Win Free VIP Tickets to the SF Craft Spirits Carnival!

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What’s the best kind of carnival? A CRAFT SPIRITS CARNIVAL, that’s what!

People, we’ve got a huge treat for you — two pairs of VIP tickets to the San Francisco Craft Spirits Carnival this Sunday, August 16, 2015. (Tickets are good for both the wine and spirits portion of the show, but only on Sunday.)

The event takes place all weekend at Fort Mason. All told, this is $600 worth of tickets that we’re giving out!

All you have to do to register to win is like our Facebook page and leave a response for us (any response) on this post. We’ll pick two winners at random — each winner will get two tickets — and have the carnies themselves contact you for delivery. Winners will be selected on Tuesday, August 11, 2015. Please only enter if you can legitimately attend.

Please please please check out the SF Craft Spirits Carnival website, and visit this page to buy tickets for Saturday or Sunday. You can go to just the spirits side of things, or do both spirits and wine. Wish I was going to be there! Have fun, you guys!

The fine print: Contests and giveaways are open only to readers age 21 and up with a U.S. mailing address. One prize per person per giveaway. We reserve the right to cancel any giveaway at our sole discretion. We are not responsible for lost, misdirected, or late entries. Not open to employees/contributors or immediate family members of Drinkhacker or Null Media employees/contributors, its affiliates, or advertising/promotion agencies and their respective parents, subsidiaries, affiliates, directors, officers, employees, and agents. This offer is void wherever prohibited or restricted by national, state, or any governmental laws. We are not responsible for late, lost, or damaged prize packages. We do not use your mailing address for any other purpose than sending prizes; addresses are not kept on file. One entry per contestant — your entry is good for the length of each giveaway. Duplicate entries will disqualify the entrant.

Upcoming: West of West Wine Festival

One of the most exciting regions in California wine is the rugged Sonoma coast, an area that overlooks the ocean and is blasted with frigid breezes… and where some of the best syrah, pinot noir, and chardonnay can be found growing. Major wine world names like DuMol, Peay, Flowers, and Evening Land call this region home — and they’ve got their own wine festival, too.

West of West is a traveling show that visits Chicago and New York, but also makes time for a stop right here in the Bay Area. The Sebastapol show arrives on the weekend of July 31-August 2, 2015, and tickets are now on sale for a weekend of seminars, fine dining, and — of course — wine tasting.

“All Access” weekend passes run $595, but tickets to the grand tastings (one each on Saturday and Sunday) can be purchased for as little as $100. If you’re a fan of these wines, don’t miss it!

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Tastes from the California Artisan Cheese Festival 2015

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Cheese and wine (and beer) go hand in hand (in hand), so putting these together on a balmy March evening in Petaluma, California, made perfect sense to me. Recently I attended the California Artisan Cheese Festival‘s “Chef vs. Chef – The Best Bite” competition, where about 20 restaurants vied to woo the public each offering a dish created using a regional cheese. Just about everything cheesy was here, from simple cheese-on-cracker presentations to a homey presentation of beef cheek barbacoa with Cowgirl Creamery Wagon Wheel arepas. Cheesecake bites nestled in beside lobster poutine and salmon-goat cheese flatbreads.

What however to make of the elaborate ricotta, strawberry, and chocolate dessert… topped with crispy little fish? I can still taste this one, weeks later…

021My favorite nibble of the night had to go to John Ash & Co., which produced a delightful item: Willapa Hills mac ‘n’ cheese and Hobbs’ bacon stuffed inside a homemade pretzel roll with Willapa Hills Lilly Pad cheese sauce. Decadent? You better believe it. But inventive and delicious, too.

My top sips were from Bucher Winery (two great pinot noirs), Paul Mathew Vineyards (another pinot), and Sonoma Portworks in the wine world. As well, two beers stood out: Lagunitas Hop Stoopid and Baeltane Brewing’s Saison.

Fun times all around! I look forward to checking it out again in 2016.

Reporting from the 2015 Taste of Yountville

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Like wining and dining? There’s another way to do it aside from booking a table at a restaurant and driving from one winery to another. Event’s like the Taste of Yountville, part of the Yountville Live! extravaganza, give you the chance to nibble and tipple in the confines of a few city blocks.

Recently I ventured into the heart of the wine country and a culinary mecca — Yountville is home to the famous French Laundry — for a walk-around tasting of local wines and locally prepared foods.

Among the highlights of the afternoon included a fantastic pate from Bistro Jeanty, which paired wonderfully with a Clos du Val Chardonnay. I also had a soft spot for Bouchon’s truffled fries, which were paired up with a silky Cab from Newton Vineyards. Other top-notch wines included Trefethen’s Pinot Noir, drinking beautifully, and a Cabernet and unoaked Chardonnay from Alpha Omega — both knockouts.

It’s always fun to visit Yountville, but I’ve never really done so much of it on foot. If you go — this annual event occurs every March — bring your appetite … and a hat!

2015 Whisky Extravaganza Dates Announced — Get 10% Off

We’ve had a great time at The Whisky Extravaganza over the years — though we haven’t been recently since it hasn’t landed in San Francisco for a few years.

Nonetheless we’re still fans and recommend you become one as well. This year’s events are scheduled, starting later this month in Houston, Texas. Want to go there, or to any of the other eight cities the event is going to hit? Use promo code EXTD2015 and you’ll get 10 percent off the price of a ticket.

Find out more and buy your tickets at thewhiskyextravaganza.com!

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Event: IPOB Offers Pinot with a Twist

San Franciscans, please join me on March 16 at the Metreon City View for In Pursuit of Balance, a tasting of California pinot noir and chardonnay that has an honest-to-God manifesto behind it. IPOB is a group of producers “seeking a different direction with their wines, both in the vineyard and the winery. This direction focuses on balance, non-manipulation in the cellar, and the promotion of the fundamental varietal characteristics which make pinot noir and chardonnay great – subtlety, poise and the ability of these grapes to serve as profound vehicles for the expression of terroir.”

You can get your lips around these wines — and these are some excellent producers, I can attest myself — in just over a week. To wit:

On March 16 (from 6 to 9 pm), thirty-three of California’s top wineries will share their wines at In Pursuit of Balance, an event created in 2011 to celebrate balance in California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Joining those wineries will be nine of the Bay Area’s top restaurants, including SPQR, Nopa, Bar Tartine and RN74. IPOB represents a unique opportunity to taste thirty-three of the finest California pinot and chardonnay producers in a focused setting. As one of the most exciting and controversial movements in California wine, IPOB has been covered by, among others, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and Food + Wine Magazine.

Tickets are $125, and you can nab them here. (Not in SF? IPOB is also headed to Houston and Japan.) Cheers!

Dispatch from the 2014 Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival

Autumn wasn’t technically with us in late August, but that didn’t stop the folks at Northstar Resort in Lake Tahoe, California, from putting on a grandiose wine and food festival. Now in its 29th year, the Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival is a multi-day event that combines a walk-around tasting with focused events that let you dive into various topics.

A session that paired beer and cheese was a fun and unusual way to approach the dairy-driven topic. While a few of the pairings were a bust, all of the cheeses were great, and most of the beers — primarily offerings from Goose Island — were refreshing on a hot day on the mountain.

Later that evening, Charbay hosted a spirits and caviar event, pairing vodka and tequila and cocktails made from both with caviar samplings and various dishes from Tsar Nicoulai Caviar Company. A lengthy session — we started famished but finished full of fish eggs and Charbay spirits.

The final day of the festival focuses on the food and wine en masse, with 20-some booths each featuring a winery (or beer company) and a restaurant serving a small bite. I left that afternoon stuffed to the gills from bites both mundane (sliders) to exotic (rabbit, crudo, venison, and more). The wines here included a strange mix of stuff from all over the world, but my personal highlights were offerings from Pride, Mutt Lynch, Hahn, and Handley. The event is competitive. Full winners can be found here.

I took some photos over the two days I was there. Enjoy, and let’s all head to Tahoe for the event in 2015!

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10% Off 2014 Whisky Extravaganza Tickets

Hey folks! Do you live in or near Chicago, Boston, Washington DC, Seattle, LA, or Fort Lauderdale? If you do and you like good whiskey, check out the upcoming roadshow of the Whisky Extravaganza. Fall shows run from October 9 to December 4.

You, lucky reader, get a 10% discount on tickets to the Extravaganza. Please use the promotional code HACKER2014 when you shop for tickets here or buy at thewhiskyextravaganza.com. You can also call them at 800.990.1991.

Have fun! For more information and complete schedule (click for a larger view):

The Whisky Extravaganza fall 2014

Get Your Mountain on in Lake Tahoe, Sept. 5-7, 2014

Craving some mountain air… and maybe a beer or a glass of wine? Check out Lake Tahoe’s Autumn Food and Wine Festival, coming up in just a few weeks. A full schedule of the three-day event is here. Many of the events are free with your admission. Some require an additional advance ticket purchase.

Best to hop on your lodging and travel reservations now. Hope to see you there!