los Angeles, CA.  I think it may be putting it lightly to say that I am obsessed with this place. I featured a few of their spirits in a recent post, but this place is definitely worth mentioning again.
  3. Tito's Handmade Vodka, Austin, TX.  I don't know what it is about this place, but I am a big fan of Texas. The food is great, there is a ton of culture, and it's almost like going to a foreign country without leaving the U.S. As if I needed another reason to visit, checking out Tito's vodka would be it. I have seen Tito's being poured in several local bars across Philadelphia - but I bet checking out the distillery in person would definitely be worth the trip.

So while I may have written a post on Mead, I still have never tried it. If you have tried it, let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.


The Nerd-Off Series: Belgian Style Ale vs Pinotage

So what is the Nerd-Off Series?  All too often, when hanging with friends in the alcoholic beverage industry, you find the boys officially in the beer camp and the ladies loving wine. In an effort to learn more about beer and prove to the boys that wine is a wonderful drink - I have enlisted the blog's resident beer guy, Anthony, to nerd out about beer and wine.

So what are the rules? Kelley picks a wine, Anthony picks a beer and we exchange, taste, review and share our thoughts here. Enjoy!


Anthony's Pick: Goose Island's "Sofie"

Hiya there wine nerds! Today I have the absolute pleasure of describing a beer that I had bought for Kelley called Goose Island's "Sofie." Goose Island is a very popular brewery located in the state of Michigan and probably most well known for its barrel aged stout, Bourbon County Stout. However, this time around, I thought Sofie, which is a Saison style brew, would be the perfect selection for Kelley because she had mentioned she was a fan of Saisons. Saisons are pale-ales, known for their light and fruity flavors and high carbonation. And since Kelley is predominantly a wine drinker, I chose this beer because it almost drinks like a sparkling wine and I feel that it is a beer that both beer and wine drinkers can appreciate. It also does not hurt that this beer happens to be aged in wine barrels.

Sofie is currently rocking a solid 98 on the beer rating website, ratebeer.com. And this is no surprise since it represents a true example of Saison-style brew. When poured from the bottle, Sofie will appear as a hazy golden color accompanied with a fast dissipating white head. When taking in Sofie’s aroma, one can detect hints of lemon, grapefruit and a slight hint of wheat. After taking a sip, the drinker will taste exactly what they smelled - right up front there is a lot of citrus flavor, with a slightly sour finish. The carbonation of this beer adds an effervescent quality to this beer that would be quite agreeable to sparkling wine drinkers.

Since this beer is light to medium bodied as well as slightly dry it would be best served with a light meal, such as a salad or sushi. I for one enjoyed this beer with a few rolls of sushi and, I can say with a great deal of confidence, that it was one of the better food and beer tastings I have ever put together. What's even more exciting is that most sushi restaurants are BYOB, so if you chill one of these bad boys for around two hours before you leave to go to the restaurant, you will be ready to rock when you arrive at the restaurant.

If after this post, you find that you must try the Saison style of beer, you should check out the following offerings to satisfy your Saison cravings: Ommegang Brewery’s Hennepin ale, Brooklyn Brewery’s Sorachi Ace and Saison Dupont, which is brewed by Brasserie Dupont.


Kelley's Thoughts on the Goose Island "Sofie."   What can I say - Anthony really hit a home run with this beer. Not only is it my favorite style of beer, the brewers at Goose Island really did this style justice. After pouring the beer I thought it smelled somewhat like a German Heifewiesse. But after tasting this beer, it was clear it was something different. The refreshing citrus flavors of orange and grapefruit were very prominent. As Anthony suggested above, I paired the beer with sushi. When I go for sushi, I frequently go overboard with wasabi. This means the underlying flavor of my favorite sushi dishes is spice. Turns out, this was an awesome pairing with the beer. The heat from the wasabi almost pulled the fruit flavors out and amped them up a notch. Nothing but appreciation for this beer and food pairing. Yum!

Kelley's Pick: Pinotage from South Africa

I picked Pinotage because Anthony mentioned a while back that he was a barbecue fan. I love Pinotage because it has the dark fruit flavors, medium-body, with tons of smoke and spice on the finish. For more information on Pinotage, check out my earlier post describing the basics. Until next time!


The Thanksgiving Wine Guide

It's November again - which means its time for big football match-ups, turkey and pumpkin pie! Yes, like it or not, Thanksgiving is right around the corner. So if you are looking for that perfect wine to pair with your turkey dinner, take some time between the packing and traveling to check out this blog post!

If you are looking for a specific wine recommendation, please check my previous blog post on the perfect Thanksgiving wine. That post recommended a wine based on a single varietal that tends to pair well with a variety of foods, specifically Pinot Noir. This year I wanted to make a recommendation based on a few wine and food pairings tips. Thanksgiving may be one of the biggest wine buying days of the year, but it is also notoriously a difficult meal to pair with wine. The meal frequently includes tart cranberry sauce, stuff with herbs, sweet potatoes, turkey, and maybe even ham. Choosing just wine that pairs with all those flavors can be a challenge. 

When the weather is cool we tend to crave wines that are heavier, higher in alcohol, mature, complex tasting and aged in oak.  For me this means a switch from those bright Sauvignon Blancs and refreshing Rieslings to smooth Pinot Noirs and bold Cabernet Sauvignons. But for thanksgiving, that could mean two different options depending on if you prefer red or white. For whites, I would recommend Chardonnay. Preferably one with mild to low oak-aging so that the bold vanilla and butter notes don't overpower your meal. I would pick a Chardonnay from Burgundy, France or Austraila. For reds, I would recommend Pinot Noir or Merlot. 

When pairing wine with food, pair the wine with the main ingredient, pair "like with like." Two of my favorite tips to live by are (1) Match weight and texture, and (2) Match flavor intensity.  As usual, I hate to give specific pairing suggestions because there are no real rules when it comes to food and wine pairings, however, here are three rules to remember when it comes to pairing wine with your thanksgiving dinner:

  • Salt is dry wines friend.
  • Sugar is dry wines enemy. 
  • Alcohol is the enemy of high-alcohol wines.

Personally, my family thanksgiving dinners are usually full of traditional dishes, more savory than sweet, and filled with vegetables. Therefore, I will be looking for a smooth Chardonnay from Burgundy, a Riesling from Alsace, and a Pinot Noir from Washington State. Have a great holiday and happy wine pairings!


Cocktail Hour: Drambouie, Hibiscus, and Poppy - Oh My!

I am a big fan of happy hour. If you're reading this, I have a sneaking suspicion  that you may appreciate a sturdy drink or two as well. But, have you ever thought of the history behind "happy hour?" Sure, it may seem like happy hour is nothing more than a bar and restaurant scheme to get us in the door and stay for dinner - but it had to have more humble beginnings than that right?!

Of course it does - and naturally it dates back to prohibition.

When America went dry with Prohibition in 1920, everyone started to congregate in speakeasies and hidden bars. Including the ladies. Yes, it wasn't until Prohibition that women were even really allowed in bars. Adding ladies to the already curious blend of good drinks and conversation was bound to result in a good time worth repeating. Every night. At the same regular time.

During the 1950s and 1960s, thirsty speakeasy-goers began to move their good drinks and conversation into the suburbs. Suddenly, if you were interested in spending a night on the town with your friends, you were more likely to be found grilling out back than in a secluded, dimly-lit bar in the city. 

Finally, but the 1970s, cocktails were popular and grabbing drinks with your friends after work was a societal necessity. From this point on, how we referred to that perfectly refreshing time to grab drinks after work and before dinner depended on the marketing goal of the establishment. Happy hour is generally associated with drink specials and is about consuming a decent volume of drinks. While cocktail hour is about refined spirits and craft cocktails. 

Now that we have talked a little history, let's talk drinks! Specifically, I wanted to chat about a few interesting spirits that you may have not heard of before and will definitely add a little sparkle to your regular cocktail hour.


I recently discovered drambuie and it is a great addition to any scotch based drink! Drambuie is a golden colored liquor made from malt whiskey, honey and spices. The honey and spice flavors add a sweet and complex flavor to your cocktail. If you are interested in giving this honeyed whiskey a shot, check out some suggested recipes above.

Rusty Nail: Equal parts Drambuie and scotch over ice.

Rusty Mule: 1 part Drambuie, 3 parts Ginger Beer, squeeze two lime wedges and serve over ice.

Rusty Royale: Start with 1 measure of Drambuie in a champagne flute. Fill the rest of the glass with sparkling wine and garnish with a twist of orange.


Greenbar Distillery Fruitlab Organic Liqueurs.  

My next two spirit-based suggestions are actually made in the same distillery - Greenbar Distillery. I first heard about Greenbar Distillery while listening to my favorite podcast The Dinner Party Download. The podcast discusses various topics in news, culture and food that would help any dinner party-goer be the life of the party.

Greenbar Distillery is so interesting because not only do they make organic spirits, but they are also pushing the envelope in terms of flavors. If you manage to find a bottle of their Hibiscus or Poppy Liquer, I urge you to check them out!

Hibiscus Liqueur. This liqueur adds bright red color and a delicious floral aroma to your cocktails. It would pair well with vodka, gin or sparkling wine.

Grand Poppy Bitters.  This liqueur is truly original. It is somewhat bitter sweet with flavors of flowers, herbs, and citrus. Similar to the European tradition of aperitifs, its great on its own or mixed into your favorite vodka based cocktail.

Happy mixing and Cheers!

The Blog is Alive... Alive I Tell You!

And so you’re back, from outer space.
— Gloria Gaynor

Hey there wine nerds. I think I spent way too much time trying to find the perfect witty line announcing my return to the blogging world. I first thought something from Willy Wonka about not having enough time and too much to do. Then, I thought something from Young Frankenstein, maybe something about rising from the dead and taking over the world... but it didn't quite fit. So, like or not, I landed on a short but sweet line from "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor.

Sure it doesn't make much sense. And sure, the song is really geared toward getting over a break up. But it still sums up my feelings on being out of the blogging world accurately. 

Now I am excited to announce that I am back from outer space and have my head in the blogging game - just in time for the holiday season! Over the coming weeks you can look forward for posts on recipes for cocktail hour, party planning tips, and of course wine.