Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Liquid Nitrogen in a Cocktail. In Rockford.

Last Saturday, I was in Rockford, Illinois for a tasting event at a great little wine, spirits & beer store (the best one in Rockford, as far as I know). I have a friend who grew up in Rockford, and the last time I saw him, he mentioned that there was a new restaurant doing great cocktails in Rockford. This I had to see.

Low and behold, I found Social, which looks to be a great restaurant (the pork belly tacos were delicious). They have several people behind the bar who actually know a few things about cocktails, even! In talking with them, it turns out they took inspiration from a few places in Chicago in developing their approach to food and drink, and they are offering something completely different for Rockford.

Full disclosure - they do carry our absinthe behind the bar, which was my first beverage of the night. Then, I asked Greg and Jeff for whatever they felt like making. Greg made me what they call a
JFK. Essentially, it was classic daiquiri (reportedly JFK's favorite drink). However, rather than serving it the traditional way, they actually chilled it with liquid nitrogen.

They shook the drink with ice quickly, strained it into the glass, and started adding in liquid nitrogen with a ladle. You can see from the pictures just how cold the ladle was, and when a drop of liquid nitrogen scattered across the bar, they warned me to steer well clear of it. It's so cold, it will freeze alcohol (and do some damage to you too).

The resulting drink has a smooth, icy texture, reminiscent of a well-blended frozen daiquiri, without all that extra dilution. It was fantastic on a hot day, and a real delight to try, especially in Rockford.

If you find yourself in the area, you must go there.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Not at Tales Cocktail Crawl

This year, I did not attend Tales of the Cocktail. Instead of sitting at home drowning my sorrows alone while looking at all the updates and pictures on Facebook, I invited some friends out for a "We're Not at Tales" cocktail crawl. Granted, most of the great bartenders and mixologists in town were not around, but a few were left behind to hold down the fort, and a couple even joined us for the crawl.

Stop No. 1: Sepia
The lovely lady behind the bar, Logan Lavachek (at right), wowed our group with her mixing skills. We tried variations on the Aviation, Moscow Mule, French 75, and some of Logan's own creations too. All delicious. And only some of 'em were made with my stuff.

Stop No. 2: 160 Blue
Rich Szydlo was holding down the 160 Blue fort, and we enjoyed more great cocktails. I had a Corpse Reviver No. 2, and several Manhattans were enjoyed, along with a few of Rich's original creations. Plus, Thursdays are $4 burger night at 160 Blue, so we had some delicious burgers, too.

Stop No. 3: The Drawing Room
Charles, Tim and Cristi were all at Tales for various events and competitions, so Grant Hurless was left to hold down the fort. He invited guest bartenders each night to join him, and on Thursday Al Klopper from the Elysian Hotel was making cocktails. More Manhattans, some Ethels, and a Blackthorne or two were enjoyed, along with a few bartender's choice libations.

At one of these places that shall remain nameless (ahem, DR, ahem), a drink was attempted. The High Life 75, to be exact. It was a failure. Not. Good. At. All. Do not try this at home.

Unfortunately, it was a school night, so most of the crowd had to depart after the third stop. Next year, we'll go longer, and to even more places. Or perhaps I'll be at Tales, and reading about this on Facebook instead.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Terroir of Tequila?

Boy, time is going fast these days - I have a lot going on, and not enough time being spent writing! Has it been over three months already since I wrote anything? Sheesh.

A few months ago now, I attended a great seminar on tequila. Gary Shansby, the President & CEO of Partida Tequila (on the right in the picture below) and Tomas Estes, an official Ambassador for Tequila and one of the creators of Tequila Ocho, teamed up for this seminar. In addition to a tasting of their tequilas, we also discussed the concept of terroir in relation to tequila. It was a fun afternoon, full of tasty drinks and good discussion.

Given that these two companies do not have common ownership, and do not have the same distributor in most markets, it was unique to see them team up in this way. For me, it was also a very interesting demonstration of two markedly different styles of promoting and marketing a brand. More on that in another post.

Talking Terroir

The room was filled with educated drinkers - the audience included many members of the local US Bartenders Guild chapter, as well as a few members of the local drinks press. Therefore, we did not spend significant time on the concept of terroir in general. We did, however, begin with a wine tasting to highlight the differences, contrasting an Oregon pinot noir (rich mushroom and fruit notes) with a Burgundy (earthy, mineral, more restrained with notes of "barnyard").

As a starting point, both speakers stated that like wine grapes for wine, the agave piña provides the primary source of flavor in tequila, and that the flavor varies with age, climate, soil and weather conditions. The growth process is slow; it takes 7-10 years for an agave piña to mature. At maturity, a piña is 30-40 kilograms and contains 27% sugar, on average.

A Quickie Primer on Making Tequila
After harvest, the piñas are cooked. Partida uses a stainless steel autoclave (pressurized cooker), while Ocho uses stone or clay brick ovens, which are more traditional and less pressurized, but they can become coated with soot and are harder to clean. Next, the piñas are crushed and pressed to extract the aguamiel (honey water), which will be fermented. Yeasts are added, and the mash ferments - the duration depends primarily on temperature at the fermentation facility. Partida uses a proprietary strain of yeast from their agave fields, whereas Ocho uses wild, freeborn yeast.

After fermentation, the mash is distilled. Both producers distill their spirits twice (as required by Mexican law). On the second run, Partida's tequila is 53-54% alcohol by volume, whereas Ocho's is 47-48% abv. Neither speaker would comment about whether there is any other processing, filtering, etc. after distillation but before bottling. Given the final proof of the spirits, at a minimum, water is added.

Aging Tequila
Both producers age some of their tequila into Reposado and A
ñejo expressions. To label tequila Reposado, it must be aged a minimum of 2 months, and no more than 1 year. For Añejo, it must be at least 12 months, but no more than 3 years (there is also an Extra Añejo category, for over 3 years). Interestingly (at least to me), the distillers used the exact same distillant for the expressions they produce - the only variation is the length of time in the wood.

Both producers utilize used bourbon barrels for their aging (Partida uses Jack Daniels barrels, Ocho uses mostly Jack Daniels barrels). They each take different steps to prepare the barrels, and age for different periods of time. Ocho strives to age for only the minimum time, to preserve the maximum flavor from the agave - 2 months for Reposado, 12 months for
Añejo. They age their barrels in a one-story warehouse, where the barrels are stacked. Partida ages their Reposado for 6 months, and 18 months for the Añejo.

Highland vs. Lowland
Partida's Terroir
Partida is a lowlands tequila, meaning the agave is grown in a lower-altitude area, in a valley below a dormant volcano, at approximately 5,500 feet in elevation. The temperatures are higher there, both during the day and at night, than in the highlands area. The speakers asserted that lowlands tequilas are traditionally more masculine, more robust and forward in flavor. Partida was most definitely more masculine and more robust than Ocho.

Ocho's Terroir
In contrast, Ocho is a highlands tequila, grown higher up on the hills, where it is cooler in temperature, especially at night (it's 1,000 to 1,500 feet higher in elevation). Highlands tequilas were asserted to be more feminine, smooth and restrained. And Ocho was more restrained and feminine that Partida, clearly demonstrating their point.

So Did I Buy It?
Well, sort of. These two tequila producers are making very different products, but I am not buying into attributing the differences primarily to terroir. Admittedly, I have not studied the concept of terroir in-depth, but I struggle to see that as a primary driver for these differences.

Rather than being like wine from grapes (that vary with terroir), this is more akin to comparing brandy from grapes (or, for another base material, beer from barley vs. whiskey from barley). The grapes have an impact, but it is meaningfully less so than in the wine. In addition to the differences in the
piñas themselves, there are also differences in the cooking processes, yeast, maximum alcohol percentage at the end of distillation, additional processing (which was not disclosed), as well as aging durations and aging materials.

What do you think?

And in a future post, tasting notes on the tequilas, as well as more on the marketing approaches.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sodas, Sodas, Everywhere

I've written in the past about a variety of sodas, and have a habit of collecting sodas that sound interesting. Unfortunately, I sometimes let them sit around awhile before I get to drinking them.

So on the last Saturday of February, in honor of "Open That Bottle Night," I opened a bunch of sodas that I have been meaning to try. I know, I know, that isn't what they meant, but I don't do very well in the "save this for a special occasion" department when it comes to wine and spirits - I seem to have no trouble finding special occasions to open the good stuff. Sodas, on the other hand...

Here are the sodas we tried, in no particular order, with some tasting notes and comments.

Zota Green Tea Sodas
My friend Daniel Sviland at Prairie Grass Cafe recommended these sodas to me awhile back, and even gave me some to try. We tried these varieties:
  • Ginger - fresh ginger aroma and taste, not all the way to ginger beer, but more flavorful than most ginger ales. The tea aspects come through nicely and marry with the ginger, creating a spicy finish. My favorite of the three.
  • Raspberry - very sweet, with the smell of berries; the raspberry flavor reminded me of lambic beers. The berry notes dominated; very little, if any, of the tea came through.
  • Orange - great orange soda flavor, with hints of tea and spice; like a (somewhat) grown up version of the orange soda I loved as a kid. Yum.
As you might expect, the ginger plays well in cocktails. We found some ok, but not fantastic, uses for the other flavors. Here's a cocktail we came up with on the fly with the ginger:

2 oz Rye Whiskey (used Sazerac 6 yr)
1/2 oz Triple Sec (used Cointreau)
Dash of grapefruit bitters (used Scrappy's)
Zota Ginger Green Tea Soda
Combine first three ingredients in rocks glass with ice; top with Zota soda. Garnish with swath of orange peel.

Unfortunately, the company's website isn't working, and I can't find much about them - I'm not sure you can find these anymore. Apparently, the company went out of business in 2005, then was relaunched in 2007 (in the comments), so I don't know what the status is now. I've had these bottles since about mid-2009, I would guess, and they tasted just fine.

Dry Sodas
I tried some other varieties before, but hadn't yet tried the kumquat and rhubarb flavors of Dry Soda. Unfortunately, I think my bottle of rhubarb sat around too long, it was pretty blah, without any discernable rhubarb flavor. The kumquat, however, had very nice orange/kumquat flavors, and was a dry, light soda. Definitely could be used in place of soda in drinks if you want more orange notes. Gotta get another bottle of that rhubarb, and open it sooner, next time.

Cricket Pomegranate Raspberry Green Tea Soda
Cricket makes/made their colas using actual kola nuts, among other all-natural ingredients. This one had more pronounced tea notes than any of the Zota sodas, and nice fruit notes. It was not overly sweet, and was one of my favorite sodas for consuming on it's own. I tried mixing it a few ways, with light rum, dark rum, and gin as the base, and nothing really wowed me. I might just have to keep this one for drinking on it's own.

According to the all-knowing wikipedia, the company was sold, and the buyer no longer lists their products on the website. You might have trouble finding this one too, unfortunately.

Kristall Swedish Raspberry Soda
The Kristall beverage company actually makes a variety of fruit-flavored sodas, but I've only ever seen (and now tried) the raspberry version. It was light and fruity, with nice raspberry flavor. It is a bit on the sweeter side, but might make for a nice change of pace in a drink requiring soda that contains complementary flavors.

Well, there you have it. Now my collection of unopened sodas is much smaller, at least until I see some more new ones on my travels.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

MxMo XLVI - Absinthe Abundance - Part II

Before the rest of the drink submissions (part I is here), I wanted to mention one comment we received from Myriam at the Detours blog. She is a writer living in Sydney, and just visited an absinthe salon in Sydney, and wrote about her absinthe explorations. No cocktails here, but some great photos, and a place to put on your must-visit list for Sydney.

Without further ado, the rest of the cocktails!

Easy Does It
Many people wrote about recipes calling for a barspoon or absinthe or less. This group has enough absinthe for it to be noticed in a meaningful way, but less than those drinks listed above.

Chris at Urbane, not Cosmopolitan uses his local absinthe in a reworking of the Foggy Day, resulting in his
Foggy Day in Kingston Cocktail. Using gin, limoncello, and Jamaican bitters, it sounds delicious.

Last month's MxMo host, Frederic over at Cocktail Virgin Slut, introduces us to the
Lusitania, which was printed before the ship became infamous. Primarily a vermouth-based cocktail, it sounds like a wonderful aperitif.

Paul & Steve from Cocktail Buzz write about the
Old Mule, with dark rum, ginger beer, bitters and some absinthe. Sounds like a nice change of pace.

Hobson describes a cocktail created by Joaquin Simo at Death & Co. in NYC, the
Latin Quarter over on Hobson's Choice. In this riff on the Sazerac, he uses aged rum rather than whiskey.

Rocky was put on the spot to name a new drink he was
working on, so he dubbed it the Rye-se and Shine. Using his local absinthe, Rocky combines rye with cognac, sweet vermouth and bitters. Read about it over on NW Vivant.

Kevin at Cocktail Enthusiast writes about the
Chrysanthemum, a great classic. His version has different ingredient proportions than the other version posted - there seem to be several variations on this one. A lovely drink all around.

In another use of sloe gin, Filip at Adventures in Cocktails wanted to tone down the absinthe and used rye, sloe gin, lemon and simple along with his 1/2 bars
poon of absinthe in the Sloe Envy. Sounds and looks great.

On Liquidity Preference, Jacob admits he's not a big absinthe drinker, so he went searching. He found a good one - the
Atty Cocktail, with gin, dry vermouth, and some creme de violette. Yum.

Over on Wordsmithing Pantagruel, our guide Pantagruel posted a very fun video with his balancier, and also introduces an original cockt
ail, the Elegance. He uses gin, sake, orange liqueur and bitters.

Maria, the Bubbly Girl, admits she only likes her absinthe i
n small quantities. She gives us Killing Me Softly, which incorporates elderflower liqueur, sugar and sparkling wine.

Bluewolf Pete, a member of the Wormwood Society, contributed the Garden Party, with gin, elderflower liqueur, bitters and a bit of absinthe.

From the folks in Toronto,
we received these two with absinthe accents:
  • Nishan created the Snowbird, with ginger liqueur, Czech-style absinthe, lime and orgeat. Sounds like a tiki-style drink in the making, perhaps!
  • Scott used a spirit I've not yet seen or heard of - "Zoladkowa Gurzka bitter vodka" - along with blueberry jam and rosemary to create his The Purp. And it's topped with absinthe foam. Hmm. Wonder what that one tastes like? How bitter is that vodka?

Barkeep at Drink of the Week wrote about a well-known absinthe cocktail, the Monkey Gland. With it's use of gin, orange juice and grenadine, as well as it's history (that name!), it's certainly memorable. I also mentioned the similar Dixie Cocktail. It has more absinthe, and some dry vermouth, but a similar style. Both are fun drinks to share with people who don't know absinthe at all.

Over on eGullet, we got some great ideas that have absinthe as an accent:
  • Haresfur suggested the Martha, inspired by a cocktail he saw on cocktaildb - it features a float of absinthe. Martha is my mother's name, so I'm going to have make this one for her next time she's here. Unfortunately, since she's not much of a drinker, I'm going to have to drink it too, but that's OK.
  • Eric took inspiration from the Tuxedo Cocktail No. 2 in the Savoy, and created the Tailcoat, using genever, sweet vermouth, maraschino and bitters. Sounds delicious.

And a few folks who submitted more than one drink have some in this category as well:
  • The folks at 1022 South give us the HR 1022, where they pair bourbon, maraschino, dry vermouth, and interestingly, a lapsang souchong syrup. Hmmm... I think I have to try making that one.
  • Alan from Real Absinthe suggests the Green Devil, with a tequila-lemoncello-absinthe combination, and The Sun Also Rises, with rye, sloe gin, lemon and more. Both recipes were developed by his mixologist friends in Colorado.
  • In addition to the Green Fairy Sour, Marshall at Scofflaw's Den also mentions the Cocktail a la Louisiane, another great one.

Just a Rinse, Please
Four folks wrote about rinsing their glass with absinthe.

Jessamyn over at Food on the Brain loves anise, pastis and absinthe. However, they've been playing with Cynar lately, and have given us the Gin & Sip, with gin, Cynar and absinthe. Sounds very interesting indeed.

Daniel at Gin not Vodka mentions a carbonated Corpse Reviver No. 2, which sounds darned interesting. He also discussed the Long Line, with a base of brandy, accented by sweet vermouth, absinthe and two types of bitters.

In his drink with tequila as the base, Anthony at Abelha Cachaca writes about the Tequila Sazerac, using agave nectar for the sweetener and a touch of lime rather than lemon.

And the most flamboyant rinse award goes to Gavin in Toronto, with his GF Twizzler. He use 30 ml of absinthe, and "brulees" the glass. This is our first instance of fire in this MxMo, used with a Czech-style absinthe. Has to be a heckuva show, but sounds dangerous!

(Edit) The award for most absinthe rinses in a month goes to Erik over at Underhill Lounge, who has been doing a complete set of Sazerac experiments this month using a variety of spirits and combinations. (Apologies to Erik for omitting this the first time I hit publish - I had meant to mention it.)

Only a Dash (or Two), No More
The last (but certainly not least) group used only one or two dashes of absinthe in their recipes. Nothing wrong at all with using absinthe in these quantities, but in these cases it is truly an accent in the drink, and nothing more.

In this group, we have two great mixologists/bartenders from Chicago (welcome to MxMo, gentlemen!) -
  • Billy from the Whistler (a great cocktail & live music venue) gives us the Fleming, which includes Scotch, sloe gin, honey and absinthe (and he uses my favorite absinthe, too - I'm only slightly biased on that account).
  • James from Gioco (a great Italian restaurant with a nice cocktail menu too) emailed me his favorite absinthe drink - a twist on the Sazerac. His Ghost of Tom Joad contains 2 oz Ransom Old Tom, 1 oz Cointreau, Squeeze of 1 lemon wedge, dash of Angostura, dash of absinthe. Chill a cocktail glass, coat with absinthe. Stir remaining ingredients with ice; strain into glass. Garnish with orange twist.
Stevi over at Two at the Most is a woman after my own heart. Her blog name, her love for absinthe in the traditional drip, and the fact that she's always looks for new things. She found a new (to her) cocktail, the Atlantic. With gin, white rum, Cointreau and just a two dashes of absinthe, she found a new drink that demonstrates what a little absinthe can do.

James over at Alcoholiday gives us the only drink using Mezcal as the base, in the
Smoking Saints Cocktail. Mezcal, St. Germain, lime, simple and absinthe - what's not to love?

And last on this list, but first in my book for starting this whole MxMo thing, is Paul Clarke over at The Cocktail Chronicles. Paul remembers that when MxMo started back in 2006, we couldn't have absinthe as our theme - look how far we've come. With the
Modern Cocktail, Paul revisits a recipe from Hugo Ensslin using Scotch, lemon, and a bit of rum and bitters.

Cheers everyone, thanks for all the great posts and all the inspiration. I am going to incorporate more Scotch, Calvados, maraschino, and sloe gin into my absinthe drinks - those seemed to pop up in several entries. Now where's that mixing glass and bar spoon...

MxMo XLVI Roundup - Absinthe Abundance - Part I

Wow! By my count, there were 39 entries, and more than 50 recipes, submitted for Mixology Monday this month on our topic of absinthe. We have some new participants, including a couple of great bartenders from my hometown, a few entries from the fine folks at the Wormwood Society, some fun ideas from eGullet, and entries from cocktail writers and fans around the globe.

A few themes and trends - most folks used classical French/Swiss style absinthes (and a couple used substitutes). We had a few blanches and many vertes in use, but no rouges. Most of our recipe
s from friends to the north in Toronto used Czech-style absinthe. A wide variety of base spirits, liqueurs, fruits and herbs were used in these cocktails - really showing the breadth of absinthe's use in cocktails. So many great drinks to try!

In the interest of readability, I have roughly sorted the entries by intensity of absinthe. As many noted
, it's a bit polarizing - some of us love it, and are happy to have a lot of it, but others prefer it only as an accent.

This post has all the cocktails where absinthe is a dominant or prominent ingredient. The next one will have those where it is a small or large accent.

My Absinthe
These folks
love their absinthe, and their drinks reflect it.

Jenn over at Nightcapped had her first experience with the traditional absinthe drip, and she loved it. She has some fun history and absinthe artwork in her post too.

Nabokov used an ingredient that I used in my drink too - passion fruit - in his Tea of Samurai. He writes about how absinthe is "magic, glamorous, dangerous," and includes a great Russian proverb, too.

Tiare at a Mountain of Crushed Ice made the Chocolate Suissesse, which looks and sounds decadent and delicious. Unfortunately, I'm not sure we can get one of the key ingredients here in the US, but I plan to try.

The fine folks 1022 South submitted two recipes, and one of them is heavy on the absinthe. Their Devil's Handshake, with equal parts Fernet Branca, absinthe and ginger syrup, is intended as a shot. And an intense one, at that!

Andy over at Sybaritic Wanderings gives us a great story about being in an earthquake, and writes about the Earthquake Cocktail. Luckily, there was no damage done to Andy or his home, by the actual earthquake, at least. Sounds like a good (stiff) drink of gin, whiskey and absinthe.

Rob from Toronto used a Czech-style absinthe as the dominant ingredient in his Ghostface Killah cocktail, described by Gavin over at Intelligent Bartender. He also used Macadamia nut syrup, cream, egg white and more. Sounds intriguing!

Marshall over at Scofflaw's Den gives us two drinks, one of them heavy on the absinthe - the Green Fairy Sour, taken from the 2009 Tales of the Cocktail book. Sounds delicious, and uses some common (and easily found) ingredients for an absinthe drink - citrus, egg white, and plain simple syrup. Just look at the beautiful foam on that drink!

Chris over at eGullet gives us the Mud in Your Eye, which sounds intensely flavorful and interesting. 2 full ounces of absinthe, with some Branca Menta and gum syrup for good measure. Wow!

And last but not least in the "heavy on the absinthe" category, is my Passion Fairy. Don't love the name (and am open to suggestions), but really liked the drink. Absinthe, passion fruit, brandy, and some citrus.

Like my Absinthe
This group of folks has absinthe as a prominent ingredient in their drink, but not the
most dominant ingredient or flavor, as best I can tell.

Chris over at Cocktail Welten recommends the Ante Cocktail, with a blend of Calvados, Cointreau and absinthe. I have never put absinthe with Calvados, but hope to soon. Unfortunately my German is poor, but Google Translate tells me that Chris wrote "The ante is simply a cocktail told to kneel down! Maybe it'll help the absinthe get the attention he deserves. Sante!"

Scomorokh over at Science of Drink wrote about two similar cocktails, the Chrysanthemum, and the Duchess - the key difference is the first has Benedictine, the second has Sweet Vermouth in it's place. I haven't yet had the Duchess, but expect the absinthe will be more prominent in that one - sounds delicious. Большое спасибо.

Continuing the drinks from cocktailians outside the US, Elan from Toronto developed the Two in the Pink using Alize red, amaretto, cranberry and egg white.

Two real absinthe aficionados weighed in with cocktails this time around - First, we have Brian from Rantings of a DC Gourmand (and also Review Editor and Advisory Board Member over at the Wormwood Society) giving us the Purring Schubie, named for a friend's cat. This drink is intended to be "tasty, complex and still refreshing, " a fitting description.

Second, we have Alan from the
Real Absinthe Blog and La Clandestine Absinthe weighing in with three cocktails from mixologist friends around the world, one of which contains a meaningful amount of absinthe. The Bramble Ramble from a friend in Malaysia sounds delicious, with fresh berries, vodka, grapefruit and vanilla.

Jake over at Liquor is Quicker (Drink Snob) gives us the More Improved Scotch Cocktail, and writes about something that happens to many of us now and then - we work on a cocktail for awhile, only to realize that someone else already came up with something darn close. Nonetheless, his drink sounds intriguing, with two different types of Scotch.

The fine folks over at eGullet give us three drinks that contain a moderate amount of absinthe. Three unique takes, and interesting ways to use the spirit.
  • Chris introduces us to the Wax, which he says is mildly reminiscent of these
  • BMDaniel gives us the Green Hour Rum Punch, a variation on the classic milk punch.
  • Katie goes with the Absinthe Martini, which she says is a good way to introduce absinthe into your cocktail repertoire.
Inspired by strange dreams about Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon, Nat at Alphacook developed An Untimely Death. In addition to the absinthe, he uses Cherry Heering, lemon and sparkling wine. (unfortunately technical problems prevented Nat from sharing a photo this time around, but I'm sure it looks delicious)

And last but not least in this category, Wes in Toronto gives us the Pour la Premiere Fois, with Calvados, pomegranate liqueur, and dry vermouth. Another absinthe & calvados cocktail - I have to give that a try.

Whew, this is a bigger job than I realized. Stay tuned for the next post, with the rest of the great cocktails!