Monday, June 12, 2017

Rant: TasteCamp, Summer Travel & Local Beverages

As you start to plan your summer travel, deciding which places to visit, please give strong consideration to visiting local wineries, distilleries, breweries, cideries and meaderies. Frankly, many people don't realize the number of these alcohol producers even in their own state. For example, as of 2015 in Massachusetts, there were approximately 55 licensed-farm wineries, 15 hard-cider producers, over 60 breweries, and about 20 distilleries.

Did you realize Massachusetts has that many producers? How many of those producers have you visited? How many of those producers have you tasted their products?

There are now wineries in all fifty states, and the vast majority also have numerous distilleries, breweries, cideries and meaderies. It is a great time for those who enjoy alcoholic beverages, so much new to explore and taste. No matter where you travel, you'll find some interesting producers you can visit, sampling their drinks. On your vacation, spend time visiting historical sites, enjoying the landscape, and dining out. However, leave yourself a little time to explore these exciting, local produced beverages.

I know that some people worry that these producers, especially the wineries, might not be very good, that they make inferior beverages. However, I think that if you explore deeper, if you sample from a number of these producers, you might be very surprised at the quality you can find. And every year, producers all across the country up their game, creating even better beverages than prior years. Don't prejudge these producers but approach them with an open mind, and let your palate judge the quality of their drinks.

Yesterday, I returned from a weekend visit to Maryland where I, and about 30 others, attended TasteCamp 2017. The concept of TasteCamp was created by Lenn Thompson, of the The Cork Report, back in 2009, and it consists of a weekend immersion into a lesser known wine region, outside of the big wine states like California, Washington and Oregon. We have previously visited places including Long Island, the Finger Lakes, Quebec, Virginia, Niagara and Vermont. Attendees come from both the U.S. and Canada, and though many of the attendees are from the East Coast, some attendees come from as far as California.

At TasteCamp, attendees visit a variety of producers, tour vineyards, taste dozens of wines, dine on local foods and holds an exciting BYOB dinner. The basic concept has evolved over time so that it is no longer limited to wine, now also including beers, ciders, meads and spirits. A key principle for TasteCamp is "drink local," consuming products that are locally produced, usually from local ingredients. There is little reason to limit ourselves to wine when local producers are making so many other interesting and tasty beverages too. This is a great example of what I meant when I wrote my prior Rant: Drink Writers, Burst Your Bubble.

Though TasteCamp usually has a few, limited sponsors, the attendees shoulder the lion's share of expenses for the trip, including their transportation, lodging and some meals. This year, we owe a debt of gratitude to Maryland WineMaryland Distillers Guild and Brewers Association of MarylandWith its limited size, TasteCamp is a more intimate event, allowing you to get to know everyone in the group, reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones too. The focus of the event is on tasting, both food and drink, and there aren't any seminars or events about writing, blogging, photography, or similar activities.

I previously attended a wine conference in Maryland back in 2013, learning that Maryland wines had an image problem, including among many of its residents. I found that numerous people still didn't fully understand the quality of wines that Maryland produced. Some felt that Maryland made only sweet wines. However, I tasted a number of excellent wines, seeing the potential in Maryland and it was great to learn more about the various wineries which were seeking to produce quality wine. And this past weekend, I found that the Maryland wine industry has improved in the last four years and is providing even more fascinating and delicious wines, as well as other excellent alcoholic beverages.

Some of the highlights of TasteCamp included: Wines from Old Westminster Winery, Black Ankle Vineyards, and Big Cork Vineyards; Spirits from McClintock Distilling Company and Tenth Ward Distilling Company; and Mead from Orchid Cellar Meadery. And I know I still missed tasting excellent products from some other Maryland producers. During the next few weeks, I'll be writing about my experiences, highlighting some of the best I encountered. Maryland is certainly a compelling destination for those who want to explore delicious and interesting wines, spirits, beers, and more.

TasteCamp helps to illustrate the belief that liquid wonders can be found in many local regions all across the country. In all of the regions we have explored, we have found plenty of interest and each spot would make for a compelling vacation destination. Throw away your preconceptions about the wine and drink industries in various states and be adventurous, gaining first-hand experience of what these local producers are creating. You might not like everything you find, but I'm sure you will be surprised at the quality and diversity you find, and will also locate some treasures which will delight your palate.

Be adventurous. Expand your palate and sample something new. Explore local drink producers.

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