Dec 21, 2013

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Monthly Clubs Done Right:

monthlyclubs rare beerIn October, I wrote about a wine-of-the-month club that I felt was a cut above the rest, aptly titled, “A Worthy Wine Club: International Wine of the Month.”  Included in the shipment were two incredible wines, Bergström’s 2009 Old Stones Chardonnay out of Oregon’s Willamette Valley and a red blend out of Spain’s Montsant DO produced from Vespres. Detailed information about the wineries and producers, recipes and more were included in information sheets that came along with the wines – I was super impressed.

Little did I know at the time, International Wine of the Month falls under the umbrella of a company named,  which covers a plethora of luxury-centric clubs that would make perfect gifts for all kinds of enthusiasts.  In addition to the International Wine of the Month Club, they offer the following clubs: The Microbrewed Beer of the Month, The Rare Beer Club, Premium Cigar of the Month, The Gourmet Cheese of the Month, The Gourmet Chocolate of the Month and The Fresh Cut Flower of the Month.

As a wine enthusiast, I’m repeatedly drawn to explore the world of craft beers; especially, the rare beers of the world that are hard to find and sometimes aged in wine and whiskey barrels.  The aging and oak treatment on beer often adds aromas, flavors, complexity and depth that literally excite the palate like so many wines do.  Rare beers are usually more expensive than other beers, and are very often bottled in specialty bottles that hold the same amount of liquid as an average 750ml bottle of wine.  These beers should be shared with friends and enjoyed with foods, just like wine.  When I saw that had The Rare Beer Club, I just had to check it out.

monthlyclubs damage inspectionI also had to check out their Gourmet Cheese of the Month Club.  Are there any wine enthusiasts out there that don’t enjoy gourmet cheese?  I think not.  A wonderful thing about cheese is that it not only pairs well with many varietals of wine, but many cheeses pair extremely well with beers; especially, the more complex beers of the world.  So, there was no way I was going to miss out on a chance to see what sort of items arrive from the Gourmet Cheese club.

The Rare Beer Club:

I have a bit of an interesting story with this one.  When UPS dropped off my shipment of rare beers just a few days ago, there was a sticker on the box that read, ” Damage Inspection Complete.”  I immediately thought…uh oh.  I opened the box and found that the original shipping box was inside the box that had been labeled with the sticker. Much to my dismay, one of the rare beers, the Brouwerij Strubbe’s Grand Cru Flemish Red Ale (Ichtegem, Belgium), was wrapped in paper along with the wire cage and cork that once held the beer inside.  Oh, the images that began to flood my thoughts made me laugh out loud: a bunch of guys at UPS shipping and sorting facility (during the busy Christmas season sporting Santa hats, of course), realize a box has been damaged and must be repackaged.  Upon repackaging, the discovery of a rare beer inside is simply too tempting for the taste buds to just re-wrap without a sample. So, out pops the cork and the celebration of a rare Flemish Red Ale (50% young beer blended with 50% beer aged in Bordeaux wine barrels), begins.

Okay, so maybe that didn’t happen, but the thought of this sceanrio gave everyone in my household a good round of laughs.  Perhaps the wire cage somehow came loose and the cork popped out during shipping…who’s to say for sure.  I do know, however, that both the outer and inner boxes were bone dry!  I also know that Flemish Red Ales, which I’ve had in the past, are extremely delicious, and I’m certain I missed out on one distinctive and exquisite beer.

monthlyclubs lava beerAnyway, let’s move on to the other beer that was still in tact: Ölvisholt Brugghús Lava Smoked Imperial Stout (Selfoss, Iceland).  This is the very first beer I’ve ever had from Iceland, and it was truly complex, unique, intense and all-around ambrosial.  It’s got some bite, but that bite mellows as the beer warms.  The prevailing flavor is chocolate, which is highlighted by a charred smoky finish that reminds me a bit of BBQ.  Aromas include coffee grounds, chocolate, tobacco and toasted malts – truly distinctive and outstanding characteristics.  The coolest thing of all – the label depicts the erupting volcano that is often visible from the Ölvisholt farm, and the illustration resembles the view from the brewhouse door, awesome. 

Along with both of the beers were sheets of information about the breweries, in-depth history of the breweries and beers and tasting notes with suggested serving temperatures – allowing beer lovers to get the most out of the experience.  Quite impressive.

The Gourmet Cheese of the Month Club: professionally selects hand-crafted, artisan cheese from around the world for this super delicious club.  The selections have been carefully aged, and were cut, wrapped and ship the same day.  Two of the three types of cheeses, I had tried before – Chèvre (fresh goat cheese) and Roncal.  The third, Pinconning, was not one I’ve had previously.  Although I had tasted Chèvre and Roncal in the past, I had never had any that even came close to being delicious as the two included in the shipment.

monthlyclubs unwrapped cheesesStarting with the Bourdin Goat Log Chèvre, which was ultra soft and creamy with an elegant texture and flavor, as the included sheet suggested, “While this wonderfully versatile cheese may be eaten by itself, it is the perfect backdrop to let your culinary imagination run wild!”  So, I did.  I made two crêpes using the Chèvre as the main ingredient  – one savory, one sweet.  The savory included sauteed onions, mushrooms and fresh thyme and rosemary, and the sweet crêpe was simply combined with thinly sliced fresh strawberries.  Although the suggested wine pairing for the Chèvre was a French white wine or rosé, I paired our crêpe brunch with a sparkling Brut Rosé, and it was heavenly.  Admittedly, this Chèvre was so outstanding that spoonfuls of it went passed my lips several times during the crêpe cooking – woops!  I also thoroughly enjoyed it with the one and only Celebrate! Rosé of Carmine produced by Oregon’s Kramer Vineyards.  During a recent live virtual tasting that took place on Twitter,under the hashtag #tastekramerwine, I was fortunate enough to try a wine that no one in the world has produced thus far: Rosé of Carmine – Carmine is a varietal that is grown on their Yamhill-Carlton AVA vineyard.

The Roncal cheese comes from Spain and is super popular there; as well as, around the world.  It’s a hard cheese with rich flavors highlighted by a lovely nuttiness which slightly reminded me of the many bites of Machego I had while on a recent trip to Murcia, Spain.  It was also outstanding, and I thoroughly enjoyed it with Kramer Vineyards 2011 Brut sparkling wine; as well as, the Rosé of Carmine.  But, I loved it best of all with the Lava Smoked Imperial Stout!

monthlyclubs carmine and cheeseThe Pinconning, which came from Carr Valley Cheese out of Wisconsin, was a semi-hard, orange cheese with delicate flavors and textures.  It reminded me a bit of Colby cheese, but the texture was much more lovely.  It’s great on its own, but today I’m going to make a grilled cheese sandwich with it, and I’m thinking it’s going to be very tasty.  I’m going to go with one of the wine pairing suggestions in the included literature: Solena Estate Pinot Gris, which I already tried with a simple slice of the cheese, and it was delectable.

When I wrote about the International Wine of the Month Club, I couldn’t stress enough how impressed I was with the selection of wines and included educational and in-depth literature, and I feel the same way about the Rare Beer Club and the gourmet Cheese Club – they’ve got me hooked. Although Christmas is right around the corner, and any of their monthly clubs would make exceptional gifts, these clubs are great for any occasion, and is super flexible.  Memberships are available from 2-12 months, or even open ended.  Any of the clubs can be combined with whatever and whenever, and the folks at ship in any frequency to accommodate all kinds of budgets: monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly or even on specific months.



*These shipments were provided to me for review purposes.