Category: Great Spirits

The Beer Blog: YES to Craft Beer in a Can!

More and more people are asking the question, “Craft beer in a can, seriously?” For decades, canned beer and screw top wine have been associated with sub-premium domestic brands; however, these associations are more myth than reality. In fact, the can is actually a better container for that precious beer and has benefits and versatility that those old bottles just don’t…So, let’s talk cans!

One of beers greatest enemies is oxygen. Oxygen causes aeration, which can be a wonderful thing in the proper environment. When we open a bottle of wine and let it breath, we are aerating it. When we tap a cask of beer, we are introducing oxygen which will slowly change the flavors. Within a few hours, aerated beverages will display a range of tastes that showcase and enhance the product.  After a certain amount of time, things quickly go south and those same remarkable flavors you love will, in essence, taste like paper and wet cardboard.

Canned beer has the lowest oxygen content of any packaged beer product. Not only does this ensure a greater degree of freshness and a longer shelf life; but any anti-oxidants contained in the product will retain their beneficial properties. This is particularly important for Craft Beer as many contain (and may even boast) those advantageous antioxidants.

Another enemy of beer is light. Too many UV rays can burn your skin and chemically alter your beer. Light struck! No, I’m not falling in love, my beer has been skunked! That skunky smell you get from many glass-bottled beers is the effect of ultraviolet light chemically altering the product. Light reacts with the isohumolune oils in hops (which almost all beer contains) to produce a compound similar to the one a skunk sprays. Aluminum is sunscreen for beer – which brings us to the most important point of modern canning:

Can Liners. Can lining isn’t a Keystone specialty. Every can on Earth has a special lining which is actually water based and inert. It prevents the product from ever touching the aluminum. Soda products have twice the lining because they are so corrosive (in case you needed another reason to drink beer instead).

And then there is the sustainability aspect that makes aluminum even more enticing. The carbon footprint of an aluminum can is a fraction of a bottle’s when you consider the energy it takes to produce it and the gas required to deliver it. They also require about 70% less paper and cardboard than a case of bottles (with those fancy little carriers). And don’t forget that cans travel much better to parks, lakes, rivers, and yes golf-courses. Pack it in, pack it out.

My final “cantastic” proselytization is the can’s amazing (almost supernatural) ability to make chicken taste delicious! Yes, I am referring to Beer Can Chicken. One of my favorite recipes (because I am a curry freak) is a curry-infused masala rub, heavy in coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger. Crack a can of Craft Hefeweizen, rich with banana, pineapple and clove flavors, heat up the grill and you’ve got chicken tonight. May seem a little odd for an Italian/Irish boy, but we Craft Brewers are Craft Foodies, too!

Many award-winning microbreweries are jumping on the “can-wagon.” Ska Brewing Company of Colorado cans their popular ESB Special Ale, and Anderson Valley Brewing Company of California is also distributing beers in cans. Canned craft beers can be found locally at AJ’s Fine Foods, Sunflower Farmers Market and Whole Foods.

Canned beer is better, Craft Canned Beer is BEST!  Crack open a can with friends and food and you’ll see what I mean.

Stay tuned to for more blogs by our beer expert, and for some of the best darn beer in Arizona, pull up a stool at San Tan Brewing Company

Click here for the location and hours


The Spirit of Tea

By Chef Larry Canepa

You may be wondering why we have an article on tea in the Wine & Spirits section of our website. Well, while it may not be as inebriating as other beverages; it is intoxicating in its own way, it has seduced the world, and it is as addictive a substance as any other. So with this definition as a justification, we will place it here to facilitate further debate.

In the book, The Empire of Tea, the authors describe the impact of tea on the world as no less than miraculous. Described as a conqueror, an addiction, and a cure all; tea has led many of the great waves of history. It provided impetus for discovery of the east by the west and vice-versa. It helped enable the industrial revolution by providing a safer alternative to contaminated water than wine or beer (fewer people mucking up the works by falling into the machinery), it served as a MacGuffin for the American Revolution, and it is even thought to have caused a number of religious movements because of its meditative qualities.

The book quotes Isaac D’Israeli on the subject:

The progress of this famous plant has been something like the progress of truth; suspected at first, though very palatable to those who had the courage to taste it; resisted as it encroached; abused as its popularity spread; and establishing its triumph at last,  in cheering the whole land from the palace to the cottage, only by slow and resistless effort of time and its own virtues.

But to many, tea is still an enigma. It comes from exotic places that most of us may never visit and the difference between high quality and mediocre tea is difficult for the uninitiated to discern since it provides no lingering headaches. So, let’s take a moment to try to understand tea a bit better.

First of all, let’s define “tea.” All true tea comes from the leaves of one plant, Camellia Sinensis. It is a hearty plant that developed on the eastern slope of the Himalayas. Basically, if it doesn’t come from this plant, it ain’t tea. Other types of infusion drinks including Tisanes, or herbal teas, come from a variety of plants, botanicals, and fruits and are quite nice in their own right but are not considered tea.

Similar to wine, tea is affected greatly by the environment in which it grows. Differences in soil and weather conditions create a rich mosaic of tea’s many varieties and flavors. Altitude also plays an important role. Tea plants grow slower at higher altitudes producing leaves with more concentrated flavor.

Gourmet tea varieties are almost exclusively made from these high-grown leaves while the low-growth varieties are more common and more likely to be found at the supermarket. What makes a gourmet tea? Gourmet teas are made exclusively from the plant’s most tender young leaves. Tea pickers, usually working by hand, select the plant’s two youngest leaves and a yet-to-open bud. These tender new leaves produce a tea that is more gentle and flavorful than the older varieties and are reserved for the highest quality production.

As the popularity of tea grew over time, it spread to different regions of the world. The most widely recognized teas come from China, Japan and India but quality teas can come from areas ranging from South East Asia (see Sabah Tea Plantation in Borneo video) to Britain.

There are many classifications for tea, and how the leaves are processed will determine a key distinction as white, green, oolong, or black teas. The main difference between the many tea varieties is how much oxygen the leaves are allowed to absorb during processing. When tea leaves are harvested, a natural oxidation begins to occur. This oxidation is environmental and is halted by heating the tea leaves. This heating is done by firing or steaming the leaves. Unprocessed leaves are white tea. A bit of oxidation results in green tea, and abundant oxygen produces dark-colored black teas.

Oolong teas are allowed to oxidize for various lengths of time and the extended oxidation produces a wide range of character and caffeine content; the darker, or more oxidized, the higher the caffeine content. While this is a simplification of a somewhat complicated process, it outlines the basic characteristic differences in the various tea types.

Tea is often lauded for its medicinal purposes. In the beginning, its primary benefit came from the fact that one needed to heat and boil water to make it. This, clearly, made the water safe to drink. In addition, to this fundamental medicinal quality, all “tea” has healthful benefits. It soothes and relaxes and provides us with many important antioxidants. One just needs to taste and explore to find the one that most appeals to you. Since there are over 3,000 different teas in the world you are sure to find one that is perfect for you.

After you have decided which varieties will be permanent fixtures in your pantry, you’ll want to know how to properly brew them for optimum enjoyment (no–throwing a tea bag in a mug of water and then giving it a whirl in the microwave will NOT suffice). We got these tips from the tea experts at Ceylon Tea:

First, the experts suggest investing in a tea kettle. They are relatively inexpensive, and truly provide the best environment for steeping tea.

  • Black tea – Black is the most robust of the tea varieties and can be brewed in truly boiling water, usually steeped for 4-6 minutes.
  • Green and white tea – Be gentle with all green teas. The water temperature should be around 150-160ºF and only steeped for 2-4 minutes.
  • Most herbal teas – With so many different herbs that can be used for herbal tea blends, there is no way to give any temperature or steeping guidelines with any accuracy. Most herbs can be brewed in boiling water and steeped for about 5 minutes. You might need a bit of trial and error to get the perfect cup.

If you don’t have a thermometer handy, you can tell the water temperature by watching the bubbles. Small bubbles will float to the surface of the water 160-170ºF, and you’ll see strings of bubbles from the bottom of the kettle at 180-190ºF. After that, you will have a full rolling boil.

You also can use an infuser to steep your teas for easy cleaning. Refrain from filling the infusers to the top. Make sure that there is room for the leaves to unfurl during the steeping process. The best infusers are made from one or more of the following materials:

  • Finely woven non-reactive metal (such as gold-plated metal wire)
  • Micro-perforated non-reactive metal (such as food grade  stainless steel)
  • Non-leeching/BPA-free food grade plastic
  • Closely woven wood that doesn’t impact the tea’s flavor, such as those made of bamboo.

Finally, always use a strainer to pour the tea into your cup. You want to drink tea. not chew it.

So, go ahead and get addicted. Feel free to be seduced. Raise a cup and drink to your health!

There are many tea purveyors out there, but our favorite is made by our partners at Ceylon Tea.

Click on the logo to learn more about Ceylon Tea, and select from an array of delicious, high quality teas.

Members can read more on Tea Classifcations and Varieties of Tea by signing in and clicking here.

About Larry

Chef Larry Canepa brings  30 years of Food and Wine experience to today’s adult culinary learners. He has worked in the Food & Wine business as Chef, caterer, sommelier and Food and Wine educator. He has taught culinary and restaurant operation classes at the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Phoenix and Le Cordon Bleu, Scottsdale. His experiences include management and operation of free-standing restaurants, hotels and resorts. Chef Larry Canepa owned and operated the full service catering business, Dinner at Eight for 10 years in the Valley, specializing in intimate private dining and wine seminars. Larry Canepa has conducted seminars and lectures on coffee, tea, wine, etiquette, cooking and service for students, adults, continuing education classes and charitable organizations.

Beer Pairing Basics

by Chef Joe LaVilla

There is an imbalance in dining today. It is perpetuated by advertising, by tradition and ultimately by the people who would benefit the most from breaking its stereotype. What is it, you ask?  It is simply the notion that you can only have a great dining experience pairing food with wine. 

The rationale is often that the cuisines of the world developed alongside their wine counterparts. We state, “Well, in Europe wine is just another food item, a condiment to the meal”. While true, historically wine was either relegated to those that had the space to store it for the year until the next harvest, or was a simple plonk made and shared by the village. One beverage, however, was available to everyone year round, was the ultimate in local sourcing, and also evolved with the cuisine – beer.

Beer is a beverage that actually is more versatile than wine with most cuisines. Wine is often paired with foods with a European “flavor”, but when it comes to Asian or Indian or even some South American cuisines, figuring out what wine to have may be a stretch. A good craft beer can create some unbelievable pairings with just a little understanding of the beverage.

Beer is really a general category that encompasses three main styles – ales, lagers and lambics. Each can be simply defined by its fermentation method.  Ales are fermented at room temperature creating a beverage that retains the fruity esters that develop when sugar turns to alcohol. It also has a soft carbonation – think about the more of the creamy head on a Guinness versus a fizzy Budweiser. Lagers, on the other hand, are fermented cold. This gives a clean, crisp taste, with a more aggressive carbonation. Finally, lambics are fermented with wild yeast and bacteria giving what seems like a cross between ale and lager but with a characteristic tang to the drink.

Basic food and beer pairings start by determining the type of beer to use. Ales can be thought of as the “red wine” of the group.  Lagers are more like “white wine”.  Why?  Well, the fruity esters and soft carbonation give a richer mouth feel, more like a red wine. Lagers, being clean and crisp, can be just as palate cleansing as a clean, crisp white wine.  But this is too general; there’s more to it than that.

Beer flavors depend on two things in the recipe – malt and hops.  Malt is the base which provides the sugar for the fermentation.  It is barley that has been sprouted, dried and toasted to some degree.  The extent of toast changes the flavors from sweet to cracker-like to caramelized sugar to coffee and chocolate.  Hops are the flowers of a vine which provides bitterness, tannin and aromatics to the brew.  Hops can have undertones of pine, herbs or citrus.

The principles of beer and food pairing are the same as they are for wine and food pairing.  Match the weights – lighter foods should be paired with lighter beers like golden lagers and pale ales.  Match the intensity – don’t overpower your food with a beer that’s too intense.  Just as a poached chicken breast would be overpowered by red wine, it would also be overpowered by a stout.

Pairing with beer does have its differences compared to pairing with wine.  Beer, for the most part, does not have acidity (lambics being the exception) like wine does. To cleanse the palate and cut through fat, take advantage of beer’s bitterness. Strong hops in the beer are the equivalent of acidity in wine.  Malt is the sweetness of a beer. Some fermentations leave residual sugars, giving the beer not only sweetness but greater weight on the palate.

One pairing I had recently reminded me that pairing with beer may provide as much of an OMG moment as wine can. The beer was a Firestone Walker Union jack India Pale Ale (IPA).  IPAs are notorious for their high hop content and bitterness. The hops in this beer are Cascade, known to have a citrus quality.  A delicious beer, on its own the bitterness was fairly astringent on the palate.  Enter rack of lamb. The fat and umami of the meat neutralized a lot of the bitterness of the IPA.  Then, the a-ha moment when the beer suddenly took on an intense orange peel flavor. The pairing of the malt, orange and lamb was absolutely delicious.

How about some other pairs? Chicken fried steak and bock beer.  Bock is a lager made with darker malts.  This gives it the body to handle battered and fried steak, but also because it is a lager, the crispness cuts through the fat. 

Next, try sausages, sauerkraut and a German Pilsner.  Pilsner is the classic lager we all think of- golden, crisp, effervescent and a little bit bitter.  Mix the pilsner with tangy sauerkraut and fatty sausage and the beer cleanses the palate while the tangy kraut tempers the bitterness and malt. 

Finally, let’s try dessert. Chocolate cake and Oatmeal stout is the pair. As the name suggests, Oatmeal stout utilizes some oatmeal in with the malt. That results in noticeable sweetness to the brew which balances the bitterness and coffee notes.  Match it to a chocolate cake, especially one with a fudgy frosting, and the combination brings out mocha, toast and caramel flavors in both items.

The next time you are thinking of what to pair with dinner, perhaps, skip the wine section and head to the craft beers.  For the price of a bottle of wine, you could experiment with 4 – 6 beers.  Who knows, your next OMG moment in pairing may happen with a pint glass in your hand instead of a stem.


About Joe LaVilla

Chef LaVilla is the Academic Director for the Culinary Arts programs at the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Phoenix. Besides being a Certified Executive Chef, Chef LaVilla also holds a certification from the International Sommelier Guild (ISG) as a Certified Sommelier. In addition, Chef LaVilla is experienced in food styling, food and wine pairing, the hospitality industry, culinary arts management, and more.

Before joining The Art Institute of Phoenix, LaVilla had been Executive Chef for Tucchetti restaurant in Phoenix. He has worked for Mark Tarbell as well as Wolfgang Puck. His credits include, “Faculty of the Year” award at The Art Institute of Phoenix; finalist in the Arizona Pork Council Taste of Elegance Competition; and author of the textbook “The Handbook of Wine, Beer and Spirits: A Guide to Styles and Service”.

Chef LaVilla received his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the University of Rochester and his Bachelor of Arts degree, Cum Laude, in Chemistry from Cornell University. He also received an associate’s degree in Culinary Arts from the Culinary Institute of America, where he graduated with honors.

Doc Lawrence’s Heidi Hi Cocktail

Forever dedicated to the lovely Heidi Lee and the great Cab Callaway who must have had her on his mind (who wouldn’t?) in “Minnie the Moocher.”

“Not Just A Cocktail, But A Maneuver–It gets you where you need to go.”



  • 2 oz of premium Reposado
  • ½ oz Combier
  • 1tsp. Agave nectar
  • 3 dashes Peychaud Bitters
  • 1 oz fresh orange juice
  • Squeeze of lime (optional)


Pour over chunk ice in an appropriate glass.


About Doc Lawrence

Doc Lawrence is a veteran journalist whose mastery of language is matched by his love of the people and places that make up the dream come true called America. An Atlanta native, Doc prepared for a lifetime of storytelling by education and travel, earning several degrees plus living in places such as England, Barbados and Ireland. Ranging from wine and fine dining to celebrity chef interviews and folk art, Doc shares his adventures with an emphasis on the good and positive. A founder and former editor of The Nationwide News, Doc Lawrence was the 2006 Chairman of the Food and Beverage Section of the Public Relations Society of America in New York City and is the Director of Wine for the International Food and Wine Travel Writers Association founded in Paris in 1954. He is a member of the South Florida International Press Club and the Atlanta Press Club and an avid fisherman and accomplished home chef. He is currently features editor for Wines Down South. Click Here for more of Doc’s work on Southern Wines or here to keep up with Doc. Send Doc feedback at

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