Friday, December 31, 2010

A Taste of Malört

I was sitting at the bar at The Violet Hour when Toby Maloney, the founder of the Chicago cocktail haven, instructed the bartender to pour me a shot of Malört. "This will make you feel like a wimp for liking Fernet Branca," he said. I took a sip and shuddered. It was, indeed, a stronger customer than Fernet, more bitter and austere and raw. But I did not dislike it, and I could see getting used to it, particularly if my life was hard, and I needed something harder to drink to make existence more endurable.

It was only natural that I should first sample Malört in Chicago. The only distributor of Malört in the United States is the Carl Jeppson company of Chicago. The company is named after a Swedish immigrant who popularized and sold the liquor in Chicago. (It's been made for Jeppson in Florida since the 1970s, but is still mainly seen and consumed in Chicago.)

Malört is a liqueur derived from wormwood, the infamous botanical long associated with Absinthe. It is Swedish in origin, even though Maloney led me to believe that the drink was favored by the Poles that once populated Wicker Park, the neighborhood Violet Hour is in. (The word malört is the Swedish word for the wormwood plant.)

Malört has enjoyed a small resurgence of late, with Chicago mixologists toying around with it and using it in cocktails. Not everyone is a fan, however. When I mentioned the intoxicant to Lynn House, the respected mixologist at Chicago's Blackbird, she shivered. "I can't stand the stuff," she said. "It's popular right now, against my wishes."

(Photo courtesy Cocktail Database.)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Barrel Aged Cocktails Go National

As hesitant as I was to make Jeffrey Morgenthaler a national figure (joke), I wrote this lengthy piece on barrel-aged cocktails for the New York Times. Readers of this blog know that I've been slightly obsessed with this trend for some time, first interviewing Morgenthaler about his brainstorm back in March, and recording since then their arrival at Summit Bar and Dram, among other NYC bars. Many others publications and sites have caught on since then. Still, the trend is still young, only just arriving in Chicago and other places.

The article also gave me the chance to write about my experiment of making barrel-aged cocktails at home. (I flatter myself that I'm the first journalist, and maybe the first non-bartender, to try this trick.)

On the very day this article ran, I happened to be in Chicago and got the chance to taste the barrel-aged Manhattans at Girl & The Goat mentioned in the text. I preferred the two-month-old ones made with Rittenhouse Rye about the one-month-old made with Buffalo Trace Bourbon. I also found out that The Violet Hour has just put a barrel-aged Manhattan on their menu. Toby Maloney aged the cocktail in a 55-gallon barrel that previously contained Goose Island Stout—a twist I had not encountered before. The beer barrel informed the drink in a headier, and more positive, way, I thought, than had the whiskey barrels used by others, giving the drink more layers. Maloney served the Manhattan with a touch of Cocchi Americano, to softer the impact. But I preferred the beer-laces Manhattan straight.

Six-Week-Old Martinis, Anyone?
WITH the precision mixologists take these days in building their more ornate creations, customers have grown used to waiting a few minutes for a drink. For the latest innovation in elite libations, however, they’ll have to wait six weeks or so.
Barrel-aged cocktails are being poured at bars from San Francisco to Boston. They are exactly what they sound like, complete cocktails aged in barrels, just as if they were wine or whiskey.
At Dram in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, an aged Martinez, a 19th-century cocktail founded on gin and sweet vermouth, can be sampled. At the Gramercy Park Hotel’s Roof Club, there’s an cask-seasoned star cocktail, made of apple brandy and sweet vermouth. Temple Bar, near Boston, takes its time with a Negroni.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Laid Back Punch Palace for Me Hearties in Williamsburg

To tell you the truth, after this fall, I'm about punched out. Everywhere I've turned this fall, I've been ladled out a crystal cupful of Dickensian liquid or handed a copy of David Wondrich's new book "Punch." The Drink—of which Brooklyn bar I write in the below NY Times item—is the second bar in NYC this year to devote itself to punch (the first being Cienfuego in the East Village). And I mean devote itself, not just put a punch or two on the menu. There are no cocktails at The Drink. Just beer and punch. Of course, they'll make you a Martini if you insist. And I may insist.

Punch Pushes Cocktails Off the Menu at the Drink in Williamsburg

One of the unavoidable drinking trends of the fall has been punch. Hardly a cocktail bar has opened in New York in the past few months without giving a nod to the crystal bowl. Forty Four at the Royalton Hotel, 1534 on the Lower East Side and SoHo’s Lani Kai have all made room for punch in their programs. But the recently opened The Drink in Williamsburg has so devoted themselves to the format that the flowing bowls have actually knocked individual cocktails off the menu.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hot Tiki Drinks Just in Time for Christmas

Just published this item on the Times' Diner's Journal blog. If I didn't have a family—and one that  would kill me if I went out drinking on Christmas Eve—this is where I'd be on Dec. 24.

Hot Tiki!
By Robert Simonson
Starting this week, the painkilling will run both hot and cold at the Lower East Side tiki bar Painkiller.
Most drinkers associate tiki cocktails with huge heaps of shaved ice. But that, said Painkiller’s co-owner Giuseppe Gonzalez, is only part of the Polynesian playbook.
“Hot drinks are actually a very classic tiki thing,” said Mr. Gonzalez, noting that a good 20 percent of the classic concoctions found in the books of the tiki archeologist Jeff Berry are designed to be served warm. “It’s an escapist mentality that tiki bars try to inspire, so a lot of bars have hot drinks all year round no matter what. Trader Vic’s always had their famous Coffee Grog on the menu.”
Painkiller will offer the Coffee Grog — a mix of hot java, rum, a special batter and spices — as well as the 151 Buttered Rum and Hot Zombie. Mr. Gonzalez will also be doing a hot mai tai, his own invention. “It’s a deconstruction of the drink. Instead of lime juice, we just squeeze a lime wheel in there. There’s Curacao, house-made orgeat, a double measure of Jamaican rum, top that off with hot water and give that a float of almond cream.” Another spin on an old standby will be the warm Sazerac, “primarily because Donn Beach, the inventor of tiki, is actually from New Orleans, and the Sazerac is, to me, a drink that only gets better as it gets warmer. So why don’t we just serve it warm?”
Painkiller will likely start the new menu of hot drinks on Christmas Eve, “primarily because I’m going to be open,” said Mr. Gonzalez. “I’m a new bar and I got bills to pay, brother.” He will also be staffing the shakers on Christmas day, for those who choose to seek their cup of yuletide cheer outside the house.
The new year, meanwhile, will bring a reworked menu at Painkiller. “We’ll have a Painkiller top 10,” he said. “We’ll have staff picks, which don’t have to be tiki. Just to give people the impression that, yes, you’re in a tiki bar, but hey, we’re good at anything. We can make anything for you.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Don Julio Debuts Redesign

Collectors might want to think about stowing away every single liquor bottle they have after it's empty. Because in a few years time, the way things are going, every famous booze out there is going to be boasting a new bottle design, thus rendering the older bottles antiques of sorts.

The latest to revamp is Don Julia tequila. All three vessels—Tequila Don Julio Blanco, Reposado and Añejo—will boast modernized looks, each bearing a different profile. (The Silver is at right.) It doesn't look so very different from the old bottle. A bit trimmer, the cork a different shade, and the label's not as busy.

Don Julio was founded in 1942 by Don Julio González-Frausto Estrada. The brand was purchased by Diageo in 2005.

A Nightcap at the Opera

A chance to attend a cocktail competition at the Metropolitan Opera is not something one receives every day. So when Allen Katz (above, flanked by Tyne Daly and Kevin Denton) extended an invitation to such a perverse cultural mash-up, I immediately accepted. Every time I talk to Katz, the director of mixology and spirits education for Southern Wine & Spirits of New York, I learn something new. He makes gin (or plans to); he sings; he lived in Italy for two years; he was an intern to Stephen Sondheim. In this instance, I found out about his passion for opera. Here's the account I wrote up for the Times:

Mixing Cocktails and Opera
By Robert Simonson 
An hour before the singers in the Metropolitan Opera's Dec. 10, 100th-anniversary performance of Puccini's "La Fanciulla del West" bent an elbow at the Polka Saloon, a single mezzo-soprano, Susan Graham, bellied up to the Grand Tier's Revlon Bar for a round of cocktails. 
Ms. Graham was one of the judges of an unusual competition that saw some of the city's more prominent mixologists mix it up with the uptown opera crowd. She was joined by cocktail book author Gaz Regan; actress Tyne Daly, an opera fan who will play Maria Callas in an upcoming Broadway revival of the play "Master Class"; and Allen Katz, director of mixology and spirits education for Southern Wine & Spirits of New York. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

This Borough's Not Big Enough for Two Gins!

Anyone who lives in Brooklyn has, some time in the last couple months, encountered Brad Estabrooke's new Breuckelen Gin, the first new gin to be distilled in Kings County since Prohibition. Far fewer are aware of the existence of Brooklyn Gin, another new gin which, its name notwithstanding, is made in upstate New York by a guy who lives in Florida. 

Now one distiller is suing the other, citing the liquors are "phonetically identical" and that mix-ups have caused the firm "irreparable harm." But the suit is not brought by who you might think. The Florida guy is telling the Brooklyn guy to cease and desist naming his gin after the borough. 

According to Brooklyn Paper, which broke the story,
It all started in April, 2010, when Brooklyn Gin owner Angel “Joe” Santos — who really does own a posh waterfront condo in Miami Beach — filed papers to legally trademark the name Brooklyn Gin, eight months before Estabrooke. He finally started selling bottles in June 2010 — two months before Estabrooke did, according to the lawsuit, though Estabrooke’s website and lawyers claim that he was making and distributing his Breuckelen Gin months before Santos.
The real trouble began brewing in August, when Santos visited New York bars to hawk his liquor. But at Fatty ’Cue and Peter Luger in South Williamsburg, workers told him that a rep from his company had already come in with the stuff.
But they hadn’t; those reps, it turned out, were hawking Breuckelen, not Brooklyn.
That’s when Santos called Estabrooke for a classic mano-a-mano sitdown at Brooklyn Bread Cafe in Park Slope. Santos wanted a settlement, but the sides were far apart, so Santos hired a lawyer.
“If this is happening at a bar level,” he said. “It’s going to happen at a consumer level.”
This move, I predict, will backfire on Santos. Brooklyn—both its foodies and its food entrepreneurs—prize authenticity and locality. Not only are they not going to take well to a product being called "Brooklyn" that's not made in Brooklyn, but they react with high dudgeon to any legal move from an outer-borough force that tries to take down a local boy. Even if Santos wins the suit, he won't win any hearts, or accounts, in Brooklyn. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lani Kai to Begin Serving Brunch This Weekend

Lani Kai, Julie Reiner's new Hawaii-flavored cocktail bar in SoHo, will follow the example of Reiner's Cobble Hill joint Clover Club and begin serving brunch this weekend.

Lani Kai will serve brunch on Saturday and Sundays from 11am to 4pm. Among the dishes include Baked Eggs with Truffle and Leeks; Hawaiian-style smoked and roasted Kalua Pork with Cheddar Grits and a sunnyside up egg; Pressed Spam & Cheese sandwich; a Bacon Tasting of thick-cut maple, black pepper and duck bacon slices; and a surf-and-turf, mix & match riff on eggs Benedict: buttery poached Lobster Benedict alongside The Pacific Islander, poached egg on English muffin with Kalbi short rib, Kimchi butter and Hollandaise sauce.

The drink choices include just about anything you can order at Lani Kai at night, as well as a variety of Fizzes, Cobblers and Bloody Marys familiar to anyone who patronizes Clover Club. 

Merlot Is the Perfect Holiday Wine—Wait, No, Grenache!

I've been getting lots of press releases lately trying to convince me that such and such is the ultimate and appropriate liquor or wine to drink during the holidays. It's made it hard to know what to drink.

This missive came through the other day, touting Merlot's claim to the Christmas throne:
"Merlot has the ideal flavor profile and structure to pair well with the widest spectrum of foods. For the holiday season, Merlot – once relegated to the category of has-been wine, is making a strong comeback and pairs beautifully with turkey, roast beef, Christmas ham … to name a few."
I was intrigued. But then, five minutes later, this e-mail came through and I was confused again:  
"Grenache, the ultimate Christmas wine. This year, sommeliers and chefs around the world are encouraging wine lovers to embrace Grenache as the archetypal Christmas wine. There are in fact many Grenache-based Christmas classics, such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Priorat – which go perfectly with turkey and trimmings, but usually slip into the glass ‘anonymously’ because Grenache does not get credit on the label."
Can the vintners in Bordeaux and the Rhone please get together and work this out before the 25th? I've got shopping to do.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ladies Bathroom at Beauty & Essex Way Better Than Men's

I shall soon be filing a discrimination suit against the new Lower East Side restaurant and bar Beauty & Essex. For the amenities in the Ladies Bathroom far and unfairly exceed those in the Men's Bathroom.

I'm speaking specifically about libations. I don't normally expect to be served liquor when I visit the restroom. But when I find out that the fairer sex are getting flutes of rose sparkling wine, that fresh towel and perfumed hand soap just don't seem so special anymore.

But, seriously, there is an actual bar and an actual bartender in women's bathroom at this new joint. (See above. No, I didn't go in myself. I sent a field correspondent.) The specific wine in question: Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut Rose, which will run you about $20 a bottle in the store.

So is it too much to ask for two fingers of Scotch in the men's bathroom? Just asking.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Weather Up Tribeca Opens for Business

It's been a long wait for Weather Up Tribeca, the cocktail lounge on Duane Street that first promised to open on Halloween. These things take time, and sometimes liquor licenses don't arrive as promptly as you would like.

But on Saturday, Dec. 4—Repeal Day Eve, as it would happen—the offshoot of Prospect Heights' Weather Up quietly swung open its doors for business. The capacious space (plenty of room behind the long bar for the mixologists to work their magic) was about half-filled by 10 PM, and doubtless invited in more revelers before midnight. The fishy menu of oysters and haddock ceviche was already on offer, as was a compact cocktail list, seen below.

The Via Vero was brought over from Dutch Kills, another property co-owned by Weather Up Tribeca co-owner Richard Boccato. The Revolver, a west coast drink invented by Jon Santer, makes a surprise appearance. There's also a Weather Up Jr., a spin on the strong signature drink of the Brooklyn boite. Still based on Cognac and Amaretto, Jr. substitutes dry vermouth and Champagne for Sr.'s lemon juice. I didn't try it, but Jr. sounds like the better drink. The average drink price is $14.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Another Reason Too Many Cocktail Will Make You Sorry in the Morning

Prior to researching this article for the New York Times, I had for some time nursed the notion that I'd like to try my hand behind the bar. I know how to make a good drink, am versed in many recipes, have observed bartenders at work for years, like the idea of service and barside conversation very much, and own a vest and several hats. After hearing countless tales of physical woe from the best barkeeps in the nation, I'm not so in love with the idea. After all, these guys are having a hard time avoiding aches and pains in their 20s and early 30s. What would be the situation for someone like me who's, uh, not in his 20s?

The Bartender Appears to Be Shaken Up

By Robert Simonson

“WHEN we first started Varnish, we began sustaining a bunch of injuries,” Marcos Tello said. “I had a huge, constant knot in my forearm. Chris Ojeda developed tennis elbow. Matty Eggleston popped a tendon in his hand. We were all sidelined with all these injuries.”

Varnish is not a football team. It is a stylish, speakeasy-style cocktail bar that opened early last year in downtown Los Angeles. And the men Mr. Tello mentions are fellow bartenders, ranging in age from mid-20s to mid-30s. But in these heady days of behind-the-bar showmanship, when theatrical agitations of shakers filled with heavy-duty ice are becoming the norm, the mixologist’s physical lot is not so terribly far removed from an athlete’s.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Del Posto's New Cocktail List Spares No Luxury

As a compliment to their new four-star status, Del Posto has unveiled a new cocktail list which doesn't skimp on excess. Drinks begin at $13—the going rate for a craft cocktail in NYC these days—but soar all the way to $34.

Why so pricey? Well, the most dear of the drinks employ luxury mixers such as Rhum Agricole Clement and Hennessy Extra Old Fine Champagne Cognac XO. And one, a modest old Vesper, is garnished with gold leaf. If you choose to eschew unneeded extravagance, the list has many true-to-the-standard classics that hover in the $15-$18 range, including a Jack Rose, Vieux Carre (a drink that's making a real comeback lately), Aviation, Ward 8 and Martinez. Also nice to see the modern classic The Breakfast Martini on the menu. And the Quina Martini, using Bonal Gentiane Quina, looks very intriguing.

Here's the list:

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Neon Red Maraschino Cherries Lousy for Bees, as Well as Cocktails

And you thought the conventional, neon-red, Maraschino cherries found in grocery stores were lousy in cocktails. Look what they're doing to bees!

New reports recently discovered the mystery behind the red bees of Red Hook. Brooklyn beekeeper was perplexed that his buzzers kept returning to the hive a vibrant shade of ruby. He investigated and discovered they had found the syrupy sweet nectar manufactured at Dell's Maraschino Cherries Company on Dikeman Street and had sucked up their fill. They then return to their homes and make bright red honey that is loaded with Red Dye No. 40.

Dell's, which has been around since 1948 and is family owned, is annoyed by the bees, and is busy searching for a solution to the problem. The company makes cherries, only cherries. Too bad they don't make good ones, or even dye-free ones.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Fernet Goes on Tap in San Francisco

San Francisco's mania for Fernet Branca has just been knocked up a notch. 

Two bars—Broken Record and Bullitt—have just started serving the bitter Italian digestivo on tap. (You can also get Maker's Mark on tap at Bullitt). 

The craze for drinking shots of Fernet—known as "The Bartender's Handshake"—began in San Francisco, but is now a nationwide phenomenon. Guess the Bay area just found a way to make the drink theirs all over again. I give it two months before some New York bar starts doing the same.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Day With the Roto-Vap

Ever think about how your favorite cocktail smells? No, you don't. Because cocktails, chilled as they are, rarely carry a scent. Their attractions are primarily tactile and flavor-oriented. This has not stopped ambitious mixologists, however, from endeavoring to have smell play as big a role in drinking as it does in eating. Such was the topic of a seminar held by Pegu Club's Audrey Saunders and beverage director at the French Culinary Institute Dave Arnold, held Nov. 5 as part of a two-day "Alchemy of Taste and Smell" event.

Saunders said she got interested in aroma after trying to find a solution to the stink that was given off by egg whites if they sat in a cocktail glass for too long. She discovered that egg whites are great carriers of aroma, and by infusing them with a scent, she solved two problems at once–got rid of the rotten egg smell, and bestowed a far more pleasing odor unto the drink simultaneously. Other items that are good for conveying a scent unto a cocktail: garnishes, Carbon Dioxide (liquid and solid), steam, and fire, as well as Champagne and the good old sugar cube. Suddenly the lovely aroma brought on by the Angostura-soaked sugar cube at the bottom of a Champagne Cocktail makes complete sense.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

John Dory Cocktail Menu Prosecco Happy

Is John Dory chef April Bloomfield mad for Prosecco, or is it Sasha Petraske, who created the cocktail list for the newly opened oyster bar?

Either way, there's more of the tank-fermented, cheap Italian sparkler on this cocktail menu than perhaps any in town. It's there in the Negroni Sbagliato (substituting for the gin in a Negroni), in the Williams "75" (substituting for the gin and/or Cognac in a French "75"), and in the Veronicocktail (a kind of gingered Kir Royale, with pomegranate molasses instead of creme de cassis).

I suppose the general notion is sparkling wine goes well with seafood, and Prosecco is more cost effective than Champagne. Otherwise, there's a lot of gin, citrus juice and ginger in these drinks. A light-hearted and white-liquored list overall, made for light-bodied food. 

The menu:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Denver Mixologist Mixes Up Resume

It's come to this: bartenders are now so status conscious they pad their resumes.

Kevin Burke, head barman at Colt & Gray in Denver, and a finalist for Denver Magazine's 2010 Mixologist of the Year award, told that magazine, in an October interview, that he had some pretty heady past credits, including having worked at New York's Pegu Club, Milk & Honey, PDT and Death & Co.

That line-up would have set off warning bells for any journalist who works here in Gotham. (Have any bartenders every worked at all four of those top joints?) But Denver Magazine printed it. And guess what? Burke was lying—about all of it. And not just casual lies. This was one of his quotes, "When working at Pegu Club in New York City…'head barman' was the term because the structure at Pegu was you had your manager who ran the numbers and then you had the head barman who coordinated with the bartenders in Audrey [Saunders’] absence."

Of course, word got out. Bartenders travel frequently, and some from other cities got ahold of the Denver publication. They tipped off Denver Magazine, which in turned called Saunders. "I don’t know who he is," Saunders said of Burke. "I handpick all my employees and don’t remember him, but I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. So I looked through the employee records, and he doesn’t exist." Saunders, in turn, checked with the proprietors of Death & Co., Milk & Honey and PDT. Burke didn't work at any of those places either.

Then it gets better. As Denver Magazine reports:

I called Burke this afternoon to get his reaction. “I just got off the phone with Audrey Saunders,” I said.
“Oh, excellent! How is she?” Burke replied.
“She’s doing okay except that she is telling me that you never worked there.”
Burke’s response? “Really…Okay…I’m amazed that she would say that.”
Burke eventually fessed up, and issued an apology. It said in part, "It was not my intent to mislead about my employment history. My hope is that we can all put this behind us and get back to what it is we all love doing whether that is making drinks or consuming them." Which is sort of a non-denial denial.

When I get to Denver, I plan to look up Mr. Burke and try his cocktails. One things for sure—I won't be seeing him in New York anytime soon.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Beer At...Plug Uglies

I like any bar owner who has read Herbert Ashbury.
A Beer at...Plug Uglies
A triumphant shot rises up as I enter Plug Uglies, whose door is one of many on Third Avenue in the 20s that leads into an Irish bar. The Knicks score a critical basket? No. Someone has shown himself a silver-fingered master of the shuffleboard table that dominates the bar's back room. Perhaps due to its novelty, the game easily bests the nearby pool table in attracting barfly attention. Or maybe it's because you can hold a beer in one hand as you send a puck gliding across the board with the other. Can't do that in pool. Either way, the chalk board listing players "on deck" always has a few names on it.
Plug Uglies is 14 years old and is named after a motley and dangerous gang that roamed lower Manhattan 160 years ago. (Recent evidence, however, indicates the Plug Uglies actually terrorized Baltimore.) Those cutthroats and blackguards would hardly be welcome today, as Plug Uglies is very much a cop bar, based on the many police department arm patches affixed to the wall. (Not just New York, but Atlanta, Chicago, South Park, Sun Valley and elsewhere.) There are also street signs honoring Police Officer Anthony Sanchez, who was shot and killed in 1997 by a failed stockbroker attempting to rob his own father; and Sgt. Finbar Devine, who died in 1995 after leading NYPD's Emerald Society Pipes through 35 years of St. Patrick's Days parades. The soundtrack is on the heavy metal side, and the beer list is more than decent, a 50-strong mix of craft beers and the predictable pilsners.
The cute, blonde bartender in the scoop-necked black blouse is petite, but perceptively tough. She knows her job; doesn't touch my ten bucks on the bar until I'm ready to go. "Hey, where have you been lately?" she says to various Joes who saunter in, making them feel special. She shares a shot with a group she seems to know and like at the end of the bar. She doesn't with a more rowdy bunch at the other end, even though they take the time to shut their collectively yaps and stare with appreciation as she angles a bottle of Dewar's into a glass. "Your village called," a sign behind her reads. "Their idiot is missing."
—Robert Simonson

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bowmore's 10-Year-Old Arrives

I did not attend Whiskeyfest New York at the Marriot Marquis this year, but I did taste something new that nobody who was there got to try: Bowmore's Tempest Small Batch Release No. 2, a 10-year-old.

I heard rumblings of Bowmore's plans to unleash a 10-year-old single malt on the U.S. late last year. But the distillery was tight-mouthed about it. At the time, I assumed the Islay distillery was bringing out the new bottling as a recession-friendly, low-cost line extension, as many another Scotch maker has in the past couple years. But, no. Tempest is $100, costing a good deal than Bowmore's 12 YO or 15 YO. Why? Well, two releases: there are only 2,000 cases, 200 of which will reach the U.S., so it's rare; and the liquor is bottled at a cask strength of 56% alcohol. Cask strength is a thing collectors and whiskey-lovers salivate over.

Tempest is aged for a decade in first-fill Bourbon casks. It's got a warm amber color, and its palate boasts composed notes of the subtle peat, citrus, smoke and brine you expect in a Bowmore. The experience of drinking it lies somewhere between the rough and the smooth, the young and the mature; smooth because of the elegant composition of the Bowmore distillate; rough because of the alcohol strength of the liquor; young because of the relative youth of the whiskey; mature due to the manliness of the dram. Plenty to intrigue the tongue.

Tempest will be released in the U.S. in December 2010.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Blended Rum

Why blend rum?

This was the question that immediately crossed my mind when I was alerted to the existence of Banks 5 Island Rum, a new white rum that blends together the rums of five different islands. Now, I have nothing against blending, per se. But I sensed a cynical corporate attempt to carve out a stake in the growing rum market by concocted a bland, "international style" liquor that appealed to all palates. Even though I know that some of the blended Scotches are quite fine, when I have a choice between single malt Scotch and a blended, I tend to go for the more characterful single malt. 

My suspicions were unfounded, however, for I liked Banks from the first sip. The rums are from Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana and, of all places, Java. It's full of character and quite distinctive, full of funky and unexpected notes of green pepper, coconut, grass and meaty tropical fruits. Viscous and pungent, yet clean and bright, with a nose very much like an Agricole rum. Unusual, in a word.

The blending idea makes perfect sense when you learn that Banks' master distiller, Arnaud de Trabuc, is a Cognac man. "I come from the wine business and I also have been in the whiskey and Cognac business," he said, "where things are blended. I thought since we were going to do a new rum, we had to do something a little bit different." 

He used his past contacts in the rum business to source many different rums. "It was extensive tasting over 18 months. We had to strike the right blend. We had to also use rums that we knew we could continue to produce, and produce them in commercial quantities."

The decided-upon mix actually contains 21 different rums, the foundation being a rum from Trinidad. The blend was then filtered to render it white. De Trabuc, says Banks is the first major blended rum. "You have a situation in the Caribbean where, on the islands where there is rum production, that rum dominates consumption there." Rum distilleries don't trade with one another, he said. "There is a chauvinistic approach." 

Banks is available in Germany, France, UK, Belgium, Russia and, since August, the U.S.

It’s named, by the way, after noted explorer Sir Joseph Banks. It's bottled at 43 percent alcohol content, with a suggested retail price of $25 to $28. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Barrel-Aged Negronis Are Uncorked

It's been seven weeks since I filled a three-gallon Tuthilltown oak barrel with Campari, gin and sweet vermouth, and it's time to taste the barrel-aged Negronis. I have been sampling them all along, of course. About once a week. They progressed nicely, and according to expectations. Though I discovered along the way the hitherto unknown information that my wife does not like Negronis, aged or not. This was heartbreaking news. But she has bravely continued to taste them, hoping to bring her taste buds around.

To cut to the chase, the experiment has been a success. I strained the liquid through cheesecloth through a funnel into a series of glass jugs. The Negronis taste as good as any aged cocktail I've had in a professional bar. The naked truth is, barrel-aged cocktails are not a challenge. Anyone can make them. This does not denigrate their quality in any way. They are tasty little specimens. But making them is not rocket science. You just need liquor, a barrel and time.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Four Men and a Little Liquor Store

I've been wanting to write about the Park Avenue Liquor Shop for some time. Edible Manhattan gave me the opportunity. Here's the article:
The Goldsteins' Goldmine
By Robert Simonson 
The deceptively small Park Avenue Liquor Shop dwells in the shadows cast by the skyscrapers of east Midtown Manhattan. Beneath the showroom’s floor lie canyons and towers of another sort. Endless cases of wine and spirits are stacked eight feet high. A narrow avenue runs through them, and radiating out to the left and right are even slimmer side streets, just big enough to permit the passage of a very thin man.
The basement runs under the liquor store—and under Liberty Travel next door—and includes a wine cave that Jonathan Goldstein—a member of the third generation of Goldsteins to run the shop—carved out of what was once a ladies’ bathroom. It’s home to the store’s most prized bottles: a 1961 Mouton Rothschild, a ’47 Cheval Blanc, an ’85 Sassicaia. Bottles of Petrus from ’82 and ’53. There’s no wine under $200, and many more above that price.
This remarkable collection is just a fraction of Park Avenue’s holding. There’s more—much more, thousands of cases—across town in a warehouse that used to house the nightclub Tunnel. The Goldsteins can lay their hands on any of those stocks the day they’re asked for. “You could walk out right now with a case of ’82 Petrus,” says Jonathan, 41.

1534, New Little Italy Cocktail Den, Opens Tonight

Just a week after Mary Queen of Scots opened on the Lower East Side, with a drinks list that accentuated Scottish elixirs, comes the unveiling of 1534, a "cocktail sanctuary" just a few blocks away, that will focus on the liquid flavors of France and its colonies.

The joint was conceived by the owner of upstairs neighbor, Jacques, and the liquor program is being handled by the very busy Contemporary Cocktails crew (The Breslin, etc.). The cocktails have names that evoke French culture and history, like Code Noir, Napoleon's Loss, Tahitian 75 and The Pearl of the Antilles, but the list is divided in various spheres of French imperialistic influence, such as Americas, French Polynesia, Africa and Asia. Thus the cocktails contain everything from the expected Cognac to Rye and Cachaca, and Tequila and Mezcal. And there are a couple of punches as well. 

Here's the list:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

John Dory 2.0 to Have Own Six Point Stout

It's almost become a badge of honor among restauranteurs, to have Six Point Ales make you an exclusive brew.

Joining that select circle, which including Frankies Sputino and Bark, is John Dory, the April Bloomfield-Ken Friedman fish restaurant that reopens this week. It's called Six Point Oyster Stout. Oyster stout is stout filtered through oyster shells. I got an early taste of it at the Eater Awards on Monday. It's incredibly dry, with a great, almost metallic aftertaste, and I could see it going splendidly with oysters.

Sasha Petraske is doing the cocktail list and he's paring the drinks with food (not a trend I support, unless you like to get smashed before the entree comes).

Mary Queen of Scots Puts Emphasis on Scotch Cocktail

As a preferred base spirit for cocktails, Scotch whiskey historically ranks somewhere near dead last. Mixologists have found that the strong-flavored whiskeys of Scotland don't necessarily play well with other mixers. 

The new Lower East Side restaurant and bar Mary Queen of Scots refuses to accept that verdict. It's classic cocktails lists is headed with the few Scotch classics there are out there: Rob Roy, Scotch Old Fashioned, Robert Burns and Blood and Sand. Furthermore, the list also embraces another cocktail laggard: Brandy. Mary Queen of Scot will make its Sazeracs with Cognac and has a couple Brandy-based originals on the menu. 

"Jay Zimmerman and I collaborated on the cocktail list," wrote Marcine Franckowiak of Highlands, mentioning her The Breslin colleague. "For Mary Queen of Scots, I wanted to highlight the French influence and integrate it with the Scottish theme in the cocktail list. We chose to go very boozy for this particular list since we are in the Lower East Side, which has historically had a harder edge. We pride ourselves on a stellar Scotch list, but in addition to a dram you may also choose to indulge in an absinthe or Fernet as well."

Joining Zimmerman and Franckowiak behind the bar are an impressive line-up of New York mixologists, including Jim Kearns (Rye House, the Standard, Freemans, Mayahuel), TJ Lynch (Spotted Pig, Rusty Knot, the Breslin), and Nate Dumas (Pegu Club, Clover Club). 

Here's the list:

Whitesnake's David Coverdale Talks Wine

My interviews from Wine Spectator with non-wine individuals always make for interesting conversations. This one was not exception.

Whitesnake Singer's Red Wine
Rocker David Coverdale talks about the origins of his new wine
By Robert Simonson
People who pick up a bottle of Whitesnake Zinfandel probably have little doubt that rock singer David Coverdale has something to do with the De La Montanya winery–produced red. Why else would it bear the name of Coverdale’s long-lived heavy metal band, which topped the charts in 1989 with songs such as “Is This Love?” and “Here I Go Again”?
The Britain-born musician’s love for wine stretches back to the mid-’70s and his days as the lead singer of seminal hard rock band Deep Purple. Coverdale, no less a rocker at 59, spoke from his home in Lake Tahoe about his favorite bottles and the unexpected success of the wine Coverdale describes as “a bodacious, cheeky little wine, filled to the brim with the spicy essence of sexy, slippery Snakiness.”
Wine Spectator: How long have you been interested in wine?
David Coverdale: Being a child of the ’50s in England, it was only the aristocracy who could afford to indulge in European pleasantries. I didn’t really get to taste wine until an aunt took me to northern Italy when I was 10 or 11. That was just a finger dipped in. The next time, I was an art student of 15 or 16. I and a half-Spanish friend of mine would go to this delicatessen and get a loaf of French bread, cheeses and an old bottle of Chianti, the kind with straw around it. That was a life-changing experience for me in working-class northern England. Of course, when I was blessed with getting a gig with Deep Purple and flying all over the world in private planes and dining in Paris with 13 knives and forks on either side of the place setting, I was introduced to an astonishing array of wines.

Evergreen Cocktails

I wrote a little piece for the Nov.-Dec. issue of Edible Manhattan about the surprising number of drinks and eats at Vandaag, the Dutch-flavored East Village restaurant, that employ pine needles. This includes a couple piney cocktails.
Notable Edibles: Pushing the Needle
By Robert Simonson
Everyone, regardless of creed, enjoys the stands of pines that pop up on city sidewalks every December. The fresh forest scent soothes the fevered New York mind, and puts even confirmed atheists in the mood to trim a Christmas tree.
Except Phillip Kirschen-Clark. Last December, it made him want to cook one.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Official Drinking Day du Jour: Harvey Wallbanger Day

Didn't I say a few months back that this ur-1970s drink was having a comeback?

But, seriously, of all the drinks to have a fake official "day," the Harvey Wallbanger is about as unlikely as the White Spider. No surprise that it's the folks at Galliano who are tipping people off to the news. Only they and the vodka world will profit from a revival of this drink. And vodka doesn't need any help in the sales department.

If you really want to honor the day, and are in Manhattan, fry Pulino's or the East Side Social Club.

How One Mad Men Drinks

The "Mad Men" season is over, but this addled fan found a way to extend it. Last week I attended a tasting held by Remy Martin Cognac at the Lambs Club. I have no idea how they managed it, but Vincent Kartheiser was there, looking very much like Pete Campbell in his slim gray suit, slicked-back hair, clean-shaven face and with a drink in hand.

I introduced myself, and after assuring him that I was indeed a liquor journalist ("You do that full time?" he asked, with bright, curious eyes), I satisfied my curiosity on a few "Mad Men"-related liquor questions. First of all, I wanted to know what that whiskey was that Pete drank at home. I could never get a good look at the bottle. He was embarrassed to say he wasn't sure. "Glen-something," he hazarded.

He does know, however, what Vincent Kartheiser drinks. Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie. He's a brown spirits. And sometimes vodka. About Cognac, he admitted he didn't know much, but he was getting a nice introduction that night. Remy Martin's 1738 was being mixed into some excellent Gold Rush cocktails. But he doesn't think much of Don Draper's drink of choice, Canadian Club. "Have you had it? It's not very good."

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Beer At...Nice Guy Eddie's

I guess I should say for the record here that I find "Reservoir Dogs" one of the most self-congratulatory, joylessly violent, static and dislikable films of all time, and do not understand those to fall to their knees in worship of it. But then, I don't understand why pizzerias put pictures of Al Pacino in "Scarface" and Marlon Brando in "The Godfather" on their walls either. This antipathy for the early work of Tarantino's early work (I do like "Pulp Fiction") has kept me out of Nice Guy Eddie's for years. But I went in last week. Here's what I found:
A Beer At...Nice Guy Eddie's
The two things Nice Guy Eddie's has got going for it are its primo location—at the corner of Avenue A and E. 1st Street, East Village and LES night trollers can't help but pass it by—and its name. Nice Guy Eddie was the name of one of Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs," and you'll find posters and photos of the movie back near the bar's bathroom, as well as the soundtrack on the jukebox. It's a great name for a bar, even if it has taken on a slightly morbid hue—at least for me—since the 2006 death of Christopher Penn, the actor who played Nice Guy Eddie. He was 40.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Master Distiller Un-Retires to Make Angel's Envy

Movie stars come out of retirement. Rappers and baseball players, too. Why not a Bourbon distiller?

Lincoln Henderson—who was instrumental in the rise of Woodford Reserve as one of the leading small-batch Bourbons and was in charge of all Brown Forman whiskies, including Jack Daniel's, until retiring in 2004—has returned to the rickhouse to create Angel's Envy, a new Bourbon he calls his "life's work," for the Louisville Distilling Company. 

The first batch nursed along by Henderson, using triple-distilled Bourbon whiskey, was finished in a mix of Vintage and Ruby Port barrels "shipped directly from Portugal." (Where else?) The name is a play on the term "Angel's Share," the amount of whiskey that evaporates during the aging process, and the stylish bottle is made from "perfume-grade glass," about which I can tell you absolutely nothing.

It certainly has a beautiful color, a vibrant amber-orange. The nose is heady and perfumes, the winey notes of the Port intermingling with the spice of the grain. Plenty of vanilla, too. The palate has a similar mix of finesse and spice, caramel smooth overall but with a tangy, tingly hit in the mid-palate. More vanilla, woody notes, maple syrup, some orange but generally not to big on fruit. Austere and silky simultaneously. Just a hunch, but good Old Fashioned material here.

Angel's Envy is available in Louisville, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, Austin, Washington, D.C. and Boulder and Denver. So I guess I should feel lucky to have my sample here in little 'ol NYC. It goes for $45. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Visit to Vandaag

If you're only interested in drinking, Vandaag is a nice antidote to the darkened drinking dens of the East Village. It's light, spacious and airy, with a vaguely European design befitting the Dutch-Danish thrust of the menu. I know they want you to eat as well—Vandaag is primarily a restaurant, with plenty of fine food. But the large bar, taken on its own, can be a very pleasurable experience.

Unlike any other bar in town, there are categories titles like Genever Cocktails and Akvavit Cocktails on the drink list. There's also a list of Infused Akvavits, which you can order solo or in groups of three ($20) or five ($30). Flavors include strawberry with long pepper and sarawak peppercorn, pineapple, horseradish and dill, Chamomile citron, mustard seed and sultanas, and smoked black cardamom. You'll find more Dutch gin in the Digestif Cocktails section, where genever is mixed with things like Port and Fernet Branca. (One drink, the Dutch Flip, with cream, an egg and espresso, sounds like breakfast to me.)

Taking its appropriate place at the head of the list is the Vandaag Gin Cocktail. This is one of the glories of the cocktail list, a strong statement composed of Bols Genever, Golden Age beer reduction, bitters and a wash of Kirschwasser and Absinthe. The drink is a spin on an Improved Gin Cocktail, a Jerry Thomas special that's beloved in cocktail circles. But it stands on its own. It's distinct and forthright sipping drink, the entrancing lacing of the beer reduction lending the drink its personality. Don't leave without having one.

If you want something less imposing, the Bohemian Spritz may do you. It's made of Gruner Veltliner, Vermouth Blanc, St. Germain, Zirbenz Pine Liqueur, with Sparkling Wine and Grapefruit Zest. It's perfectly refreshing, though I prefer a different pine liqueur drink on the menu—Fir Lining, a spin on the Tantris Sidecar, a creation of Audrey Saunders of Pegu Club. It includes Clear Creek Douglas Fir Eau de Vie (it and the Zirbenz are the only major pine liquors readily available on the American market), Velvet Falernum, lemon juice, a little pineapple juice, and green Chartreuse. The base liquor is a Genevieve Genever-Style Gin which has been steeped in pine needles. True to the drink's name, the glass' rim is lined in a power made of sugar and pine powder. There's a lot more going on here, and it keeps the senses alert. (These drink, by the way, are all the work of beverage director Katie Stipe.)

One should also probably indulge in a Kopstootje while at Vandaag, simply because you won't be able to get one anywhere else. A Kopstootje is a glass of chilled Genever with a beer back. (The name means "Little Head Butt") If you don't specify, you'll get Bols and a glass of Carlsberg. Which is well enough. But, on one occasion, I asked for Cornvign instead of regular Genever. There are a few types of Dutch Genever and Korenwijn ("Cornwine") is the most heady and rustic, as it contained considerably more malt wine. It's generally not available in the U.S., but I saw a bottle on Vandaag's back bar, so I requested it. It made all the difference, adding considerable punch to me head butt.

Finally, I would also like to express my affection for the barkeeps' aprons, which vaguely evoke Delft blue pottery. Very fetching.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Żubrówka Vodka Comes to U.S. at ŻU, Minus the Bison Grass

Anyone who has ever tried the Polish vodka Żubrówka will never forget it. Unlike most vodkas, which has little or no discernible flavor (and pride themselves on this void), Żubrówka has a grassy, herbaceous taste unmatched by any other liquor. That's because the rye-based distillate is flavored with bison grass that grows in the Białowieża Forest.

During its several centuries of its production, however, the vodka has never been available in the U.S. Now it will be, but under the name of ŻU Vodka.

Why the new name? Well, it has something to do with this being a bison grass flavored vodka, as opposed to a bison grass vodka.

See, Żubrówka is not legal in the States due to its high coumarin content. Coumarin is a natural substance found in many plants (if you've ever passed a field of new-mown hay, you've smelled coumarin). But it is banned by the FDA, because it is deemed toxic when consumed in large amounts. To address this issue, the distillers at Polmos Bialystock—the only authorized creator of Żubrówka—have flavored ŻU with "a proprietary all-natural blend of identically replicate the flavors of bison grass."

ŻU is debuting in New York, California, Florida, Illinois, Texas, Colorado and Nevada. It goes for $25.

Bar Seven Five Releases Fall Cocktail Menu

Bar Seven Five, the swank cocktail den at the Hotel Andaz Wall Street has released its fall cocktail list. (I love the way bartenders procrastinate. Fall menus always come out in late October, summer menus in late June, etc.) This is a program that's overseen by the estimable Alchemy Consulting. Some good-looking things on the menu. Particularly interesting to me is the whiskey section, in which both drinks blend two sorts of whiskey, including the Perfect Pearl Manhattan, which, with its combo or American Rye and Scotch, seems to be a Frankenstein made of equal parts Manhattan and Rob Roy. Take a gander. 

House Cocktails 

75 smash Laird's Bonded Applejack, lemon, mint, Fee's old fashioned bitters


Part & Parcel: Ketel 1, lime, St. Germain, grapefruit, Peychaud bitters

Moscow Mule: Ketel 1, lime, housemade ginger syrup

Bee’s Knees: Tanqueray, lemon, honey syrup

Unusual Beginnings: Hayman’s Old Tom, Lillet blonde, Solerno blood orange liqueur

The Anecdote: Flor de Caña 7 yr, lemon, Lazzaroni Amaretto, Tawny Port

Blackstrapped Buck: flor de caña 4 yr, cruzan black strap, lime, housemade ginger syrup

Flaming Heart: Siete Leguas Blanco, lime, Licor 43, pineapple, green tabasco

Padre Corleone: Averna, Benedictine, Regan’s orange bitters

Spice Box: Johnnie Walker Red, lemon, Compass Box Spice Tree

Perfect Pearl Manhattan: Bulleit Bourbon, Dolin sweet & dry vermouth, Lagavulin Scotch

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

High West Whiskey to Bottle Barrel-Aged Manhattans

In less than a year, the barrel-aged cocktail trend has gone from a bar room in Portland to liquor store shelves.

High West Distillery of Utah has announced that on Dec. 5 it will release "The 36th Vote—Barreled Manhattan." That's right, it's a commercially available, bottled barrel-aged cocktail. Just as the bewitching elixirs were reaching bars across the nation, exciting drinkers across the country, now they will be a commonplace, a thing you can pick up at your local store.

The product has actually already kicked. October 15 was the launch of the same liquor, billed as "The US Grant Centennial Celebration Barreled Manhattan." It was specifically crafted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of The US Grant, a luxury hotel in San Diego, California. This Manhattan was a collaboration between Jeff Josenhans, chief mixologist and sommelier for the US Grant, and David Perkins, proprietor of High West Distillery and Saloon. The mix uses, of course, High West Rye Whiskey, and "premium vermouth" (which, I wonder).

And just a day before my barrel-aged Negronis are ready.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Two Bottles of 1959 Latour Wasted on Charlie Sheen

A few years ago, I wrote an article about the fabulous wine cellar holdings at Daniel, the posh Upper East Side restaurant. At one point during my interview with then-sommelier Philip Marchal, he lifted up a $7,800 bottle of 1961 Latour and showed it to me. I remember wondering what sort of person ordered such a pricey item.

Now I know. Charlie Sheen.

The addled actor continued his long and glorious history of alcohol and drug abuse during a dinner at Daniel last week. I'm not so upset that he snorted cocaine in the bathroom, or that he tried to use the same facility as an impromptu bedroom. But did the restaurant have to sell him two bottles of the exceedingly rare Grand Vin de Chateau Latour 1959, at $5,900 a pop? Pictures shown the actor holding the bottle by the neck. No doubt he slugged it back like a bottle of Thunderbird.

Back during my interview, I was told Mr. Boulud has a special relationship with the owner of Latour, Francois Pinault. He is a frequent guest at Daniel and a fan of the chef. Thus, diners with the wherewithal can choose from among the otherwise hard-to-find '09, '59, and '70 Latour vintages. What a waste.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Visit to Lani Kai

Saloon keeper Julie Reiner has been adamant that her new SoHo bar, Lani Kai, is not a tiki bar, but tavern evocative of the Pacific and her native Hawaii. And, indeed, the place kind of falls between two stools, landing somewhere between the sophisticated cocktail dens she's known for (Flatiron Lounge, Clover Club) and the newer tiki joints (Painkiller). There are tropical touches in the decor, but they're not overdone. The menu offers a Pupu platter and poi donuts, but also pork buns, lobsters roles, chicken wings and other things you could find at many another Manhattan spot. Many of the drinks feature rum and various fruit juices, but none of them are served in tiki mugs. The glassware is, well, glass.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Four Whites From Friuli and One Red From Calabria

Italian vintner Venica & Venica's covers Italy's boot from tongue to instep.

While most of its bottlings are white from the Collio section of Friuli, in the northeast corner of Italy, near the Slovenia border, it also produces a beguiling red from Calabria. The winemaker Giampaolo Venica recently hosted a tasting of his line on the outside patio of The Modern restaurant, where a couple of his wines are regularly poured by sommelier Belinda Chang.

Venica & Venica wines are grown on 28 hectares over seven hills in Collio that boast, according to Giampaolo, 55 different micro-climates.
Both Chang and Giampaolo told me that the winery holds by the "Ronco Del Cero" Sauvignon Blanc as its best, and signature, wine. Which I (and Chang) found somewhat odd, since another Sauvignon Blanc, "Ronco Delle Mele," was the real stunner. An amazingly tropical trip of tart orange, lime, lemon, resting on a bed of chalky minerality and wrapped in bracing acidity, it drank like a superior New Zealand S.B. (In a blind tasting, I would have sworn it came from that country.) Cero was in the same ballpark, but seemed less stunning, simpler, less bright than the Cero. I would be totally happy with the Cero at any meal—until presented with the Mele. At which point I would switch.

Of the other whites poured, the Friulano was full, with tangerine and lime flavors; and the Pinot Grigio "Jesura" was well above the average PG from almost anywhere else in northwest Italy. But the most interesting wine on the table was arguably the Terre di Balbia "Balbium" 2008. This is V&V's only bottling from Calabria, made from 20-year-old vines of the native varietal Magliocco. Magliocco was once widely planted in southern Italy, but is almost extinct today. Bottled after a year in old casks, Balbium is 14.5% alcohol, but tasted much lighter. It has a rich, musky nose. Medium-bodied and wonderfully drinkable, it tastes of plum, dust and cherry, the texture somewhere between silky and sandy. A wonderful food wine, I'm guessing.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Molto Nebbiolo at Maialino, Plus and Aged Martinez and Mix-and-Match Cocktails

The drinking is looking kinda interesting at the Maialino, the hot, vowel-heavy Italian restaurant near Union Square. The quirky, irresistible Nebbiolo Bar, set up by wine director Liz Nicholson, would be enough to draw in any curious drinker. It offers expressions of the red grape (best known as the raw material of Barolo and Barbaresco) from seven major growing areas in Italy and using different forms of vinification, including a sparkling, white, rose, and even an amarone-style wine. 

But now Nicholson has some competition from Kevin Denton, manager at the Gramercy Park Hotel Roof Club & Garden, who has put together a trio of intriguing cocktail options for the restaurant. Showing he's hip to the barrel-aged cocktail trend, Denton is offering Oak-Aged Martinez (Tom Gin, Sweet Vermouth and Maraschino). There's a seductive sounding spin on a classic in the Smoked Fig Old Fashioned, made of smoked fig-infused Rye whiskey and tobacco bitters. And, finally, there's an opportunity to experiment. An imbiber can match house-made root, birch and ginger beers with the spirit of their choice.

A smart, and nicely short, list.

The Sipping News

New York cocktails crowd the $20 mark. While this is true at some new places, like the Lambs Club, the article—typical for the sensationalistic Post—is misleading. At most of the bars they mention (PDT, Pegu Club, Milk & Honey, etc.), the average price is still around $14. However, that is an increase from the $13 price tag that was the norm a year ago. [NY Post]

It also now costs more to drink on the Long Island Railroad. [Gothamist]

Another boast from the Post: Sherry is popular again. I wish it were so. [NY Post]

West Village cocktail joint Little Branch will be adding a cafe upstairs (aka street level). [The Villager, via Eater]

Jimmy, a new rooftop cocktail bar in the James Hotel, has opened in SoHo. This, unfortunately, is one of those places that offers $18 cocktails. Since it's partly founded by Hotel Griffou's Johnny Swet and Larry Poston, whose cocktails I've tasted at Griffou, I'm not sure the price is warranted. But I will reserve judgment until I try them. [Eater]

Japanese wineries (huh?) are trying to turn table grape Koshu into world-class wine. [Times]

Park Avenue Liquor Shop Debuts Exclusive Tequila

Park Avenue Liquor Shop, the Manhattan liquor oasis, has been in the exclusive whiskey biz for some years, carrying various one-of-a-kind whiskey bottlings, some sources from Tuthilltown's stores and bearing the store's own name.

Now the Goldstein family, which has owned Park Avenue for 50-plus years, is getting into the tequila biz. The shop has acquired what it claims is one of only three existing barrels of tequila from Casa Noble CEO Jose “Pepe” Hermosillo. These casks are known as his “friends & family” barrels and, sez Park Avenue, have never been commercially available. 

Casa Noble Single Barrel Extra Anejo Tequila Aged 7 Years was bottled exclusively for the store. It is certified organic and, in case that weren't enough, Kosher for Passover. The 80 proof, 750ml bottle will retail for $100 is available for purchase now. Only 300 bottles are available. I have tasted a sample. It's dark in color, very smooth, and has a kind of Cognac quality, with all the concomitant flavors. 

The unusually old tequila (by comparison, regular Anejos are aged a minimum of one year) is aged in a single French white oak barrel, made from 100% Blue agave, and triple distilled. Single-barrel Tequila—you don't see that much.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Spiced Rum, Meet Spiced Whiskey

Why should spiced rum be the only booze to rake in the cash during the current craze over, well, spiced rum?

Here comes spiced whiskey.

Actually Revel Stoke, a spiced Canadian whisky, has been around for a decade. But it's always been hard to find in the U.S. (Perhaps no one was looking.) And in recent years, the Phillips Distilling Company, which produced it, began focusing on other projects.

But now their interest has been revived, and Revel Stoke will fill U.S. shelves this fall, all "re-branded" and everything. Phillips freely admits that the spiced rum boom inspired the move. "Since 30 percent of all rum volume is spiced, Phillips Distilling Company thought that the same could be applied to whisky," said a spokesperson. Revel Stoke is 90 proof. This is a higher proof than competitors Jack Daniels or Crown Royal. Phillips recommends you drink it with Coca-Cola, which, I predict, many will, if only to afford themselves the opportunity of ordering a "Stoke and Coke."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Counting Room Unveils Fall Cocktail List

The Counting Room, the Williamsburg bar which is armed with the great mixologist Maks Pazuniak, whose amazing work with cocktails I first encountered last summer at Cure, a bar in New Orleans, has a new cocktail list. 

A couple great drinks, the Salt & Ash and the Italian Heirloom, will remain. But a few new ones arrive:

One for Sorrow, Two for Joy
Deaths Door Gin, Lime, Rich Simple, Laphroaig 10 Yr

Blackboard JungleSmith & Cross Rum, Lime, Pedro Ximenez Sherry, Allspice Dram

How to TravelCinnamon-infused Laird's Applejack, Cinzano Italian Vermouth, Lemon, Honey, Angostura, Lagunitas IPA

New York in the 70'sOld Overholt Rye, Smith & Cross, Islay Scotch, Demerara, Boker's Bitters, Green Chartreuse and Orange oil.

A Beer At...Playwright Celtic Pub

This place grew on me. It has the right attitude, toward its patrons, toward itself, toward its neighborhood. It makes you feel welcome, and helps you forget midtown and the tourists outside.

A Beer At...Playwright Celtic Pub
Hal, of General Flooring (according to his shirt), is shit-faced. Those whopping pint glasses in front of him are filled with not just with Coke, but also Jack Daniel's. And by the looks of it, he's had six. Yet he reaches for Jimmy's bottle and tops off his glass with it. "Whaddaya doin'?" protests Jimmy. "Giving it a little bite," says Hal with a lopsided smile. Jimmy's drinking a non-alcoholic Buckler's, of course, but whatever. At this point, who cares?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Relentless 21st Century

Shafer Vineyards released its first vintage of Relentless, its Napa Valley Syrah blend, in 1999. This week, for the first time, father and son John and Doug Shafer lined up every vintage through 2007—plus barrel samples of 2008 and 2009—to see how the wine ages.

Turns out they age quite well. Not a big surprise, given the amount of alcohol, tannin and fruit we're dealing with here. Relentless ranges from 14.8% to 15.5% alcohol, and 20% of this unusual blend is the never-petite Petite Sirah. Shafer doesn't make dainty wines.

Relentless is made to age from 10 to 15 years, but is also advertised as drinkable upon release. But based on this tasting, the next time I get my hands on a bottle, I'm going to lay it down and wait ten years. My favorite wines were the unmistakably the 1999 and, especially, the 2000. The huge flavors of dark fruit had receded, and secondary flavors of tar, twig and tobacco came to the fore, and balance the palate out. Furthermore, the nose had opened and released wonderful scents of sagebrush and cooked fruit. The noses on the younger wines were still quite closed. Age also seemed to bring the wines together. The looser assemblage of tannin, juicy fruit and acidity found in the recent vintages wove into a harmonious blend. The big tannins never receded, but they integrated themselves. The 2000, a bit tight at first, just got better as it received more time and air.

Doug Shafer also liked the 2005, which was indeed drinking well. It was full (they were all full) and ripe, with notes of tobacco among the cherry, plum, prune and such. It will likely go a long way.

Relentless ages for 26-30 months in French oak, and then eight months in bottle. It's all new barrels now, but in the past there were some older casks. Much of the Syrah and Petite Sirah are co-fermented.

The Relentless wines are remarkably consistent, just as all Shafer wines are. From 2007 to 1999, there were differences from vintage to vintage, but it was always recognizably the same savory wine taking a long, slow journey into maturity.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

New Bombay Gin Product Out in May 2011; Bacardi Also Bringing New Vodka and Cognac to U.S.

Few of my recent posts are clicked on as often as the one announcing that Bombay Sapphire is planning to release a new expression of its gin soon. That big, blue, category juggernaut is one popular elixir.

So far, no word on what the new product will be called. But the launch has been pushed back to May 2011. So be patient, gin blossoms.

There's other news from Bombay's parent company, Barcardi, however. Recently, the liquor corporation announced the launch of Bacardi Reserva Limitada in the U.S. It's described as a "premium rum originally created for the Bacardi family." It was first made available to the public in 2003 to celebrate the opening of the visitors center at our distillery in Puerto Rico. Until now, the only place you could get it was at the distillery and at a handful of fine spirit shops the Cayman Islands, Bahamas and Aruba.

Reserva Limitada is made of the various Barcardi rums rested in lightly-charred American white oak barrels for between 10 and 16 years. Costs about $100.

Also, in January 2011 Barcardi is bringing Eristoff Vodka. Unknown here, it is called the top-selling vodka in France, Portugal and Austria—three very-different countries. It originates from Georgia and was first created for Prince Eristoff in 1806. The last members of the Eristoff family were Prince Nicolai Alexandrovich Eristoff, who died in 1970, and his sister, Olga, who died in 1991. Neither had children, making Eristoff's Barcardi's baby solely.

Barcardi is also planning to introduce Otard Cognac in the U.S., possibly within the next 6-12 months. It's already here, but hard to find. Not a great time for Cognac right now, so this is a brave move on Bacardi's part.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mad Men and Drinking, Season Four, Finale: Meet the New Don, Same as the Old Don

Season Four didn't conclude with a smashingly eventful episode the way Season Three did—where the Sterling Cooper troupe pulled off an "Ocean's Eleven" caper to pull the agency out from under the nose of the devouring, traitorous British. Instead, Matthew Weiner delivered another quietly excellent chapter in a season that has had many of them.

And it did contain one "surprise": Don got engaged, and not to the person you expected. But any astute viewer of the show saw that one coming. Jesus, Dr. Faye Miller herself—Don's main squeeze throughout the season—called it in episode two when she said Don was the "type" who got remarried soon after getting divorced.

Also, anyone who saw the way little Sally ran from Dr. Faye and into the arms of maternal, and beautiful secretary Megan, could guess which lady Draper would choose in the end. Though it went sour for him with Betty, Don still believes in the American dream he sells to consumers—the beautiful, docile, supportive wive and family, who don't question Dad too much, and certainly don't know his real identity and horrible secret. Faye was an attractive, competent, modern woman, a perfect match for Don in many ways, mainly intellectually. But she was no good with children, proudly didn't cook, and knew he was really Dick Whitman. Don grew and matured a lot this season, but not enough to see in Faye his life mate. He's still half living a lie. And I think even Draper knows he's probably backpedeled a bit in proposing to Megan without giving her the whole scoop on his fraught back story. Note that he begins the episode in the dark with Faye, and ends it in the dark with Megan, looking searchingly out the window. He's a lost man. Perhaps permanently.

Since "The Summer Man," where Don started to swim and cut back on the booze, "Mad Men" has been noticeably less centered on liquor. That One Drink Too Many has not forced many (or any) plot points in recent episodes. Faye drank little, maybe some wine. Megan doesn't seem to drink at all. Roger still hits the vodka and gin more than anyone in the office, but he's a creature of habit. Nothing new in his repertoire.

Hilariously, there was a pitcher of Bloody Marys on the table at Don and Pete's meeting with the American Cancer Society. I guess they don't care about liver disease or anything like that. Just cancer. Megan and her friend go to the Whiskey a Go Go during a trip to L.A., when she babysits Don's kids (and nets a marriage proposal). Betty's hubby Henry drinks a bottle of Ballantine while packing boxes and fighting with poor, sad, mad Bets. And Don drinks a Miller Hi-Life while in bed in L.A. First time that popular beer has been seen on the show.

There was, however, the very smart use of a bottle of Don's trusty Canadian Club in the last five minutes, where Don unexpectedly meets ex-wife Betty in the cleared out kitchen of their Ossining home. Betty has finally decided to move out (mainly to get Sally away from creepy neighborhood kid Glen). Don has come by to show the house to a perspective buyer. When informed that the movers have not done a very thorough job on the place, he knowingly reaches into the back of a high cupboard and finds an unopened bottle of CC. He pours some into a coffee cup, and shares it with Betty as he breaks the news of his engagement.

It's a tender scene—they don't fight—and an apt one. So much of the Draper marriage centered on drink. Don drank a lot, and Betty picked up the habit. Who knows how much shorter, and more bitter, their union might have been if they didn't have that eternal buzz to lean on. At the end of the scene, they both leave the kitchen, going separate ways, leaving nothing but the cup and the bottle on the table.