Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Sipping News

William H. Pflaumer, owner of Philadelphia's Schmidt's beer, who sent to jail, dies. [NY Times

Doug Quinn, the bartender nonpareil at P.J. Clarke's, profiled. [NYT]

Eric Asimov tastes a selection of Savennieres. Lucky him. [NYT]

Coffee liqueurs are making a comeback. [San Francisco Chronicle]

Where to drink in airports. []

Friday, May 28, 2010

Wine Bar Tangled Vine Adds Brunch Cocktail List

Tangle Vine, the new Upper West Side wine bar focusing on biodynamic, organic and sustainable wines, has inaugurated a Saturday and Sunday brunch and, with it, a brunch cocktail menu. It features the usual Bloody Mar, Mimosa and Bellini spins, but also a Pera Espumosa, made of Cava, Kabinett Riesling, Brandy, pear nectar, fresh cinnamon; and El Alba, made of Francois Mantand sparkling wine, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, and Gus cranberry lime soda. The drinks will probably not expand to evenings in order to keep the focus on wine. 

On the wine list, meanwhile, Tangled Vine has added a quintet of roses for the spring, as well as an orange wine (a Savagnin from Jura), all by the glass. I like that the wine list has a permanent category called Orange Wine—wines mainly from Jura and Friuli. Also, that the separate their Rieslings into "Dry" and "Sweet" categories, so as to alleviate some of the confusion about those great wines. The Gamay category—as opposed to a Beaujolais section—is also an astute twist.
Here's the cocktails list:

Organic Smoked Bloody Mary $11
Crop Harvest Organic Tomato Vodka, Organic Tomato Juice, Victoria’s secret smoked blend, burnt tomato and eggplant

Fresh Mimosa $9
Francois Mantand sparkling wine, fresh squeezed orange juice

Mint Peach Bellini $9
Prosecco, peach nectar, fresh mint

Pera Espumosa $10
Cava, Kabinett Riesling, Brandy, pear nectar, fresh cinnamon

El Alba $9
Francois Mantand sparkling wine, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, Gus cranberry lime

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Visit to the Counting Room: Brooklyn Gets the Cure

The Counting Room, a new restaurant and bar, opened in April on Berry Street in Williamsburg. I spent my time during a recent visit in the downstairs space, where there's a long bar, brick walls and plenty of space.

I have become enthused about the prospects of the joint when I learned the man behind the bar was Maks Pazuniak, whose amazing work with cocktails I first encountered last summer at Cure, a bar in New Orleans which, for my money, ranks as one of the best in the nation. I actually didn't put two and two together until I was home. (When I was introduced, I heard "Max," not Maks.) But I knew something was up when I tasted the deeply complex Salt & Ash, which must be one of the best Mezcal-Tequila cocktails in town.

The smoky drink is made of Chichicapa Mezcal, Grapefruit-infused El Jimador Blanco Tequila, Lapsang Sweet Vermouth, Maraschino, Agave, Angostura, Orange Bitters. The emphasis on cleverly deployed bitter ingredients is reminiscent of the work at Cure. Should have drunk more after I tried that one. But I'll be back. The full cocktail menu is below. Pazuniak said seven of the cocktail are his own creations, including the Italian Heirloom and the Arbitrary Nature of Times. Salt & Ash is a variation of a cocktail Pazuniak created at Cure called the Improved Scotch Sling.

French Compromise
Orange-infused Beefeater Gin, Lemon, Prosecco

A Lazy Spring
Beefeater Gin, Rosemary-infused Bianco Vermouth, Lemon, Honey, Black Peppercorn

Karmic Fate
El Jimador Blanco Tequila, Plymouth Sloe Gin, Lemon, Egg White

Vanishing Sun
Clement Rhum Agricole, Maraschino, Grapefruit, Lime, Honey, Mint, Angostura Bitters, Regan's Orange Bitters

Empire Sour
Laird's Applejack, Lemon, Egg White, Angostura, Carpano Antica Formula

Salt & Ash
Chichicapa Mezcal, Grapefruit-infused El Jimador Blanco Tequila, Lapsang Sweet Vermouth, Maraschino, Agave, Angostura, Orange Bitters

No. 49
Plymouth Gin, Yellow Chartreuse V.E.P.

Red Light Companion
Bol's Genever, Campari, Dolin Dry Vermouth

Sherry, Jerez, Xeres
Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Mint

The Arbitrary Nature of Time
Wild Turkey Rye 101, Campari, Cherry Heering, Mole Bitters, Orange Bitters

Italian Heirloom
Cynar, Laphroaig 10 yr , Dewars, Salt

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Barrel Aged Cocktails Trend Grows

As the journalism maxim goes, "Two makes a trend."

A while back, I posted about Portland, OR, mixologist Jeffrey Morgenthaler's experiments with barrel-aged Manhattans, Tridents and Negronis. (Promised samples of such concoctions never made it through the mails, so I can't report on the success of the experiments.)

Now, I hear tell of some barrel-aged Negronis in the works at Sardine (above), a joint in Madison, WI. Brian Ellison, chief at Death Door Spirits, told me about it. He should know. They're using his gin.

Negronis are an interesting choice, since the drink involves white spirits, not brown. Brown, you would think, would be the natural spirit for barrel-aging. But, hey, everything's worth a try.

Why doesn't anyone give this a try in New York, so I can actually sample the stuff?

Review: Lini 910 Lambrusco Bianco

Every now and then, a wine seller will try to push a Lambrusco on me. I'll be surprised to see a bottle on the shelf and ask something like "Lambrusco? Really?" And the store owner will go into some tap dance of "Yeah, I know, most of them are so insipid. But not this one! This is a really good Lambrusco, the way the wine can be. I wouldn't have it in my store if I didn't think so."

And, being fairly gullible, and always fond of an unlikely buy, I'll take one home. Then I open it, drink it and think, "Lambrusco. Eh." It's fizzy, it's simple, it goes with food, it's uninteresting. Leave it in Emilia Romagna.

Well, I got talked into a Lambrusco again last week, this time at Dry Dock, the new Red Hook, Brooklyn, wine store that is going a long way toward filling up the hole left by LeNell's. I was intrigued because the store had a Bianco, Rose and Rosse Lambrusco, all by the same producer, Lini 910. (The white and rose are achieved by having little contact with the skins of the grape which, in this case, is actually Pinot Nero.) The owner who talked me into it also confessed she loved the white best, red second and rose not so much. I like a bit of honesty in my sales pitch.

So I took the white home and, for once, didn't regret it. This wine is easily the best Lambrusco I've ever had, with an unlikely complexity that robs the wine not a whit of its refreshing sparkle. There are fruit and herbal notes and a slight oxidized character. The bottle barely lasted through dinner. Lini 910 is a 100-year-old vintner, having been founded in 1910. The producer is Alicia Lini, and she also makes a white version called metodo classical, which is bottle fermented like Champagne. Now I'm curious about the Rosso and Rose.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Review: Cocchi Americano

After talking, at the closing night party at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, with Eric Seed about his latest epicurean liquid import, Cocchi Americano, I decided to pick up a bottle at Astor Wine & Spirits.

It's a very appealing beverage and quickly worms it's way into your summer tastes buds as a cooly refreshing aperitif. Cocchi Americano is a regular quaff in Asti, the great Italian wine center in Piemonte, and most of it is drunk there. It's been made to the same recipe since 1891, and only imported to the U.S. from time to time, and even then in small quantities. The base is Moscato di Asti, which is infused a blend of herbs, fruit, cinchona, gentian and citrus, among other things. It is then laid down for a year before being released.

Many drinkers will be reminded of Lillet Blanc, which it resembles superficially. But Cocchi has an intriguing, bracing bitter edge to it, placing it, in my mind, somewhere between Lillet and dry vermouth. I tried it in the cocktails suggested on the back label, but I think I much prefer it served simply over ice. It's difficult not to grow quietly contented while sipping this stuff. I suspect one bottle will not last me through the summer.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Italian Connection

Next week, I'll be meeting with Christina Bini, a noted Italian mixologist who has been brought over Stateside to devise the cocktail menu at Il Matto, the new restaurant due to open soon in Tribeca. Bini is a big noise in the Italian cocktail world, where she's won a number of awards and works the Fusion Bar in Florence. Il Matto marks her U.S. debut. The initial cocktail list, full of vegetables, spices and savory dashes, looks adventurous. 

Vodka, red bell pepper, ginger, martini rose’ and spicy peperoncino

White tequila, pink peppercorn, thyme, cherry tomatoes, honey, parmigiano.

Via de neri
Gin, martini rose’, pickled cucumber

Sweet White Stone Martini
Vermouth soaked white stone from Liguria “ spiaggia delle uova” vodka or gin martini

Dry Black Stone Martini
Vermouth soaked black stone from Mongolia, vodka or gin martini

Buffalo 66
Rosemary infused vodka, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and beet juice

Rits Time
Calvados, salt, pepper, orange juice and tomato juice

Clamato Mary
Gin, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, clam juice reduction.

Bloody Frida
Ginger infused Silver tequila, tom-yan-gun, salt, pepper, lemon
juice and tomato juice.

Brandy, Frangelico, sugar, ricotta cheese and mixed berries

Rosso Tiziano
Rum, lemon juice, sugar, raspberry, tomato

Midori, green apple, zucchine and heavy cream.

Vodka, lemon juice, sugar, peach puree, celery and white pepper

La Signoria
Gin, lemon juice, sugar, lettuce, strawberry and balsamic reduction.

Scotch, Mandarinetto, cedar zest

A Beer At...McGuinness's Pub

For my latest Eater "A Beer At.." column, I headed out to Sunnyside, Queens, where there's an Irish pub for every block of Queens Boulevard. I chose McGuinness's Pub, which uses the extra, and I feel unnecessary, "'s" for some reason.

A Beer At...McGuinness's Pub
It's ten degrees hotter inside McGuinness's Pub than it is on Queens Boulevard. It's not clear if they don't have air-conditioning or just don't use it. Proof that melting-pot Sunnyside still has an Irish population sits at the bar. Every barstool is filled at 4 PM on a Wednesday, and many of the tables. It's a small joint. I wouldn't call it cozy. "Close" is more the word. It fills up fast.
There are six televisions and four of them are tuned to Belmont Park. They are watched closely—an OTB station is just down the block. Many of the afternoon drinkers are hunched over racing guides. A woman (the only female better present) in a blue sweater tells her companion, who wears a polyester sports jacket and a too-long striped tie, about her new "system." A tall, thin man in a t-shirt that says "Property of Celtic Building Supplies" is at the bar. Possibly the youngest better in the room, he mutters to himself and gets up nervously from his stool about every five minutes, heading out into the daylight for a smoke or a chat. Behind him he'll leave the racing form, a pack of butts, some of his money, his beer and a torn up ticket or two. Nobody touches anything, except the shiny-faced old sop on the next stool, who kindly returns the red pencil the thin man catapulted into the air when he slapped his palm against the bar. The sop is drinking Irish coffee.
The bartender, John, is kept pretty busy. He's not much for small talk. For a barkeep in an Irish dive, he makes more Martinis than you'd expect, and constructs them with some care, carefully crossing one toothpick skewering three olives with another piercing a single olive. These go mainly to the far end of the bar, where two women and a man with no interest in the ponies talk about the depravity of the videotaped beheadings of radical Islam. Bar talk.
There are old pictures on the wall to show you that stuff used to happen in Sunnyside. Boxer James J. Braddock pulled off an upset, defeating Max Baer for the World Heavyweight title on June 13, 1935, at the nearby Madison Square Garden Bowl on 48th and Northern Boulevard. In 1950, Willie Sutton pulled off a daring daytime bank robbery at the Manufacturers Trust Company in Sunnyside. Those places are gone now. A block away, in apartment #1G, 43-30 46th Street, alcoholic jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke died in obscurity in 1931. But there's no photo for that.
—Robert Simonson

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hello, Sailor!

Sailors on shore leave and booze—a combo that can't lose!

From May 26 to May 31, 2010—Fleet Week in NYC—Gild Hall, a luxury hotel near South Street Seaport—and Bluecoat gin will welcome sailors, their friends, family and "revelers "with a kick-off party on May 26 with buy one/get one free cocktails at The Libertine, a bar and restaurant inside Gild Hall. "The festivities will continue through May 31 with a fleet of Bluecoat cocktail specials all week in honor of our brave Sailors, Marines and service members," reads a press release.

Seamen are welcomed by Gotham in a lot of ways during Fleet Week, but it's hard to imagine the sailors like anything as much as a free drink!

All cocktails will derive their names from the ships visiting New York harbor for Fleet Week 2010. I'll have a Nimitz. 

The Cocktail Elite and the Mysterious Allure of Shots

Last year, just before the New Orleans "Tales of the Cocktail" convention was about to get underway, I was trolling the blogs of various well-known mixologists and liquor journalists to see what they were up to. I happened upon a post by a bartender respected as a talented craftsman in cocktail circles. He joyfully reported that he was doing Jägermeister shots with a highly regarded cocktail journalist in a French Quarter bar.

The French Quarter offers a myriad of fine drinking choices (among a lot of bad ones, of course), and they went for the kind of alcohol injection you can get in any dive on the planet. I scratched my head.

Last year, I was hanging out at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic's official bar at the Astor Center, watching some of the best mixologists in New York go to work assembling magic combinations of liquors for waiting customers. Suddenly, in the middle of the rush, a call came from the kitchen. The bartenders stopped what they were doing and hustled into the kitchen like football players going into a huddle. There, a circle of shots waited for them. They threw them back simultaneously and then hurried back to their stations.

Shots. What is it about them that even the most self-serious and artisanal bartenders find so alluring? The unofficial "bartender's handshake" used to be a shot of Fernet Branca. Now, it's been overtaken by the Pickleback, which is a shot of Jameson followed by a shot of pickle brine. At the recent opening of Painkiller on the Lower East Side, one of the owners christened the place by passing out shots of rum. It's a scene I've witnessed countless times before.

The Sipping News

What white wine will convert a red wine drinker to whites? [Dr. Vino]

Bordeaux is no longer fashionable among the young wine drinkers. [NYT]

New York magazine links together a booze chain, asking leading bartenders what they like to drink at other bars, and then asking the creator of that drink what they like to drink, and on and on and on. Along the way, you here from Greg Seider, Phil Ward, Julie Reiner, Matt DeVriendt and others. One revelation: Brooklyn bartenders drink at Brooklyn bars! [New York]

Jim Beam has created a "Distillers Tree," a genealogy chart tracking every booze-making Beam that ever lived. Neat.

Covet has a $160 cocktail for whatever sucker wants to pay that price. It's the work of mixologist Orson Salicetti (above), a joke who says things like "The ice is made by a world-famous ice sculptor. It has a special density. We wouldn't use anything less." It's stuff like this that gives the cocktail world a bad name. [NYDN]

Beautiful pictures of the soon-to-open Comstock Saloon in San Francisco. [Alcademics]

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Makings of a Pretty Mai Tai

At the Manhattan Cocktail Classic.

Bad Liquor Advertising

Once, just once, I'd like to attend a meeting of a vodka company when they decide upon their advertising campaign.

More New Liquor Finds

There was plenty new to discover at the Eric Seed-sponsored, Manhattan Cocktail Classic-sanctioned tasting event at WD-50 on the Lower East Side on May 17.

I've already mentioned the new Damson Gin that will be hitting the market in July. Also new in July will be a spiced rum from the Chairman's Reserve folks. It's the same rum, only spiced. They wouldn't tell me anything about the spices they use. "A secret." It's will be priced around $19-$21.

France's Combier, which brought their orange liqueur to the U.S. last year, followed up with the Roi Rene Rouge Cherry Liqueur, which has been in the states for three months. Light, and not as syrupy, it should give the other cherry liqueurs a run for their money behind the bar, just as Combier has challenged the leading triple secs simply by being a quality brand at a better price.

The fine Small Hand Foods line of cocktail mixers made by San Francisco's Jennifer Colliau, I discovered, are now handled by Eric Seed's Hans Alpenz, and are available in eight states, including New York. At present, New York only have the pineapple gum syrup and gum syrup. Apparently, the orgeat is a little more difficult to make in great quantities.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Damson Gin Coming to U.S.

England likes gin. They have London Dry Gin, Plymouth Gin, Sloe Gin, Damson Gin.

Wait. What was that last one? Damson Gin. It's similar to Sloe Gin, only it's made with damson plums, not sloe berries. Damsons are smaller, tarter and more acidic than regular plums. On this side of the pond, we all know damsons from the higher-priced, imported jellies and jams we see lining the shelves of our local boutique food purveyors. But in England, Damsons are also used to make a sweetened, gin-based liqueur. Plymouth used to make a Damson Gin.

There is currently no Damson Gin in the U.S., but that will change in the next few months. Scott S. Krahn, who represents Eric Seed's Haus Alpenz catalog of unique liquors, has been toying with a recipe for the stuff in upstate New York, where damsons are grown. The fruit comes from a farm in Geneva, NY, and he enlisted Finger Lakes Distilling to execute his formula, which he expects to release commercially in July.

The Damson gin is lighter, tarter and has more of an alcoholic bite that Sloe Gin. (Krahn bottles it at 33% alcohol; Plymouth Sloe Gin, by contrast, is 26%.) I cautiously predict that it will quickly become the cocktail mixer of the moment soon after it hits the shelves. It delivers a flavor profile unlike no other currently available liqueur.

The product currently has no name. (See the bottle with the blank label above.) It will be priced at $25.

And speaking of Sloe Gins, Hayman, of Old Tom Gin fame, has a fine Sloe Gin, but at present it's only available in the UK. It's lighter, less viscous than the Plymouth version. Worth bringing in one of these days.

Imbibe Names 25 Most Influential Cocktails of the Past Century

Finally got my copy of the May/June issue of Imbibe in the mail. (Contributors seem to get the magazine later than subscribers, or just about everybody. Haven't figured that one out yet.) The cover story is "The 25 Most Influential Cocktails of the Past Century." Meaning Dale Carnegie would really like these drinks!

Keep in mind the idea is "influential." Not "popular," or "good," or "for the ages." Influential. It doesn't say if they're in any particular order. I'm guessing not. Interesting round-up. A few are incontestable (Margarita, Bloody Mary, Moscow Mule), a few surprising (Harvey Wallbanger, B-52), and I doubt the Last Word would have slipped in if Imbibe were published in New York and not Portland, Oregon. But a good argument is made for each drink. Nice to see the Gin-Gin Mule and the Red Hook, two cocktails I recent picked as among the most influential of the past decade, make the cut.

Here's the list:

1. Dry Martini
2. Cuba Libre
3. Mojito
4. Alexander
5. Singapore Sling
6. Aviation
7. Sidecar
8. Margarita
9. Bloody Mary
10. Negroni
11. Last Word
12. Zombie
13. Mai Tai
14. Bellini
15. Moscow Mule
16. Irish Coffee
17. Caipirinha
18. Kangaroo
19. Harvey Wallbanger
20. Pina Colada
21. Long Island Iced Tea
22. B-52
23. Cosmopolitan
24. Gin-Gin Mule
25. Red Hook

Monday, May 17, 2010

Some Finds Among the Micros

I attended a tasting of micro-distillery spirits on Sunday at the East Village restaurant Butter. The event was part of this week's Manhattan Cocktail Classic. Some by-now-well-known micros were in attendance, such as Catdaddy moonshine, Tuthilltown's line of boutique whiskeys and Square One vodka, but I did find a few things that were new to my eyes.

Philadelphia Distilling, known for its Bluecoat Gin, which is carried in 27 states, is now producing a vodka called Penn 1681 Rye Vodka. It's made from organic rye which, master distiller said Robert Cassell said, comes entirely from Pennsylvania farmers. Though Cassell emphasized the smooth, neutral character of the vodka, the spark of the rye base is easily detectable when you taste it. For now, it's only available in Pennsylvania and Delaware. $20 is the reasonable asking price.

Harvest Spirits is now producing what they say is the only applejack being made in New York State. The Hudson Valley distillery is on a 200-acre apple farm and almost everything they do uses those apples. In addition to the Cornelius Applejack—which has a real bite to it, and, at $40, is on the steep side, especially when Bonded Laird's only costs $20—they make Core Vodka, the apple base of which is unmistakable. It's tastes unlike any other vodka. No need to make an Appletini out of this; it's already halfway there. They also make an Apple Brandy and Pear Brandy.

On its way is Redemption Rye, which is distilled in Indiana and comes from Dave Schmier, the same guy would produces Orange V orange-flavored vodka. Two things you need to know about this rye: it's distilled from 95% rye (the legal requirement if 51%) and its bottled at 92 proof, a good notch above typical alcohol levels. So you have a relatively hot, spicy tipple here. What's more, Schmier plans to come out with a Barrel Strength Bottling in July, at 120-125 proof! A single barrel rye is also on the way. The price on Redemption isn't bad: $25.99. The Barrel Strength will be $39.99.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Scenes from the Manhattan Cocktail Classic Gala

The above picture depicts what just one table looked like thirty minutes into the Manhattan Cocktail Classic's May 12 gala. The invitation of 1,000 willing imbibers inside the Fifth Avenue branch of the New York Public Library to have at countless cocktail stations serving endless refreshments of all sorts was not quite the scene of debauchery I anticipated. Cocktail industry folk and cocktail enthusiasts, owing to their deep-seated respect for the craft of assembling intoxicants, generally know how to hold their liquor and keep their bad behavior to a minimum. They're lushes, not louts.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Too Much Johnson

As in Harry Johnson, 19th century bartender and figure of adulation among the cocktail cult.

Yesterday, I spent a good amount of time tracing Johnson's steps around New York, led by the married drink historians Jared Brown and Anastasia Miller, who are probably cocktaildom's leading tag team, he with the fluting voice of a highly strung English professor and the look of a Civil War general (see a couple pictures below), she with a smoky voice seasoned by thin brown cigarettes and a mane of black Yoko Ono hair. They recently released volume two of there "Spirituous Journey" history of drink, within which there is a chapter devoted to Harry Johnson.

A Cradle of Life at Painkiller

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Visit to East Side Social Club

Since it comes from Employees Only owner Billy Gilroy, I figured the East Side Social Club, on E. 51st between Second and Third, was worth an inspection, cocktail-wise. I'm all for a new place to go to for a well-honed Negroni in the drinking wasteland of Midtown.

As the name suggests, this Italian restaurant leans heavy on the irony, trying to strike a self-conscious balance between the old red-sauce, Mobbed-up joints of the past, and the hip, stylish, retro hangouts of today. There are wall murals, and photos of Sinatra and Marciano. But the decor is miles beyond that which you'd find in a true goombah place in terms of taste. I wonder how many people who frequent the place are actually aware of the dual aesthetic. 

Perhaps as a way of adhering to its regular-guy ideal, the cocktail program makes more than a nod to the hoi-polloi. It's not genteel. No rarefied concoctions and tiny-precious glasses here. There's a lot of vodka (five cocktails in the spring menu use it as their base by my count) and the coupes verge on the size of a small punch bowls. I sampled the Upper East Side, a blend of cucumber vodka shaken with mint leaves and lemon juice, served straight up, because the menu said it was the place's most popular tipple. It sounded simple, and it tasted simple. Not too exciting. 

ESSC casts a nice spotlight on the classic Negroni, making it with Old Tom Gin, and offers it served up or on the rocks with an orange twist. (The latter is my preference.) There's also an interesting emphasis on bygone dessert drinks you don't see very often anymore, like the Grasshopper, Pink Lady and Golden Dream. Nice to see the owners not being afraid of looking like cocktail squares by including those drinks. Let's just hope they actually taste good, not ironic.

Sure there is nepotism at work here, but Gilroy the chef seems to have earned his spot by cooking at both Chanterelle and A Voce. He'll be putting out a Italian American menu with crudo and raw bar specials, homemade pastas, and Berkshire pork chops. Of course, cocktails will get special attention.

The 113 seat space is divided into a bar, a main dining room, and a semi-private room on a raised platform. Dinner starts tonight, late night next Monday, and lunch and breakfast next month. Find more info here and see the menu below.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Decade of Compass Box

If you seen John Glaser, the owner and chief blender of the boutique Scotch house Compass Box, walking toward you at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic gala this Friday, hold out your glass.

Not to catch a dram of one of his prized, often pricey limited-release whiskeys—though that wouldn't be so bad. No, to get a taste of the pre-mixed Compass Box cocktails he'll have in each fist. One bottle will contain his version of a Rob Roy, made of equal portions of his Oak Cross malt whiskey and Carpano Antica Formula Italian vermouth, and orange bitters. The other will hold a White Manhattan, made of his Asyla blended scotch, a combination of dry and blanco vermouths, and orange bitters.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Hideout Returns

The Hideout, of the first, and the smallest, of the hip Brooklyn cocktail joints to open in the past three years, is expected to reopen in a month or so, after having unexpectedly closed last February. 

Fork in the Road reports:
Brooklyn cocktail enthusiasts have been mourning the loss of The Hideout in Fort Greene since the bar quietly closed its doors back in February, reportedly over an internal squabble among management. Now, former head bartender John Pomeroy says that the disagreement has been resolved (or, rather, the disagreeable party removed) and that the bar is expected to reopen in a month or so.
"We've removed the cancer," he says of one of the owners. (The cancer in question is not WBLS radio host Dahved Levy or actor/model Asio Highsmith, both of whom have kept their respective stakes in the establishment.) As for what to expect from the tiny, hidden cocktail lounge when it does reopen, Pomeroy was tight-lipped.
"The entire M.O. will change," he allowed. "The biggest change will be to the ice program. We've always had really good ice, but we're going to do more fancy stuff."
More fancy ice? Like sculptures? Or tiki-like ice cones? 

As for the M.O., is the place shedding its speakeasy aesthetic?

All Greek to Me

To appreciate Greek wines, you have to eat them with food. Preferably, good food.

Back in March, I went to a wine tasting for the importer VOS selections, and tasted through their fairly extensive line of Greek wines. I thought, "Good." But I wasn't all that excited. I've gone through this before. I'm a fan of good Greek wines. I think they present excellent value, as well a sense of taste adventure, given the innumerable native and obscure varietals in Greece. But I was first won over to Greek wines by buying cheap bottles and then having them over dinner. When I went to Greek wine tastings, where no food was served, I wasn't as wowed. These wines are made for food, and somehow don't show as well when they're on their own.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Friuli Wines of American

I wrote a small item for Tasting Table last week about a tight group of American winemakers with whom I share a passion for the white wines of Friuli. There are only four that I know of in the U.S.—Abe Schoener, George Vare, Christopher Tracy and Steve Matthiasson—so it wasn't difficult to become acquainted with them and their wines. These wines are not for the novice drinker. They challenge you and make you think more than relax. What else can you expect from a white wine that looks orange and tastes like a red?

As Matthiasson pointed out (and I was not able to fit into a 200-word article), there are differing schools of thought among Friuli winemaker. The whites that spend a lot of time on the lees, or get buried in the ground in amphoras—think the wines of Gravner and Radikon—get the most attention. How could they not? They're bruisers, yeasty and tannic and provocative. But there's another, subtler school of white, strongly mineral but crisp and refreshing, that are best represented there by Schiopetto and Villa Russiz, and over here by Matthiasson Napa Valley White.

Of the wines I list below I most strongly recommend the Channing Daughters Rosato. Unfortunately, it seems to already be sold out.

Tough Love
A small-but-fierce group of winemakers embraces northern Italy
It's easy to embrace the popular kids.
In the wine world, they're well-known regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy, which have plenty of American winemakers crafting bottles in their likeness.
But for the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in northeast Italy--known for its idiosyncratic, niche pours--acolytes are harder to come by.
Among its small-but-vociferous ranks are California vintners George Vare, Abe Schoener and Steve Matthiasson, who discovered Friuli's white wines on a trip together in 2005. Since then, the trio has experimented with native Friulian varietals and unorthodox aging methods, which have yielded robust, yeasty white wines. They are exceptional in their eccentricities.
Christopher Tracy, winemaker for Bridgehampton's Channing Daughters, is another Friuli fanatic. He's fingered Long Island's climate and soil as ideal for the production of Vino da Meditazione, a thickish, cerebral wine that has been called the best white offering in America.
Sometimes the difficult ones come out the best. Here are three bottles that make for a good introduction to Friuli, American-style:
2009 Channing Daughters Rosato di Refosco ($19) A rare and delicious rosé, this bottle is light and creamy with hints of almonds and strawberries (click to buy online).
2008 Matthiasson Napa Valley White ($32) Dominated by Sauvignon Blanc and Ribolla Gialla, this flinty, crisp wine smacks of lemon, pear and light stone fruits (click to buy online).
2008 Scholium Project The Prince in His Cave ($43) Abe Schoener's flagship bottle is a crash course in on-the-lees orange wine: tangy, spicy, yeasty and a feast for those with an adventurous palate (click to buy online).

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Beer At...O'Hanlon's Bar

This week's Eater column:

A Beer At...O'Hanlon's Bar
A scarecrow of a man in a crumpled bucket hat shuffles into O'Hanlon's Bar on 31st Street in Astoria, past the wooden phone booth and the shelving unit that used to hold phone directories for the Manhattan, Brooklyn and Nassau County, but is now empty, since people don't use phone books anymore. He settles back onto his stool, his beer waiting in front of him. It's noon. "Lot of food out there," he says. Food for Al Pacino, Channing Tatum and Katie Holmes. They're making a film in the area. Pacino plays a world-weary detective. Trailers and caterers are parked just outside the 71-year-old tavern. There's word that a scene may be shot inside the bar, but no one knows for sure.

Friday, May 7, 2010

More About Painkiller

Richard Boccato and Giuseppe ("Joe") Gonzalez' new tiki bar Painkiller opens officially tonight. I visited the place on Monday, and talked to Boccato about the debut menu shortly after. Here are my findings, published yesterday, in the New York Times' Diner's Journal.

Zombies Descend for Drinks on the Lower East Side
If the patrons at the new Lower East Side tikiden Painkiller want to order a Zombie — as many will — they’ll have a choice.
“We have to pay respect to Donn Beach,” said Richard Boccato, one of the owners of Painkiller, which officially opens on Friday. Beach, who founded the legendary Don the Beachcomber bar in Hollywood in 1934, is one of tiki’s founding fathers. But one of his signature drinks, the lethally alcoholic Zombie, is also one of the most debated cocktails in tiki history, with several differing published recipes.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

How Many White Russian Variations Does One Need?

To commemorate the 55th anniversary of the White Russian first appearing in print (who knew?), Kahlua has hustled up four modern spins on The Dude's favorite cocktail.

Now, I'm pretty much OK with there just being one White Russian out there, but I admit to becoming curious when I saw one of the recipes came from Greg Seider of Summit Bar, whose work I like. But, to be fair, I'm printing all four here. Be prepared: there are a ton of eggs involved, and instructions are lengthy and difficult on three of these. (Double boiler? Really?) In fact, two of the recipes actually seem to be desserts, not drinks. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The same could be argued about the White Russian itself.

Moscow in Mexico
Created by Mixologist Gregory Seider of Summit

1 part Kahlúa
1 part Absolut Vodka
1 shot of espresso
1 half part walnut liquor

Combine all ingredients into metal cocktail shaker and add ice. Hard-shake for 10 seconds and double strain through tea strainer into martini glass. Using aerolatte milk frother, froth cold milk and spoon on top of cocktail. Top with cardamom powder.

White Dog Has Its Day

I first tasted white dog at the Labrot & Graham distillery, where Woodford Reserve is made. I remember everyone else around getting very excited about tasting this just-off-the-still clear joy juice, and my thinking it was moonshine and was going to blow the roof off my head. I was surprised when I tasted a delicate, fruity, multi-faceted liquor that I almost preferred to the aged Woodford.

Soon after that visit, I began to see commercially released white whiskeys on the market, first, and most commonly, Death's Door from Wisconsin. That Buffalo Trace recently got into the game is a sure sign that white dog has hit the big time, and that this spirit is never again going to be a secret caviar savored only by liquor geeks who either make their own or sip it on the sly during distillery visits.

I just wrote an article on the phenomenon for the New York Times:

Moonshine Finds New Craftsmen and Enthusiasts
By Robert Simonson
IN early April, Kris Comstock, a representative for the Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky, conducted a seminar on bourbon at Char No. 4, a bar in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, that offers 150 kinds of American whiskey.
Among the bourbons he poured were Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare and Blanton’s. But his students weren’t interested in those.
“The first thing that everyone wanted to taste was the white dog,” he said. “We make products that win amazing awards all around the world, and they want to taste the white dog.”

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Drinking in Brooklyn

I spent a good deal of the early part of the year talking to anyone and everyone who has anything to do with the cocktail, beer and coffee scenes in Brooklyn. The canvasing was in service of a feature on the Brooklyn drinking scene for Imbibe magazine. It wasn't difficult to research; a Brooklynite for 16 years, I had been doing casual, unscripted research for such a survey two or three years by simply paying calls on the new Brooklyn bars and cafe as they opened in waves in 2008 and 2009. And most of the people I interviewed for the piece I had already come to know. Nothing quite as pleasurable as doing an in-depth piece on your own hometown.

Here's the article. There are also lists of places to go for  cocktails, coffee, beer and wine (yes, wine does get a mention in the piece, though not a thorough going over, thank God—adding that aspect to the article might have killed me), all put together by yours truly. But I won't print those here. I have to leave some reason to go out and buy the mag.


By Robert Simonson

IN THE LATE 19th CENTURY, BROOKLYN WAS A GLORIOUS PLACE TO DRINK. The borough (then a full-fledged city in its own right) boasted 48 breweries and lent its name to The Brooklyn, one of the country’s most popular cocktails at the time. Two of America’s largest coffee roasters of the area—R. Buckle Brothers and the A & P company—called Brooklyn home, and the venerable, gas-lit Gage & Tollner restaurant on Fulton Street served coffee so strong, some customers asked for it to be diluted.

Then came Prohibition, the Depression, high taxes and rising labor costs. The Breweries—Trommer’s, Piels, Rheingold—closed one by one. The last, Schaefer, turned off its Brooklyn taps in 1976. The Brooklyn Cocktail died from memory as an essential ingredient, Amer Picon, fell into obscurity. Gage & Tollner closed, its landmark interior eventually invaded by TGI Friday’s and then Arby’s.

In the last decade, however, craft breweries, cocktail lounges and coffee bars have been cropping up from Greenpoint to Bushwick. The shift took root in the ’90s, when New Yorkers crossed the East River in droves to escape rising rents and encroaching homogenization bred by Manhattan’s bear hug of chain stores and luxury condos. Some of those transplants became entrepreneurs, opening bars and cafés over the years to slake the thirsts of the new locals. That trend has steadily gained steam, and today Brooklynites have reclaimed one of the most enviable drink cultures in the country.

The Sipping News

Paul Pacult's new liquor competition, Ultimate Beverage Challenge, has released the results of their first Ultimate Cocktail Challenge, in which the judges make their determination as to which liquors go best in what drinks.

Opinions are split on the 2009 Bordeaux. [Dr. Vino]

Dr. Vino interviews "Bobby Paynerchuk."

Eric Asimov dissects the ominous-sounding Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act of 2010, which is being considered by Congress, is loved and supported (and probably written) by wine and beer distributors, and hated by the Distilled Spirits Council, which wrote in a press release, "For good reason, the beverage alcohol industry is sharply divided over the merits of this controversial and ill-conceived proposal. Distilled spirits, wine and beer companies are strongly opposed to the legislation and we urge you not to co-sponsor the bill."

The Chicago Tribune goes in search of the true Templeton Rye.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How to Tag a Tiki Bar

Last night, May 3, the new Lower East Side tiki bar Painkiller has a soft opening for "family and friends." Preparations were so up to the brink that the storefront was still getting spray-painting up until the doors opened at 9 PM, and even afterwards. The artists, we were told, are graffiti taggers of some renown. Inside, there were Painkillers, Zombies, Mai Tais and about 587 people.