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Wicked Spirited

Looking Inward
When we think of distilled spirits in the USA we typically draw our 1st glance to the blue grasses of Kentucky. Images of pot bellied men with long, straggly beards and tightly rolled cigars running a make-shift still in the backwaters pop into my mind at least. We seldom think of California where in 1982 the craft distillers movement started, or Ohio where the local water has almost as much viscosity as in Kentucky. Even though I have had the pleasure and good fortune to have a myriad of distilleries to catalog through I am still shocked when I find something right out my own backdoor. New England has a tradition of great beers and beer is the reason the Pilgrims chose Plymouth rock. The long voyage left them with short supply and drinking water was really nowhere to be found so Miles Standish and his posse weighed anchor at the very unimpressive rock and started brewing. Beer is in our collective blood so to speak. Boston and the surrounding towns and cities play host to countless beer bars like Foundry on Elm, Bukowski’s, The Public House and the like, it is our gastronomic narrative. It is also the base of the embryonic collection of cells that will transform when heated and mature into whiskey. Distillation has had a long legacy in the north east. From Apple brandy to Medford Rum, if we could ferment it; we’d distill it.PilgrimAleAd2
Apples to Apples
In 1774 in the Central Massachusetts town of Leominster, Johnny Chapman was born. He grew up with a fondness of apples. In fact I grew up hearing about his love for them as a child in California but I knew him as Johnny Appleseed. Yes, he was real. He spent his life traveling from state to state planting apples.
At the time drinking water was in short supply and most apples were not very palatable. The ingenuity of gene splicing has given us the Red Delicious, Honey Crisp and Granny Smith but unfortunately if you take a Honey Crisp apple and plant its seed you get a tart, tannic and hard crab apple. When life gives you crab apples you make cider. From here it easily ferments with a little bit of time and yeast. Making a distilled spirit out of cider is naturally the next incarnation of inebriated delight. Apple Jack, the American apple brandy was not made however through traditional distillation. It was made through a process called Freeze Distillation. The freezing point of alcohol is -173.2 degrees Fahrenheit so during the fall months when apples were harvested and hard cider was made, vats of cider were often left out in the frigged cold. Keeping in mind that cider are about 7% alcohol and the rest of the liquid is water, once the winter came the water in the vats would freeze. That frozen water was removed and over the winter the liquid you had left had grown significantly in alcohol. Now that 7% cider is roughly a 35% liquor. This became known as Apple Jack because “jacking” was the term used for this type of distillation.
images (6)This was much easier than distilling trough evaporation. As a farmer you could just let your vats sit out all winter and when you had a free moment just remove the frozen water. By spring your brandy was ready to be enjoyed. This was something you could not do in Kentucky. For the purest, yes I am drawing a wide comparison as Apple Jack was most likely 1st made in New Jersey from a Scotsman by the name of Laird but ciders were very common in New England and the process of freeze distillation easy to recreate. In Old Sturbridge Village there are references to this type of distillation dating back to the early 1800’s. Plus any chance I get to reference Johnny Appleseed I take
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Over the River and Through the Woods
 Around 1715 a gentleman named John Hall built a small distillery with some friends on Riverside Ave, in Medford Massachusetts. 300x205xdistilleries_rum-300x205.jpg.pagespeed.ic.7CPkME7cmU
At the time a sugar byproduct called molasses arrived on boats from the Caribbean. Because Molasses is incredibly sweet, fermentation was quick and easy. Once run through a still the concentrated concoction would be known as rum. Medford rum was traditionally made with the last run of sugar processing known as “blackstrap,” this was rich, viscous and rough. It was intense to say the least and it was also very cheap. Today it is used for cattle feed as it is high in vitamins and is nutrient rich but also make a round and robust spirit.images (7)
By the turn of the 19th century there were a handful of distillers in Medford but by 1830 there was only one rum distiller left: Daniel Lawrence and sons. Daniel Lawrence moved to Medford in 1823 and began working at the Hall distillery. By 1830 he purchased and renamed the distillery and held the market for rum in the north east.215x300xlabels_rum-215x300.jpg.pagespeed.ic.bPH6XI4SXc
Because of his high standards and high quality blackstrap, his rum became world famous. This was not a light, thin rum that needed mint and limes to be consumed. It was a rum for a whiskey drinker.  In 1905 the doors sadly closed due to pressures of the local temperance movement and we would have to wait 107 years to until someone finally decided to reintroduce us to our history.demon-rum-5
Going Against the Grain
In 1777 Rhode Island passed a law banning the distillation of grain based alcohol. Fortunately this did not last too long and by the mid 19th century whiskey production became a staple of harbor towns through out the state. By 1814 spirits distilled with oats, Indian corn, molasses, apples, potatoes, rye and peaches were common place throughout New England. In 1810 it is estimated that 1.4 million gallons of alcohol had been distilled in Connecticut alone, about 3/4 was apple brandy. By the end of the 18th century molasses and sugar were harder to come by so fruits and grains began to take center stage in producing hard liquor. Because whiskey took time to rest in oak and come of age (although not as long as today) and gin was grain based the common country gin became a prominent distillate and soon 3 million gallons were being produced by small local distilleries. This “country gin” was juniper rich and had more of a genever quality than the London dry style we are familiar with todayDrink_BarrHillGin
but for roughly $500 ($10,000 in today’s market) one could set up a crude distillery. This was just efficient enough to make a pretty hardy if not rough around the edges spirit but it was at least a stepping stone. Larger commercial farms built proper still houses and were making refined spirits from New England’s finest produce.
Each state had developed their own specialty and fame in distillation. Maine and Massachusetts as we have read were known for great rums. Vermont and Rhode Island became known for gins, New Hampshire for potatoes based spirits. Connecticut had the largest amount of distilleries with 560 registered in 1810. They were pretty diverse and made well known and respected apple brandies, whiskies, rums and gins.
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Applied Alchemy
In trying to create a cocktail that to me exemplifies New England I wanted to be a little “tongue and check” so I opted for a twist on the classic Long Island Iced Tea but like Boston to NY wayyy bettah kid. the Nor’easter (It sneaks up on ya) takes several of New England’s alcoholic delights and blends them into one tasty and potent concoction.
Nor’easter (It sneaks up on ya!)
3/4 oz each of New England Distillery “Gunpowder” Rye, GTD “Medford” rum, GTD Cranberry Liqueur, Berkshire Distillers “Ethereal” gin, Downeast cider, cranberry shrub, maple syrup, lemon
These are shaken in a tin and poured into a double rock glass. It is garnished with a lemon peel and star anise.
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 Looking back at our history and the omnipresent story of alcohol and distillation I have found that great new distillers like Bully Boy, GTD, Berkshire, New England Distilling or Sons of Liberty and Damnation Ally (about 5 blocks from my home) are not just novelties in an ever growing industry. They are as much a part of our regional narrative as John Hall, Daniel Lawrence and all of those who came before. These are the people who paved the path and helped us harvest our nations artisinal freedom all inside simple bottles of inebriated joy.
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Yatte Minahare!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anatomically correct

To start understanding Japanese whisky, it’s complexity, it’s layered palate and aromatics we will look in reverse. Instead of starting with history, regions and physiological makeup lets start with the glass. As we all love a great single malt whisky, we’ll talk specifically about Nikka Whisky 12 yr single malt “Miyagikyo”.
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This reminds me of a delicate Speyside Scotch like the GlenRothes 1998 Select. The heather and honeyed tone and subtle Bourbon notes finish with lightly spiced cake. It feels light to medium in the mouth with a lingering finish that leave flavors of lavender and leather with the slight saltiness of sunflower seeds and smoked almond.
There should be no surprise that the comparison to Speyside is an easy one, the humidity and general climate are kindred. The fatter based pot stills with the longer necks and smaller condenser help to produces a soft and delicate dram. When Masataka Taketsuru set up the Miyagikyo distillery  he had all of this in mind. The water source of the Nikkawa river, the grassy hills where the distillery now sits and the trail of oaks that lead to its doorsteps could easily be mistaken for a Scotch distillery.  To be fair in drawing the coincidence, Masataka studied the art of distillation at the Longmorn distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland. This is in no way to take away from the distinct elegance of Japanese whisky, it is only to understand and quantify its birth. This is indeed where Masataka began his journey of bringing fine malt whisky to Japan, by learning the traditions of Scottish distillation while understanding his Japanese roots. There is an almost soft, sweet pear and apple aroma to most Asian malt whiskies that remind me of fine Cognac. I suppose there is a reason the French and Japanese always seem to be ahead of the curve when it comes to gastronomy as they have a symbiotic identity.880_TR_Miyagikyo-Nikka
There is true art in a pour of Nikka or Suntory or even Taiwan’s great Kavalan whisky. There is something that I identify as Asian complexity. With Japanese whiskies I find a soft and subtle power. Think of great sushi. It is not just in the delicate cut of the fish but in how the fragrant soft rice is packed. This subtly can be a foundation of strength where as the Taiwanese are making a spirit that is bolder and heartier to match some of the spicier, saltier cuisine.
More Intensity
In 1918 the young Masataka Taketsuru traveled to Scotland where he attended Glasgow University to study chemistry. There, coming from a family with centuries of sake brewing under their belt he decided to study the art of Scotch whisky. At that time in Japan there had been great commerce and friendship between Japan, the United States and Europe. There was trade of clothing, foods, spices and alcohol. The Japanese have long been making sake and a spirit called Shochu, a sake distillate. Right around the 1850’s give or take, drinks made of malted barley started to infiltrate Japanese bars and liquor cabinets. It was at this time that American brewers came to set up shop, this endeavor later became the Kirin Brewery. Even Scotland’s famous author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became an obsession with the Japanese. It naturally followed that the dram of his homeland became as well loved as golf on the Island nation of Japan. port wine The missing component of producing fine whisky was the know-how. No matter what spice or herb they used they could not make a comparable whisky. It is even said that many Japanese whisky labels read “made with Scottish grapes.” At that time they had a long road ahead of them.
When Masataka was in Scotland he began to learn the art of blending whisky at the Hazelburn distillery in Campbelton. Later in Longmorn he learned the subtly of distillation and was the 1st person from Japan to do so in the UK. There he met his match. A young Scottish woman, the daughter of his host family who’s fiance had died in Damascus during WWI.Rita Taketsuru - the Scottish mother of Japanese whisky
Masataka had given her a gift of perfume and she in return gave him a collection of Robert Burns’ poems. Coming from a traditional Japanese and Scottish family they had decided to elope as their marriage was not condoned by the family nor was their love even understood. Back in Japan Rita became an English teacher and Masataka went to work for with Shinjiro Torii.OLD BT
In 1923 Masataka helped Shinjiro build the famous Yamazaki distillery which is still today Japan’s most famous and important whisky house.
By 1934 the need to build his own distillery became too much and on Japan’s northern island the Yoishi distillery was built and the Nikka brand was born. His Miyagikyo distillery which we have now tasted was not built until 1969 where he produces a grain spirit made in the famous Coffey still but his single malt shows his true mastery and interpretation that had begun on his Island almost a century before. It is no wonder he is considered the Father of Japanese whisky. Masataka passed unto the next world on August 29th, 1979 where he has undoubtedly  been collecting and bottling all of his angels share ever since.
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Flatlanders
king car
In 2005 the Taiwanese company, King Car, producer of foods, beverages and a leader in the biotech industry began building the Kavalan Distillery which means “People of the Plain”. The Kavalan people were the 1st inhabitants of the region just south east of T’aipei.
There, King Car found the perfect water source from a spring that fed snow melt from mount Yilan out to the Pacific ocean where the sea mist meets mountain air creating a perfect micro climate for aging a world class whisky.Yilan
In fact in several blind tasting panels with some of the best malt men and women in the industry, Kavalan consistently out shines many of its Old World Scottish forebears. Not that their whisky is a superior product. They are only taking the tradition of fine Scotch whisky by using the same stills, techniques and malts (most malted barley the Japanese and Taiwanese use are imported from Scotland) but have incorporated their individual water source which can dramatically change the flavor profile. They distill to their own abilities and taste. It is new and different. The Kavalan line showcases the elegant terrior and complexity of a fine Scottish malt whisky while holding a sweeter, creamier mouth feel that lovers of  Bourbon can understand. It’s aromatics offers the sweet, custardy aromas of the deeper Highland with the subdued heathered tones. The buttery, vanilla quality of well seasoned Bourbon barrels with the broad spiced structure of old Sherry butts helps to bridge a gap between the subtle smoked and salty notes of Scotch and the wide brush stroke of a powerful Bourbon. This is always a great go to for the Pappy fan who does not quiet get the delicate dryness of Scotch yet. They are a very young distillery who are moving the malt industry forward with the use of old world machinery and new world ideology. This has become one of my favorite whiskies and one of the most exciting twists to a road often traveled but rarely deviated from.
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Applied Alchemy
In creating a cocktail with a complex spirit you have to keep the integrity of the spirit in mind. You don’t want to over shadow or over power the liquor whether it be whisky, rum or vodka for that matter. In working with Japanese whisky I want to showcase the delicate fruit notes and play off the spiced aromas from the sherry wood. I am using Hibiki 12 yr today, the blended whisky from Suntory which utilizes a corn based grain spirit and single malts from their Yamazaki and Hukushu distilleries.
Wabi Sabi (aka balance in art and nature)
1 1/2 oz Hibiki
1/2 oz Lustau PX Sherry (This is to play off of the intrinsic  sherry aromas from the whisky)
1/2 Dolin Vermouth Blanc (The vermouth blanc gives a hint of sweetness)
1/2 Dolin Dry Vermouth (This gives a subtle herbaceous buttery texture)
2 dashes Fee Brothers oak aged gin orange bitters (This particular bitter adds an herbal note that is usually offered by a sweet vermouth rouge)
stir and strain into a cocktail glass
spritz with orange oil and garnish with a cinnamon stick
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My 1st experience with Asian whisky some 3 years ago changed my out look on whisky in general. It is not just the history of a region that gives rise and rights to produce something profound and beautiful. It is the acknowledgment of a collective history, our place in it and how we are as much a shaping force as those who have come before us. We learn from them and have something to teach them as well. The joy and intensity of enthusiasm with dedication and  understanding your place in the world allows us to not be held by the preconceived idea of who we are but what we can give. Thank you Masataka for understanding this human gift.
 
Yatte Minahare!!!!
sammy davis jr
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It’s Kind of a Big Deal

 

Follow you nose

Over the years I have gained fondness for many types of spirits, beers, wines etc. Often times I have also held prejudice against a given libation due to general persona and well frankly a lack of information or experience with it. I had it with Vodka and California wines until I was forced to stretch beyond my comfort zone and well, palates change. I used to hate spinach when I was growing up. Mostly because it was the mushy, make you gag, canned sort but there is nothing like fresh spinach. Much of my experiences with Vodka have been in simple, boring cocktails and new world wines were the cheap, cloyingly sweet and flabby reds or overly oaked whites. But over the years I have come to realize that one simple experience should not type cast an entire category. This brings me to Scotch whisky, the point of this blog and my next tasting event.

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My 1st experience with Scotch was not a pleasant one. When my friends said they were going to drink some fine single malts on a cool and crisp early fall evening I jumped at the offer as it seemed like a perfect night for alfresco drinking. I also had no idea what to expect. Somewhere in my head I was thinking “Scotch and butterscotch must be similar.” Well, needless to say I did not enjoy it.

Then over the years due to the fact that I work in the restaurant industry I was constantly exposed to new spirits and flavors. One night when I was a bartender I must have served 100 Johnny Walker Black and cokes for a young group of College internationals. It seemed like a waist to me as it was a top shelf brand but if they liked it I guess that’s all that mattered. At the end of the shift I just needed to have some Johnny Black. I had it on the rocks and I didn’t mind it, in fact I was mildly enjoying it. Over the years my love for Scotch whisky has grown and for me it is the standard that I sometimes foolishly judge all whisky. But as my love and understanding for fine single malts grew there was one category that I ignored. Oddly enough it was the 1st whisky I enjoyed. That was the complex, subtle elegance of a great blended Scotch whisky.

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So lets do a bit of defining her. A Single Malt Scotch is a whisky that has been distilled in a pot still which gives a rich, heady aroma that is comprised of 100% malted barley coming from a single distillery hence The Macallan 12 yr Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky. This is 100% malted barley from the Macallan distillery. A Blended Malt Whisky or “Vatted” Scotch is a blend of 100% malted barley whiskys coming from two or more distilleries. In short if I took some Macallan and blended that with, oh lets say Glenlivet I would have a “Vatted” Scotch. The next category is Blended Scotch Whisky (no Malt on the label). This is a blend of a grain spirit (corn or wheat) that has been distilled through a continuous still making a softer and purer spirit much in the same way vodka is distilled. Then that whisky ,whether it be Cutty-Sark, Dwars or Johnny Black is blended with a selection of single malt whiskys to create a softer, easier and more subdued spirit.
There is a silly notion that only great Scotch whiskys come from a single distillery. Hog Wash. The Macallan would not exist if it were not for blended whiskys. Look at it this way. 95% of all Scotches sold are blends. That means that as a distiller, once 95% of your production is of age it is sold immediately. This also means the ONLY product you have left is 5% of your production. This is gravy folks, pure profit. In fact Scotch whisky and the great The Macallan would never be savored if it were not for brands like Cutty Sark, Famous Grouse and Johnny Walker. Why you ask? Well lets take a trip back to the 1850’s:

Golden Promise

During the 19th and early 20th century the British government controlled the market for Bordeaux, Oporto,  Jerez (Sherry), Armagnac and Cognac. What up’d the ante was when British parliament passed a law allowing what many grocery store owners like John Dewar or Johnny Walker already knew. That there is no perfect whisky and so blending a touch of Macallan’s rich headiness and Auchentoshan’s subtle elegance with a note of Glenrothes’s honeyed aroma and drop or two of Ledaig’s salty edge can make a fantastic dram and in 1853 it became legal to sell these blended malt whiskys. dewars

Right around this time several distillers started playing with Aeneas Coffey’s continuous still which was making that subtle and light spirit. They soon realized that adding this light grain whisky to the richer, robust malted whisky made for a pleasant expression of flavors. But in the end mans foolish idea that he can outsmart nature changed everything in Scotland for the better. In the 1870’s some ridiculous French botanist though it would be a great idea to bring from the new world (actually around Colorado) some grape vines to plant next to Frances greatest vineyards. What the French didn’t know was that there was a louse which we now call Phylloxera making their living on the root stocks of these vines. What happened next changed everything. The European native vine vinifera could not withstand this louse and soon they almost all began to die. Now, what does this have to do with whisky and blended Scotch,? Well, the British had really taken a shine to these lighter blended whiskys because they were forced to. Once the Cognac region of France or Jerez region of Spain could no longer supply an expanding empire its vises they had to look elsewhere. This would become a boom time for Scottish distillers. In fact our beloved Macallan did not bottle their own whisky until the 1970s’. Up until that time it was only for blends. The Gorgeous and delicate Glenlivet can not survive with out blended Scotches. In fact just about every single malt you enjoy is a blend. It is rare to find a single cask or barrel Scotch. A master blended working for a distillery will blend several barrels trying to reach a common style form year to year. Take the Dalmore 12 year for example. Richard Patterson (not to be confused with Roger Patterson of the old Bigfoot fame) needs to make sure that the Dalmore 12 year is always the same. He will take nuances of different proprietary barrels and blend them together. The youngest of these barrels that he uses can be no less than 12 years old. 64-Year-Old-Trinitas-002

Johnny Walker Black is one of the best selling whiskys in the world and it is a blend of whiskys. Each one being unique. Each one is terroir based and speaks of its water source, climate, specific barley selection, malting process, distillation technique, barrel cooperage and storage location. The grain whisky (corn and wheat in the continuous still) comprises about 50% of that bottle but there are roughly 40 to 50 other whiskys blended into the mix. Some of those distilleries are long gone and the last of the barrels have run dry. What to do? Follow your nose, it always knows. They figure out the nuances and subtleties of other whiskys and blend until they strike gold.

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What these Grocers back in the 1850’s realized was that the intense, heady richness of a Dalmore was not what the general population wanted or understood. This also made it possible for the every-man to enjoy a delicious and complex dram. You just take all the nuances of what you like and add in a bulk of good but less expensive ingredients and you’ve got butter… butterscotch

Applied Alchamy

I began playing around with my own “grocers blend” like Johnny Walker and John Dewar did back 100 years ago. It is a fun way to think of Scotch Whisky and shed off some of the silly stereo types I have given Blended Scotches. When I started making a blend of malt whiskys I thought that this could be a fun experience for other to partake in. On Tuesday the 17th of June I will be holding a blending class and challenge in Saloon. Each guest will get a pour of my house blend as well as samples of each of the five whiskys I used to create it.Awesome_1379965377179

As a group we will taste each, come up with a conclusion as to what each scotch is and then blend them until they come up to the closest pour of our “grocers blend.” Of course you can also just enjoy the whiskys and make your own creation but the dram that I feel is closest to mine will also get a prize and who after all doesn’t like prizes?

 

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It Don’t Mean a Thing

When a Black Man’s Blue

On March 19th, 1935 at approximately 2:30 pm a young Puerta Rican man of color named  Lino Rivera walked into the Kress Five and Ten store on 125th st in Harlem and tried to steal a simple 10 cent penknife. Noticed by the store owner and manager a scuffle ensued. What happened next shook the city and ended a cultural institution. The police came to take the young Rivera away through a back exit as an ambulance arrived to inspect the store manager and shop owner for superficial wounds, but when it left empty the growing crowd grew suspicious. As misfortune would have it a hearse happened to pull up across the street at what one would deem the absolute wrong time. The people of Harlem feared the worst (and for the time with good reason).  The truth was that the hearse’s driver  was actually visiting his brother-in-law but these series of events were the final spark that would ignite the Harlem Race Riots. They also helped to set a stagnant stain on America’s perceived view of culture, diversity and race. It solidified an economic wall for the haves and the have nots and was the end to an American institution that launched careers for legends like Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Lena Horn and the suave leader of one of the greatest jazz ensembles of all time, Duke Ellington…  The Cotton Club

Police Officer Leading Injured Man

 Black and Tan Fantasy

During the turn of the 20th century the Brahman of old Harvard yard began to discuss what the great American music would be, and who would be our  Bach, Mozart or Paganini. At the time the assumption that this gift to the world’s stage that would inspire an organic growth in culture due to their godly talent would be one of their own. Not just by education but by birth right (which at the time would have been one in the same).

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Never in their wildest dreams would they have thought that names like Jelly Roll Morton and Bessy Smith would become the biggest names in American pop culture. Those names became the grandparents to rock and roll, funk, disco, R and B and hip hop.

At the time many of the premier clubs like the Cotton Club  were whites only establishments but the elaborate choreography and exotic numbers  by the all black performers were too much for people not to want to see.  When the the club began in 1920, boxer Jack Johnson opened it under the name Club Deluxe without much fan fare. It took a bootlegger turned mob boss to transform the softly spoken speakeasy into the screaming lion as these musicians roared their swan songs into the heart of the roaring 20’s. Owen Madden purchased the club while incarcerated at Sing Sing prison in 1923. Johnson remained as the house manager but by then the venue was mostly used to sell Madden’s beers and liquors to those who were clambering for more dancing, music and libations in a way that they had never seen before. In 1927 the club was looking for a new house band and a young, handsome man who was known simply as the Duke walked in and and changed music forever. It was quoted in the New Amsterdam News that “Ellington until recently now was a comer, today he has arrived. Watch his dust from now on.” 260px-Duke_Ellington_hat

I’m sure that the Harvard elite would have been happy to sit and excitedly watch the lovely Lena Horn dance to what was called Ellington’s “Jungle Music” and still wonder where our Mozart was, all while snapping their fingers and tapping their toes.

Creole Love Call

 On April 29th 1899, Edward Kennedy Ellington was born in Washington D.C. to James Edward Ellington and Daisy Kennedy Ellington both accomplished pianist. At 7 he began to play the piano and was surrounded by what his mother considered “dignified” women to help him distinguish manners from barbarianism. He had an easy way about him. This along with his dapper, crisp appearance made people take notice of the young man. His friends soon called him Duke because of his noble air. At 15 he wrote his 1st peace, a fun and jumpy rag time number called “Soda Fountain Rag.”  At this point it was apparent that Duke was no ordinary child. He was already a serious musician and composer. In 1917 Duke’s Serenaders (his 1st band) played to a packed house at True Reformer’s Hall where he took home a whopping 75 cents and played dual roles as band leader and booking agent.

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He later moved to Harlem and was an intricate part of the Harlem Renaissance where the Charleston was all the rage and jazz legend Eubie Blake began African-American musical theater.  halmen

The 1920’s were an explosion of culture, art and music in Harlem. The music scene was extremely competitive and those who made it had to be at the top of their game. Duke was relentlessly hard working cutting 8 records in 1924. In 1925 he helped to compose songs for Chocolate Kiddies which was an all African-American revue that introduced European audiences to the sights and sounds of the black experience.

Echos of Harlem

When the now infamous Cotton Club had a house band opening, Duke was recommended for the job. His small 6 piece band had to grow to 11, as was the house rule, but it was obvious at the audition that no one else would be better suited for the job and began on December 4th 1927. The Cotton Club was a widely known speakeasy. Like most of the day, if you were “off the give” there was someone “on the take” as blind eyes turned eagerly to stare at the “Tall, Tan and Terrific” dance girls swinging their hips to the Dukes suave and effortless style of orchestration. The Cotton Club’s weekly radio show helped to bring curious whites from the safety of their neighborhoods into the Harlem nights seeking drink, music and sexuality. Duke was like a drug to them and they couldn’t get enough. In 1929 a short film called Black and Tan Fantasy” as filmed by RKO where Duke Ellington was set as the star of this all African-American cast.  black-and-tan-29-photo-1

It would seem by many that Duke Ellington had arrived and achieved what the Harvard elite would have thought impossible as famed Australian composer Percy Grainger had once said “The three greatest composers who ever lived are Bach, Delius and Duke Ellington.  Unfortunately Bach is dead, Delius is very ill but we are happy to have with us today The Duke.” In 1931, the Duke left the cotton club to broaden his musical focus, craft his style and technique and help many young writers like Billy Strayhorn compose jazz standards such as “Lets Take the A Train.” He was a musical genius and a savvy business man who developed a gratuitous and self-sufficient empire. What he created was not “jungle music” or just another form of jazz, swing, big band or bee bop but what he simply called American Music. This is the sound of our soul, or legacy and our culture. He was and is our Mozart

When the Harlem Race Riots erupted in 1935 the Cotton Club relocated to a safer midtown, but after the repeal of prohibition and without the life and color of Harlem the club lacked the vibe, flavor and passion that was one of the most well known, outspoken and culturally important movements this country had ever known.

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Jazz Cocktail

keeping in the tradition of Prohibition I wanted to concentrate on spirits that would available at the time so we stayed with gin and rum both named for Ellington songs.

Honey Suckle Rose

1 1/2 oz Aria Portland Dry Gin
3/4 Barenjager Honey Liqueur
3/4 lemon juice
3 dashes Peychauds bitters
Shake and double strain into a cocktail glass
garnish with a rosemary sprig that is draped with rose water (this will give the aromas of spring without an intense piney flavor that rosemary can add)

Creole Love Call

1 1/2 oz Barbancourt 8 year Rhum
3/4 dry vermouth
1/2 Ramos Pinto 10 year Tawny Port
1/4 Belle de Brillet
2 dashes Fee Bros. Aztec bitters and 1 dash Bittermans Hell Fire bitters
Stir and strain into a cocktail glass
garnish with orange oil and a cinnamon stick (this will change the aromatic as you drink)Awesome_1397758198978

Jubilee Stomp

During the height of prohibition and the allure of the speakeasy
two names stand above all else: Duke Ellington and the Cotton Club.
Join us in Saloon on April 29th for a  $45 three course dinner and pairing with
music, dancing and drink in celebration of the 115th birthday
of Jazz great Duke Ellington with the Lyle Brewer trio
as they play through some of the most iconic jazz selections
from a true jazz master.

The music starts at 7 and the drinks will flow until the well is dry.

 

 

Ommegang Brewery and HBO Bring Game of Thrones to Saloon

I Will Take What Is Mine with Fire and Blood.

Game of Thrones at SaloonWhen you are sipping one of their signature cocktails at the classic, cozy bar of Saloon Davis, your first association may not be the medieval fantasy Game of Thrones. But pre-prohibition has its own dark swagger, and it’s not as far off from the Seven Kingdoms as one may think.

Saloon Davis was the perfect venue for a Game of Thrones event, and it appears that Ommegang Brewery agreed. The Cooperstown, NY brewery approached Saloon about hosting a launch for their latest Game of Thrones inspired beer, Fire and Blood, to benefit the American Cancer Society, and Saloon was more than happy to oblige – opening its doors to hundreds of Game of Thrones fans Thursday, who came ready to celebrate the new beer and the new season of the HBO hit series.

Game of ThronesOn an average night, the dark leather booths of Saloon recall turn of the century pre-prohibition, yet they also provided the perfect place for one to sit in medieval costume and faux animal skins. In fact, the only more suitable place to sit on Thursday was the Iron Throne itself. And this was also a possibility. A replica Iron Throne was available for photo ops, where people mugged for the camera in full costume and business attire alike. It was the only East Coast launch event for Fire and Blood to feature this life-size replica, and Boston.com was even there to capture the action for their Spotted in Boston feature. The throne was impressive — so impressive in fact that it found a home in Foundry (Saloon’s sister restaurant one floor up) when it couldn’t be navigated down into Saloon.

Iron Throne Photo OpFire and Blood joins Ommegang’s previous Game of Thrones beers Iron Throne Blonde Ale and Take the Black Stout. It is a flavorful addition, a red ale with a color that perfectly suits its name. Fire and Blood is inspired by Daenerys Targaryen and her three dragons, Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion, and each dragon gets its own unique label created by the series’ visual effects specialists.

And the Fire and Blood was surely flowing on Thursday, served up in souvenir custom Game of Thrones Fire and Blood glasses. Along with the beer, Saloon offered a signature cocktail – the Battle Axe. Saloon is known for their creative and tasty libations, and this simple specialty made with brandy, honey and lemon was no exception. But it was a beer event, after all, and so it was only fitting that Saloon work in the main attraction by creatively topping the cocktail with a GOT beer float.

Beverage Director Manny Gonzales was especially excited about the event. While he has yet to get into Game of Thrones, he appreciates the fandom. He has utmost respect for the costumed revelers, admitting that he never had the guts to take it that far.

Chris, Boston, MA

There was no shortage of costumes at the event, with outfits ranging from animal carcass headgear to medieval inspired dresses and armor. While many people had to create a costume especially for the event, Chris from Boston happened to have one ready to go. He is a medieval reenactor and wore part of his actual costume. But he is quick to add — the lion detail makes it a perfect Game of Thrones homage to House Lannister.

Alyssa, Holden, MA

Alyssa from Holden, MA also had her costume prior to Thursday’s event. She made it herself for a Game of Thrones event at King Richard’s Faire. A dedicated fan, she read the first book with the first season of the HBO series – but ended up finishing the rest of the books before the start of season two!

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The beer makes its nationwide debut on Monday, March 31st — right in time for the following Sunday’s season premiere.

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The Flavor of the Republic

 

The Road Often Traveled is the Road Less Known

So as we get closer to the wearing of the green and shots of Jameson are passed around making perfect strangers the best of friends… until Irish Car Bombs are ordered I think it best we talk a bit about the Irish whiskey you all know and love, or at least think you know but really love saying “can we get a round of Jameson shots?” The history of Irish whiskey is a road that has many paths. It is thought by some that Spanish monks brought distillation to Ireland some 1600 years ago with their Aqua Vita (water of life). The first spirit of Old Ireland was not whiskey at all but most likely a derivative called Poitin which was a reference to the copper pot stills used in the distillation process. This was a blend of malted barley, and sugar beets. Ireland at the time was a wild place where heathen tribes roomed the lands and the monastic culture was just getting its footing. images

 

The early settlements like of Glendalough just south of Dublin may have been the birthplace for what we now call whiskey but like all history this to is a bit cloudy. One thing for certain is the monastic alchemist where the first to began the art of distillation in Ireland, much earlier by the way then the Scots. This was not a drink for the every-man however; it was made for the wealthy. Kings throughout Europe began to hear about this magic elixir Poitin. Over time through trade and wars they began to seek out the spirit and it was widely distilled until 1661 when King Charles II outlawed its production. Here it became a refugee for the Irish traditionalist who would hide it in his cupboard. By this time usice beathe (Gaelic for aqua vita which later became whiskey) was the spirit of choice in the emerald isles.  4728590_f260

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Bedtime Story For Building Better Behavior

The beloved St. Patrick and the shots of Jameson has its roots in an old Irish folktale. Once upon a time in Ireland a Priest named Pat sat belly up in an inn and was served what was most likely a shot of Poitin. He felt short changed by the inn keepers stingy pour and immediately told him that a devil had taken refuge in his cellar and was feeding from his dishonesty. Pat then told the inn keep  the only way to salvation and retribution was to seek the light unto a realm of generosity. On his next visit Pat saw that a frightened inn keeper was filling patrons’ glasses to the brim. He and the inn keep went down to the cellar and soon found the devil banished into the nether regions of folklore and obscurity. He then proudly proclaimed that drops of usice beatha shall be consumed in honor of his feast day. What a modesty guy right? I wonder what the ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control Commission) would think of the bar keeps pressured generosity but I suppose over severing was not a fear of the time.  st apt

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birds of a Feather?

Although Jameson is one of the world’s bestselling and most well known whiskeys, the story of the Irish distillers is a sad one. Let’s now jump to around the 1830’s. A young man named Aeneas Coffey who was French by birth but brought up in Ireland had created a unique and revolutionary still. At the time Irish whiskey was very similar to Scotch whisky. They used 100% malted barley, many distillers used peat moss to fire their kilns to dry the barley (this is the smoke in Scotch whisky) and everything was pot stilled making a sturdy, complex and robust spirit. Aeneas had made a modification of what we call the column still. Inside the still were several plates and compartments. As the alcohol vapor reached the next compartment the spirit grew in strength. In the end distillation was faster and the spirit that came out was delicate, light and subtle. When he showed Irish distillers they literally, like St Pat with the heathen snakes, chased him out of Ireland. To the Irish distillers it was not proper whiskey but to the Scots it would become their salvation. Aeneas went across the waters to the Lowlands of Scotland where they began to listen to and experimented with his still. They started to make a grain spirit using wheat and corn as a base. Then they would blend in their single malt whisky with the grain spirit. The resulting dram was light, nuanced and subtly complex. It was almost like a Scotch cocktail. The base of the bottle would be the lighter grain whisky and then you might add a touch of a Speyside Scotch for elegance, a bit of Highland for texture, some Islay for smoke and a finish of Lowland for balance. No one paid much mind to the crazy Scotsmen’s early attempts at blending whisky but in the 1850’s a fungus began to attack grapevines throughout France affecting the regions of Cognac and Armagnac. This limited the export of brandy to England. Then 20 years later a louse called phylloxera began to kill the root stocks of virtually every vine in Europe. This halted all together the export of brandy to England. It was impossible, after all to be an imperial power without spoils so the British began looking north. They came across blended Scotch and Scotland never looked back. It was lighter then single malt whisky, it was cheaper, very easy to drink and the British loved it.  220px-Coffey_Still

Unfortunately for the Irish this meant doom for many small, independent distilleries, in fact it was doom for all of them. As they were either forced to shut down due to lack of interest and sales or were gobbled up by cooperate mongrels names like Jameson, Tullemore Dew and Powers were sold off to mega giants to be distilled in one distillery. As of now there are only 3 working distilleries in Ireland; Middleton, which makes about 40 labels like those mentioned above, Bushmills and now Cooley which is the only independent distillery in Ireland. irish map

Scottish vision meant that smaller, independently owned Scotch distillers could sell off most of their production to a blender responsible for names like Dewars, Cuttysark and Johnny Walker while maintaining their finances to fund their personal single malt bottlings. In fact blended Scotch whisky comprises roughly 95% of the scotch market in the world so to see maybe one or two blended scotches in a restaurant but have to option to order 10 different single malts is an absolute privilege that we have in this country. Unfortunately for many distillers in Ireland the idea of blending didn’t fully take hold until 1947 with Tullemore Dew but by then it was far too late. I think what is interesting is that whiskeys like Jameson and Bushmills, which are both fine spirits have only become popular in today’s market because they now do what 4 generation before thought to be un-Irish and frankly not whiskey. the-old-jameson-distillery

Having no blending company to sell whiskey to and help fund them means that now we are left with just brand names. This is not to say that Irish whiskey is poorly made or that it is not relevant in the world of Whiskey, quite the contrary. There are amazing whiskey’s coming from Ireland. Many of my favorite comes from one place, Cooley.  Locke's Distillery

Today the differences between Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky are broad and yet slight. There is a rule of thumb when it comes to the differences but a rule of thumb is only a generalization. The first main difference is the smoky attributes that Scotch has. Often times someone will ask “what is your smokiest Bourbon?” Well, I have a hard time answering this because Bourbon and whiskey in general are not smoky. Perhaps they are referring to the char of the barrel because the smoke we smell in Scotch whisky (which by the way is not intrinsic to all of them) comes from a type of moss called peat. This grows throughout Ireland and Scotland. Peat burns hotter than wood or coal so it is fuel effective to use the heat that peat gives off to dry your malted barley. This was the standard throughout Ireland until about 200 plus years ago. Now wood or coal is used to produce a soft and subtle aroma. The next major difference is in the barley used. The Scotch use either 100% malted barley or a mixture of malted barley and the grain spirit to produce the lighter blended Scotch. Because Ireland imposed a hefty tax on malted barley in the 1800’s distillers (at this point there were plenty of them) began to use a mixture of malted barley and raw barley. This created the delicate elegance to Irish whiskies still present today. The malted barley gives a rich, robust and viscous note where as the raw barley is citric, spicy and leathery. The last major difference, other then the natural terroir both countries have is the length of distillation. The norm (which is not always the case) in Scotland is that the whisky is distilled twice. With each pass through the still the spirit rises in alcohol but becomes cleaner and a bit more pure. There are a few examples of Scotch distillers who will distill three times like Glengoyne and Auchentoshan but for the most part a double distillation is the practice. This makes a heady and robust spirit. With a triple distillation, like in the case of Irish whiskey the spirit becomes much lighter. Initially the alcohol off of the third run of the still will be higher than the second but more water is added to the spirit to bring the strength down to a modest 40% alcohol by volume which will lighten the overall flavor and aromas. Like Scotch whisky, this is only the rule of thumb as there are examples from Cooley that are double distilled and peated like their punchy and yet beautiful single malt Connemara.

connemara

 

 

 As far as barley is concerned distillers like Bushmills distill only malted barley rather than the blend of malted and unmalted that is the standard in Ireland. The white label and their Black Bush is 100% malted barley blended with a grain spirit that is produced at the Middleton distillery way south and then transported to the Protestant northern town of Bushmills. Overall there is a subtle sweetness and generosity to Irish whiskey. They can be as light and humbly soft spoken or as Proud, bold and brash when the time is right, as any Irish transplant you may meet on St Paddy’s day.

FM

Applied Alchemy

 This was a cocktail I originally made last year when our own Cardinal Sean O’Malley had his name thrown in the papal hat. It is simply called The Cardinal. The idea came one night as I was closing the restaurant. I wanted to make a drink in honor of our local kid done right by using Irish whiskey, wine from the Cote du Rhone, home to the lyrically and lovely name of Chateauneuf-de-Pape, i.e. New Chateau of the Pope (There is a cool and long papal history to that name and town that I won’t bore you with today). Then I added Cardamaro (this has nothing to do with Cardinal but cardoons rather although I feel the name fits). Then I finish with lemon and simple syrup. In the end it was a fun and easy drink, but about a week ago I came across a sampling of the Poitin I mentioned earlier and I really wanted to incorporate it into the drink after all it was the “first” spirit distilled in Ireland so I tweaked the recipe to compensate so a grassier, younger elixir

The Cardinal

¾ Irish Whiskey (I like Killbeggan from the Cooley distillery. This has a high malt content which makes for a richer whiskey profile)

¾ Glendalough Poitin Sherry cask finish

¾ Cote du Rhone wine (any easy wine will do here, you just want a wine with soft fruit and spice)

¾ Cardamaro

¾ lemon

¼ simple syrup

Shake well in a shaker and the double strain into a Marie Antoinette glass

Garnish with a crucified Maraschino cherry (I wasn’t sure about the garnish at first but Catholicism is all about the macabre right?)

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In the end what I have learned over the last few weeks of Irish whiskeys and over the last several years of the Irish in general is that they do not live in concept of contrast. Quite the opposite, even within the most unique of Irish whiskeys or the complexity of the Irish spirit there is always a sense of unity, contemplation and understanding of who they are, why they are and where they came from and they don’t give a f@#k who knows it!! 

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The French Kiss

There’s no Bread

By the turn of the 19th century the effects of the “Little Ice Age” was beginning to ease in northern Europe but the residual struggle for the people of France was about to explode. As the monarchy and the church used its resources to settle vendettas against the English crown by funding a bunch of long hair dreamers an ocean away the people of France were ready for their own revolution though this one would be much bloodier then anything we would see in 1776. They were poor, they were hungry and this northern freeze that was perpetuated by a series of volcanic eruptions made the availability of wheat in sparse. As a result King Louis XVI, foreseeing an angry population began importing potatoes to feed his starving subjects. But this did not entirely entice or appease the common woes. By the time  the benefits of potatoes were realized it was too late for the monarchy. It was with vengeance that this substitute for the famous French bread was rejected although it is funny that the hamburgers best counterpart bares the name of the country that most likely did not create it. These events would unwittingly turn the wine making world on its ears and give rise to what in my mind must be the most gracious and beautiful French word… Terroir

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As Napoleon  Bonaparte’s army marched through the region of Burgundy he began to take land from the papacy. Some of the world’s most famous vineyards had already developed a reputation as he started to divide and sell these holdings to various countrymen. This redistribution of wealth enabled villagers the right to control the vineyards as they saw fit without the church telling them who was holy enough to drink their wines. What sets Burgundy apart from most wine regions is this attention to the vineyard. The land is to have a voice rather than be a blank canvas for a winemakers dream. In fact there is no term for winemaker in France. The person in charge of the growth of the wine is called the elevage. This is the person who raises the wine as a parent would a child. I personally take pride in knowing that the greatness of my children grows from within them. I am only here to guide and help in finding the right direction. This is how the elevage will approach his or her technique in the vineyard, winery or the tasting room for that matter. They are there only to guide the wines growth and try not to get in its way. This adherence to viticultural integrity is a religion in Burgundy. Now, I am not saying that this does not happen throughout the rest of the France or any wine growing nation for that matter but when I began learning wine some 20 years ago it was in Burgundy where this passion for the all encompassing terroir held the greatest transparency. 

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Deconstructing Reconstruction

Burgundy is divided into 5 different regions. Each one with a different climate or micro climate and soil content. The majority of her great wines are based ultimately on two varietals Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Anyone who thumbs their nose at a California Chardonnay and believes that this specific style quantifies the reality of what the grape is has never tried Christian Moreau Les Clos, Grand Cru Chablis which is one of the greatest wines in the world. To get the best sense of terroir, Burgundy’s northern most region of Chablis will be our home and the misunderstood Chardonnay our muse. Burgundy holds the concept of terroir in her soul. Terroir is the all encompassing idea of earth, wind and fire i.e. the soil, the weather and the sun. It is also a cultural understanding of the grapes evolution in the earth and how the aroma and structure this localized world imparts from the blood of her vines translate into our glass. No other region exemplifies this to me more the Chablis.

 Chablis  should not be confused with a  boxed wine or a big jug with a screw cap that has some old dude awkwardly smiling. These jug brands from Gallo and Carlo Rossi were made to fool a growing wine market in the United States and Canada as the lyrical names of Chablis and Burgundy began to captivate returning GI’s after the second world war. 

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The history of Chablis and its importance goes back about 1500 year when a band of monks settled the area after fleeing marauding Vikings. I’m sure it wasn’t the climate or weather that drew the monks but what soon became apparent was how well white grapes thrived here. Brooklyn_Museum_-_Monk_Testing_Wine_-_Antonio_Casanova_y_Estorach

 

 

 

Due to the high mineral deposits from upper Jurassic limestone and glacial soils the wines50b80032a24bc.preview-620 of Chablis have an intense flinty character.

 

The downright cold climate forces the grapes to really struggle on the vines.

The summer sun can be warm, promoting healthy ripening but the frigged nights will give the wine an acidic backbone and lay the ground work for a mineraly palate with a creamy finish. The idea that Chardonnay smells like oak is highly misguided. Oak smells like oak, Chardonnay smells like its environment. When forced to struggle and compete with other grapes the strongest will have the richest dynamic and character. If left basking in the sun which in the case of California is ample and planted on the valley floor which in California is standard, the grape in the end may have little personality. Think of the tough kid who has had to struggle his whole life and makes good in the end. They tell the story we want to hear. In the new world it is often the wine maker who will have to create the story with malolactic fermentation (a secondary fermentation where the malic acids which we find naturally in grapes and apples are converted to lactic acids that you would find in dairy) and a generous helping of well toasted new oak barrels. Enter your oaky, buttery California Chardonnay. oak

Let me be clear that there is nothing wrong with these wines and some of them are outstanding like the great wines from Sonoma’s Hartford Court but the point of Chablis is to give a sense of place. A pin prick if you will on the map of the wine world. It is not the custom of Chablis to use oak and if it is used it is there to soften the wines harder edges. When this is done it is typically older oak barrels which impart little to no flavor but give the wine a rounder, honeyed aroma. It is not there to smell like oak. This is usually done for wines from the best vineyards where the acid is high and more concentrated sugar levels develop. chablis-grand-cru-les-clos-soil-257

 

What makes the best vineyards you ask? Good question. The vineyards aspect to the sun, the height above sea level and the soil content are a part of it. There are 7 vineyards in Chablis that have been given the status of greatness. These are known as Grand Cru or Great Growth and they reside in the heart of Chablis. They all rest along les Serein River which helps regulate their micro climate. The elevation is slightly higher so after it rains gravity will naturally pull water down to the bottom of the vineyards or to the river. Because of the drainage and rocky soils that we typically do not associate with fertility, the struggling vines higher up the slope will have a richer concentration like espresso to coffee. This will give the grapes a bolder level of sugar and acidity, both vital ingredients for the survival of these great wines. The sugar gives body and alcohol, the acid its life line. This is what makes your mouth water when drinking wine. It is essential when pairing with food. This will help breakdown fats, open your taste bud and promotes healthy digestion. This is why wine dances best with food and in a way no other beverage can compare.

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One reason why Burgundy and its Grand Cru vineyards stand alone is that no one person owns the vineyards. I suppose this is where I should make a distinction. The vineyard is where the grapes are born and mature, the winery is where these healthy little fellas are turned into wine. When Napoleon strutted into Burgundy and started to redistribute vineyards the most important where offered not to a single person or family but to the community. Within each of the Grand Cru vineyards or the next level down called Premier Cru or 1st growth which can be equally as stunning, a winery may only own a small parcel of the vineyard so Les Clos Grand Cru vineyard for example, is roughly 60 acres but a winery may only own 1 or 2 acres of it. Some parts are owned by a grower who makes no wine at all but sells his fruits to smaller wineries that have little to no land holdings. This is where the idea of terroir really holds true. The difference between each single vineyard or parcel of said vineyard can be striking. Often times I am offered a taste of a wine from one vineyard only to taste a wine of the same winery of a vineyard sight that is just across the road that is made in the same manor and the wines can be subtly or completely different. In my experience (which is not expertise) Chablis holds this to be her backbone, her blueprint and her legacy. 

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Read the Fine Print

Here is a breakdown of the labels. As you will notice the winery is hard to find and the grape not even mentioned. One should assume white Burgundy is always Chardonnay. This allows the grower and producer to focus on terroir. Burgundy is all about either the village or vineyard. You need to read the fine print. Here the elevage plays second fiddle to the land.

 

Lets do a little rundown of Chablis’ vineyards status. Of the nearly 7000 acre of Chablis only a handful have a designation beyond the humble name of Chablis. For the Grand Cru vineyards there is Bougros, Vaudeseir, Valmur, Blanchots, Les Preuses, Grenouilles and Les Clos. Each of these sights are literally rubbing elbows. There are another 40 vineyards that were granted Premier Cru status but only about 15 of them hold as much providence as the great ones. Many of them share the same attributes as the Grand Crus but if there is one phrase that suits Burgundy to a tee it is location, location, location. Nothing can top a Grand Cru. These wines are rare and can be pricey but thankfully Chablis still is uncharted territory for many wine connoisseurs and collectors as the winery names or vineyards don’t hold the distinction Burgundy’s southern vineyards do, or Bordeaux, or Napa, of Tuscany for that matter. There is still relative obscurity to Chablis, it vineyards and its eliveges and for this I am thankful. A  Petite Chablis will cost about $15, basic Chablis may set you back about $20 to $30 but its Premier Crus will only set you back about $40 and its Grand Crus, maybe $80. Yes, this is good money but when other wineries or vineyards demand sometimes outrageous prices a few extra bucks to be on the right side of history is a pretty nice high.  703917471

 

 

 

Applied Alchemy

So for this section I will not talk about making a cocktail. Not just because it is wine as I once made vermouth using a red Burgundy to finish a cocktail I had for a Burgundy dinner back in the summer but because the elegance and graciousness of these wines should be enjoyed with food so today I give a recipe for my dinner tonight. When I was at my local wine store, I picked up a couple of bottles of Domaine Chenevieres. Knowing the basic flavor profile of the vineyards and grower I headed on over to the grocery store and started assembling my menu for the night. 

 For the 1st wine I bought Cheneviers Petite Chablis which are wines grown just outside of the district where some of the more famous vineyards lie and can be a tremendous value. The minerality is not as complex with less concentration but it is a perfect introduction into wines that can demand top dollar. With this bright citric wine I opted for New England’s best, Wianno Oysters. With these I made a mignonette of lemon and tangerine juice (1/2 of  each) diced shallot (1 whole) diced pink lady apple (1/4) a dash of freshly crushed black pepper and a tough of maple syrup (1/8 oz) to draw out the tangerines flavor and finished them with Lemon Thyme. 

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For the main course I purchased some local cod (I love highly acidic whites with the delicate yet buttery flavor of cod) and poached it in a tomato and fish broth which I added thinly sliced spring onions, watercress, baby potatoes and white asparagus. I completed the dish with a pat of butter to give it a rounder finish. With this I paired the Chenevieres Fourchaume Premier Cru. Fourchaume is one of the most famous Premier Crus. Just a one minute drive from its more prestigious cousins Fourchaume holds a similar aspect to the sun as do the Grand Crus, the micro climate is also similar with the same soil content but this is the beauty and mystery of great wines not just held to Burgundy because although the wine is well made it does not hold the acid as do the great growths of Chablis. In the end it hits just a tad short in length. Not that I am complaining as it was generous, racy and bright with a viscous buoyancy on the palate. This is a fantastic wine but does not have the longevity as the great ones. But that is why there are only 7 Grand Crus in Chablis. 

The wine itself has an aroma of toasted almonds, tangerine, silt, clay and toffee with a salty edge. The mouthfeel it is bright, and focused with a ton of limestone on the mid palate and round sweetness on the finish. The bottle really opened up with the richness of the finishing butter.

 Ingredients

  • 5 oz cod
  • 1 whole spring onion
  • 1 cup fish stock
  • 1/4 cup tomato puree
  • 4 white asparagus
  • 1/2 lemon (the squeezed out body of the fruit used for the mignonette)
  • 1/2 tangerine (the squeezed out body of the fruit used for the mignonette)
  • baby potatoes
  • lemon thyme

The Process

  • Boil your potatoes
  • once boiled but them off to the side until you are ready to plate your dish
  • Bring to a slow boil the fish stock and tomato puree
  • season with salt and pepper to taste
  • add one lemon thyme sprig and the lemon and tangerine rinds
  • as this heats add the spring onion bulb thinly sliced
  • in a saute pan add evoo and a pinch of chili flake
  • once the oil heats on a medium heat add the white asparagus
  • once they start to sear which will encourage a slight caramelized flavor add a ladle of the broth
  • lower the heat to medium low and let the asparagus lightly steam with the broth
  • remove the asparagus and add your cod.
  •  add enough broth until it almost covers the fish.
  •  plate your potatoes at the bottom of a bowl with your asparagus on top
  • once your fish is cooked gently remove it from the broth and place it on the asparagus
  • add you watercress to your broth with a pat of butter and reduce until the butter is melted
  • as always taste as you go and season accordingly
  •  once the butter is melted spoon over the fish until it fills the bottom of the bowl
  • add finishing salt, a drizzle of evoo and thinly sliced spring onion greens

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Over the years of drinking with a purpose (maybe I’m just fooling myself) there have been a handful of moments that have given my path not just direction but momentum. Like great Single Malt Scotch Whisky which is all about terrior, nothing plays with my heart strings like the zesty and toasted aromas of Chablis. This really is the standard I hold all other beverages to and thankfully, although Chablis is a tough act to follow, many of my favorite spirits, beers, wines and cocktails take it in stride.

Amen Napoleon, Amen.

ND

 

 

Mr. Trololo


Dinner With Mr. Trololo

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So, I just want to start off by saying that I wasn’t sure when I should publish this blog but I am certain that the Olympics were not in my mind when writing this but about 3 weeks ago my family and I went over to our very good friends house for dinner. This is not unusual but there were a couple of unique aspects to the evening. 1st of all it was my 41st birthday which was not completely strange as a lot of people have had birthdays, I myself have had at least 40 before this one. What was different was that I chose to secretly share it with friends (I am not very fond of candles). This was the one rule I gave my family going in to the evening. One reason why I wanted to attend the gathering of friends was because of the type of dinner Dan and Dyvia were having. Dan is of Russian descent and wanted to have a traditional Russian dinner. For me the deal signer was the drink of choice for the evening… vodka. Yes my brown spirited friends, that ol’ neutral standard, that tofu of spirits. What made this stand out for me was my complete aversion to the liquid. As I have spent the last several years studying and tasting Vodka’s brown brethren whiskey I have had a bad image of vodka, vodka drinks and quite foolish of me, vodka drinkers. What I learned that evening is that we in this country have no idea how to drink the spirit. Dan has been drinking vodka since the age of 12 when his Russian grandmother taught the proper way of doing a vodka shot.  Vodka was not made for Cosmos or screw drivers, in the end these drinks were made for those who don’t know how to drink. Please take no offense with this as I am merely suggesting that vodka cocktails were not created to showcase the sophisticated elegance of a neutral spirit but rather to give you a buzz without the realization that you are drinking alcohol. Much of this has to do with our sugared up soda generation, I blame Reagan for this one… for no reason other than he can’t argue this fact.

The proper way to drink Vodka is simple, pull a bottle from the freezer, pour a small amount in a tiny glass and drink it back, plain and simple. What Dan does and what is the common practice in many Russian households is to infuse the vodka with citrus peels. One the night in question he had 2 bottles of Stolichnaya on the table. The 1st was infused with lemon zest, the other with dill. What I though was really cool was that he had each bottle encased with ice and decorated with said infusions. This was done by emptying a 2 liter soda bottle and cutting it in half He then placed the infused vodka bottle in the bottom half of the plastic soda bottle. He added water until it almost reached the cut line, then added whatever he wanted to decorate with such as citric slices, herbs or flowers for that matter. He then place it outside during a frigid winters night and brought it back in the next morning. Once the surrounding water was frozen he cut the plastic off the bottle and was left with a vodka bottle that is encased in a cylinder of ice. This insured an ice cold bottle of vodka with every shot.

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The vodkas were clean and fresh and the citric essence was subtle. It was about the aromatic and floral flavors of the lemon and dill rather than the brightly acidic tartness or the green, earthy flavors. This was paired with a traditional dumpling called Pelmeni which literally means “ear bread”. This tortellini shaped offering was stuffed with either meat or mushrooms and boiled in a richly flavored chicken stock. The soup was garnished with sour cream and dill. The size and shape of the dumpling is region specific. Near the western border of Russia you are served one huge dumpling stuffed with a spice, minced meat. In Siberia where Dan’s family comes from they are smaller and often stored outdoors during the winter to freeze and preserve them over the long Siberian cold.

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They paired so perfectly with the Vodka that we drank about a bottle and a half of the stuff. This was such a satisfying end to a freezing January day and astoundingly perfect after my traditional birthday hike, and let me tell you, I was left with the cleanest hang over I ever had.  It really was a treat and opened my eyes to the true joy of drinking an often shadowed spirit.

Hard, Cold facts

One of my favorite things about drinking with company is conversation. With inebriation there is a certain amount of truthiness that follows and although it is often encumbered with an overall lack of reasoning, some of those stories are great. As the belt loosens and the gullet relaxes so did our tongues. The night had a heated political overtone and I am sure we fixed the world’s problems many times over but unfortunately I don’t remember what the solutions were, or the problems for that matter. But certain memories stayed intact. The history of the importance of vodka in Russia was one. It may have all begun back in the 9th century long before the column still was invented which has become a staple for the spirits production (read the “A Horse Named Bully” blog for a quick column still run down). At that time it would have been distilled only once and would have been a lot funkier then it is now, think white whiskey here. The root of Vodka is voda which simply means water and like whiskeys’ uisce beatha or eau de vie (both meaning water of life) that was the point. At that time and much, much earlier beer, wine and for those who could hire an alchemist, alcohol was the only source of drinkable liquid, drinking water was the luxury.  Like most spirits of the era, alcohol was medicinal and reserved for those with the means. By the 16th century it was recognized as the national drink of both Russia and Poland. The flavored vodkas we all know and love (or not for some) are not new, there are recipes dating back to the 18th century when vodkas would have be infused with items like hazelnut, calendula and even horseradish. It would have at this point distilled twice, diluted with milk and distilled again. It was not easily produced as large scale production was not yet common place but when the column still was invented about 100 years later it was  a game changer and as war marched throughout Europe so did Russia’s alcohol. This was common place through the “old” world. It is what brought the wine trade though ancient Rome, Gaul and Spain. I always imagine Roman soldiers marching through burning villages running off with the women and grape vines (this actually happened). It’s an odd thought in some ways but it was the reality of a developing continent and the 18th and 19th centuries were no different. Wars seemed to be a boom time for the clear elixir and after the communist manifesto Stalin encouraged the consumption of Vodka and freely distributed it to his soldiers. In much the same way that the British controlled China with opium and a virgin democracy controlled Native Americans with whiskey Stalin was able to maintain an ideological backlash on a nation.

The Three Amigos

Applied Alchemy

So as I mentioned before I am not overly fond of Vodka cocktails, I like it when a drink retains its initial identity and although I think what makes a cocktail is not its base spirit but rather its mixer (try making a Manhattan with tequila or a margarita with whiskey, they are still great drinks) the base spirit offers a subtle complexity and finish to the palate. I am a big believer in amaros like Cynar (I’m sensing another blog soon) and incorporate them in many drinks including sour based cocktails. I like the aromatized liqueur to take center stage in a drink, after all it’s the cantina we really remember on Tatooine, not Han Solo. So here’s a drink I through together this afternoon with some lemon infused vodka I made the other night.

Trolololita

2 oz lemon infused Vodka (it can be straight Vodka if you prefer but if you do use a flavored vodka make it yourself, it’s so much better)

.5 oz Senior y Co clear Curacao

.5  oz Cynar

3 dashes Peychauds bitters

1 drop pastis

stir and strain into a some tuliped glass

garnish with lemon a lemon peel

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or if you’re a purist take one bottle of Vodka ( I like Russian Standard Platinum)

pour the contents into a container equaling greater than 1 liter.

Take a potato peeler and peel two lemons and place the rinds into the vodka filled container. Let it sit for a day but taste frequently (this is my favorite) part and filter out the peels when you reach the preferred flavor

Then place the vodka back into the bottle and then place the bottle into the 2 liter bottle of coke as mentioned before with the water etc.

Let it sit overnight and when the bottle freezes…

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drink

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Horse Named Bully

The Good Bully

On a hidden street in the gut of industrial Boston I drove up to an unassuming warehouse where the small sign on the door humbly read Bully Boy Distillery. With an unlocked door, I walked in to the rich and frankly pungent smell of molasses. “I smell rum,” I say as both Dave and Will greet me.

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About a month ago on a chilly December morning I paid a visit to Dave and Will Willis, brothers and co-owners of Bully Boy Distillery. Since Foundry on Elm and Saloon opened our doors we have had a good relationship with the brand. They are local, they price fairly, they are super nice guys and they make damn fine spirits. I went to get a better idea of distillation and spend a little time hanging out to talk booze which they both do very well.

The warehouse itself is not glamorous. There is no reception area, no pretentious person pouring samples of something they know little about. It is a true work space and these two guys work that space very well. In fact, they do everything from driving the fork lift which Will navigates like a Jedi flying through the Death Star to slapping labels on bottles. It is a total hand over fist product. This is as intensive as a farm work or welding and like those the end result is as satisfying sculpting.

They focus on 3 basic spirits: vodka, rum and whiskey. Both the vodka and white whiskey are certified organic and based with winter wheat which makes a soft and elegant spirit. The rums use black strap molasses which as I mentioned is aromatically intense. On the rum and whiskey end of things there are 2 separate styles. For rums they offer a white rum and their newer release, Boston Rum. Both of these see wood but the white rum is charcoal filtered to remove the impurities of oak. Cask is only used just to help the rum settle and soften some of the harsher edges. The Boston Rum spends a hefty amount of time in barrel and does not go through the filtration. This was how rum was made centuries ago in Boston when it was just a port of the British Crown and I’m sure this helped to spark a revolutionary ideology in what would later be the belly button of our independence. Their whiskeys are made using  different types of grain. The white whiskey like the vodka uses winter wheat. How this is different then vodka is how it is distilled. The vodka distills at a higher proof to remove as many impurities as possible. The white whiskey is distilled at a slightly lower proof leaving many of the aromas present in the spirit and like the white rum it has a brief respite in oak and then it is charcoal filtered. Their American Straight Whiskey has a different mash bill all together. It is 45% corn, 45% rye and 10% malted barley. Using an equal ratio of corn to rye offers balance. The spice from the rye is not overpowering and the earthier aromas of the corn subdued. It rests in oak until they feel it is ready and for the money this is one of my favorite whiskeys. 

The name Bully Boy is said to be inspired by Will and Dave’s great-grandfathers horse named after his collage roommate, Teddy Roosevelt.  That’s not a bad pedigree

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Nitty Gritty 

There are two basic forms of distillation. The 1st which is the oldest still used today is called the Alembic Still or Pot Still. Basically you have a single chamber or “pot” that your fermented liquid goes in. For Whiskey it’s in beer like form, in Brandy it is wine and in rum it is fermented molasses.  As the Liquid is heated the alcohol will evaporate at 173 degrees F which is about 39 degrees cooler than water. The alcohol vapor travels up a pipe where it cools. As it cools through condensers, condensation forms. That condensed liquid is now alcohol. To get a simple understanding of how a condenser works simply blow into your hand opened mouth. It will feel hot. Then blow into your hand with a pucker. As the air compresses it cools. Typically the 1st run off of the Pot Sill is called “low wine” which is about 20% alcohol. This liquid is reintroduced into the still to make the final product which will come out at a much high degree of alcohol. 

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 The 2nd method of distillation which is used at Bully Boy is known as a Column Still also called the Continuous Still . This is called a Column Still for a simple reason… its a column. The column has a series of plates or compartments. Like the Pot Still the mash vaporizes. As the alcohol vapor rises it will condense within each plate then it reheats and distills again to the next level. In short it is continuously distilling so the lowest levels are your “low wine” but within each level or compartment the alcohol increases. This is the how most of our beloved vodkas are made. Because Column Stills can easily distill at a higher degree of alcohol it does not leave all those congeners or impurities that can make you fill ill the next day.  I suppose what gives you the headache after so many Cosmos is all that damn sugar. The Vodka or rum in this case leaves a clean, light feeling in the morning. Ah, the miracle of the Column Still and the wonders of scientific drinking. 

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Heads or Tails? I Prefer the Heart

 As your still heats up the 1st thing to evaporate before the alcohol is methanol. This is the hangover inducing, eyesight losing stuff that created much of the roaring 20’s cocktail culture. Once your still heats up to 174 degrees the methanol will burn off and form condensation. Once this is discarded the subtle signs of ethanol begin.This is the good stuff.

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 The 1st truly ingestible parts off the still are called “The Heads“. These are the fruitier aromas that a spirit will have. It is also higher in proof ranging around  95% alcohol or 190 proof (degree is alcohol x’s 2). The heads are way too strong in proof and also can be overwhelming aromatically, the trick here is in the balance. You want enough of those fruity aromas to give body and structure without either overpowering your spirit or your senses. Dave only leaves traces of them in, just enough to give a voice but to bulk up production and product quantity that $6 plastic jug of vodka you find at your favorite package store will be composed almost entirely of “the Heads” which is one reason why cheap liquor is cheap. Then comes “the hearts“. This is the meat and potatoes, the mainstay, the base. Anything that came before and after is only an accent The last part are “the tails” which tends to be funkier and vegetative. Once you you create your final blend of hearts, heads and tails the excess are often reintroduced to the still with more fermented mash (the stuff you start with) hence Jack Daniels Sour Mash .

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From here whiskeys and often rums are barreled. As it sits in the barrel the alcohol, being a gas naturally evaporates. This evaporation is called the Angels Share. Once you feel the spirit has reached its potential in the barrel it will typically be around 130 proof. Then it is either watered down to a lower proof (usually 90 to 80 proof) or if the spirit is complex, smooth and balanced enough at this high proof it might go straight into bottle at what is called “Barrel Strength” or “Cask Strength” and man this stuff can be great but can really pack a wollup.

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With clear spirits like their vodka it will be charcoal filtered to help clean up the edges, water will be added to bring it to an approachable 80 proof and then bottled 

So as I mentioned Dave and Will were making rum that day. It was pretty romantic in what I fell is the truest form of the word. Not a soft emblematic feeling of life, or a withered old Frenchman offering a taste of fine cognac that was laid down by his grandfather. It is the hard work and love that a farmer feels when he tills the land. It was literally gallons of molasses dumping into fermenters to mix with the yeast. Then smelling the intense methanol as it runs off the still until you pick up the faint elegance of what will be the heads, hearts and tails. It is time consuming, it is making mistakes and learning from them, it is understanding not just the science of the still but the intuition of the palate. It is tasting, spitting, dumping and trying again. To me it is inspiring. 

 Applied Alchemy 

Rum is one of my favorite spirits and it is not because it reminds me of tropical vacations where the flavor is taken away by orange juice, lime and coconut. Nor is it watching the bartender painstakingly muddle mint. To me it is a working mans drink. It is a drink of our lineage. It is was one of our 1st undertakings at distillation  and although I get to drink fine wine and try crazy, funky brews I still sweat when I work. Maybe we need the juices and sweeteners to help us feel relaxed from all the hard work we do but I feel that rum can stand on its own and I love spirit based rum drinks. 

After my visit with Will and Dave they graciously offered me a little mini barrel to age a cocktail in. I wanted something to remind me of my visit so I choose the one they were distilling, the white rum. I drew from some of the flavors that are typically paired with rum like the tropical curacao and the fortified Portuguese wine from the island of Madeira which would have been a classic seafaring drink to give some context and history with a bit of dry vermouth to add volume and texture without imparting sweetness (rum has the tendency to enhance sugars in a drink given its base). In the end I wanted to balance the natural flavor that rum can offer but in a way that is not typical but still familiar. The name White Strap is a tongue and cheek reference to the black strap molasses that is used which in the end make a potent and fine white liquor. This is currently available at Foundry on Elm for $8 a pour.

The White Strap

1 1/2 oz Bully Boy White Rum

3/4 oz Dolin dry Vermouth

1/2 oz Blandy Rainwater Madeira

1/4 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao

2 dashes Bittermans Tiki Bitters

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

 Age in barrel for 2 weeks 

Just pour into a small rocks glass and add an orange swath.

 No need to water down the flavors with ice. This should be drunk at room temperature right our of the barrel for a casks strength cocktail.

 Cheers

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