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 ingredients...to 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.