Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fentimans Sodas

So I am (finally) getting back to taste-testing sodas. I've had to get a fresh supply of many of them, since I either didn't try them on a timely basis, or I tried them and didn't write anything down.

Fentiman's Sodas
wrote about their ginger beer awhile back. Suffice to say, we liked it a lot - it was very different from all the others we tried. I found a few more of their sodas at one of my favorite gourmet food stores, so I picked them up. (Pic at right is from their site)
Dandelion Burdock
Unbeknownst to me, despite many trips to the UK, this is a
traditional British soft drink. The Fentiman's website says: "Full strength infusions of Dandelion & Burdock create the unmistakable aroma and distinctive palate of this classic beverage."

We found this one fruity (pear), sweet and herbal, with under notes reminiscent of a good sarsaparilla. It was nice on its own. Apparently there is a drink called a
DB&G which calls for the addition of gin, so we tried that as well - it was, well, interesting (in a good way). A bit of an acquired taste, but we'll be trying it again as soon as I get another bottle.

Victorian Lemonade
I think our bottle might have been bad, based on the descriptions on the Fentiman's site, but maybe not. It was quite sour, with a hint of ginger and then a light touch of sweetness on the finish. Not terribly pleasant to drink on its own, in fact we didn't finish it (and didn't mix with it).

Mandarin and Seville Orange Jigger
This was a lovely soda, with a fresh, true orange flavor balanced with a small amount of sweetness. It seems like it will mix well, and I look forward to experimenting with it soon. They also make a Curiosity Cola that sounds interesting, I'll have to try and find it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Top Ten Tales Tidbits - Take Two

Here are my top five tidbits from Tales - the ordering was the hardest part, but here goes nuthin'!

#5 - Cocktails, Cocktails, Cocktails
When we weren't at the Tales sessions or other happenings at the hotel, we wandered around the area watering holes. We had some fantastic cocktails in the great bars found in the Quarter. Our favorites were probably the Napoleon House (try the Pimm's Cup), the French 75 Bar (try the French 75, or whatever Chris Hannah is making), and the Carousel Bar (try the Vieux Carré, and definitely sit at the bar).

#4 - Sarah and Evil Bob
At the
Grand Soiree d'Absinthe (#10), we met Sarah and Bob. They live in New Orleans and both work in the hospitality industry. Bob is behind the stick at Johnny White's, one of a few bars in NOLA that never closes (he was on the 3 am to 9 am shift later that night), and Sarah is a GM at another area restaurant (unfortunately I can't remember the name!).

We were having a great conversation, and Sarah and Bob offered to take us around to some favorite places. So off we went. First stop: Johnny White's, where we hung out with Jamie, the very fun bartender on duty. Unfortunately, after a few beers & a shot or two, Bob (now we know why his nickname is Evil Bob) left us to go home and get some rest before his shift.

Next stop: Yo Mama's, where we had quite possibly the best hamburgers ever. Granted, we had been drinking absinthe, and then beer (and maybe a shot or two) all day, so we might've been hungry & a bit drunk, but they were fantastic. Final stop of the night: Erin Rose, another great neighborhood bar. By then, we had to call it a night, so we walked Sarah home and headed back to the hotel.

#3 - Burying the Appletini
For those who haven't heard, the Appletini is now dead & gone. We buried it, and held a proper funeral procession for it, including a band and a brief funeral service. This was fantastic - at
midnight, the police stopped traffic so we could march down the street in our funeral procession, following the band and casket with our good cocktails in hand.

#2 - Chicago Camaraderie
Although our group was small (we have to get more folks from Chicago there next year, so we can hold our own against the NY and SF contingents), it was fantastic to spend some time with the Chicago crew. My funniest memory probably falls into the category of "you had to be there," based on my husband's reaction when I told him. If you're curious, ask me over a cocktail sometime - I still think its funny when I think of it (maybe its just me? nah...).

#1 - Tasting, Tasting, Tasting
Because it was such an overwhelming part of the experience, I have to put the experience of tasting so many new spirits, cocktails, and flavor ideas down as my favorite part of the Tales experience. Just of few of my favorites tastes:
  • Sazerac 18 Rye - I went to Rye Nation, and we discussed and tasted 7 different ryes. The Sazerac 18 was my favorite, slightly edging out the Vintage 23. It was fun to see the range of variations within the rye category and hear a couple brand representatives talk about how they make them (and, importantly, what a minute part of their production time goes to rye - maybe we all need to start stocking up if you haven't already)
  • Plymouth Sloe Gin - I've never had a good sloe gin, just the syrupy sweet stuff that you might see at a run-of-the-mill liquor store in the liqueur aisle. I was impressed with this one, so much so that I bought a bottle of it when I got home. Gotta love a good sloe gin fizz in the summer, and it's fun to play with in cocktails too.
  • Noilly Prat Ambre - On Sunday morning (the fifth day of Tales), we found ourselves meandering around the lobby. We happened upon a tasting room for Noilly Prat vermouths, and decided to step inside. To be honest, it was the enticing buffet of fruit and pastries that got us in the room. Once we were there, however, we took a seat and listened to a very interesting presentation. Read on for a few notes from the NP seminar.
Truly, there are far too many to name. I got to revisit many favorites, and try many new things, and taste spirits and cocktails made in unusual ways. I'm still working through my notes and trying to build a cohesive summary for myself, so I may write more on that down the road.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a few factoids and notes from the Noilly Prat seminar:
  1. NP has recently changed the US formula for their dry vermouth - it will now be closer to the European version, which is less sweet and more herbal.
  2. They are also introducing new packaging this year, perhaps following in the footsteps of Martini & Rossi in that regard.
  3. They use 25 herbs in the dry, 30 herbs in the sweet and 4o herbs in the ambre.
  4. The ambre is not usually available outside of their facility in France, so it was a rare treat indeed to be able to try it. It tasted like a sweeter, dessert-style wine with hints of cinnamon, rose and vanilla. Very interesting indeed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Top Ten Tales Tidbits - Take One

Sorry for the long gap in posting, folks! Somehow I fell off the blogging wagon again, but I'm back on it now. Since it's now been a couple of weeks since I started my Tales of the Cocktail recap, I've decided to fast forward to the highlights. Here's the first half of my top ten tidbits from Tales 2008.

#10 - the Grande Soiree d'Absinthe
On the last day of Tales, a large group of absinthe enthusiasts gathered in a lovely upstairs room at Muriel's for this event sponsored by the Wormwood Society. Filled with a mix of WS members, NOLA locals, and people from around the world, this event offered the opportunity to sample a range of absinthes in a relaxed, social setting. We met some great people, tried a couple of absinthes that were new to us, and shared our Sirène with the crowd. More on what came afterward when I get to #4.

#9 - Fantastic Food
The French Quarter is filled with great restaurants (as well as a lot of tourist traps). We had great food everywhere we went, once we started following Chuck Taggart's recommendations. Some of the fantastic places we went, and that we'd recommend, include Coop's, Mr. B's, Mother's, Johnny's, and the Napoleon House. I'd also add Yo Mama's to the list, which wasn't on Chuck's list. It might've been that we were hungry and drunk, but the burgers we had there were quite possibly the best we've ever had.

#8 The Scented Trail
This session was led by Audrey Saunders and Tony Conigliaro, and focused on building and enhancing the aroma in your cocktails. We started the session with a tasting of aromatized waters and a discussion of top notes, mid notes and base notes in aroma, and strategies for developing and enhancing them. This was the best tip I got from the conference, I think - Audrey and Tony suggested that instead of infusing flavors into syrups, where the aromas are pulled to the bottom of the drink with the weight of the syrup (and masked by the sugar), consider infusing them into waters or low-alcohol spirits, and then misting your garnishes, glassware and/or drink with them right before serving. Now that I'm caught up on things again, I'm going to be trying this very soon! I don't have a vapor still like Tony, but I might be able to get close to that... more soon!

#7 The Hemingway Bartender's Companion
This was the first official session I attended, and it was a fantastic way to start the conference. The session was led by Phil Greene, a true Hemingway scholar. We tasted five (yes five) cocktails that were Hemingway's favorites at different points in his life, and heard many great stories and related passages from Hemingway's works. I just might have to start reading Hemingway again, and I definitely have to go to Captain Tony's Saloon when I'm in Key West early next year. So the count stood at five drinks before noon, in true Hemingway style.

#6 Bloggers and the Blogosphere
I had the fortune of meeting many of the bloggers I correspond with in the ether, and to participate in a group blog and interact with many of these great folks throughout the conference. It was a great opportunity to make some new friends, and put many faces with names & blogs - I look forward to more opportunities like this in the future, both at Tales and elsewhere!