Aug 24, 2016

Kavalan: Taiwan's premier single malt whisky maker is worth a visit

A whisky fit for meaningful conversation or quiet contemplation.

A few months ago I traveled to Taiwan, where I learned that this island nation has in recent years been producing award-winning single malt whisky. The whisky is aged in American oak barrels that previously stored white and red wines, including sherries.

Is it good? You better believe it. As a headline in the March 23, 2015 issue of Time Magazine put it after Kavalan snagged a top World Whiskies Award, “You Won’t Believe Where the World’s Best Whiskey Comes From: Sorry, Scotland...” The article quoted contest judges' descriptions of the Kavalan spirit as “surprisingly smooth on the palate” and noted that “it’s like Bourbon infused milk chocolate.”

Thus far in 2016 alone, Kavalan Single Malt Whisky, which was established 11 years ago, has won:

  • Five gold medals at the Internatioal Spirits Challenge (ISC) for its Solist ex-Bourbon Single Cask Strength, Ex-Bourbon Oak, Podium, Brandy Single Cask Strength, and Moscatel Sherry Single Cask Strength whiskies.
  • A top World Whiskies Awards for World’s Best Single Cask (Solist Amontillado Sherry Single Malt Whisky).
  • Four Double Gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (Solist Fino Sherry Cask Strength, Manzanilla Sherry Cask Strength, Moscatel Sherry Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky, and Port Cask Strength).
On the tour you'll see impressive distillery equipment.

I took a tour of Kavalan on my trip, which I recommend for whisky fans. It's a beautiful facility, you'll learn quite a lot about whisky distillation through exhibits and signage, you'll be able to taste some of the whiskies, and there is a huge store where you can shop for gifts to bring home.

The tour brings you to one of the production distilleries, where you can see what’s involved with mashing, distillation, fermentation, bottling and barrel storage. Displays provide an explanation about the entire whisky-making process, even allowing you to smell wheat in its pre-smoked and post-smoked versions.

One of many clearly-written displays that explain the distillation process at Kavalan.

A DIY Blending seminar can be booked online, in which you’ll blend one or more bottles of whisky yourself and bring them home, each branded with your name and the words “Master Blender.” The cost for each bottle is 1500 NTS, which is roughly $47.

Unlike Scotland, temperatures in Taiwan are temperate and humid, which permits a much faster cask maturation for the whiskey. In other words, the whisky doesn’t need to age nearly as long as whiskies brewed in colder climes. Fans of tradition might be tempted to say that this results in lesser quality, but with Kavalan racking up so many top awards, that's a difficult statement to justify.
Aging barrels filled with whisky.
Kavalan is Taiwan’s first maker of whisky, and the nation's only family-owned distillery. It’s located in the northeastern part of Taiwan—an area characterized by fresh Pacific Ocean breezes, with pure water drawn from the springs of the Central Mountain range and the island’s second-tallest peak, 3,886-foot Hsueshan (Snow) Mountain. 

Open daily to visitors, Kavalan charges no entrance fee. Reservations are necessary only for groups of 20 or more. One-hour tours, given throughout the day, include a short film about the company and its whisky; a walk through the mash house, still house and maturation warehouse; and a tasting of Kavalan Classic. 

By the way, Kavalan is becoming easier to find in the United States. To locate a store near you, visit this page. For more info about Kavalan, visit Kavalan Single Malt Whisky.  

And for the best glasses to enjoy single malt and other whiskies, check out Reidel's superb single-malt whisky glasses.

Aug 18, 2016

Oktoberfest in Munich 2016

Munich's 206th Oktoberfest gets underway on Saturday, September 9. Events for this you-gotta-do-it-once-in-your-life happening continue through Sunday, October 2. Learn all the details here.

Before you go, bone up on the German Beer Purity Law (because knowing how pure it is will make it go down nice 'n easy). Signed by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria in 1516, it's the oldest food regulation in the world and remains the law for every beer brewed in Germany today.

Known as Reinheitsgebot, the law decreed that only pure and essential ingredients be used when making beer. Only three ingredients were allowed: barley, hops and water. Today, yeast is also recognized as a vital ingredient (back in the day, the value of yeast was not understood).

As a result of the Reinheitsgebot, German beer became renowned for its quality and consistency, a reputation it continues to hold. More than 900 breweries operate in Germany and all adhere to the purity law.

German Beer Purity Law, 1516

We hereby proclaim and decree, by Authority of our Province, that henceforth in the Duchy of Bavaria, in the country as well as in the cities and marketplaces, the following rules apply to the sale of beer: From Michaelmas to Georgi, the price for one Mass [Bavarian Liter 1,069] or one Kopf [bowl-shaped container for fluids, not quite one Mass], is not to exceed one Pfennig Munich value, and From Georgi to Michaelmas, the Mass shall not be sold for more than two Pfennig of the same value, the Kopf not more than three Heller [Heller usually one-half Pfennig]. If this not be adhered to, the punishment stated below shall be administered. Should any person brew, or otherwise have, other beer than March beer, it is not to be sold any higher than one Pfennig per Mass. Furthermore, we wish to emphasize that in future in all cities, markets and in the country, the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water. Whosoever knowingly disregards or transgresses upon this ordinance, shall be punished by the Court authorities' confiscating such barrels of beer, without fail. Should, however, an innkeeper in the country, city or markets buy two or three pails of beer (containing 60 Mass) and sell it again to the common peasantry, he alone shall be permitted to charge one Heller more for the Mass of the Kopf, than mentioned above. Furthermore, should there arise a scarcity and subsequent price increase of the barley (also considering that the times of harvest differ, due to location), WE, the Bavarian Duchy, shall have the right to order curtailments for the good of all concerned." Signed: Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria on April 23, 1516 in Ingolstadt.

Bring one of these books with you or download to your Kindle app:

When Traveling, Pay Attention to Umami

Traveling to far-flung parts of the world and trying out dishes that offer new tastes and sensations presents a great opportunity to explore umami. It's easier to find it in something you've never had before than in, say, a hamburger. 

The word umami comes from the Japanese umai, which means “delicious;" it's the fifth basic taste that can be sensed by specialized receptor cells on your tongue (after salty, sweet, sour, and bitter). Unlike the other four tastes, though, umami can’t be defined in a single word. This fifth taste is one of deep and full flavor, often described as meaty, rich, savory, or brothy.
It wasn’t until modern times that umami was identified as a taste. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Professor Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University noted: “There is a taste which is common to asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat, but which is not one of the four well-known tastes of sweet, sour, bitter and salty.” In 1907, he began experiments to identify the source of this distinctive taste. He knew that it was present in the “broth” made from kombu (a type of seaweed) found in traditional Japanese cuisine. Starting with a tremendous quantity of kombu broth, he succeeded in extracting crystals of glutamic acid, an amino acid and a building block of protein. 100 grams of dried kombu contain about 1 gram of glutamate, the sodium salt of glutamic acid. Professor Ikeda found that glutamate had a distinctive taste, different from sweet, sour, bitter and salty. He named this taste “umami.”

A umami food contains high levels of glutamate, which is present in plant and animal tissues. According to culinary scientists, the more umami present in the food, the more flavorful it will be. When you combine umami-rich ingredients in a recipe, you create layers of nuanced flavor. 

Among the foods containing glutamate−and, thus, umami−are beef, duck, chicken, tomatoes, mushrooms, seaweed, green tea, oysters, milk, beets, soy sauce, and aged cheese. As far as cocktails go, a Bloody Mary is about as umami as it gets. If you’re going alcohol-free, try a glass of V8 or tomato juice.

The Mushroom Council has created a downloadable .PDF, Umami: Discover the Taste of Nature’s Hidden Treasure, that explains the basics and offers recipes. It's a bit mushroom-oriented, but provide a lot of great info.

Aug 17, 2016

Autumn is the Best Time to Visit Wyoming's "Yellowstone Country"

Bears in Yellowstone Country

Wyoming's "Yellowstone Country" was once the playground of Wild West showman Buffalo Bill Cody--who, in 1896, founded the town that bears his name. Yellowstone Country is comprised of the valley east of Yellowstone National Park, as well as the towns of Cody, Powell and Meeteetse.

This entire region was and is still heavily influenced by the vision of Colonel Cody. Today its broad streets, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, and thriving western culture host about one million visitors annually.

Here are 18 solid reasons to plan a visit to the area this fall:
  1. A Stylish Event. The most prestigious local event of the year, Rendezvous Royale, is staged the third week of September. The event includes the nationally known Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale with Western-themed art, a quick-draw event, auction, Western fashion show, seminars, studio tours and a ball.  For more about the rendezvous, go online to
  2. Bears. Visitors might see them preparing for winter by foraging for nuts and other sources of nutrition so they are ready for the long den-bound winter ahead. Bears are frequently seen along the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway – the road to the east entrance to Yellowstone – as well as the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway which takes travelers to the northeast entrance. Bears are best viewed with binoculars or spotting scopes, and travelers should maintain at least 50 yards between themselves and any bears they see.
  3. Bull elk. Even if travelers don’t see them, they might hear them. Elk mate in the fall, and bull elk get the attention of potential mates – and warn potential competition – by emitting a distinctive bugling sound.
  4. Other wildlife. In addition to the marquee animals – bears and elk – other wildlife can be viewed preparing for winter or simply enjoying the moderate autumn days. Among them are pronghorn, bighorn sheep, deer, moose and eagles.
  5. Blue-ribbon trout. While seasoned anglers will tackle trout action in the streams in and around Cody on their own, novices might want to hire a fishing guide for their first foray. Fly fishing shops also offer maps and advice. 
  6. Art. View fine Western art created by local artists at the Cody Country Art League, which shares a historic building – the original Buffalo Bill Museum – with the Cody Visitor Center. Artists with ties to the community display photography, oil and watercolor paintings, sculptures and more.
  7. Brews. Try some tasty snacks and cold unique brews at Cody's Pat O’Hara’s Brewing Company.
  8. Lodge rooms and guest ranches. Accommodations are easy to secure this time of year, and travelers have a wide array of lodging choices, from independent boutique hotels like the Chamberlin Inn, luxury hotels like the new Best Western Ivy Inn & Suites and The Cody, a high-end hotel with an emphasis on sustainability; and guest ranches along both scenic byways.
  9. Rocks to see. Rock formations along the 52-mile Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway have been dubbed by locals with names like “Old Woman and her Cabin,” “Bishop” and “Chinese Wall.”  The road travels along the north fork of the Shoshone River and traverses the Wapiti Valley through the Shoshone National Forest. Viewing the rocks – and wondering how Cody residents named them – is an inexpensive way to spend a fall afternoon.
  10. Rocks to climb. Jackson Hole Mountain Guides and other outfitters lead classes and rock-climbing expeditions throughout the Cody region. The region is well-suited to climbing, with porous rock creating drainages and rock formations that appeal to climbers of all abilities. Conditions are typically good for rock climbing through October. 
  11. Gliding. Airborne Over Cody offers a new way to see fall color – 30- to 90-minute adventures in “microlight” hang gliders.  The trips depart from the Yellowstone Regional Airport, and pilots show their passengers a perspective of Yellowstone Country that few people get to see up close.
  12. Hunting. There are several hunting seasons in the fall – for pronghorn, deer, elk, moose and bighorn sheep. Dates for each season vary, and hunters should check for details and hunting regulations here.
  13. Hiking. "East of Yellowstone: A Hiker's Guide to Cody features maps, photos and hike specifications such as length, time, difficulty, best season, access and landowner information for 20 regional hikes. The book was authored by JD Tanner and Emily Ressler-Tanner and is available at Sunlight Sports, a long-time Sheridan Avenue shop that provides locals and visitors alike with all of their outdoor adventure needs.
  14. Wm. F. Cody by Rosa Bonheur, 1889
  15. Trolley tours. The Cody Trolley Tour provides a terrific introduction to the destination. This informative one-hour tour covers 22 miles and helps orient visitors to where things are and what they might like to go back to see. The tours are offered two times a day through Sept. 26. Rates are $27 for adults, $25 for seniors, $15 for children six through 17 and free for younger children.
  16. History. The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center at the site of the Heart Mountain Internment Camp offers a glimpse of the lives of some 14,000 Japanese-American citizens who were interned there during World War II. Opened in August 2011, the center explores that difficult period of the country’s history with thoughtful exhibits that encourage visitors to ask the question “Could this happen today?”. The center is open year-round and admission is $7 for adults and $5 for students and seniors, and children under 12 are admitted for free. 
  17. More History. The storied life of the town’s founder, Colonel William Frederick Cody, is presented in the recently reinstalled Buffalo Bill Museum, one of five museums that comprise the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. There are also museums dedicated to firearms, fine Western Art, the Plains Indians of the region and the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. For more information visit
  18. And even more history. Another popular activity is to walk the town’s main street, Sheridan Avenue, and check out the town’s many historic buildings. The Irma Hotel was built by Buffalo Bill himself and named for his daughter. Across the street, the Chamberlin Inn was built and operated by Agnes Chamberlin, an employee of Cody’s newspaper. Farther east, there is Cassie’s, once a house of ill-repute and now a restaurant and supper club with live music and Western dancing.
  19. Music. Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Revue continues its performances of cowboy music, poetry and comedy Monday through Saturday night through the end of September.
The Park County Travel Council website lists information about vacation packages, special events, guide services, weather and more. Travelers wishing to arrange vacation can also call the Park County Travel Council at 1-800-393-2639.

Aug 16, 2016

Romeo & Juliet performed in ancient California rancho

The Balcony Scene, Romeo & Juliet

Last Friday night I experienced Shakespeare in a completely new and wonderful way--thanks to a fantastic production by the theatrical company We Players, which uses historic or other significant sites as venues--they've done Hamlet on Alcatraz, the Oydssey on Angel Island, Macbeth at Fort Point and Ondine at Sutro Baths. 

Right now and through September 25 they're presenting Romeo & Juliet at the historic Petaluma Adobe (about an hour north of San Francisco). Beginning in the 1830s and well into the 1840s, Rancho Petaluma was the largest privately-owned adobe building in what would soon be known as California. It was also ranch headquarters for the region’s most important early historic figure, General Mariano Vallejo. Today, it’s known as Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park, and a visit here is like being transported back to the great rancho era. Most of the adobe bricks are original, farm animals roam the property, authentic period furniture and equipment fill the rooms, and it’s not unusual to spot coyotes or foxes in the surrounding grasslands and oak-studded hills. 

Romeo & Juliet takes place around the grounds of the Adobe -- and what a backdrop that was! Many of the original artifacts were used; Mercutio, for example, jumped on and off an ancient hay cart while fencing. The audience moves from place to place with the actors (some people sat on the ground or on provided small folding stools, and others like me preferred to stand), and at times we became part of the play itself. For the masked ball we were provided with black lace masks, ate hors d'ouevres passed on trays by actors, and danced with abandon. At times actors stood amongst us and shouted at characters in the play--when the prince banished Romeo from Verona, for instance, 3 or 4 actors standing with us shouted "Free him! Let him go!" So we did, too. 

Juliet on her funeral bier

The play started at 6 and was over at 9 - there was no break. The world grew slowly dark around us. The final scenes -- when we walked as mourners behind Juliet's coffin, for example -- were deep dusk. Lanterns were lit for her bier. The experience was simply extraordinary.

One caution: when the sea breeze came in through the Petaluma Gap about 8 p.m. (the sea breeze that cools off Sonoma's grapes each evening, contributing to the unparalleled excellence of our local wine) -- it got really cold. Despite the fact that it's August, I should have brought heavy fleece, not a light jean jacket, and gloves. So be prepared when you come.

To learn more and purchase tickets: or visit We Players on Facebook.

Marriage of Romeo & Juliet