Thursday, July 29, 2010

Breuckelen Distilling Company Starts Selling Booze Early; Plans Winter Gin

Last we checked in with Sunset Park's Breuckelen Distilling, they were set to roll out their new gin—the first gin made in Brooklyn since Prohibition—on Aug. 1. But a quick call by distiller Brad Estabrooke to the state liquor authority—in which he discovered he was good to go, as far as the state was concerned—resulted in the bottles going out a few days earlier that expected. One liquor store in Long Island already has the stuff, and NYC shops Thirst Wine Merchants, UVA Wine and Spirits and Dry Dock will be carrying it soon.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Kahlua to Get Even More Christmassy This Winter

Christmas is Kahlua's season, traditionally. It's when folks go out and buy a bottle of the Mexican coffee liqueur—one which usually lasts them until the next Christmas.

But this yuletide will be a particularly merry one for Kahlua, which will roll out another line extension, Peppermint Mocha Kahlua, to welcome the holiday. It will be the same proof as usual, with the flavor augmented by the traditional Christmas flavors of peppermint (as in candy canes) and chocolate (as in all those things made of chocolate you eat over the holidays). It will be a limited-edition product.

I've been trying to upload a picture of the bottle for days now, but without success. So just picture the usual Kahlua bottle, but done up in colors of silver and red (including a red cap), with green accents, and no images of exotic architecture. Looks like you could hang it on a Christmas tree. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Debut Menu for the Coffee Program at The Randolph

Never like Irish Coffee. And, hence, I tended to take a dim view of the idea of the "coffee cocktail." That is, until I sampled the quite wonderful inventions being served up at The Randolph. The Little Italy bar recently opened its doors to daylight hours, presenting what must be the most sophisticated line of coffee cocktails in New York. (There's regular coffee, too, but you know where my interests lie.)

I met with Troy Sidle—the newest member of the Alchemy Consulting team, which put together the program for The Randolph—and he led me through a tasting of several of the creations. I didn't sip anything I didn't like. You can read more about the place in this Diner's Journal item I wrote up for the Times.

Meanwhile, here's the opening menu:

Official Drinking Day du Jour: Scotch Day

Lately, it seems to me, the popular marketing device of the Official Drink Day has gotten out of hand. You can't rub your eyes and reach for your morning cup without soon discovering that the day dawning before you has been reserved especially to pay homage to some particular liquor or cocktail.

June 18, I learned, was National Martini Day. Why that day and not another? Why not? July 19 was National Daiquiri Day, causing Bacardi to send me a few helpful recipes. And this past weekend, on July 24, our nation observed National Tequila Day. (Or did it?)

Who decides these things? The President? Congress? A PR genius somewhere in Midtown Manhattan? Anybody? I don't know. I just read the emails that come through my computer. It's hard to ignore them after a while, so I've decided to create this new feature to mock celebrate these official days and keep my citizens attuned to what booze they should honor and when. After all, we can't have people drinking Daiquiris on National Martini Day, can we?

So take note, fellow Americans: July 27 is National Scotch Day. Please arrange your schedule accordingly. And would it kill you to have a Rob Roy? 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Absinthe Gets More Specific

It was absinthe expert Ted Breaux who gave the U.S. its first legal absinthe in nearly 100 years when he helped develop, with Viridian Spirits, the formula for Lucid Absinthe Supérieure, the by-now-familiar black bottle with the cats eyes on the front.  

You'd think that after getting a bottle of the green stuff on the market, Breaux would be satisfied. But no. He's only just begun. He's creating an absinthe line. Breaux, and Viridian Spirit’s Jared Gurfein are teaming up again to bring three new absinthes to the United States this summer: Jade C. F. Berger, Jade Esprit Edouard, and Jade 1901. 

All three have been available in Europe since 2005, and are replications of original 19th century brands apparently owned by Breaux, perhaps the foremost contemporary expert on absinthe in the world. "I set out to resurrect these exemplary original pre-ban absinthes after watching the industry clutter the European market with products that were big on claims and woefully short on historical accuracy and quality," said Breaux in a press release.

Mayahuel, Death & Co. Wins Spirits Awards at Tales of the Cocktail

The Tales of the Cocktail convention culminates every year in the annual presentation of the Spirited Awards. Last year, there was some carping within the cocktail community that too many of the winners hailed from New York, with bars like Pegu Club, Clover Club and PDT taking home prizes. To prevent that, the nominating committee has noticeably more people on it in 2010 that didn't hail from Gotham. And, indeed, there were a good amount of non-New York nominees. Places like The Varnish in L.A., the Rickhouse in San Fran, and Cure in New Orleans got nods. (The confusion-making hair-spitting among the categories—Best American Cocktail Bar, World's Best Cocktail Bar, World's Best New Cocktail Bar, World's Best Hotel Bar—rather makes my head swim, I must admit. Where's Best Doorman-ed Cocktail Bar?)

But, in the end, New York showed well again. Death & Co. was named the Best American Cocktail Bar, as well as nabbing the Best Cocktail Menu award. Mayahuel was called the Best New Cocktail Bar. And local boys Dale DeGroff and Brian Rea won laurels. It was nice, however, to see good old Murray Stenson of Seattle's Zig Zig Bar win for Best American Bartender of the Year.

Here are the partial results:

Best American Cocktail Bar
· The Clover Club, Brooklyn
· Death & Co., NYC
· Rickhouse, San Francisco
· The Varnish, Los Angeles 

World’s Best Hotel Bar
· The Artesian at the Langham, London
· The Bar at The Connaught Hotel, London
· Florida Room at The Delano, Florida
· Hemingway Bar, Paris

Friday, July 23, 2010

Mad Men and Drinking, Season Four, Premiere

It's November 1964 at the start of season four of "Mad Men," and a lot has changed in the world of the series' characters. But not the drinking. They're still drinking. And drinking the same stuff.

Ad exec and glamorous sphinx Don Draper has had some hard knocks during the first full year of the Johnson administration. He's his beautiful but infantalized wife, his two children, and the seemingly picture-perfect family life that went with them, and he's been reduced to living in a slightly shabby Greenwich Village apartment, relying on blind dates set up by pal Roger Sterling—and the occasionally S&M hooker—for companionship.

Furthermore, the newly minted Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce must make do with one cramped floor of the Time Life Building. But he still has his Canadian Club. There are bottles in his office and in his home. I may be imagining things, but the label looked different, the distinctive Canadian Club cursive bigger and bolder. He seems to have kept the same orb-like glasses from the old office as well.

New York Gets a Genever Bar

I've loved the idea of a genever bar ever since my first trip to Amsterdam in 1999, when I visited the ancient, hidden Dam Square bar Wijnand Fockink, and learned the ritual bending over your filled-to-the-rim, tulip-shaped glass of Dutch gin to take the first sip.

Last year, when Bols repackaged its genever and began marketing it to the, with success, to the U.S. cocktail bartender crowd, I wondered how long it would be before somebody opened the inevitable genever bar in New York. (I thought of doing it myself for a moment.) Well, it took about a year. The place is called Vandaag, and it's in the East Village, of course. (Every new important bar seems to open in either the East Village or Williamsburg these days.) I wrote an item about the place, which will open next week, for the Times' Diner's Journal.

Incidentally, as genever has become more popular, I've grown more inpatient with the way the word is being pronounced here. I have yet to meet a person in the cocktail world who doesn't say, with the flattest American accent possible, "je-NEE-ver." And yet, on my trips to Holland, I have never heard anyone say the word that way. Genever begins with a Dutch "G," which is more guttural and breathy than an English "G." Furthermore, the second syllable is pronounced "Nay," not "Nee." The "v" is done differently, too. So the whole thing is said "huh-NAY-fer," with a bit of a guttural growl at the beginning. When I was in Amsterdam, Dutchmen drilled me on how to say it correctly. So when I head "je-NEE-ver" here, it's like fingernails on the chalkboard to me.

I know the Bols people are pushing the Americanized pronunciation in their marketing, to make the new liquor seem less foreign to Yanks. But it's really not that hard to say it right.

Genever and Dutch Food in the East Village
By Robert Simonson
With interest in the ancient Dutch style of gin known as genever growing in cocktail circles, it was only a matter of time before a genever bar opened in New York. Vandaag, near the northeast corner of Second Avenue and Sixth Street in the East Village, will be the first when it has its soft opening on Tuesday.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Another Bottle Change

Old liqueurs just can't stop changing their bottles.

First there was Drambuie. Then Benedictine. And Herbsaint. Now its Chambord's turn. The vessel is still a fat little orb it always was, but, "The crown is indicative of Chambord’s royal beginnings and Chambord’s detailed lattice patterns adorn the label and crown. The brand name is boldly displayed and is instantly readable and immediately identifiable. The new bottle offers simpler, cleaner pours and the neck and cap have been redesigned to improve usability while cleaner, clearer and lighter weight glass showcases the brand’s deep, natural color."

This all happens as the raspberry-flavored liqueur announced a new product, Chambord Flavored Vodka, "a balance of premium quality French vodka infused with Chambord Liqueur."

Ravi DeRossi to Open Gin Palace in Los Angeles

Ravi DeRossi, the stealth player in the East Village cocktail scene boom, is now casting his gaze west.

DeRossi is looking to open a new gin-oriented bar in the City of Angels. It's name will be Gin Palace, after the one-time term for the lavish liquor emporia that once dotted Victorian London. According to the Village Voice, he's already started construction in L.A., and hopes to open another Gin Palace in New York—though he suspects he cannot secure another liquor license in the East Village. DeRossi is already the owner or part-owner of Death & Co., Mayahuel, Desnuda and Cienfuegos. The latter only opened a few months ago, and still has to see the unveiling of its downstairs rum cocktail bar, which will be called El Cobre. (The upstairs is a rum punch bar.)

DeRossi told the Voice he plans to offer "hundreds" of different kinds of tea sandwiches at Gin Palace, served on three-tiered silver platters. (Dainty!)

That will make two new bars in the work in L.A. by Death & Co. partners. It was reported earlier this year that DeRossi's partner David Kaplan is planning to open a bar with former Death & Co. bartender Alex Day at the helm.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Whiskey Town/Tavern Guys to Open Williamsburg Branch

Pickle Backs are on their way to Brooklyn.

The folks who brought you Whiskey Town and Whiskey Tavern will soon be bringing you a Whiskey Something or Other in the Williamsburg.

George and Justin Ruotolo, the brothers behind the East Village bar Whiskey Town, opened in 2007 on East 3rd Street, and the Chinatown joint Whiskey Tavern, opened 2009 on Baxter Street (with partner Rob Magill), expect the place to be open by the end of the summer. (Name and address to come later.)

One can reasonably expect a place much like the first two, sporting a wide array of whiskeys by the glass, cheap beers, lots of bacon on the menu and a regular-guy atmosphere. And, of course, Pickle Backs. A lot of bars claim credit for the popular drinking trend, but the two Whiskey bars have probably sold more Pickle Backs than any other places in NYC.

A Beer At...Joe's Bar

Joe's Bar is a nifty find, tucked away on E. 6th Street near Avenue A. Old without being cutely so.

A Beer at...Joe's Bar
Can there be an ancient watering hole in lower Manhattan—like McSorley's and the White Horse Tavern—that hasn't been fetishized and celebrated within an inch of its life? One that have been largely overlooked by the press and the tour guides all these years? Apparently. Two steps beyond the facade of Joe's on East 6th Street, off Avenue A, with its streetside collection of suffering house plants, and your first thought is, "This place is old." The dark red ceiling is a patchwork of tin. The checkered linoleum floor (no doubt hiding a hardwood one) has been darkened by foot traffic. There's a payphone on the wall. The restrooms have little illuminated boxes above them saying "Men" and "Ladies"; a sink to wash our hands is in a separate alcove nearby. Opposite is the heavy wooden door to what was once a walk-in ice box.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Benedictine Unleashed Darth Vadar-ish Limited Edition Bottle

To honor its 500th anniversary on Earth, Benedictive, the impossibly ancient French herbal liqueur, has unveiled a limited edition, bad-ass-looking, all-black bottle.

According to the company, the design is inspired by earlier incarnations of the Benedictine bottle. The dominant black is a tribute to the monks' habits, but "above all it is representative of the secrecy surrounding the Benedictine recipe." The gold detailing represents alchemy. And finally, the three letters DOM, stand for Deo Optimo Maximo, or "To God, Most God, Most Great," the motto of the Benedictine monks.

Also in honor of reaching the five-century mark, Benedictine has released the winning recipe of a worldwide cocktail competition. Now, I don't generally put much stock in these contests. But I'm printed the cocktail here because I do love a recipe so simple you can memorize it instantly—particularly in these times, when cocktails get more and more ornate, confused and involved.

Damon Dyer's The Monte Cassino is simplicity itself: 3/4 ounces each of Benedictine, Yellow Chartreuse, lemon juice and Rittenhouse Rye.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Painkiller Offering Zombie Bowls

Feeling reckless?

Painkiller, the new tiki bar on the Lower East Side, is now serving "Zombie Bowls," which, as co-owner Richard Boccato described it, is basically a punch bowl-size Zombie cocktail.

The menu addition is notable in that Painkiller is known for denying customers more than one Zombie, as the legendary rum cocktail is lethally alcoholic. The Zombie Bowl—cost: $80—is obviously intended for a group of people. And Bocatto still reserves the right to deny service. He said recently that he had served only two of the bowls so far. Others who ordered the specialty were politely turned away, as already being one or two sheets to the wind.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Hibiscus Nears Ubiquity in Cocktail World

Flavors go through waves in the cocktail world. Elderflower, ginger, acai. They come, they go, sometimes they stay. The trendy flavoring budding in the liquor universe right now is hibiscus.

The large, tropical flower is suddenly a component in literally dozens of new products found in the liquor store and behind the bar. Hum, the spicy-sweet, new herbal liqueur created by Chicago bartender Adam Seger, is infused rum with hibiscus as well as ginger, whole cardamom, kaffir lime. Beefeater Summer, a limited-edition gin from the London distiller, has the blossom as an added botanical. Gran Centenario Rosangel Tequila is rendered pink by a hibiscus influsion. Actual flowers in syrup made by Wild Hibiscus are common garnishes, and Brooklyner Louis Smeby is marketing a hibiscus-rose bitters.

Martin Cate, owner of San Francisco's Smuggler's Cove, has gone the extra mile, making his own hibiscus liqueur. It goes into his Sorrel Rum punch, which is based on a traditional Jamaican hibiscus punch. "I think the rise in popularity of hibiscus is due to a couple of factors," said Cate, "including people looking for bold and tart new flavors, the fact that it's naturally vibrantly colorful, and perhaps most notably, the rise in America's Latino population, where hibiscus is already a popular and established ingredient." 

I don't mind the trend so far. The flavoring is being used in a lot of smart ways. But push it to far and the inclusion of hibiscus in a recipe will soon become shorthand for knee-jerk trendiness.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Review: WhistlePig Whiskey

Among the boutique American whiskies that have flooded the market in the past decade, the new WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey immediately stands out. Because its bottled (not made) in Vermont, a state that doesn't produce a lot of spirit, yes. But also because it's debut bottling is ten years old.

Most new whiskies are, for economic reasons, put out on the market as quickly as possible, usually when they're four years old or less. Age statements are rare, and, quite frankly, few of them impress, tasting too much of their too-sharp youth. The folks at WhistlePig decided to wait. Their rye is 10 years old. The difference shows in the taste, which is intense, bright, fruity, minty and spicy. It's a bold, commanding flavor profile, unmistakably rye, and intensely flavorful at 100 proof. Mega-rye in a way.

WhistlePig is the work of distillery owner Raj Peter Bhakta and master distiller David Pickerell, who served at Maker's Mark for 14 years until 2008. Pickerell joined the effort a couple years ago. Why is WhistlePig ten years old? Not necessarily because Bhakta and Pickerell were patient, sitting on barrels for a decade. WhistlePig is a found whiskey, you see. After an 18-month search, Pickerell located a rye whiskey in Canada that was intended, as most Canadian ryes are, as a blending agent and acquired it. The Made-in-Vermont label, then, is just feel-good marketing for now.

The Vermont labeling will work well for consumers, no doubt. But the creators shouldn't be shy about saying the stuff comes from Canada. I think a lot of spirits enthusiasts and cocktail geeks would be very interested in what a pure Canadian rye tastes like.

Don't know what Pickerell would think of me for doing it, but I spent the last two ounces of my small sample of WhistlePig making an Old Fashioned. I do not repent. It was a hell of an Old Fashioned. A stand-up cocktail. I never forgot I was drinking rye, and good rye, too. I followed that Old Fashioned with another made with a different whiskey (which I shall not name) and it was a distinct let-down.

WhistlePig is putting out only 1,000 cases this year, launching in New York City, with some cases going to Chicago and San Francisco. The price is unsurprisingly dear, $70. I'd recommend buying a bottle, though. Worth it.

A Visit to the Lady Jay's

I usually don't go out of my way to visit a new "regular" bar. But the idea of a highly regarded chef—in this case Sam Mason of Tailor, the SoHo restaurant which used to contain an estimable cocktail bar manned by Eben Freeman—opening a bar with ostensibly no frills and no gimmicks was tantalizing enough for me to drop by the newly unveiled Lady Jay's on Grand Street in Williamsburg.

Indeed, there's nothing special here. Just a nice, solid bar. Exposed brick walls; booth up front; stools around the bar; a jukebox; a Shuffle Bowl game; and a draft and bottle beer lists where nothing pierces the $6 ceiling. The only things that gives the joint an interesting edge are the absolutely huge, airy backyard deck in the back; and the fact that Sam Mason—tall, lanky, tattooed, handsome—is making drinks behind the bar.

Still, I can't help but think that Mason has something up his sleeve, and that he will stealthily haul out some secret weapons in the weeks and months to come. Why? Something about the way he meticulously prepared a couple of Bloody Marys. He was very chef-like about it. It took him forever, as he carefully dosed the tomato juice with hot sauce, tasting it often until he hit upon the right level of hotness. He added a pickle spear and skewered four olives with great care. All these vegetables were from storebought jars, so they weren't fancy. Yet, he handled them with kid gloves. Then, as he handed the cocktail over, he mentioned something about a shellfish Bloody Mary making an appearance next week. The man has some ideas in his head.

My guess is Lady Jay's will be popular with bartenders from other bars when they get off their shirts. It's elemental and basic, with an unspoken serious touch. Which is what a lot of bartenders are looking for in their off hours.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Sipping News

Eddie Huang, owner of BaoHaus, had gone pretty wacky with the new drink list at his place Xiao Ye. Johnnie  Walker Bubble Tea, anyone? [Eater]

The new TGI Friday's on Union Square has no prices next to its drink list, because "It's classier that way." [Eater]

For the second time in a month, San Francisco's bar scene has seen a great bartender leave his post for a brand ambassadorship. Erik Castro of Rickhouse has announce he will be the BA for Beefeater and Plymouth gins, which are owned by Pernod Ricard. Recently, Neyah White of NOPA laid down his apron  to rep Yamazaki whiskies. [Alcademics]

Rye once again sold on site of George Washington's Mount Vernon distillery. [Cowdery]

Albert Trummer, of Apotheke, was arrested for doing what he does: igniting liquor on fire. Guess that's the end of the dog-and-pony, firey homemade absinthes. [NY Times]

Friday, July 2, 2010

Dram to Be First Out of New York Gate with Aged Cocktails and Draft Cocktails

There's been a lot of talk lately about the twin trends of barrel-aged cocktails and draft cocktails. But it looks like Tom Chadwick of Dram in Williamsburg has quietly beat everyone to the punch. His bars looks to be the first in NYC to serve both styles of libation.

Interviewing him for a Diner's Journal item, he told me that the barrel-aged Martinez cocktails he's working on (which I already knew about) will be ready in August. And the draft cocktails he's also been working on (which I sort of knew about) will be ready to go in a week!—the first being an Aperol Spritzer.

(Side note: Damon Dyer, late of Jack the Horse, now at Clover's Club, told me a week ago that he began experimenting with barrel-aged cocktails years ago, which would put him ahead of Jeffrey Morganthaler in Portland. However, he never unleashed the results on the public, so no one ever knew.)

Here's the article:

A Brooklyn Bar’s All-Star Rotation of Mixologists
By Robert Simonson
Other bars have impressive lists of cocktails. Tom Chadwick’s bar Dram, which opened in Williamsburg three months ago, has an impressive list of cocktail makers.
“I really didn’t want to be the kind of bar that gives you a 75-drink menu, it’s being done really well by places and Death & Company,’’ Mr. Chadwick said. “So I thought I’d have a platform and venue for bartenders, thinking that would be an exciting thing to do.”

A Beer At...Neir's

It was a pleasure to make the hour-long subway trek all the way out to Woodhaven, Queens, just to visit Neir's, which may be the oldest bar in the five boroughs. 1829 was the year it opened up for business. Walking in you get a good idea was saloon-going must have been like back then: nondescript frontage, corner entrance, tin-ceilings, mahogany bar up front, side entrance, raised area in back holding a few tables for sitting and eating, side room beyond that. McSorley's and Pete's and P.J. Clarke's are old bars which have, over time, taken on the pose of an "old bar." (Nothing against them; they're great.) But Neir's is really an old bar.

A Beer At...Neir's
Neir's is far. If you don't live in Woodhaven, Queens—where it is the only place of business on the corner of 78th Street and 88th Avenue aside from a Karate studio—you have to catch the J train all the way out to the 75th Street to get there. Bank on an hour of travel if you live in Brooklyn or Manhattan.
So why go? Because Neir's may very well be the oldest bar in New York City. It was founded in 1829 as the Old Blue Pump House, making is a good 25 older than McSorley's Ale House, the Manhattan saloon that forever touts the "oldest" title. Of course, Woodhaven—called Woodville in the 1820s—wasn't a part of NYC back then, so its claim probably wouldn't hold up in court. But the point is: it's old. And it just reopened after a eight-month renovation.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Mixologists Are Coke-Heads

Mixologists have their obsessions, God knows. They'll walk a country mile for a rare liqueur and will camp out overnight at a farmer's market to get first choice of the herbs they need for infusions.

But the passion for "Mexican" Coca-Cola has to be among the oddest phenomena in the mixology world. You don't spend much time in bartending circles before you learn that Mexico and the U.S. get different version of the world's favorite soft drink. Ours is sweetened with corn syrup. Mexico's is still made with cane sugar. Why the company does this, I don't know. It may have something to do with the fact that Mexico drinks more Coke than any other beverage, and the corporation wants to keep the population happy.

Bartenders will tell you that the taste of Mexican Coke is far superior to American Coke. So, when they make a Rum and Coke, or whatever cocktail that might require The Pause That Refreshes, they want the Mexican version.

Problem is, this isn't Mexico.