Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Wine Growler Cometh

I've written about beer growlers. I've written about wine on tap. And now it all comes together in this:

Growlers for Grapes
By Robert Simonson
If you live and drink in a major city, you have probably encountered wine on tap, and the proliferation of growlers, those glass hillbilly jugs that enable you to take draft beer from a bar or liquor store to your home. But unless you live in Greenville, S.C., you may not have met the lovechild of those two trends: the wine growler.
Last week, the Community Tap, a liquor shop in Greenville that sells wine and craft beer, dedicated one of its taps to take-away wine. The principle is the same as with beer growlers. You purchase a 32-ounce or 64-ounce vessel and fill it up with the keg wine on tap.
“One of the reasons that we wanted to start the store was we wanted to do beer growlers,” said the co-owner Ed Buffington, who opened Community Tap last July and now has 10 taps devoted to American microbrews and some European beers. “There weren’t too many people doing it in South Carolina.”
A visit from Dan Donahoe from Silvertap wines in California, which specializes in tank wine, prompted Mr. Buffington to think beyond beer. “I’ve been doing this for a long time,” said Mr. Donahoe, whose clients are almost all restaurants. “From my experience, they are the only place doing wine in growlers retail. A lot of people have wine on tap. I’m in discussions with very large grocery stores about it. But nobody’s really pulled the trigger and done it until they did.” (In recent years, wine growlers have cropped up in tasting rooms in places like California, Michigan and Pennsylvania.)
The Community Tap’s debut growler wine is Silvertap’s 2008 cabernet sauvignon. Both Mr. Donohue and Mr. Buffington see two main advantages to growler wine: a smaller carbon footprint and a smaller tab. A 32-ounce growler of Silvertap cab goes for $16.99, the same cost of Donahoe Teira Cab in a 750-milliliter bottle. “That’s 25 percent more wine at the same price,” Mr. Buffington said.
Charles Bieler, a founder of the New York-based keg wine company theGotham Project is hoping wine growlers can find their way to New York, if Albany can be made to see the light.
“Every state has a different set of laws,” Mr. Bieler said. “From a retail point of view, this is something we’ve been looking into. There’s a law that says, with wine, it’s illegal. But it’s never been challenged.”
“I know a lot of retailers in the city who would jump on it in a second,” he added.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Nothing New Under the Sun

Think barrel-aged cocktails are the latest? Think again.

I was attending a seminar on aged cocktails conducted by Tony Conigliaro, the English bartender who started the whole trend by stowing pre-mixed cocktails in glass vessels (but who has little or no regard to the aged-in-barrel direction most Yankee bartenders are taking), when he flashed this image on the screen. It's a 1910 British ad for something called the Club Cocktail. The Club Cocktail, says the text, obtains its "delicious flavor and delicate aroma by aging in wood before bottling." Among the offered aged cocktails: the Martini and Manhattan.

Well, damn. And who found this ad and delivered it into Conigliaro's hands. Historian David Wondrich, of course.

Friday, March 25, 2011

New Bombay Gin Product Puts Asian Twist on Botanical Mix

We still don't know the name of the new Bombay Sapphire Gin product, which is to be unveiled in July in three test markets (including New York), but the botanical recipe was been revealed. 

Joining the 10-botantical recipe found in regular Bombay Sapphire will be Thai lemongrass and Vietnamese black peppercorn, according to a company spokesman. The original ten ingredients are Spanish almonds, grains of paradise, lemon peel, licorice, juniper, orris root, coriander, cassia bark, and cubeb berries.

Like Bombay Sapphire, which was launched in 1987, and is one of the first premium gins to hit the market, the botanicals for the new liqour will not be steeped in the spirit. Rather, the distilled alcohol vapors are passed through a mesh basket containing the botanicals in order to catch the flavor and aroma.

The use of Asian botanicals is not a new idea. Beefeater 24, a line extension that was introduced in late 2008, features Chinese green and Japanese sencha teas.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Manhattan Cocktail Classic Announces 2011 Line-Up of Seminars

The Manhattan Cocktail Classic—the two-year-old cocktail crowd confab—has announced the seminar line-up for its May 14-17 event, to be held at Astor Center in the East Village. Unlike MCC's inaugural event, in 2010, this year's seminars were selected by popular vote—a move that resulted in some controversy and grumbling within the cocktail community. Should attendees curate the syllabus of a convention intended to educate them? Won't such a voting process inevitably lead to ballot box-stuffing on the part of presenters and their corporate sponsors? These and other arguments I heard bandied about.

Approximately 20,000 people chose from among 85 various suggested panels, registering their preferences on the MCC website during the one month voting period.

Among the prevailing classes—which will all cost $50 a ticket—are "Aperitivo: The Italian Happy Hour," led by Joseph Campanale; "The Agave Session: The Magical Elixirs of Mexico," conducted by Steve Olson and Del Maguey Mezcal producer Ron Cooper; "Yo, Ho, Ho and a Bottle of Rum" with Danny Valdez, David Wondrich, Ed Hamilton and Sean Kenyon; "Botanical Bartending" with Charlotte Voisey and Jim Meehan; "Age: The Final Frontier—Barreling Spirits and Cocktails," taught by Philip Duff; "Preserving With Liquor for Kitchen and Bar: Local Ingredients 12 Months a Year," led by Francis Schott and Mark Pascal; "Whiskey of the World" with Wild Turkey distillers Eddie Russell and Jimmy Russell, Bowmore master blender Iain McCallum, and brand ambassadors Gardner Dunn, Kristina Sutter, Ross Hendry and James MacKenzie; and "The Art of the Simple Cocktail," in which mixologist Elayne Duke declares "the complicated cocktail dead."

In addition to the seminars, MCC promises other cocktail-oriented events in three boroughs. The opening night gala will be held again at the New York Public Library's main branch on Fifth Avenue. For more information, consult

Here's that super final schedule:

Two Dubonnets

I remember a couple years back listening to the person who represented Dubonnet in the U.S. lamenting about the aperitif's lackluster bottle design (below), and how hard it was to market it. I had to agree. It's a dull bottle.

Imagine what could be done with the above container. I spotted this on a recent trip abroad. I know that the Dubonnet we drink here is produced in America, not France. Apparently, both sides of the pond have their own bottle design, too. I actually find the above look a bit slick and vulgar. But it's an improvement over the faux-classy look of the Yankee vessel.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Beer At...Pete's Waterfront Ale House

Some of my earliest fine liquor memories were at Pete's Waterfront Ale House in Brooklyn. I had my first memorable experience of what single malt Scotch could be (Lagavulin, specifically) there sometime in the early '90s. I've always returned there when the pretensions and airs of some of the newer Brooklyn bars become too much. The draft selection is always excellent.
A Beer at...Pete's Waterfront Ale House 
A middle-aged couple in black, who looked like they had just gotten off a motorcycle, walked into Pete's Waterfront Ale House on Atlantic Avenue. "Hello! Haven't seen you in a while," said the bartender, a 40-something man with a ponytail, glasses, excess bonhomie and a lot of bad jokes. "That's how we like it?" said the guest, scanning the chalkboard's rundown of featured drafts. "You've got a lot IPAs right now." "Yes, that's us," said the barkeep. "One week we've got a ton of IPAs, the next week we don't have any. But really, there are a lot of IPA drinkers here." 
Pete's Waterfront has been caring for Brooklyn beer drinkers for 22 years, making it one of the oldest of the borough's discriminating watering holes. Today, you can go to nearby Brazen Head, Strong Place or Bar Great Harry for quality brew, and Char. No. 4 and Jake Walk for top shelf whiskey. But throughout the 1990s, Pete's was pretty much the whole story. An oasis. It opened in a snug space on the south side of Atlantic, where a bar called Last Exit now is, and moved to roomier digs across the street about 15 years ago, keeping a relatively low profile all along the way. It's comfortable and unpretentious and attracts a minimum of empty-headed yahoos. 
Being a cocktail person, I tend to think of Pete's differently than do the regular denizens, who are mainly beer people, and come for the food (a good burger, and chili) as much as the drink, not to mention the ever-flowing popcorn machine. To me, it's a bit of a historical site. For it was here that Audrey Saunders, cocktail luminary and owner of The Pegu Club in Manhattan, had her first bartending job. The bartender, who began his relationship with Pete's as a drinker, has memories going back that far. "I remember Audrey," he said. "Haven't seen her in a long time. She's done well for herself, I hear." You might say that. 
Pete's is owned by Sam Barbieri (who Pete is/was, I dont know), who's a bit of a culinary tinkerer, and proud of his inventions. Over Christmas, Sam's "serious" egg nog was advertised on the bar wall. Right now, you can buy Sam's Hot Sauce and, more intriguingly, Sam's Honeybell Liqueur. This is made from a kind of hybrid, seedless orange which is available only this time of year. "It's here until its gone," said the bartender. "It's basically grain alcohol and sugar, flavored with the zest of the oranges. You've got to be careful with it." Indeed. It's 70% alcohol, looks like orange juice and goes down pretty smooth. Drinking the hot sauce might be a safer proposition. 
—Robert Simonson

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dutch Kills to Launch Happy Hour

Dutch Kills, which recently enlarged its bar area, will now shrink the size of its drink prices.

The Long Island City cocktail bar has launched a happy hour. From 5 PM to 7 PM, Sunday through Thursday, finely wrought mixed drinks can be had for $8. Among the available libations that can be had on the cheap: Rye Shake, Presbyterian, Whiskey Fix, Daiquiri, Rum Fix, Rum Buck and a total of three vodka cocktails (can this be the discriminating haute cocktaildom we've come to know?), including the Vodka Gimlet, Vodka Fix and Moscow Mule.

The new happy hour is named after Patrick Jerome "Battle Axe" Gleason, the final, and notoriously corrupt, 19th century mayor of Long Island City before the burg was incorporated into New York, a man who modeled his career after that of Boss Tweed. And like Tweed, he spent time in jail an died broke.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

No Love For Iron City in Iron City

Whatever city I find myself in, I want to sample the local poison. Recently, I was in Pittsburgh. My first meal in Pittsburgh was at an old German joint, Max's Allegheny Tavern, where I dined with my uncle, aunt and cousin, all residents of the town. I was determined to try a local brew. Iron City seemed the ticket. The pilsner had been produced within city limits from 1861 to 2009. (It's now made in Latrobe, PA.) That's quite a long run.

But when I voiced my intention to order an Iron City draft, my aunt seemed alarmed. "You don't want to get that," she said. My cousin seconded the motion. "It's bad," she said. My aunt related a tale in which she had become violently ill the last time she has consumed an Iron City. This was remarkable since my aunt is a Bud drinker. She likes Bud, but thinks Iron City is bad. Now that's bad.

My uncle came to the beer's defense. "You're in Pittsburgh, Robert," he said. "You should have one, and  decide for yourself." I came over to my uncle's opinions, and solidified my choice.

Then the waitress arrived. Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. I gave my order. She looked at me, dry-eyed, and asked, "Are you sure?"

"Well, I was sure," I stammered. "But now you're making me afraid of Iron City. Don't you like it?"

"Honestly, no," she replied.

I stuck to my guns. The mug of Iron City arrived.

Was it good? No. Was it worse than Bud? Certainly not. If anything, it had more character. This may sound bizarre, but it tasted metallic. As if there really was iron in it. Perhaps that's the quality that made it act as a natural laxative for my aunt. But I certainly would choose it over Bud or Miller or Coors or whatever pilsner crap, given the chance. But I wouldn't walk a country mile for it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Buffalo Traces Mashes the Col. Taylor Way

So, here's the story. There was this gentleman named Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr., a Bourbon pioneer and great-nephew of President Zachary Taylor who, says Buffalo Trace,  was "the man who introduced the first climate controlled aging warehouses, used a patented sour mash technique, and fought for the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 will have a line of premium whiskeys bearing his name."

It's that middle thing we're paying attention to here. With most Bourbons, the sour mash method is to take a bit of mash from the previous batch of whiskey, toss it in the new batch, and let the fermentation get busy. But Taylor had his own ways. According to Buffalo Trace, he would not use sour mash from the previous mix, but would give the new mash ample time to sour itself. The new release was distilled in 2002 and then aged for nine years, and bottled at 100 proof.

The whiskey has a pleasant, powerful, somewhat gamey aroma, plenty of citrus and slight floral notes, but also lots of bread-like qualities. It smells fat even before you drink it. The taste too, is big and round. It's not a delicate whiskey, but fullsome and big-hearted; meaty, yeasty and chewy with lots of orange and butterscotch and toffee. Water quiets down this character. I almost like this one better without a little water. I don't know if I would have noticed the different souring method without having been told upfront. But I would have noted the robust personality.

The Old Fashioned Sour Mash Bourbon is the first of several new E.H. Taylor, Jr. whiskeys to be released over the next few years. "All of the Taylor whiskeys will be distinctive. Most will be very limited," said Kris Comstock, brand manager. Each offering will showcase a vintage label and canister, reminiscent of Taylor’s bottles nearly one hundred years ago. "We designed the current bottle to replicate antique bottles made by Taylor back in 1913," added Comstock. $70 is the price. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Death & Co.'s Kaplan and Day Create Cocktail List for Rosa Mexicano Chain

The national Mexican food chain Rosa Mexicano has turned to David Kaplan and Alex Day—both of Death & Co. fame, who last year formed a consulting concern—to create the new cocktail program as the entity's various locations.

Drawing on the cuisine in question, Kaplan and Day have focused on tequila and mezcal cocktails, as well as some beer drinks. Some are stirred cocktails, which are not often featured at high volume restaurants because of the time and care they take to make. Take a look:

Shaken Cocktails

Mango Tropical
Silver tequila, mango puree, organic agave, fresh lime

La Sandía
Fresh muddled watermelon, rosemary simple syrup, El Jimador silver tequila, fresh lemon

La Piñela
Silver tequila, pineapple juice, cinnamon simple syrup, fresh lime

El Mezcalito
Fresh strawberry, Tanteo Jalapeño-infused silver tequila, Del Maguey-Vida mezcal, fresh lemon, organic agave

La Mandarina
Fresh muddled tangerine, fresh basil, El Jimador silver tequila, fresh lemon, organic agave

Flor de Humo
Silver tequila, Del Maguey-Vida mezcal, St. Germain, orange marmalade, fresh lime

Stirred Cocktails

La Pera Noble
Casa Noble Organic silver tequila, bianco vermouth, pear brandy, cinnamon simple syrup

La Antigüa
Tanteo Cocoa-infused silver tequila, bitters, orange twist

Águila Real
Hennessy VS, Kahlua, Licor 43, cream, chocolate mole bitters

Beer Cocktails

Tecate, fresh lime and spices, served over ice with a salted rim

El Betabel
Pacifico, beet juice, fresh lime and Cholula, served over ice with a salted rim

La Sangrita
Negra Modelo, house sangrita, served over ice with a salted rim

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Becherovka Finally Gets the Green Light

Remember how last summer was going to be the summer when Becherovka, the wonderful Czech liqueur, was going to go wide in America. I sure do. I wrote about it. An article that appeared in Wine Enthusiast. And yet all this time, Becherovka never appeared. Readers kept writing to me asking where it was, and and complaining that they couldn't get the stuff, and were forced to ask traveling friends to smuggle it in from Europe.

Well, turns out it was caught up in US government channels for months, held up by the TTB. I couldn't get an answer from Pernod Ricard, which owns Becherovka, as to when it would be unleashed.

Until now. I ran into Pernod's Jamie Gordon by accident in a Brooklyn bar. He told me Becherovka should be on U.S. shelves by the end of March. So get ready to pour yourself a Concrete.