If there are two cultures that know how to throw a party, they are the Greeks and the Irish The next two weeks are an exciting time to be in southern Minnesota.
Aug. 28-30 is the Original Rochester GreekFest and Sept. 4-5 is Irish fest. Greece and Ireland have little in common other than the zest for life and the love of good food and drink.
Greece has been making wine for countless centuries. The abundant sun, mountainous terrain and amazing seaside breezes are all conducive to making great wine. The last 20 years have seen a renaissance in Greek wine-making. Modern wine-making techniques have taken hold and the results are astounding.
Try a beautiful white wine called Moschofilero. It is crisp and has an unbelievable floral aroma. It is a perfect companion to lighter foods such as pork, seafood, or grilled vegetables.
Of course, with your traditional gyros you need a red wine such as Elios Red. Elios means sun in Greek, and this bright red wine is an example of the latest popular wine flavors. It is medium-bodied and semi-dry, a wonderful summertime red wine.
Of course, when talking beverages from Greece you must talk of Ouzo, a distilled clear liquor with an unbelievable sweet anise flavor. Ouzo Ploumari comes from the island of Lesvos and is my favorite. You can do it as a shot or add a little water to the clear liquor and watch as it magically turns to a mysterious cloudy sensation.
Ouzo is an awesome aperitif that will whet your taste buds and prepare you for the delicious foods and desserts that you know are the best part of Greek culture.
Metaxa is another awesome export of Greece, similar to brandy but with a smoother finish, and it is very mixable. Spyros Metaxa developed Metaxa in 1888. In Europe it is coming on as a popular mixed drink in the nightclubs because of its high quality and great mixability. Try a Metaxa Sidecar, a great twist on an old classic. Take a couple of ounces of Metaxa, an ounce of Cointreau, fresh lemon juice, and orange juice. Shake it vigorously and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with an orange zest — you will be blown away!
Ireland, of course, is no slouch in the beverage department. Guinness Irish Stout is the standard-bearer that all beers strive to measure up to. One of the largest beer brands in the world, Guinness is famous for its dark color and smooth flavor.
Roasted with barley and the perfect hop mix, Guinness is not only tasty, it is actually good for you! While you may think that Guinness is a heavy beer, I actually consider it a light beer. It is only 4 percent alcohol and has only 125 calories, less than most beers. Pour a glass of Guinness; notice the color and the deep white delicious head. The color is actually not black, but the roasted barley gives it a deep red color that is surprising.
My favorite export from Ireland is of course whiskey. Irish monks were the first whiskey producers and exported the delicious elixir to Scotland and beyond. The word whiskey comes from the ancient Gaelic word Uisce bethea, meaning the water of Life!
Irish whiskey is more than Jameson, the fastest growing whiskey brand in the world and renowned for its great light and smooth flavor. Ireland is making many great whiskeys. Try Redbreast, a 100 percent pot- stilled whiskey that is as rich and complex as any scotch or bourbon. Other brands to try are Tyrconnell, Green Spot and Connemara. Connemara is unique in that it is the only peated Irish whiskey on the market. If you like scotch, you must try Connemara.
The next couple of weeks are a great time to be in Rochester. Be Greek for a weekend; enjoy the finest Greek cuisine and drink. Have a gyro, drink a Greek beer like Hillas, indulge in the finest baklava anywhere, and dance your worries away.
The next week you can wear your green proudly, try a traditional Irish breakfast, learn to sing a profound Irish poem, and savor the finest whiskeys from the birthplace of the true water of life! Enjoy life and learn of all that two great and influential cultures have to offer.