What's great in wine, beer, fine dining,
places to stay, & places to visit
in California State

By Dan Clarke

Baseball is a game of tradition.

Friday, 15 April 2016 12:25

7 Best Things to Do in San Francisco

Sunrise on Golden Gate BridgeSunrise on Golden Gate Bridge

By Cailin O’Neil

 

1. Take a Bus tour

While in San Francisco I stayed at the San Francisco USA hostel located only 4 blocks from Union Square where I would start my trip off with a hop on hop off bus tour. Various bus tours depart from Union Square, it actually seemed like every bus tour in the city stopped there, right in front of Macy’s.

by Jim Laughren

Just as beer drinkers are wise to bolster their knowledge and appreciation of fine wine, so too are wine lovers well served by opening their palates (and possibly snooty attitudes–hey, if this isn’t you, cool, but if the shoe fits... ) to embrace the attributes of great beer. And with the hot and muggy season upon us, what better time to begin the exploration?

Before you get your grape-stained cargo shorts all in a twist, no one’s saying that summertime wines aren’t marvelous.cups on coasters Anchor Plaza PicmonkeySan Francisco Giants fans can grab a couple of cold ones inside the park at Anchor Plaza. A bright, lively albariño between dips in the pool is just right, and lobster with white Burgundy is clearly one of life’s great pleasures. But after scooping divots on the back nine or powering the two-stroke around that precious carpet of green, who in their right mind is going to upend a 750ml of pinot bianco to cool off?

That’s right... no one. Beer has many qualities in common with wine but on one count at least, it stands head and shoulders above the sacred juice. Refreshment. Pure and simple restoration of body and spirit after a sweaty, grueling encounter with just about anything.

So if you’re willing to concede at least a nugget of truth in what I’m saying, let’s wrap our parched lips around some top-notch, steamy day beer options.

The simplest approach to good warm weather guzzling is to look for anything with bitter, white, wit, weisse, weizen, wheat, Kölsch, lambic, summer or seasonal on the label. “Your list is like, totally incomplete,” the beer geeks will shout; that may be my friends, but we’re trying to bring a few folks over from the grape side, so cut me some slack here.

Bitter, as in English bitters or special bitters, is a traditional ale style with a good but not overwhelming dose of hops, nicely balanced with some malty goodness and showing a touch of fruit. They’re typically on the lower side in alcohol (a plus in the summer heat), light in body and gold to copper in color. Think of them like an IPA’s little brother who can’t quite hop like the monster but who still delivers tremendous drinkability and refreshment.

White, wit and weisse (or weiss), all meaning, duh... white, are made with wheat, as in weizen or wheat (and maybe a dollop of oatmeal) and often sport a complex, citrusy spiciness, rendering them stone-cold delicious and exceptionally refreshing. White beers may come from Belgium or Germany and are increasingly beloved by American craft brewers.

Straight wheat beers are likewise a mainstay of American brewers and are perfect for summer enjoyment, though for a step up in flavor and personality turn your sights to the original European versions. What’s more, in a good beer joint you can expect to get a show to go with your order for a classic weissbier or hefeweizen.

Properly served, a very tall glass is placed over the bottle and the duo is inverted in a single, smooth motion. As the beer fills the glass the bottle is slowly raised until it leaves a marshmallowy two or three inch head, at which point the bottle is removed and either swirled wine-style or rolled back and forth on its side. This little trick gathers up all the remaining yeast (these babies are bottled sur lies) mixing it with the remaining foam, which concoction is then used to top off the glass, often followed by garnishing with a slice of lemon. Once served, dive into this gorgeous brew in all its orange, banana, and clove ester-ness for a singular beer experience.

Moving from “show” beers back to our list, Kölsch describes a golden ale produced in Cologne, Germany, and, well... anywhere outside the EU, like the U.S., that makes this soft, hoppy, kinda fruity, kinda bitter, kind of not, easy and delicious, summer sipper. And then we have the lambics.

These Belgian throwbacks are open fermented with wild yeast (something any true vinophile can appreciate) after a convoluted mashing process that leaves even beer folks scratching their heads. The result is a sour, somewhat earthy, carbonated brew that in overly simplistic terms is called “gueuze” when unflavored and “fruit lambic” when made with cherries, raspberries, cassis or peaches. Though it can be a love or hate proposition, the fruit flavors are rich and pure, and the higher acidity makes these summer quaffers a perfect match for any number of foods.

Finally, we have the summer or seasonal variants. A common bit of nomenclature among North American craft brewers, these are typically dosed with spice or fruit or a particularly interesting strain of hops. They’re made to refresh and encourage you to enjoy more than one. And most are excellent, a cut above the everyday pale ale or light lager. You may find rye ale or blueberry lager or any number of possibilities.

Now that you have some worthy options, trade in the wine stem for a beer tulip now and again. There are terrific beers out there, and if there’s one thing wine drinkers love, it’s finding the next new taste. If you’re not sure which ale or lager, which witbier or lambic to try, put together a mixed six-pack. One of the beauties of beer is that it’s generally inexpensive. You can mix and match and hold your own tasting of half a dozen possibilities for the cost of a single bottle of good wine. Exploration and economics, a summer combo that’s hard to beat!laughren headshot Picmonkey

 

Jim Laughren is a Certified Wine Expert and has been distributing wine and educating consumers and businesses about the basic and finer aspects of wine selection and enjoyment for several decades. He just published A Beer Drinker’s Guide To Knowing And Enjoying Fine Wine which is written so as to educate without being patronizing in comparing beer to wine. A review of the book can be found in Taste California Travel's Book Section

Thursday, 02 May 2013 10:46

Major League Baseball Ballpark Passport

 

MLB Passport Cover Picmonkey

 

Major League Baseball Ballpark Passport

by Tim Parks

 

Leather Cover

$58.95 (book), $8.95 (stamps)

 

 

 

If It's Tuesday, It Must be Fenway

The baseball roadtrip, where travelers try to visit any number of ballparks around the country has become a popular vacation theme for many baseball fans around the country. The popularity of these vacations has risen in direct proportion to the stadium-building binge over the past twenty years as the major leagues have exorcized themselves of the soulless, cookie-cutter, multi-purpose monstrosities that dominated the landscape in the 1960's and 1970's. The new ballparks are loaded with amenities and superlative architecture that give each stadium a uniqueness all its own and a reason for fans to visit. In fact, the three oldest stadiums remaining are Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium, all of which have an excuse to exist and two of them are among the most popular of destinations.

The popularity of the baseball roadtrip has increased to the point that travel tour companies offer travel packages of various duration and scope in the same fashion that tour companies have offered travel abroad for decades -- seven countries in six days, or something like that. Now on Tuesday, Belgium can be replaced by Fenway or Wrigley or Yankee Stadium.

All of which brings us to the new Major League Baseball Ballpark Passport. This nifty little item is the brain child of ardent baseball fan Timothy Parks and serves the purpose of giving the fan the opportunity to officially authenticate his or her trip to any of the major league ballparks. Leather-bound with the MLB logo embossed on the front lending the imprimatur of officialdom, it is a simple concept, really, essentially a book with all thirty major league ballparks, arranged in alphabetical order. For each ballpark there is a diagram of the stadium, a page with a short summary of the history of the stadium, a Gameday Facts page, for the fan to record salient details of the particular game attended and, finally, a page for general notes. The Passport comes equipped with "I sat here" stickers to place on the stadium diagram. Additionally, there are sections of the Passport (it doesn't seem accurate to call it a book) reserved for attendance at All-Star or World Series games as well as a section set aside for the Hall of Fame visit. To complete the Passport are instructions on how to keep score, a skill set probably already possessed by anybody who would have a Passport.

Whether or not, Mr. or Ms. Baseball Fan elects to join the organized tour or do it on their own, the Major League Passport segues nicely for the purposes of these hardy diamond-trotting tourists. Perhaps one day there will be a minor league version.

--reviewed by Michael Eady

Editor's note: The Passport can be purchased at many major league ballparks, but we suggest checking out the Passport website, www.mlbballparkpassport.com, where you get more of the background of the Passport and purchase it directly. After receiving Michael Eady's review we contacted the author, Tim Parks, who said he agreed that a minor league version was a good idea. In fact, he's just completed one that is soon to be available at the same website.

Region: San Diego County   San Diego     Contact: http://sandiego.padres.mlb.com

Madison Bumgarner Picmonkey

 

World Series Champions San Francisco Giants meet the Arizona Diamondback in their home opener at AT&T Park.

Most of the 2016 squad return, including Madison Bumgarner, who won his 100th career game last season, as well as showing plenty of pop with his bat.

 

Region: SF & Bay Area     City: San Francisco     Contact: www.sfgiants.com

Region: Los Angeles County     City: Los Angeles     Contact: www.losangeles.dodgers.mlb.com

Region: SF & Bay Area     City: Oakland     Contact: http://oakland.athletics.mlb.com

Florida Spring Training: Your Guide to Touring the Grapefruit Leagueby Alan Byrd

 

The Intrepid Traveler

ISBN 1887140476 Soft Cover. 224 Pages $15.95

Florida Spring Training 

“Florida Spring Training” by Alan Byrd should prove to be an indispensable companion to any baseball fan or traveler who might wish to visit the spectacle of baseball spring training in Florida. The thought of “traditional” spring training evokes nostalgic memories of old ballparks populated with hard core baseball fans sunning themselves in the mild spring climes and watching the new prospects show their stuff.

Thanks to television and the insatiable appetite for money professional sports has, this annual rite has transformed from that traditional one of pastoral serenity to one of high energy marketing. The changes that have taken place in the spring training experience are drastic and not altogether very old.

In days of yore -- and by that I mean 1987-88 -- in Scottsdale, Arizona, the San Francisco Giants played their exhibition games in rickety old Indian School Park. I had seats about ten feet from then general manager Al Rosen and the rest of the Giants management brain trust. The perimeter of the park was a fence of tall plank boards where passersby could literally watch the action through a knothole in the wood. Nobody did though because the ridiculously cheap tickets (I believe ours were $8) provided incentive enough to go inside. The park itself and the operations were run by a local beneficient organization called the Scottsdale Chorros and a lot of the money they made supported local charities.

Visitors to spring training in those days arose each morning and scanned the paper to see who was playing whom and where. One decided which game to see and went to the park where good seats were almost always available. The lone exception to this rule was old Ho Ho Kam Park, home of the Chicago Cubs. It was always crowded and tickets went fast. The crowd was the most partisan as well.

In a very short period of time spring training bid adieu to Norman Rockwell and howdy-do to Mickey Mouse and his corporate sponsor pals. The resulting change from staid tradition to sports marketing dynamic is what has created a need for a book like this one and Alan Byrd fills the need exceptionally well.

The book is logically organized, each chapter devoted to one of the spring training venues found in Florida. Each chapter is then divided into sections covering everything from directions to the park, to ticket prices, to what to do before and after the games. Individually each park is appraised as to various amenities. This appraisal is thorough, critical and objective.

Chapter six, for example, is devoted to the Cleveland Indians training base in Winter Haven. First a synopsis of the history there and an overview of what the visitor should expect from his visit. Following this are directions to the park and information on parking. The next section covers tickets – prices and availability, followed by a review of the game program. Food & drink information is to be had along with information on seats, shade and a schematic of the stadium. Byrd also includes observations on one important staple of spring training, the likelihood of obtaining players’ autographs. This is a key aspect to the experience of spring training. Finally, the chapter concludes with listings of bars, restaurants and attractions in the vicinity to see before and after the game.

At the end of the book each park/team is ranked and graded on a scale of 1-10 in five categories. How did the Cleveland Indians do? A lukewarm overall rating of 32. They rated an 8 in both “Intimacy” and “Comfort” but a below average 4 in the “Food & Drink” department. “Autographs” and “Style” were each rated at 6.

I was amused at the correlation between the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and their spring training site, Progress Energy Park, in St. Petersburg. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, since their inception, have had the crappiest record in the league, play in the crappiest stadium and have the crappiest attendance. The spring training acorn, it seems, doesn’t fall far from the tree. The Devil Rays spring training facility was far and away rated the worst. A badly-run organization has a badly-run spring training facility. Quelle surprise!

According to author Byrd, the best of all the Grapefruit League venues is the Vero Beach home to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Fortunately the book is updated annually and this is good because dynamics of what is now big business for the ballclubs and their host cities provide a constant state of flux and fans can no longer rely on the stasis that once enveloped spring training.

As a lifetime San Francisco Giants fan and denizen of the left coast I would like to see Mr. Byrd take his efforts to the Cactus League in Arizona.

 

--reviewed by Michael Eady