Sunday, June 27, 2010

Review: Bernard DeVoto's "The Hour"

Bernard DeVoto's slim 1951 volume "The Hour," recently reissued by Tin House Books, is a curious case in the annuls of drink literature. This "Cocktail Manifesto" is obviously the work of a crank behind whose rigid, irrational, hard-and-fast rules about drinking few would fall in line. Yet, the book is beloved by cocktails drinkers and historians.

DeVoto was an accomplished man. He won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. He had a column in Harper's Magazine for 20 years. He edited the papers of Mark Twain, was a novelist, composer, professor and many other things in his crowded 58 years. And yet, today, he's best remembered for his smallest book, in which he tries to impose an all-encompassing, moral philosophy of life on the Martini and the Cocktail Hour.

It's difficult to ascertain the tone of "The Hour." If it's satire, it's too subtle to be carried off. If it's written in all seriousness, it's too doctrinaire by half. What can one do with a man with thinks there are only two cocktails in the world (the Martini; and a slug of whiskey); who thinks "a slug of whiskey" is actually a cocktail; who called Manhattans "an offense against piety"; who abhors rum in all forms; who think fruit juices of no kind belong in the cocktail world; who really just hates almost everything that one might throw one down's throat, and all the people who don't abide by his narrow dicta; who sees blasphemy and treason all around him? One can only call him a kook, a nut, or worse—a bore. He's the kind of man it would be amusing to drink with once, because he is so utterly absurd and would make for fine entertainment; but with whom it would be torture to drink with twice. (Imagine him judging your drink choice carefully, eyeing your character for flaws.)

And yet. And yet.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What I Will Be Drinking This Summer

Some people have a summer drink. A certain bottle of Rose they like, or a beloved hot-weather cocktail. My life's not that simple. I know of too many excellent options to narrow it down to such a fine point. Which can be a good thing—variety and spice of life and all that.

But I do have a kind of handle on things and here's a list of what I fully expect to be the regular rotation from now until Labor Day, some of it old, some new.


Southside. This is, to me, simply the most delightful, piquant and flavorful of the summertime cocktails. It takes a bit of time, muddling those limes and mint leaves. My version is particularly involved, as it require lime and lemon. But it's worth the effort.

Pimm's Cup. For me, it's not summer without Pimm's Cups. I opt for ginger ale over lemonade.

Rose: Rose, of course, Rose. It's a cliche, but where would we be without pink wine when the sun beats down and we're feeling sluggish. My favored label of this summer: 2009 Channing Daughters Rosato di Refosco, made in Long Island with a Friulian grape variety. But I'm sure I'll drink others.

Lambrusco. I finally found one I like and respect. The Lini 910 Lambrusco Bianco, a white version of the Italian quencher.


Becherovka and Tonic: Pair tonic with this cinnamon-y Czech liqueur and you have one tasty concoction. You won't be able to stop drinking it. The Czechs call it a Concrete. It's much lighter than that name connotes.

Gin and Tonic: New because I'm making them this summer with Beefeater Summer, a new expression of the London dry gin made with hibiscus, elderflower and black current. I usually am suspect of new spins on classics. It usually marks a step down. Not this time. Light and lively.

Cocchi Americano: Old in Italy, new to the U.S. as of this year. It's Lillet with bite, with extra personality. It's addictive. Drink it straight on the rocks.


Hum Liqeuer and Ginger Ale: In theory, because the stuff is not available in New York yet, only Illinois. Delicious. Anyone out there taking a flight from Chicago to New York with some extra room in their luggage?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hum Dinger

The liqueur market may finally have it Next Big Thing.

It's called Hum, it was invented by a Chicago bartender and it's a little hard to explain. Which is good. Trouble finding the words means it's something new and different. And novelty is harder and harder to come by in the increasingly crowded liqueur market.

The creators behind the stuff, which is getting nothing but great word-of-mouth around the liquor circuit, are Adam Seger of Chicago and Joe McCanta of London. They worked for two years on the recipe for Hum, which has an organic rum base infused with hibiscus, organic ginger, green cardomom and kaffir lime. All trendy ingredients, but they come together beautifully in the dark purple potion. Hibiscus provides the color, the cardomom dominates the nose and all battle for the spicy flavor profile, though none (happily) win. Potent and strongly flavored, it's as close to an amaro as I've encountered in an American-made product.

Indeed, the makers modeled it after an Italian amaro, and were equally inspired by the botanicals of the French Caribbean.

It's suggested that you use Hum as a substitute in Negronis, Manhattans, Margaritas and most everything else. But I found it worked best mixed with ginger ale, a drink the creators are (unfortunately) calling Summer Hummin', which sounds the follow-up hit the Starland Vocal Group never had. (Actually, if there's anything I'd change about Hum, it's the name.) I would have experimented with more drinks, but my sample ran out, uh, pretty quickly. Sorry. It's just really good.

OK, now it's time to be cruel. You can't get Hum. They're rolling it out slowly. Right now, it's only in Illinois, California and Nevada. New York won't see it until late 2011. Believe me, I'm not happier about it than you are. But hope is not dead. I have a sister in Chicago...

"Mad Men," Season 4, On Its Way

Soon it will again be time for me to pick apart the drinking habits of the characters in "Mad Men." But until the premiere, on July 25, we have the 2010 poster art to chew over. Pretty stark. Obviously, it's expressive of Don Draper's new status, having shed both Sterling Cooper and his wife and family at the end of last season (which left him around Christmastime 1963). A new office, not very furnished. A view of Manhattan. A phone. A cigarette. A penetrating look outside at the rapidly changing world.

But where's the booze?

The Becherovka Summer

I began writing for Wine Enthusiast with the June issue. The publication has decided to up its spirits and cocktails coverage, a move I heartily applaud.

My opening item is about Becherovka, the spiced, bitter Czech liqueur that's been around forever, but is only know getting a big push from its mothership, the mighty Pernod Ricard. When it arrived in the mail, I was a bit skeptical. Another obscure European liqueur aimed at the already crowded cocktail market, I thought. But I liked it almost immediately. And, beyond gin, I have never encountered anything that naturally marries so well with tonic water. Bottles empty very slowly around here. This one was gone within a month. 

Czech Liqueur Makes a Return to U.S. Market
Like Chartreuse, the complex herbal recipe behind the ancient Czech liqueur Becherovka is known to only two living souls. Unlike Chartreuse, the 203-year-old Becherovka's fame has never stretched far beyond the borders of its home country. That should change this July, when the liquor conglomerate Pernod Ricard, which bought Becherovka in 2001, begins a re-launch which they hope will improve the liqueur's fortunes in the U.S. 
Becherovka was created in 1807 by pharmacist Josef Becher, who originally sold it in his native Carlsbad solely for medicinal purposes. In the Czech Republic, it is typically taken cold and neat—the better to enjoy its light anise/cinnamon bite—or with a dose of tonic water, a delightful drink know as "Beton" (translation: Concrete). But don't be surprised if you find some new Becherovka cocktails at your local watering hole by summer's end. 
—Robert Simonson 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

San Francisco's Rickhouse Unveils Summer Cocktail List

Rickhouse, the San Francisco's cocktail joint, has launched their Seasonal Summer Cocktail list for 2010. It will be available to the thirsty on July 1. It will be running it for the duration of the summer as as a supplement to its regular menu. Here it is:

Ginger’s Trois $8

It’s as light and effervescent as the twinkle of a clouds silver lining. Snappy and sparkling, this bubbly cocktail provides every minty answer you desire, and all without the trouble of having to ask a single question.

Plymouth Gin, Sparkling Wine, Fresh Lime, Fresh Mint, Fresh Ginger and Bitters

Cherry Blossom Cobbler $8

From the depths of the Orient, comes this sultry and seductive tigress that is heart-bent on sending a shock through your fingers and a chill up your spine. We insist you proceed with caution, lest you lose yourself within its snowy abyss.

Yamazaki 12 year, Organic Cherry Blossom Jam, Fresh Lemon Juice and Seasonal Fruit

Sutter Street Swizzle $10

Brazen and uninhibited, this beverage makes no apologies for its chilly disposition. For alas, even within the great depths of the Amazon will you find nothing quite as alluring and enticing as the subtle, yet untamed flavors of this exotic spiced beverage.

Cachaca, Falernum, Pineapple Gomme, Fresh Ginger, Fresh Lime Juice and Bitters

The Big Dig $8

A delectable and enterprising adventure that is attractively saturated in the sweet taste of lost inhibitions. Seasonal berries and sarsparilla sweetness unite to form an appealing combination that is one part carbonated fizz and one part summer bliss.

Beefeater Gin, Fresh Lemon Juice, Organic Raspberries, Artisanal Root Beer and a Dash of Absinthe

High-Plains Drifter $8

Earthy and mean, this glass of bad attitude is known for providing courage to the brave, and a kick in the pants to the timid. It’s just the curly wolf to have in your corner when you’re going through the mill and there’s trouble in the air.

Rye Whiskey, Sweet Vermouth, Amaro Nonino and Celery Bitters

Berry O’Brien $8

A drink that is as attractive to the ladies, as it is suitable for a diplomat. Do not let its innocent flavor fool you, for this drink is precisely the right combination of Whiskey served tall with just a dash of Irish charm.

Jameson Irish Whiskey, Fresh Blackberries, Fresh Lemon Juice, Ginger Beer and Bitters

Breuckelen Distilling Company to Start Selling Gin Aug. 1

The Breuckelen Distilling Company in Sunset Park—one of a handful of new Brooklyn distilleries that are aiming to flood Kings County with gin and such by the end of the year—will begin selling product on Aug. 1, owner Brad Estabrooke tells us. Also due to open Aug. 1 is the plant's tasting room, seen above.

Estabrooke began distilling on June 4, soon after he got his liquor permits. He's still working on the botanical recipe. For more on his story, read the fine article Edible Brooklyn has out this week on borough distillers. 

The Sipping News

Wine Spectator's John Shanken buys Malt Advocate, thus added a whiskey title to his empire of wine and cigars. If this merger ends up increasing the number of issues of MA, I'd say it's a good thing. (I write for both Wine Spectator and Malt Advocate.) [Cowdery]

Is it difficult to name cocktails? It's difficult to name them well, that's for sure. [NY Times]

The latest in liquor packaging: single serve plastic wine glasses. Jesus God. Even more tacky than box wine. Get 'em at Marks and Spencer! [Dr. Vino]

Slate takes a long look at the rare wine world, which many believe has been utterly "polluted by fraud." [Slate]

Eric Asimov drinks some American Gewurtztraminers and is disappointed. [NYT]

Two Single Malt Scotches Go Kosher

Glenmorangie, the Highland Single Malt Scotch, has been at the forefront of a lost of Scotch movements in recent years, including the drive to experiment with barrel aging behind the usual regimen of used Sherry and Bourbon barrels.

Now, the distiller can crow about another first: Earlier this month, Glenmorangie became the first Single Malt Scotch to be declared kosher. The second to claim such a distinction, Ardbeg, a peaty Islay scotch, followed close behind. Both whiskies are owned by Moët Hennessy.

The distillery and every stage of the distilling progress was inspected by a rabbinical authority, one who will return every six months to make sure everything is on the up and up. The kosher certification is only for Glenmorangie original and Ardbeg original. Other expressions of Glenmorangie will never get the kosher nod, as they are aged in barrels that formerly contained wines and fortified wines like Sherry, Sauternes and Port.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Bombay Sapphire to Release New Gin Expression in Late 2010

Bombay Sapphire, the ubiquitous, blue-bottled, and wildly successful offshoot of Bombay Gin, will have a brother by the end of the year.

The Bacardi-distributed product will see its line extended by one in late 2010/early 2011 with a new brand featuring additional botanicals, as well as those found in regular Sapphire. The move follows rival Beefeater's recent efforts to expand its expressions, releasing both Beefeater 24 and Beefeater Summer in the past two years.

Bombay Sapphire was launched in 1987, and was one of the first premium gins to hit the market. It has long since outpaced in sales the original Bombay Gin—which, I'm convinced, many people don't even know exists anymore.  The flavouring of Sapphire comes from a recipe of ten botanicals: almond, lemon peel, liquorice, juniper berries, orris root, angelica, coriander, cassia, cubeb, and grains of paradise. Unlike the distillation methods of other, more traditional gins, the botanicals are not steeped in the spirit. Rather, the spirit is triple distilled and the alcohol vapours are passed through a mesh basket containing the ten botanicals in order to catch the flavour and aroma. The result is a lighter—and, to critics, more vodka-like—gin.

The new bottling—which is, at yet, unnamed—will add a few ingredients to the regular botanical mix. What they are has not been revealed, but the result it touted to be a "crisp, vibrant flavor." Price will be about the same as standard Sapphire.

DIY Bitters in Brooklyn

The current issue of the ever-handsome-looking Edible Brooklyn has the first article I've written for the publication. Topic: folks who take their cocktail drinking into their own hands by making homemade bitters. Take a glance:

Sweet on Bitters
By Robert Simonson
 Mixologist Damon Boelte first saw the tall pear tree behind Frankies Spuntino in 2008 when the Carroll Gardens restaurant's owners, Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli (known collectively as the Franks), hired him as a cocktail consultant.
"The first string of meetings, it was summertime and we were sitting in the backyard talking about what we would do," recalls Boelte. "I looked over and saw the tree, and said, ‘Oh, cool-pears! Let's do that!' "
By "that," he meant: make bitters. By the time the Franks opened the bar at Prime Meats, two doors down from Frankies, Boelte had cooked up custom pear bitters made from the fruit of that inspirational tree. His take on the Old-Fashioned forsook the bottled Angostura bitters for which that classic cocktail calls, and instead featured his handcrafted backyard bitters.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Beefeater Summer to Be Followed by Beefeater Winter

Desmond Payne, the master distiller at Beefeater, is not done yet.

Payne, who has in the last two years added to the London gin's line by creating Beefeater 24 (tea notes) and Beefeater Summer (hibiscus and elderflower notes), is working on Beefeater Winter.

Like Summer, Beefeater Winter will be a limited release targeted at a certain time of year. It will build on the classic Beefeater botanical recipe by adding West Indian cinnamon, Indonesian nutmeg and Scotch forest pine.

The Summer, meanwhile, has proved such a hit that it's no longer being sold just in the U.S. market, as was the original plan.  I also learned that, while Beefeater Summer will return each year, the botanical recipe will change. So, if you like the way it tastes, better stock up now. Come fall, it's gone.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Julie Reiner Christens SoHo Bar Lani Kai

Lani Kai will be the name of Julie Reiner's upcoming SoHo bar.

"It’s a beach in Kailua on Oahu," Reiner, a native Hawaiian, told me for an item recently posted in the New York Times' Diner's Journal. "It’s a beach I spent a lot of time at as a kid. It’s a beautiful spot. It’s means ‘heavenly waters.’ For me, the name refers to both the beauty of the island, which I’m trying to capture in this new space, but also to the liquid form itself, which I’m always about." 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The 90 Day Sour

Here I am writing about aged cocktails and how the East Coast has some in the works, but we'll have to wait a bit to taste 'em. And all along Rye, the Williamsburg restaurant and bar, has beaten everyone to the punch.

Their 90-Day Sour has been on the menu for five months. It's the work of head bartender Souther. He puts brandy, orange juice, lemon juice and lime juice in a glass bottle (see below) and lets it sit for 90 days. He then pours it into a highball, floats a bit of Gosling's dark rum, and tops it with grated nutmeg. Souther intends the drink as his homage to tiki cocktails.

It's a beautiful drink, mellow and integrated, with the fresh rum adding an edge and the nutmeg adding spice. Only $10!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Talking Turkey

Turkish wine. Name a winemaker.

If you said Kavaklidere, aside from your pronunciation skills being highly advanced, you are a sharp observer of the Turkish wine scene here in the U.S. Of course, that doesn't take much study, because the wines of only one Turkish winemaker currently make it into America: Kavaklidere.

Kavaklidere is also the largest winery in Turkey, with 550 hectares in land holdings throughout Anatolia in five different regions: Ankara, Eastern Anatolia, Thrace, Aegean and Central Anatolia. Along with rival winemaker Doluca, they rule the industry. They produce a dizzying array of bottlings, using many different grapes, both native and, increasingly, international. Their output is eight million liters a years, 80% of which is consumed in Turkey. Still, with all its advantages, Kavaklidere's wines are little known in this country. Basically, unknown, outside Turkish restaurants. (France imports quite a bit of Turkish wines.)

Monday, June 7, 2010

George DuBoeuf Finds His Vintage of a Lifetime

When George DuBoeuf, de facto king of Beaujolais, says he's found his Beaujolais vintage of a lifetime, you tend to listen, even if you are a bit skeptical. After all, he can only get away with saying such a thing once. And who knows more Beaujolais vintages, and knows them intimately, than this eminence grise of the Gamay grape?

Monsieur DuBoeuf and his son Franck said the 2009 vintage was the sunniest in long memory, resulting in very mature grapes upon harvest. Beaujolais Villages, in particular, exceeded their expectations, which a darker-than-usual hue to the wines.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Yet More on Barrel-Aged Cocktails

I heard about Jeffrey Morgenthaler's experiments with barrel-aged cocktails of in Portland a couple months ago and have posted a couple items here since then. Here's my first paid piece on the subject. I was surprised how quickly the idea had caught on. If I wait until the end of summer, I can sample a specimen here in New York. No need to fly to Portland. (Not that I don't want to fly to Portland.)

Here's the article:

A Beer At...Tonic East

Yelpers talking of Tonic East say it represents the epitome of what Murray Hill is all about. A whole neighborhood, like this? I had no idea.

Here's the Eater column:

Strange Cocktails From Another County

I recently posted an item on the New York Times' Diner's Journal blog about Christina Bini, a big fish from the small cocktail pond of Florence, Italy. Bini has been stolen from Tuscany by the owners of Il Matto, a new restaurant in Tribeca, who hired her to create their cocktail program—Bini's first in the U.S.

Lately, every time I encounter a prominent mixologist from outside the tight U.S.-UK cocktail circles, I am struck by how differently other parts of the world approach the art of the mixed drink. As advanced as cocktail science is in the English-speaking world, we do tend to set up certain rigid aesthetic and culinary borders and bugaboos for ourselves, somewhat judgmental rules that must be accepted and headed. Bini knows nothing of these. She's fine with vodka.  She told me she "loved" her blender. And she'll embrace any ingredient as a potential cocktail players.

One commenter on the Times article noted that I did not mention if I liked any of the cocktails I described. Well, I was reporting on Bini and her cocktail menu, not reviewing them. I wasn't functioning as a critic. But I will say here that, of the eight or so Bini creations I tasted, I like two or three quite a bit, particularly the ones that offered an enticing answer to the tired old Bloody Mary. Overall, the drinks are original and provoking. You may not like them, being as unusual as they are, but it won't be because the drinks are badly made, or haven't been thought out.

As for the Martinis with vermouth-soaked stones, one tastes very little, if any, vermouth. It is essentially a very dry Martini, the kind they drank in the 1960s. However, there is a noticeable difference in taste between the Martinis with black stones and white stones. The latter were distinctly more saline, and thus, in my opinion, preferable, as the salt introduced an additional element to the drink.

One other thing: I would drink these cocktails with food, not by themselves. That is not a piece of advice I normally give. I like wine with dinner, not cocktails. But these drinks, so involving foodstuffs as they do, are made as meal accompaniments. Il Matto, indeed, intends to promote them that way. Here's the article:

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Brooklyn Artist Designed New Summer Label for Lillet

Lillet's been souping up their summer image in recent years, ringing the bottles in customized, bright imagery for the hot-weather months.

This year, the apertif called in the services of a Brooklyn artist with the ironical name of Autumn Whitehurst. (Her parents just couldn't name her Summer to help Lillet out, could they?)

Brooklyn's been getting a lot of attention from the big liquor companies lately. Absolut Brooklyn, a collaboration with Spike Lee, came out last month.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Templeton Rye Goes National

Templeton Rye—the provincial whiskey that has gotten a lot of attention in the past few years for its homespun tale of its clandestine Prohibition origins and having supposedly been Al Capone's favorite booze—will go national by the end of the year, it was announced.

Until now, you could only get Templeton in Chicago. That, of course, was part of its allure—its unattainability.

One has to be one's toes when taking in the Templeton tale; it just sounds too good not to be a piece savvy marketing. But the general story is that tiny Templeton, Iowa (pop. 300 or so), illegally made rye whiskey during Prohibition to get by. The hooch developed a reputation for relative quality during the time. Flash forward to the 21st century, Scott Bush and co-founder Keith Kerkhoff, descendants of the original families that produced Templeton Rye before Prohibition, tracked down the recipe and started producing it again.

The liquor is actually made in the huge Lawrenceburg Distillers in southeast Indiana, but it's bottled and labeled in a facility in Templeton, thus retaining the liquor's connection to its roots. Templeton actually provides profiles of its various "bottlers," who all look like the sort of moms you want to be making you cookies.