Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Drinks: Rita Tomatillo

Inspiration comes from the oddest places. A friend brought over some of her freshly made tomatillo salsa yesterday, but there was a bit too much vegetable juice in the serving bowl, making it difficult to scoop up the the minced tomatillos and chiles. So we drained off much of the liquid, which was too fragrant and tasty to throw away but what to do? A bottle of tequila and a bowl of limes in the kitchen provided the basis for the rest of the ingredient mix, that and an aging bottle of limoncello. No commercial tomatillo salsa will do - they are all too acrid and artificial. And you can bring the heat level up or down, as you wish; next time, I'll try making the salsa by roasting the tomatillos and chiles first, and then maybe use a mezcal instead of blanco.

Rita Tomatillo
(serves four)
5 ounces blanco tequila (preferably a minerally tequila, like El Tesoro)
5 ounces tomatillo salsa water (see below)
1.5 ounce limoncello
juice of one large lime

Pour all over ice and shake vigorously. Strain and serve.

Tomatillo Salsa
1 pound fresh tomatillos, husked, rinsed and quartered
2 fresh serrano peppers, seeded, stemmed and chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, minced
juice of one lime
1 small clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt to taste

In a bowl, combine tomatillos, chiles, garlic and salt. Let stand at room temperature for an hour. Add lime juice, cilantro and olive oil, stir and let sit in refrigerator for one hour. Strain liquid to use for Rita Tomatillo; serve the rest with blue corn chips.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tiki and the state of rum

There are many contributors to rum’s surging popularity today: the growth of Latin culture and population, the increasing number of flavored rums and the country’s love affair with the Mojito are only three. But don’t forget the effect of Tiki.

(Read the rest of the story below, originally published in the August Beverage Media publications.)
Rum Beverage Media

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bitter gene

Wonder why your drinking companions never find a cocktail too bitter? Perhaps they're non-tasters for the bitter-tasting chemical PTC - about a quarter of us have a recessive gene that leaves us unable to taste PTC.

Now there's proof that even for certain Neanderthals, there's no such thing as too bitter. Analysis of a 48,000 year-old bone shows that the genetic variation responsible for this difference also existed in Neanderthals. This means that this genetic variation predates the divergence of the lineages leading to Neanderthals and modern humans.

Says the lead scientist: "The non-taster is not something that occurs just in modern populations. It is something that was present at least half a million years ago."

More here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Churchill gene

Some people rave about how some multiply-filtered vodka leaves no trace the next day; others swear they've seen and communed with their familiar as the the level of mezcal in the bottle dwindles. De gustibus, but all I used to know is that some people can drink, and some ought not.

Now, I think I know why; according to a piece by Phillip Hunter, a small percentage of white people have something weird going on in their genes. "According to a 2004 study carried out at the University of Colorado, around 15 per cent of Caucasians have a genetic variant, known as the G-variant, that makes ethanol behave more like an opioid drug, such as morphine, with a stronger than normal effect on mood and behavior. This variant seems randomly distributed among the population: it emerged through mutation, although the factors affecting its selection remain unknown since, like all genes, it does not operate in isolation."

Curious? As Hunter points out: "An exceptional few seemed to thrive on drink, leading to the idea of a "Churchill gene": where some have a genetic makeup allowing them to remain healthy and brilliant despite consumption that would kill others. Mark Twain endorsed this view saying: "My vices protect me but they would assassinate you!"

No doubt some real genes--especially those with a high expression of alcohol dehydrogenase and tolerance of alcohol breakdown products such as acetaldehyde, the "hangover" chemical--contribute to this theory. Yet until recently science has had little to say about alcohol and the creative process, confining itself to studies of damage, tolerance and addiction. Over the last few years, however, evidence has emerged that some have, if not a Churchill gene, then a creative cocktail gene."

Find the rest of the short piece here.

First Taste: Orangerie

Purists may shun flavored or infused whiskies, but it is usually because the products are often artificial tasting, seemingly a result of too much whisky in the warehouse and a marketer's wacky inspiration. Not Compass Box's Orangerie, and Scotch enthusiasts are likely to be almost as enthusiastic about John Glazer's latest offering as they are about Peat Monster or the other results of his modern whisky attitude.

Orangerie is a blend of Highland single malt Scotch whisky, single grain whisky, infused with orange, cinnamon and clove, and that's exactly what you'll find in the glass. A bit reminiscent of old style whisky liqueurs on the nose, but lighter and more reserved, Orangerie smells like a Christmas sachet of dried orange peel and spices. It's sprightly and lightly sweet on the palate, not cloying at all, and has a clean, fresh quality. Seems perfect for cocktail experimentation, cold-weather sipping or just a change of Scotch pace. 40% abv.

My score: 7

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sherry, baby!

Add to the list of signs of an approaching autumn the roll-out of cocktail competitions. One of the best, in that bartenders must enter drinks already served at their establishments and defend and explain their utility, is the Vinos de Jerez Cocktail Competition. They're now accepting entries to find America’s best Sherry cocktail.

The official rules:

You may use any style of Sherry, from any bodega in Jerez.
You must share the precise recipe, garnish and glass; explain in writing why the cocktail is great, when best to serve it, exact preparation method and steps of assembly, and what the perfect food match is and and why.

Also required: a copy of the cocktail menu of the bar/restaurant where the cocktail is being served and a photo of the drink.

Entry deadline: Friday, October 16th, 2009. For all info, go here.

Submissions should be sent via email to Steve Olson.

The winner will receive a cash prize and an all expenses paid trip to Jerez, Spain. (Phot0 of Neyah White's Sherry Shrubb, 2008 winner.)


Monday, August 10, 2009

Is American Whiskey Better Than Ever?

I wrote this before launching this blog, but nothing I've seen or tasted in the last few months makes me change my mind: This may be the best time ever for American whiskey drinkers.

The whiskey business breeds naturally happy people, the kind who, even as the week enters its 60th hour, like to reflect on their good fortune. So, it’s never a surprise when their view is sunny. But these days, despite overall economic worries, those folks making bourbon and rye seem especially pleased with their work.

(As originally published in Beverage Media.)

American Whiskey

Sites you should know

If you don't know Brian Rea, too bad for you. He knows as much about bars, bartenders, drinks, drinking, and drink memorabilia as any man alive. He worked among other places at the 400 Restaurant and the Little Club, was head barman at the “21” Club, and even went astray and owned his own restaurants in New York City. He's done it all, and knows it all (just ask him), and as far as I'm concerned, is one of the bar businesses keenest and funniest resources. Luckily, there's a way to get to know him - check Brian out here, and be sure to scroll a third of the way down the page for his gimlet-eyed view of pain in the ass moments at the bar. My hero.

Friday, August 7, 2009

First Taste: Tuthilltown Manhattan Rye

Everyone has a friend who thinks he's good at something...and isn't. Or prides himself on his secret recipe for barbecue sauce, or kimchi, or the way he smokes his own 18 pound turkey, yet always has so much food leftover.

I think of those folks sometimes when tasting spirits sent to me as part of the wave of new products coming from small distillers and entrepreneurs. (There's no space here to distinguish between those who really own and operate their own stills and those whose spirits are made to order by large distilleries; perhaps some other time.) So many I try are oddly out of balance, with one note or another so dominant that I think they must be created to satisfy no one but the maker. Gin isn't supposed to smell like Provence during the lavender harvest, ya feel me? So I've become skeptical when spirits new to market appear in my tasting lair (actually, the kitchen counter.)

It took Tuthilltown Manhattan Rye Hudson Whiskey to shut my mouth and open my nose. There are a lot of oaky aromas at first, but they are clean and crisp, not the puff of plywood or sawdust that often comes from poor barrel management. There are also fresh crushed apple notes, with a hint of vanilla and a fully grainy, almost cooked breakfast cereal quality. On the palate, there's little of the expected rye roughness; instead, the edges have been smoothed, perhaps by Tuthilltown's use of small barrels, but this is still a lively, peppery rye, and there's even some anise and caraway popping through. It finishes with a bit of char, but clean, brisk and quite smooth, and not the slightest bit hot, even at 46% alcohol. It is both robust and charming, Hugh Jackman, but not Wolverine.

I offered some as an after dinner treat to a couple of neighbors recently, guys who I don't think of as boozehounds. Suffice it to say that it was a good thing I did my tasting before passing the 375 ml bottle around. Currently limited availability, 45% alcohol by volume.

My score: 8

(Photo of bottle: Matt Calardo)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Waiter, there's a beer in my cocktail!

There doesn’t seem to be much call in bars and restaurants today for the rudimentary Red Eye (beer and tomato juice) or the Wine Cooler (wine with sparkling water or soda and fruit juice). But there’s nothing wrong with mixing other ingredients with beer or wine to create drinks with new, contemporary taste profiles. In fact, a small but significant move is afoot to incorporate the two into contemporary cocktail culture.

(Read the rest of the story, below, originally published in the Summer 2009 issue of Flavor and the Menu magazine.)
Flavor - Wine Beer Cocktails

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Monkeys love cocktails!

My friend Mark Marowitz sent this along, and I'm passing it on with no comment.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Gin from gaz...

...(the bartender formerly known as Gary Regan) has arrived in the form of "The Bartender's Gin Compendium," a book for amateur mixologists, and for the pros, for gin tipplers, gin connoisseurs, gin lushes, gin swiggers, gin aficionados, and for people who don’t like gin, too (hey, G., shouldn't you now represent your name with a squiggly line thingee instead of letters?)

"I’m in the mood to change some minds out there," gaz says. "Going the self-publishing route this time has been very interesting for me. It's allowed me to say some rather naughty things that the big boys might not have let me get away with."

A trade paperback copy of the "Compendium" is $23.99, or around 6.5 cents per page, as G. points out, while hard cover goes for $30.99 (under 8.5 cents per page. It's 354 pages long, sans index,and there are discounts for bulk orders (trade paperback only, 25-copy minimum). You can buy it here, or for discounts and freebie grovelling, write to gaz.

Here's what another know-it-all, David Wondrich, has to say about "The Bartender's Gin Compendium." (Wonder how many Clover Clubs this bit of log-rolling cost gaz?)
“Reading this highly informative and raffishly charming book is almost as fun as sharing a drink—and make mine a Doc Daneeka Royale, or maybe an 1820, or a Leo Di Janeiro, or, hell, you choose—with the highly informative and raffishly charming Mr. Regan himself (but please don’t tell him I said so; it’ll only encourage him).”

Go ahead, buy two (one for dear ol' Mum) and help keep an old fart off the streets.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Savory - and culinary - cocktails

At the recently opened Copa d’Oro bar in Santa Monica, Calif., customers find one of the latest twists in the evolution of drink making: the market menu.
Arrayed before them and listed in great detail on the menu are all the fresh ingredients bar owner Vincenzo Marianella gathered that morning at a local farmers’ market, much as chefs have been doing for years.

Conspicuous among the usual fruits — strawberries, grapes, oranges and such — is a rainbow of herbs and vegetables: basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley, habenero peppers, wasabi, ginger, bell peppers, cucumbers, carrots. What happens with these farm fresh ingredients is quite culinary in style. Customers pick a spirit by price, select a few fresh ingredients and watch as Copa d’Oro’s bartenders custom-make their drink.

“It’s the most popular part of our menu,” says Marianella, adding that many of the drinks are made with the most savory of available ingredients.

At many other bars and restaurants across the country, the cocktail renaissance is taking a distinctly savory turn, with mixologists employing ingredients and culinary techniques that expand the flavor options of mainstream drinking.

“Working with savory ingredients treats people to an entirely different flavor spectrum they may not be used to,” says Jamie Boudreau, bar director for Seattle’s Tini Bigs and a spirit and cocktail consultant. “When I first started
making cocktails, my inspiration was pastry books, but then I started looking at chefs and what flavors they make work together.”

(Read the rest of the story, below, originally published in the Summer 2009 issue of Flavor and the Menu magazine.
Flavor - Savory Cocktails