Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Mix

To the left you can get an idea what my latest project looks like - the biweekly mixology newsletter called Mix. I'll be keeping track of new beverage programs, up-and-coming bars and bartenders, great resources, events and people. So if you have news of your beverage programs, or know of something interesting and very inside, let me know. No web address yet, but the sign-up link is here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Roll your own Walker

A couple weeks ago, the Diageo folks brought Andrew Ford, the Johnnie Walker blender, to town, and he brought with him various single malts for a blending exercise. Andrew mentioned that he'd stopped off to fill some bottles personally for the event and it's pretty clear, once we started nosing the various glasses poured for us, that Cardhu was back in town after a long absence. The malt is so beloved by the Spanish that Diageo pulled it out of the U.S. years ago (and even started agitating for the ability to sell a vatted malt called Cardhu, which raised a potent stink in whisky circles).
Along with that Speyside, we were offered portions of a grain whisky, an Islay (Caol Ila is my guess), a Highland (Royal Lochnagar?), a Lowland (Glenkinchie), a west Highland (Oban), and a non-Islay island (Talisker). And so we tried to replicate the signature JW Black blend ourselves.

What did I learn? Well, for one, that even with the superior drams mentioned above, mxing together something coming that doesn't bowl you over yet still has a smokey, lusty JWB pop isn't just a matter of pouring on the flavor. Balance is hard to reach, and the single malts seem to get more intense when mixed together, without the correct level of grain whisky to harmonize matters. So kudos for the much-maligned blended Scotch blenders like Mr. A. Ford. And I also was reminded, after a long time between tastes of some of these Diageo whiskies, how much I really, truly love Caol Ila and Talisker.

Friday, October 9, 2009

First Taste: Pueblo Viejo Blanco Tequila

The efforts by the tequila business to shed the bad old image the spirit earned in the 1960s have largely succeeded, but one result is that tequila prices have gone through the roof. As good as some of today's blancos are (and believe me, the improvement in quality at the blanco level is clear; now, if only barrel management in Jalisco got as much attention as agave quality).

But there are always bargains to be had, and here's one some savvy mixologists already know about; Pueblo Viejo Blanco from Tepatitlan. It has a light cocoa powder, even baby powder, aroma at first, followed by anise seed, orange rind and a touch of bitter herbs. In the mouth, it has a great balance between minerally citrus, mostly lemon and lime, and a moderate agave sweetness. There's a notably rich texture, and the blanco finishes with another dusting of cocoa powder along with a clean lime and apple crispness, a lovely tequila all around. Prices vary, but last month in San Diego, I saw it going for under $16 at a chain store, a steal as far as I'm concerned. (Imported by Gemini Spirits and Wine.)

My score: 6.5

Friday, October 2, 2009

Good cheap wine #3

Wine producers working in regions without much contemporary cachet have a monumental problem; how do they get consumers, overwhelmed with a flood of international wines produced in similar styles, interested in something different? Here's one way: make your wines refreshing, driven by varietal rather than stylistic characteristics, price them well and make them easy to serve.

Welcome example number one from vineyards formerly producing Armagnac; in fact, this little quaffer puts the lie to the idea that grapes normally used to produce brandy like ugni blanc and colombard can't make good wine. Fresh, floral and citrusy, with aromas of grapefruit, lime peel and nectarine, the Colombelle from Gascony is remarkably crisp and lean on the palate, with a great swoosh of citusy acids along with some peachy freshness and a clean, bright finish. It's relatively low in alcohol (11.5% abv), which makes it perfect for a light lunch, hot night, spicy food, or as an aperitif. The price (about $10) is exceptional at a time when flabby pinot grigios can still command $20. Buy it by the case if you find it. (Wine Sellers, LTD)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Craft distillers catch on

Ralph Erenzo and Brian Lee don’t have to dodge swarms of bees anymore when they make apple vodka in New York’s Hudson Valley. In a micro-distiller’s world, that’s a sign of progress. The founders of Tuthilltown Spirits are just two of those riding the American craft wave. Now more than 155 strong, these indie distillers have been spurred by consumer thirst for handmade products, the classic cocktail trend, an easing of restrictions on in-store sampling, self-distribution and sales of their own wares and even by the “locavore” movement.

(Read the rest of the story below, originally published in the October Beverage Media publications.)
Beverage Media - Emerging Distilleries

First Taste: Chokaisan Junmai Daiginjo Saké

It's rare to be able to sample many fine sakés in one place without emptying the piggy bank, but last week's "The Joy of Saké" event in New York provided guests with at least 200 different brands. A few stood out, but none so much as the Chokaisan. As a daiginjo, half of each grain of rice in the making is polished away, making the category the most expensive to produce, but also, potentially, the most delicate.

The Chokaisan, made with yeast derived from flowers, does indeed have pronounced aromas of white flower and pears. Clean and beautifully round on the palate, it shimmers with flavors of fresh picked and peeled pear and tarragon, crisp yet still a bit creamy, with a clean and minerally finish. Brewer Shunji Sato says he's tried to brew a saké that gives the sensation of gazing at a local mountain on a clear winter's day. I don't know about that, but in the midst of the cacophony of the saké tasting, I did feel a bit of fresh breeze blow across my face as I sipped the Chokaisan. (Winebow)

My score: 7