Monday, November 30, 2009
When I first noticed a couple months ago that the Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, bar Prime Meats had begun to serve Underberg Bitters by the bottle and by the glass, I thought, "There's a quirky little gimmick. It will probably catch on with a few dozen liquor geeks such as myself." After all, a medicinal, German-made concoction of aromatic herbs with a distinctly 19th-century vibe?—how wide could its appeal be?
Well, apparently, pretty wide. I stopped by to pick up a few of the individually sized bottles the other day (for post-Thanksgiving imbibing), and the barkeep, Damon Boelte, told me an astounding fact: Prime Meats now sells more Underberg Bitters than any other establishment in the entire United States! Not just New York City, but the whole U.S. of A.
The stuff has really caught on. Prime Meats goes through six cases a week. Damon couldn't tell me how many bottles were in a case, but, since the bottles are small, there are a lot! "The Underberg people are very happy with us," he said, with a droll smile.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Patrick Watson and Michele Pravda, the husband and wife team behind the ever-expanding Smith & Vine empire in Brooklyn (a wine store, a cheese store, a cocktail joint and counting) will open, in a couple weeks, their second wine shop.
It will be called the Brooklyn Wine Exchange and will be ideally located right next door to the Cobble Hill Trader Joe's on Court Street. (That's the storefront, above, to the left of the picture, with Trader Joe's in the near distance.) It will thus be able to capitalize on the wine needs of the grocery store's habitues. (Unlike the Trader Joe's in Manhattan, this store does not have an affiliated wine shop one door over.)
Watson said the new stop will focus New World wines, meaning vino from the Americas, Australia, New Zealand on the like. Smith & Vine tends to focus on small, artisinal vintners from Europe, though it does have a small selection of American wines. Given Watson & Pravda's good taste—and my general aversion to the big bodied, International Style of most South American and Australia wines—it will be interested to see what sort of inventory they come up.
The Brooklyn Wine Exchange will also have an education area where wine classes will be conducted. It will not be a ditto of Smith & Vine, but have a character of its own. Watson & Pravda have long conducted occasional wine classes, but they have been off-premise, in nearly restaurants.
UPDATE: Opening is probably on Saturday, Dec. 5.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
In the world of single malt scotch, the holidays are when the limited releases are, well, released. The Classic Malts Selection has come out with a bunch of new get-them-while-you-can varieties. I already posted something on the Caol Ila Unpeated 10-year-old, my favorite of the group. Here are a few notes on the delicacies:
PORT ELLEN 30-YEAR-OLD: Port Ellen is a so-called “ghost distillery,” and thus highly prized and sought after by scotch enthusiasts. The distillery closed in 1983. What we see today are allocations of an ever-shrinking stock of whisky remaining in barrels. It's not surprising, then, that this is priced at $375. It's probably best that this scotch will be drunk by scotch connoissuers, because this is a challenging dram, perhaps not best suited for the average drinker. It's not a lean-back-and-relax scotch. It's a sit-up-and-take-notice scotch. The nose is heavy on the salt and iodine, with pepper and brush as well. The taste is intense and spicy, like hot peppers or spiced hot peat. There's a real briney-salty streak in the center, and a slightly bitter aftertaste. Not immediately appealing, this is for the seasoned taster.
OBAN DISTILLER'S EDITION: This scotch, from the famed maker on the west coast of Scotland's mainland Highlands, was double-matured in Montilla Fino wood. It has a beautiful orange-amber color. This is the opposite in character to the Port Ellen. It's a smooth and creamy treat. Orange, caramel, vanilla and apricot are seasoned with spices that are mellow and Christmasy—clove and allspice. This scotch is easygoing and satisfying. Cost is $100.
TALISKER 25-YEAR-OLD: Talisker, so unique, so utterly balanced, which that peculiar hot spice to it, may be my favorite scotch. So I loved sampling this. The 25-year-old was matured in American and European Oak refill casks, with just 5,862 bottles available. On the nose, it's pear, pear, and ripe pear. Also peach, salt, and brine. This is a very peaty scotch, so if you don't like peat, it's not for you. There is honey and fruit (including more pear), but they're in retreat. Towards the finish, it mellows out. It comes in at $200.
BRORA 30-YEAR-OLD: I am not overly familiar with Brora, so this was a pleasant discovery. It's another "ghost distillery," on the Sutherland coast, having shut down in 1983. There are only 2,598 bottles worldwide. The Brora 30-Year-Old is vatted from a mixture of American Oak and European Oak refill casks. Such an attractive scotch. The nose is honey and nectarine and fig backed by a hint of pepper. Drinking, it's smooth in the basement, spicy on the roof. The liquid is fleshy in the mouth, cream and caramel, structured, yet loose in its long finish. After finishing my sample, I was ready to go out and buy a bottle. But it's $400. So I guess I'll just ask for one from Santa and hope.
DALWHINNIE DISTILLERS EDITION: This version of the Highlands scotch was double-matured in Oloroso Sherry casks. It's a light orange-gold. You'll find that orange on the nose, too, as well as it's citrus friends. This scotch has a light-medium body. It's nicely balanced, even and dry, with caramel, allspice, cooked pear, vanilla and nut notes on the tongue. It has a long, spicy finish. $75 is your price.
ROYAL LOCHNAGAR SELECTED RESERVE: You've got a deep amber color here from this small Highland distillery. As you'd expect from such a color, it has a rich nose of toffee, candy corn, caramel and butterscotch. It's rich and oily on the tongue, with flavors of smooth burnt orange, caramel, maple and honey. This whisky will coat your mouth. Royal Lochnagar doesn't make a lot of scotch. It has just two small stills, and its typically not sold in the US. Thus, the price—$210—is understandable.
New Glarus Spotted Cow is one of the best microbrews produced in Wisconsin. I've drunk it there many times while visiting relatives. I've even been to New Glarus. Nice town, with a Swiss heritage. There are actually more Swiss restaurant there than there are in New York City. But I did not know I was only allowed to drink it there. Why should I assume such a thing? I can think of a half dozen bars in New York City where I can get a New Glarus easily.
Apparently, I've been breaking the law all this time. Or, rather, the people selling Spotted Cow have been breaking the law. On Nov. 6, there was a raid at Mad River, an Upper East Side sports bar popular with University of Wisconsin alumni. They had gotten wind that New Glarus was sold there. Indeed it was! They found 50 cases of the stuff, landing the owners of Mad River in hot water.
New Glarus brewery, which has a small production, does not distribute its delicious beers outside of Wisconsin. It's only licensed to sell in Wisconsin, and distribution rules are very strict because of liquor taxes.
So what do we have here? No distributor outside of Wisconsin, so....I see a couple of diehard Wisconsinites driving cross-country from the Dairy State to the Empire State with a vanful of New Glarus that they bought at the Pick 'n' Save. Road trip! It's a scene that belongs in Will Ferrell film.
Monday, November 23, 2009
The Classic Malts Selection portfolio has come out with a new batch of limited selection whiskys, including bottles from Oban, Talisker and the rare Port Ellen. Every single one of them is worthwhile (and I'll get to saying a bit about each in a minute), but I think the star of the new collection may be the Caol Ila Unpeated 10-year-old.
The 10-year-old part is interesting enough. This 163-year-old distillery has never released a whisky that young before. But it's the "unpeated" part that makes this such a special and unusual treat. Without the peat, you take about the smoky quality one expects from Islay scotches. (Caol Ila is the Gaelic name for the Sound of Islay, which separates the island from Jura.)
Unpeated scotch dries the malted barley without burning peat. This method is not traditional to Scotland. A natural cask strength single malt, it is actually the fourth limited release of unpeated Caol Ila but it is the first that’s been aged for ten years. It was aged in first-fill Bourbon oak casks filled in 1998. Only 6,000 bottles were produced.
When one gets to tasting a few scotches in a row, they can begin to, ahem, blend together until one has a little difficulty distinguishing one from another. There's no danger of that with the Caol Ila Unpeated. It's its own thing. With the peat and smoke gone, you can focus on other characteristics in the whisky. It's got a laserlike intensity to it. It's hot and focused, yet floral and exceedingly easy to like. Typical scotch flavors like caramel, vanilla and butterscotch take a back seat, yielding the stage to more to more fruity notes like lemon, pear, melon, lime and mint. The scotch is vibrant with the sort of flavors that wake up the senses. This may sound strange, but one feels after drinking it the way one feels after brushing one's teeth in the morning: the mouth is alive and awake. You feel refreshed.
Often, these limited releases put themselves out of reach with their high prices. Happily, Caol Ila Unpeated goes for an affordable $60.
I'll be looking at the other Classic Malts releases in a future post.
The Tippling Brothers will be devising the cocktail program for the bar at the swank Midtown West hotel, Ink 48, OTP has learned. The Brothers, Tad Carducci and Paul Tanguay, just came off unveiling the cocktail list at the new Williamsburg tapas joint Bar Celona.
The building is located way over on 48th and 11th Avenue, on the site of a former printing house (hence the name). It's billed as an "urban retreat" and features a roof-top lounge, open-air gardens, and views of Time Square and the Hudson River. It's one of the Kimpton line of boutique hotels, which include the Muse Hotel on 46th. That roof will be one of the places where you can sample the Tippling Brothers concoctions.
Together since 2006, Carducci and Tanguay have created cocktail programs for Mercadito Cantina and, in Philadelphia, Apothecary Bar & Lounge.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
I figure that headline is enough to get you to read this item.
Wheat whiskey we know. White whiskey is a growing market. But malted wheat white whiskey?
This product, surely unique (for now) in the liquor market, comes from Death's Door, the Wisconsin micro-distillery that already produces a vodka and a gin, and, for my money, it's the best thing they've done.
I encountered it at Bar Celona, the new Spanish-influence cocktail and tapas bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where Tad Carducci of Tippling Brothers is in charge of the cocktail program. I had had a couple drinks, and was about to clear out when a colleague recommended I try the Albino Old-Fashioned. Well, "Old Fashioned" are two words (one word?) that always catch my ear. So I stayed and had another. Am I glad I did. It was one of the most original and delicious spins on the old drink I had ever had. It was composed of white whiskey, sugar, bitters, brandied cherries and grapefruit peel, and was as mellow and smooth as a southern California day.
I asked what whiskey was being used and the bartender showed me what appear to a clear bottle, the kind waiters plunk down in trendy bistros as your water decanter. Looking more closely, there were a few words on it, near the bottom, in black. "Death's Door Whiskey." Then, in smaller letters "Made with wheat from Washington Island, Door Country, Wisconsin." To me, the simple bottle is one of the great design triumphs in modern liquor packaging.
My colleague and I thought that this might be the first appearance of the product in a New York bar, but we weren't sure.
Death's Door rolled out the whiskey last year. It's not just another moonshine jumping on the bandwagon. It's an unusual un-aged combination of 20% malted barley and 80% organic hard red winter, all grown grown in Washington Island, which lies in Lake Michigan just off the Door County peninsula in Wisconsin. It sits in stainless steel barrels for three weeks and then oak barrels for 3 days, at which point it’s bottled.
The result has a beguilingly fruity nose of melon, a few vague tropical traces and baked sweet breads. (Not sweetbreads, but sweet breads.) It's strongly flavored, but mellow, as I saw, and soft, with muskmelon, golden raisins, baking spices, apple, maybe some white pepper. It's not hugely deep, but it's hugely appealing. And it has a long finish, a nice companion on a cold night.
I made a Old Fashioned for myself at home using the stuff. It wasn't as good as the one at Bar Celona (I didn't follow their exact specifications), but it was damn good.
While were on the subject of Death's Door, the company has wisely listened to their marketing people and debuted some new bottles. It miles beyond the old, dull, high-shoulder wine bottle with a simple map of Washington Island on the label. Death Door's Brian Ellison tells me I'm the first to see the new bottle, even before the new distributors. Which means you, readers, are the first enthusiasts to eyeball it on the Internet.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
An annual sign that the holidays are around the corner is the new release from Woodford Reserve's's Master's Collection. This year's product, Seasoned Oak Finish, is the fourth in a series of experimental, limited release bourbons, the first three being the Four Grain, Sonoma-Cutrer Finish and Sweet Mash.
I had the good fortune to visit the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Kentucky to sample the new bourbon out of barrel, before it was bottled. The difference with this distillate, as was the case with the Sonoma, is the wood. Altering the wood is a significant move, since much of the flavor and all of the color of bourbon whiskey comes from the barrel. Woodford is the only bourbon maker that created its own barrels. Thus they have complete control over what sort of vessel they store their liquor in. This freedom allowed master distiller Chris Morris to pick up the phone one day and ask the coopers if they had any wooden staves that had been sitting around in the open air for a time. As chance had it, they did. They had some white oak that had been seasoning in the elements for from three to five years. By some stroke of luck, there were enough staves to make the amount of whiskey Morris needed for his Master's Collection.
And so the barrels were raised from the seasoned oak. According to Morris, the Seasoned Oak Finish uses the oldest oak ever employed in making a whiskey. The booze spent eight months in barrels, and, owing to both that and the age of the wood (most wood for bourbon is aged no more than five months), the whiskey came out much darker than is typically the case with Woodford. The method sort of takes a backwards approach to aging. Instead of letting the whiskey sit for years, it was the wood that did the time. The new dram is not technically bourbon, since the barrel is not made strictly to the government codes the rule the making of bourbon.
As Morris drilled a hole in a barrel containing the new brew, the liquid poured out a deep orange-amber. The nose was potent: maple syrup, molasses, orange, fig, pear, dark chocolate and spice. The wood has certainly done its work. The taste was robust. There was the usual spark that you get from Woodford's high component of rye, but also smoke, dark cherries, clove and molasses. The spice at the beginning smooths out at you reach the finish, though the tongue keeps tingling all along.
What I have heard among my media compatriots is that this is their favorite edition of the Master's Collection. I would have to agree that its the most successful (though I still do like the Sweet Mash quite a bit). I can certainly seeing it making a potent Manhattan. You don't even need to add the cherry; it's already in the whiskey. And the overall fruitcakey character of the liquor is certainly in keeping with the season.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Joseph Bastianich's wines may be the most visible wines from Friuli in New York, owing to the man's standing as a restauranteur. The man co-owns, with chef Mario Batali, Babbo, Del Posto, Esca and Otto, among others. At each and every one of these eateries you'll find Bastianich's wines well featured on the wine list, with his flagship bottle, Vespa Bianco, the most well represented.
At the Nov. 4 meeting of the Wine Media Guild, Bastianich treated the assembled to a vertical tasting of his Vespa Bianco, beginning at the beginning, with 2001 and running up to the current vintage, 2007, with only 2003 and 2005 missing in action. It was amusing to see Joseph there at Felidia, where the WMG always meets, because the restaurant belongs to his mother, Lidia Bastianich, who showed herself a true mother by watching over and praising her young. Also on hand was Lidia's daughter, Tanya, an Italian art history expert. It was a family affair.
Vespa Biano is what Joe called his "field blend," patterned after blended wines from the family's native Friuli, in northeast Italy. It's primarily a mix of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, with some Picolit thrown in. The grapes are vinified separately in both steel and oak, and left for almost a year on the lees. The wine is then bottle-aged for another year and a half.
Now, I adore Friulian wines. But to be honest, Bastianich is my fallback. I like the line in general, particularly the 100% Fruilano, but I don't find in them as much depth of character as I do in the work of my favorite Friuli winemakers, such as Gravner, Villa Russiz and Schiopetto. Still, it's respectable wine, and certainly worthy of a examination like this.
I found the bottle I liked best first off: the 2001. It was aging nicely. There was little fruit left, mainly some lime and kumquat. It was the diesel and metallic characteristics the shone most brightly, plus a little not unwelcome oxidation. Joe told me he felt the wine could age 10 more years. The crowd favorite, meanwhile, was the 2004. Not surprisingly, it was a warmer, rounder wine, the flavors of lemon and lime, even if the nose was shut down a bit.
The 2002 was from a wet year. It was more muted than 2001, but had good acidity, some metallic notes, and nice lemon and lime. 2006 was softer and almost watery, with succelent lime and gooseberry notes. I felt the Chardonnay was showing more strongly. Joe called it more "showy" than the other wines. And 2007, which is out now, had the most aromatic nose, full and fruity. The palate was soft, with flavors of lime, tropical fruit and flowers. Here, the Sauvignon was most forward. It's still a young wine, though.
We also tasted two Tocai Plus wine, 2003 and 2005, which I felt had a great deal more personality. These are made from 100% Friulano, and are much more interesting as food partners.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Grecomusc'? What the hell? I stared at the strange bottle on the table at Smith & Vine. Did someone misspell Greco? Or was that a fanciful name for the wine, made up by the vintner, Campania's Cantina Lonardo?
The clerk told me, no, Grecomusc'—apostrophe and all—was the name of the grape varietal. I felt suddenly ignorant. I'd never heard of it. So I bought it and went home and consulted the library. Nope, nope, nope—none of the major reference guides mentioned it. The clerk was wrong. It was probably plain old Greco di Tufo. But, just to be sure, I consulted the website of Polaner, the wine's importer. And what do you know? Grecomusc' is a grape! But I didn't feel dumb for not knowing about it anymore. Told the site:
Grecomusc', so-called in the local dialect, is a super rare, indigenous varietal grown only in Irpinia. It is a cousin of the grape Greco, and is grown on 70 year old vines in volcanic-clay soils. Cantina Lonardo is the only producer to bottle this grape individually (whereas others usually cultivate this grape alongside the ubiquitous Greco). This estate parcel is grown entirely on ungrafted rootstocks. It is located about 350-400 meters above sea level.
The only producer of the grape to bottle it as is, not as a blending agent! Wow. Talk about singular.
For such a rarity, it was cheaply had. Only $12. Still, at that price, it might still be a hard sell. I mean, I love this stuff. I'm going to go buy more. But I can see how few others would. This wine—fermented with native yeasts, and aged four months in five hectoliter tonneaux, followed by two months in stainless steel—is the opposite of fruit forward. The nose very nearly repels. It smells of burnt rubber, oil, ginko, with almost zero fruit. It is an intense and intriguing nose. The mouthfeel is fullsome, strong, aggressive. There is fruit here, but on the raw side: unripe grape, green plum, white melon, white current. Add some white flowers, diesel, lighter fluid, fingernail polish, and saltiness, and you've got a sensory challenge on your hands. As Polaner admits, this is almost a "tannic white." (As it warms up, some ripe pear hidden at the center comes out.)
I've called it as a saw it, and the picture may not sound pretty, but take my word: this is a great and unique wine which will go with innumerable dishes, its acidity cutting through the fattiest thing you can serve, and its body standing up to hearty food. It's rustic and muscular, yet dignified and elegant.
Cantina Lonardo, a small, 11-year-old winery, also makes some Aglianicos, which are advertised as "old and soulful." I will be looking for them.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
The Christie's rare spirits auction—only the second the auction house has held since New York State rolled back a law in 2007 forbidding such sales—took place on Nov. 14, and, as expected, a trio of Bowmore scotches were the prize pigs.
Making up the triumvirate were a 1964 Bowmore newly-released Gold Bowmore, a White Bowmore (released in 2008) and a Black Bowmore (released in 2007). The set fetched $21,600.
Other sales included $13,200 for a Macallan 55-Year-Old, in a Lalique decanter; and $5,400 for a Hardy Perfection Cognac. Forty lots were offered in all, with 28 lots sold. The grand total for the spirits section of the auction was $74,184.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
I have always regretted not having had the chance to drink at Costello's, the Third Avenue saloon made famous by New Yorker writer John McNulty, and frequented by every writer in the New Yorker stable. I know I would have adored it. I had thought the place was gone forever, every bit of it, but a visit to the Overlook Lounge showed me that a very slender connection to the Costello era yet exists. I don't think anyone at The New Yorker, however, then or now, would choose the Overlook as their watering hole. It's a fine place for a beer or a game or a burger. But not much more.
Here's my Eater "A Beer At..." column:
Here's my Eater "A Beer At..." column:
A Beer At...Overlook Lounge
How quickly the character drains from things in 21st-century New York.
I'd passed by the Overlook Lounge on E. 44th Street, near Third Avenue, many times over the years. And, aside from wondering at the slightly unusual name, I thought it a typical tavern. I did not know until walking inside that this was the last vestige of what was once one of the most storied saloons in New York history: Costello's, haunt in the 1940s and '50s of New Yorker writers such as James Thurber, who covered its wall with his iconic cartoons in order to pay off a bar tab, and John McNulty, who immortalized its regulars in innumerable stories for the magazine.
Costello's was at Third and 44th. It's long gone, torn down in the early '70s to make way for a skyscraper. Tim Costello, Jr., son of one of the owners, moved east to 225 E. 44th. The Thurber drawings had vanished (no one knows what became of them), so Tim Jr. invited Daily News cartoonist Bill Gallo and his pals at the National Cartoonist Society to cover the back right wall with their doodles. The second Costello's closed in 1990; the space reopened as the Turtle Bay Cafe. Then that shuttered, making way for the Overlook, which, for better or worse, the owners named after that mountain lodge where Jack Nicholson goes crazy in "The Shining."
In a well-meaning gesture to honor the address' history, the Overlook owners in 2005 asked Bill Gallo, then in his 80s, and his buds to return and cover the left hand side of the bar with illustrations. They did. The right wall is still the winner, though. It takes you right back in time. There's Steve Canyon, with his rock-solid jaw. Fred Flintstone, Bullwinkle and, for God's sake, Dondi. Also, forgotten cartoon figures like Boner from Mort Walker's "Boner's Ark" strip. A caricature of W.C. Fields toasts the Bicentennial with a double-necked martini glass. Another caricature captures erstwhile mayor Abe Beame. (I wonder how many of the patrons know who Beame was anymore.) Suffusing all is a bygone, hilariously sexist point of view, with plenty of willing and dim buxom women. One wonders, "If Abe Lincoln only had four scores in seven years, he must not have been much of a ladie's man."
The newer mural, on the left, has its charms—many more New Yorker cartoonists than in 1975, and second appearances of Hägar the Horrible and the Lockhorns and, for some reason, Nixon. But each character is made to utter some advertisement for the bar, like "Here I am at the Overlook!" They're all pitchmen now. Either way—right wall or left wall—none of it is Thurber caliber. The murals feel like wan attempts to recapture a more glorious artistic past.
Not that anyone really pays much attention to the drawings. (How could they with a small TV nestled in every booth, keeping you distracted?) Most of the crowd keeps to the bar up front. The ceiling is covered with hundreds of Christmas ornaments to keep up "an every day is Mardi Gras" atmosphere, according to the bartender. The menu heralds the "best pommes frites in the city." There's a sign taped to a busted juke box saying "No more dollars. You like lose it." The bar offers darts and a roof deck. There's karaoke on Tuesdays and a picture of what appear to be Osmond and Rachel Ray singing at the Overlook.
It's an OK bar, I guess. They do a brisk trade, obviously. But it just seems like such a missed opportunity, like a museum that has the Venus de Milo in the back, but gives prides of place to the museum director's salt and pepper shaker collection. Maybe it's because I've been reading a lot of McNulty lately, but scanning the history of Costello's on the back of the menu only makes me realize what's lost, not appreciate what's there. A bar that can trace its lineage to writers like Hemingway and O'Hara, but chooses to paper its walls with 20 flat panel TVs and two 9 x 9 projection screens just depresses me. But, then again, who knows? Maybe they are the best pommes frites in New York.
— Robert Simonson
Friday, November 13, 2009
Macallan recently (OK, not so recently—July) released upon the world its 1824 Collection, "a new family of single malts developed exclusively for the Global Travel Retail market." (Their capitalization, not mine.) That means whiskey for Duty Free shoppers, Ducky! That's right, you can't get this outside the airport. So pay attention to the names and look for them. Because they're all good.
The three expressions (there are four, actually, but I haven't tried the Limited Release, probably because, well, it's so limited) are Macallan Select Oak, Macallan Whisky Maker's Edition, and Macallan Estate Reserve. I began with the Reserve. I shared it with the wife. After a sip, I asked her what she thought. "Good," she said. (The wife keeps it simple.) I agreed: "Good." That doesn't sound like much, but, really, there's very little to criticize about this Scotch. Using specially reserved Sherry-seasoned hogshead casks, this whisky's nose is caramel and butterscotch all the way. It's a smooth dram, very even, on the soft side with a little spice hit at the front, then smoothing out to butter, apple and caramel at the end. Mature and round. Lovely.
The Whisky Maker's Edition is drawn from booze distilled from barley grown on the Macallan estate. It's even smooooother than the Reserve. There's spice, but it comes in the mid-palate this time. A nose of caramel, candied orange and pumpkin spice (possibly, or maybe I'm just thinking of Thanksgiving early) leads to a taste of orange and maple candy. It's smooth as silk at the end, with a pleasantly light burning aftertaste.
Whereas the Reserve and Maker's seem like brothers of a sort, the Select Oak comes off as its own man. The distillers use three cask types: American oak seasoned with Sherry or Bourbon, and first-fill European oak casks seasoned with Sherry. The Sherry makes its presence known. This is lighter in color. It's bright and citrusy on the nose, with light caramel, nectarine and toffee. The Scotch has a much lighter body than the previous two. Again, it's bright, bright, bright. The spice is light and consistent throughout. Peach, ripe orange, Meyer lemon, cinnamon, vanilla bean. It makes you happy.
The prices say that the Reserve ($165 for 700 ml) and Maker's ($99 for 1 liter) are your prizes, but at $53, the Select Oak is a bargain. So, if you're switching planes and need to get shed some foreign moolah before loosing on the exchange...
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Season Three of "Mad Men" concluded on Sunday with a series of seismic endings and beginning, Don and Betty Draper calling it quits on a seemingly picture-perfect marriage that was always bases on lies and surface realities, and Don and his partners at Sterling Cooper deciding to bolt the firm and begin their own, leaner agency rather than cheerlessly slave under the unappreciative yoke of new owner McCann Erickson. Honesty, respect and hard, but cleansing words and confrontations were the order of the day, with most everyone coming out at the end of the episode perhaps exhausted and feeling a bit swatted around, but also reenergized and replenishished. (Perhaps not Betty, but her capacity for happiness is questionable at best.) It was a reboot everyone in the Sterling Cooper universe needed badly.
The two previous episodes before the finale has to do with Don's past as Dick Whitman finally being discovered by Betty ("The Gypsy and the Hobo") and the impact of the Kennedy assassination ("The Grown-Ups"). With so much pivotal events going on, there wasn't much time for well-considered drinking. Certainly, characters were imbibing. "The whole country's drinking," said Pete Campbell to his wife, in the wake of the Kennedy shooting. But it was a shot here, a belt here. Nothing fancy. Nothing pretty. It was nerve-steadying drinking, sorrow-drowning drinking.
And so we saw Don throwing back plenty of Canadian Clubs, neat, particularly as he was hastily, desperately putting together the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce so as to at least purify his working self, even as his married self was going down for the last time. At home, the bottle of whiskey was seldom absent from his side. When Betty confronted him with "The Box," filled with incriminating evidence of his hidden, buried past, he was so shaken that, for the first time in the history of "Mad Men," Don could not fix himself a drink. Betty did it for him. After being banished to Baby Gene's room, the bottle of Canadian Club (with a different label than in earlier seasons) was always on the end table.
Roger Sterling, meanwhile, was forced to soldier forward with his daughter's wedding, scheduled, as fate would have it, for the day after Kennedy was killed. Only about half his guests showed up, dutifully raised their Champagne coupes. It was good to see Roger and Don bury the ax in the finale, even if it was done out of necessity, the two men needing each other in order to strike out on their own. It allowed for a familiar scene from seasons past to once again occur: Sterling and Draper sharing a drink at a dark bar after hours, Don with his rye, Roger with his Martini. Just like old times.
The season ended with the rogue members of the newly born agency—Draper, Sterling, Bert Cooper, turncoat Brit Lane Pryce, copywriter Peggy Olson, accounts man Pete Campbell, media director Harry Crane and office manager Joan Harris—setting up temporary shop at the Pierre Hotel. Pete's wife Trudy came in with a box of sandwiches and a cake for the hungry, busy ad men. Guess it'll take a little while to set up those office bars again. But then, it's the dawn of a new era. America's about to become very different. The Beatles are on their way, women's liberation, the Civil Rights movement in full flower, drugs, student protests, an unpopular war, Nixon, and more crushing assassinations. The office bar? Very old school. Very square. It'll get no respect from the new generation. Draper and Sterling may still by their poisons, but it won't make them cool anymore. To the kids in Central Park, they'll just be The Man. Uptight, locked in, responsible for everything bad with American. They might want to take a tip from Peggy and start puffing on something other than a Lucky Strike.
Labels: mad men
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Of the 97 people aboard the Hindenburg, all but 35 survived that famous 1937 disaster. Plus one of their beers.
The New York Post reports that "a charred bottle of beer that survived the explosion of the Hindenburg will be auctioned off this month for an estimated $7,500. Although its contents are undrinkable, the unopened bottle of Lowenbrau would be the most expensive brew ever sold. Leroy Smith, a New Jersey firefighter found the beer along with a pitcher shortly after the airship burst into flame over Lakehurst in 1937, killing 38. Smith buried six bottles and the pitcher after police sealed off the scene of the wreckage. He returned later to retrieve the souvenirs."
Fast thinking, Smith. And morbidly opportunistic, too.
The relic is being sold by Smith's niece, Rhea Longstreet, to whom he gave the bottle and jug in 1966.
When it comes to holiday drinks, everyone knows about egg nog. Everyone knows about hot buttered rum, even if they've never had it. But communicating knowledge of Glögg is a little like showing your hand. It tells people something about you. You're Scandinavian, maybe. Probably from the Midwest.
I plead guilty on both counts. So I was in a good position to write about this classic yuletide punch for Imbibe magazine. I even knew my fair share of Norsemen to turn to for a recipe. (It's not easy to get a Scandinavian to give up their Glögg recipe, in case you didn't now.) The one I found for Imbibe is from Anne Heid, a lovely Finnish woman who is married to my brother-in-law's brother. (You got that?) It came from her mother, so it's authentic. Here's the article and the recipe. Enjoy.
Scandinavians warm up their holidays with Glögg (just don’t ask them how)
By Robert Simonson
Glögg. The guttural syllable doesn’t naturally make you smack your lips, does it? But consider these other liguistic equivalents for the hot beverage know to English-speakers as mulled wine: vin fiert (its name in Romanian); izvar (Moldavia) and grzaniec (Poland). After wrapping your tongue around those consonant sandwiches, “Glögg, please!” rolls out pretty easily.
Glögg (pronounced “glug,” and derived from the verb “to heat up”) is the term used by Nordic people for their favored alcoholic drink of the winter months. You’ll find it in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland, and in those parts of the United States where the fair-haired sons and daughters of those countries immigrated. And the time you’re most likely to find a steaming glass of the stuff is during Advent, the six weeks leading up to Christmas.
Glögg’s origins go back a good millennium or so, but most sources have a drink with peculiarly glögg-like touches—such as almonds popped into every glass—appearing in the mid-19th century. Nordstjernan, a Swedish newspaper printed in the U.S., notes that "a relatively recent addition to the Christmas beverage menu, glögg arrived in Sweden from Germany in the 1800s.” Whenever the beverage showed up, it’s a natural for the holidays, as it has three big cheer-inducing elements going for it (beyond its alcoholic content, that is): heat, sweetness and spice. In fact, those are among its few constants. As novelist and noted drink aficionado Kinsley Amis once wrote, “No two recipes for it are more than rather similar.”
The base for glögg is typically red wine, but it can also include white wine, Madeira, brandy, vodka, Port, sherry and, of course, aquavit. You may infuse this mixture with any or all of the following: cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, cardamom seeds, cloves, orange peel, dried cherries, raisins, almonds, figs, prunes, and fresh ginger. You then sweeten things up. Many lay sugar cubes on a rack over the pot and dissolve the lumps by ladling warm or flaming glögg over them. Others simply light the whole concoction on fire at the end of the process, dousing the flame soon after by covering the pot. This not only makes for a good show, but it adds a toasty flavor component to the punch. Pour the hot stuff in a cup, plunk in a raw almond and maybe some raisins, slide a pepperkaker cookie or piece of gingerbread on the side, and skoal!
If there’s an epicenter of glögg culture in America, it may be Simon’s Tavern, a 75-year-old bar in the once-heavily Swedish Chicago neighborhood of Andersonville. Each winter, owner Scott Martin cooks up 2,000 gallons of homemade glögg, selling it to an endlessly thirsty clientele at $5 a cup. He claims he makes the only commercially available brew in the area that uses all-natural ingredients, with no extracts or artificial flavorings or other industrial shortcuts. He begins with Port wine steeped in yellow raisins, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom seeds, orange peel, almonds and some sugar, set over a flame for two hours. He then adds the remainder of the sugar and simmers it for another hour. After letting the mixture sit overnight, he adds brandy and two secret ingredients he won’t reveal.
Glögg-makers’ reluctance to reveal their tricks is typical. Martin remembers buying Simon’s from the founding Lumberg family in 1994. “When we signed the contract, they put a paragraph in there saying there never will be allowed arcade games in Simon’s,” he says. “I thought I’d play a game with him. I said, ‘I’ll agree with that if you give me your dad’s glögg recipe.’ With a nod and a wink, he handwrote the worst glögg recipe I’ve ever seen in my life. He was doing it on purpose. No good Swede gives away their recipe.”
So what, then, is the secret ingredient to making good glögg? Martin doesn’t hesitate with his answer: “Love,” he says.
This recipe was handed down to Simonson’s friend, Anne Heid, from her Finnish mother. She says that since the wine is heavily flavored during the mulling process, it’s not necessary to splurge on boutique bottles—she usually uses an inexpensive Burgundy. She also suggests using a slow cooker to simmer the mixture, and says she sometimes adds 2 cups of vodka to the mixture during the simmering stage to give her glögg an extra kick.
1 gallon dry red wine
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 Tbsp. Angostura bitters
6 whole cardamom, crushed
5 whole cloves
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled
1 cinnamon stick peel of 1 orange
2 cups raisins
2 cups slivered almonds
Mix together wine, sugar, spices and orange peel in a non-reactive container and let stand overnight (or a minimum of eight hours). Strain mixture into pot or slow cooker and simmer until warm, stirring. To serve, add a few raisins and almonds into each small cup or mug before ladling in the warm wine mixture.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Zoë, a rock in the otherwise changeable SoHo scene, lo, these past 18 years (which counts for several lifetimes in the NYC restaurant world) will close this weekend, it was reported.
I only mention this because it was at Zoë that, back in the mid-1990s, I had my first Cosmopolitan. I know that that fact will draw no interest from the cocktail mafia, who look sidelong at any vodka cocktail. But I still contend it's a decent cocktail, one that has its place (certainly in history), even if "Sex and the City" has made it a dreadful cliche.
I also mention it because it's not often that I remember exactly where I had my first example of a notable cocktail. I know I had my first Gibson at the late SoHo Kitchen & Bar; my first Sazerac at the Carousel Bar in New Orleans; my first Pegu Club at the Pegu Club; my first Pimm's Cup at the Napoleon House; and (God forgive me) my first Long Island Iced Tea at a Bennigan's in Evanston, IL.
I remember the Cosmo I had at Zoë being very well made and truly hitting the spot on a summer's day. Being young, I was quite impressed.
Funny, though, I never went back again.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Wine Spectator just published, on-line, one of my periodic interviews of non-industry people talking about wine. This one's with Bryan Batt, who plays art director Salvatore Romano on "Mad Men." Here it is:
Mad Men's Bryan Batt
The actor who portrays the art director in AMC's Mad Men enjoys exploring new wines, along with food pairings
By Robert Simonson
Actor Bryan Batt, 46, plays art director Salvatore Romano in the popular AMC television drama Mad Men, which is set at a New York advertising agency in the early 1960s. The show's cocktail culture is nothing new to Batt, though the seasoned Broadway stage actor, who grew up in New Orleans, also loves wine. These days, he splits his time between Los Angeles, where Mad Men is produced; New York, where he continues to take on the occasional stage assignment; and New Orleans, where he and his partner, Tom Cianfichi, own Hazelnut, a home decor shop on Magazine Street.
Wine Spectator: There are a lot of cocktails consumed on Mad Men. Your character, Salvatore Romano, is one of the few we see drinking wine. I guess Sal, being Italian, would be into wine.
Bryan Batt: Yes, he would like a nice Chianti.
WS: How did you get interested in wine?
BB: My friends own a wine store in New Orleans, and when I'm in town, we're either at their house having dinner or they're at our house having dinner. They bring wine and try to educate me more about what I like. Being able to sit back and really examine a wine and have the vocabulary to tell somebody what you like is wonderful. I used to like a lot of oaky Chardonnays, and they've opened my mind to the coastal California Chardonnays that are crisper and not oaked.
WS: Can you remember a particular wine that really opened your eyes to wine's possibilities?
BB: It was a Far Niente Chardonnay—a classic California Chardonnay, with intense fruit, a bit of spicy oak and a long, rich finish.
WS: Are you generally a red or a white wine man?
BB: I'm usually a white wine person. But I do love a Pinot Noir. I love a good Cabernet.
WS: Have you started to collect?
BB: I don't collect. But I do love, when I'm serving a dinner, asking around and finding a good wine that complements the meal. We have a traditional New Year's Eve dinner. It's been going on for about 10 years. One year [in New York] there was going to be a big snowstorm so we opted to stay home and invited about five couples. Tom ran to the butcher and asked, "What do you have that’s good?" The butcher said, "I have a veal shank. You make osso bucco tonight." Tom came up with a great recipe, and the tradition has lasted. We started in New York, and it's continued in New Orleans. So we always try to find a great wine that will complement osso bucco.
Friday, November 6, 2009
There are some things in life that don't expect to have to worry about. The sun will rise. Gravity will keep people and objects safely earthbound. The grocery store will start carrying turkeys sometime after Halloween.
In the bar world, one of the accepted sureties of life is the ready availability and unlimited surplus of Angostura bitters. The little bottles with the oversized wrappers that are essential back bar tools can typically be found in almost any supermarket or deli. You don't have to search high and low. It's the Heinz ketchup of cocktail ingredients.
But, now, the unthinkable is happening. The Guardian reports that the world is in the grips of an Angostura shortage. Bars in England are struggling to keep in a steady supply. The website of Angostura's main UK importer, WB Distribution, says the product is completely sold out. According to the paper, "Trinidad's House of Angostura has blamed a shortage in ingredients and a financial restructuring. The firm is owned by CL Financial, a Caribbean conglomerate hit by a liquidity crisis, prompting an emergency bailout earlier this year by the government of Trinidad and Tobago. Patrick Sepe, chief executive of the US distributor, Angostura USA, said the production line ran dry in June and was only just getting back on track. "There has been a shortage," said Sepe. "You can't just turn on and off supply of bitters. It's not like producing bottled water – it's a very delicate, intricate process." "
The Great Recession hits you everywhere, doesn't it?
Some British bars have turned to the German company, The Bitter Truth, as a substitute.
Once owned by the rum firm Bacardi, the House of Angostura was sold in 1997 to CL Financial. "According to Trinidad's Newsday newspaper, CL leveraged Angostura's profits against a series of acquisitions including a deal to buy control of a Jamaican industrial company, Lascelles deMercado. It was reportedly left with a TT$600m (£57m) hole in its balance sheet."
So far, I have not heard of any bars in New York complaining about the shortage, but I will be asking around.
I'm not a slave to trends, but I do like to try new things, if only to keep my taste buds up the date.
So, earlier this year, when I read that Ferran Adrià—the supposed super-genius behind El Bulli, the Michelin three-star restaurant in Roses, Spain, where you need take out a third mortgage and deliver over your first born in order to get a reservation—had created a beer "to drink with food, from a wineglass,” I made a mental note. Several mental notes, actually. One was, "in a wine glass? Really?" How precious. The second was, "to drink with food? What does he mean? Can't all beers be drunk with food?" But, the guy is noted by all and sundry for his creativity, so I thought I'd give it a try.
I wasn't in a huge hurry, so it wasn't actually until this past August that I thought to buy the wine/beer. I was walking down Second Avenue when I saw the Whole Foods beer store on Houston Street. I recalled reading that the beer, called Inedit, was carried at Whole Foods.
As a side note, let me just say here that I had never been to the Whole Foods beer store until that moment, because, well, because I hate Whole Foods. It's so expensive and bourgeoise and pretentious. But I have to say that beer store rocks. The selection is fantastic and the help are informed and friendly and independent-minded. How do I know this? Because they told me their genuine opinion of Inedit.
I didn't have much time, so I just went right up to the counter and asked if they had that new El Bulli wine. The man didn't exactly scowl, but he's didn't smile, either. He just led me joylessly, silently to the beer, grabbed one and handed it to me. I then took the beer to the cashier, another young man with a beard. He didn't seem too enthused by my selection, either. Something was up. I ventured a question. "So, do you like this stuff?" They looked at each other, silently agreeing to spill the beans.
"No," said the first clerk. "I think it tastes like cheap Champagne. Only not as interesting." Ouch. "Sorry, but you seemed like a nice guy," he explained. No, no, no! The truth is always appreciated. They then when on a mild tirade about how they found the maker's assertion that Inedit was the first beer to be drunk with fine food insulting and idiotic. I put the Inedit down and asked what they recommended instead. They steered me toward two other beers, one local and one foreign. They were both great.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
The "21" Club thinks its invented the Southside. It didn't. But you have to admire how they uphold the drink's honor.
The other day, I dined at the famed 52nd-Street eatery. I began my repast with a Southside, just to see if they upholding the standard well. I was eating with a regular, and she gently warned me against ordering one; the night bartender made them better (by which she mean sweeter). But I was in the mood and and I wasn't going to be back at dinner, so I went ahead.
I have no complaints about what I got. Beautifully refreshing and piquant, sweet enough for my tastes, and with more than enough ice to keep the chill on until I got to the bottom of the drink. (That didn't take long.) Nicely presented, too, the highball flecked through with pieces of muddled mint.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
You never know which celebrities are dabbling in wine these days, there are so many of them. One I recently talked to, for Wine Spectator, is Mick Hucknall, the lead singer of Simply Red. He seems refreshingly serious and well-informed about his winery. The wines will soon be available in the U.S.
Pop Singer Mick Hucknall
The British frontman for Simply Red is making Italian wines on the slopes of a volcano in Sicily
By Robert Simonson
When British singer Mick Hucknall, 49, decided to become a vintner in the late 1990s, he had a potentially perfect name for his first bottling at his fingertips—Simply Red, the name of the rock group he has fronted since 1985, best known for the chart-topping hits "If You Don't Know Me by Now" and "Holding Back the Years." Instead, he named it Il Cantante ("The Singer" in Italian). Il Cantante's winemaker is Salvo Foti, who has been making wine in Sicily since the early 1980s for numerous Sicilian wineries, including Gulfi and Benanti. The Il Cantante lineup includes three wines grown in the volcanic soils surrounding Sicily's Mt. Etna. Hucknall spoke with Wine Spectator about his introduction to fine wine, how he became a vintner and his experiences traveling the world as a wine-loving pop star.
Wine Spectator: How did you get interested in wine?
Mick Hucknall: I developed a fascination with Italy early on in my career. We achieved success there shortly after [we did in] the U.K. My wine epiphany was in 1989. I remember the wine very well: Roberto Voerzio La Serra [Barolo]. That was the first time I drank a red wine that had what I described as "dimensions." It wasn't just a beverage. It had more depth than I initially realized. I found myself really enjoying the subtleties.
WS: Many people would have been content to continue drinking fine wine. You started a vineyard.
MH: Yes. An old friend of mine who was originally Sicilian, his father retired and wanted to move back to Etna. He bought a small property there at the volcano that had a villa and a vineyard. The tragedy came when he retired on a Friday and died on a Monday of a heart attack. My friend took it badly. He moved into the villa. I visited him there and he vowed he would make the villa into a beautiful property. He said, "Why don't we make some wine?" but we didn't take it that seriously until the day he introduced me to [winemaker] Salvo Foti.
WS: I understand that when Foti met you, he didn't know who you were.
MH: That's the way it should be. In this project, he is the star. If you're going to make a wine of excellence, you have to focus on who is making the wine. It's all well and good being a pop star, but what does that have to do with wine? I've tried to avoid the celebrity angle.
WS: How many wines does Il Cantante produce now?
MH: Currently, we have Etna Rosso, Etna Bianco and a Nero d'Avola. In the future we may well produce a sparkling wine and a grappa.
WS: Do you collect wine?
MH: Yes. I've been collecting wine since 1995. It's mostly French, some Italian. I have quite a lot of Hungarian wine as well, which is a bit under the radar. Having just come back from a tour of Australia and New Zealand, I was immensely excited by the quality of wines there.
WS: With all your touring, you must get many chances to taste wines in the places where they're made.
MH: We actually performed in several vineyards on this most recent tour. We performed at Villa Maria in New Zealand and Peter Lehmann in South Australia. One of my favorite moments was having a tasting with winemaker Peter Gago at Penfolds. I was doing a show that day, so I couldn't actually swallow any wine. Your readers may think I'm insane, because he opened some extraordinary wines.
I know what you're saying. "You're what wine? Drink a beer, stupid!"
Yes, beer is the go-to alcoholic beverage when simple, humble rice and beans is the meal at hand. But, somehow, no beer as ever hit the spot for me like this unprepossessing, mass market Spanish wine—Marques de la Villa Malvasia from the Toro region.
I discovered the wine by accident years ago. Most likely, I had less than $10 in my pocket, and that's why I went for it. (It still goes for less than a sawbuck.) My relative poverty at the time also probably explains why I had rice and beans the same night I opened this bottle. But the combination was an amazing success. With rice and beans, you don't want to overdo it. You don't need a fancy wine, or a complex one. You want a light quaffer. And the Malvasia is super simplistic. The palate is one-note citrus (they'll tell you tropical and pear as well, but I don't know), decent acidity, and a light, almost watery body. That may not sound particularly appealing ("watery"?), but it's elementary package of attributes works magic with a plate of black legumes, rice, cheese and maybe some hot peppers. Fresh food, fresh wine. It's a perfect marriage.
For a while, I was ashamed to mention this little secret, fearing the judgment of wine snobs. But then I noticed the wine in LeNell Smothers' erstwhile liquor shop in Red Hook. And what do you think? She said she told customers that the bottle was her rice and beans wine. I wasn't alone!
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
I bought a bottle of Olek-Mery Chinon Cuvee des Tireaux 2006 white Loire wine on the recommendation of Crush, the midtown Manhattan wine dealer. They said they had tasted the Rosenthal-imported Chenin Blanc with small expectations and were "blown away."
I, too, was impressed. This little-known wine has incredible depth. I was most impressed by the unrelenting stoniness and the amazing structure. It's a Chenin of great presence.
Typically of a Rosenthal import, Domaine Olek-Mery is fairly small, with only 9 hectares of vineyards. It was founded by Jean-François Olek, a Poland-born nuclear power scientist. He and his wife didn't get to see much of the fruit of their labors. Olek-Mery died just after the 1991 harvest; his wife just before. Their two young daughters took over, and Nathalie Olek now manages the domaine. The vineyards are taken care of by the esteemed Baudry family and the wines are made by Bernard Baudry and his son, Matthieu. Well, no wonder we have a good wine here.
No chemical herbicides or fertilizers are used. The pride and joy of the domaine is the "Les Tireaux" vineyard, a special holding of older Cabernet Franc, with a recently planted plot of Chenin Blanc. It has a southerly exposure and soil of soft yellow chalk and sand. Most of the land is given over the the Cab France, which is what you see reviewed most in the press. But a very small amount of Chinon Blanc is now available. And that's what I got.
The nose begins with notes of ripe cheese, gooseberry, ginko and pear. The wine has a zippy, stand-up acidity, and a medium-rich mouth feel. I got flowering grass eucalyptus, asparagus, lemongrass on the palate, as well as metal shavings. At the back of the wine you hit this wonderful stoniness. Drinking the wine is a little like throwing piquant, green fruit at an old French stone fence.