Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Debbie Downer - UV Vodka Pink Lemonade

I always feel badly when I don't like a product. Well, I don't feel badly not to like it, I feel badly to tell everyone I don't like it. However, being a professional wine, spirits and cocktail writer, I have to give an honest opinion. When I rave about something its because I really love it. This is what gives The Liquid Muse endorsements value and credibility...

So, that said, this product is not my favorite. Sometimes I get the impression that marketers assume that anything "pink" will get female spirits writers excited. More often than not, though, it has the opposite effect, as reflected in my opinion on this Pink Pinot Grigio.

When UV Pink Lemonade arrived, I loved the packaging. When I opened the box, a little audio recording of a party exploded into my living room, at 11:00am - who wouldn't appreciate that? Then the bottle of pink liquid was wrapped in a pink feather boa and "garnished" with a mini pink flamingo. Cute, no?

However, this was a case of style over substance. I'm already not a fan of super sweet, pre-bottled "cocktails." They are usually made with lesser quality liquor and taste like candy-gone-bad.

I love the fun and creativity behind the UV vodka products. In spirit, I am righ there with them. However, in this case, let's just leave it at the fact that I enjoyed opening the package more than opening the bottle.

Monday, July 30, 2007

One more reason to (heart) Jeffrey Morgenthaler

The dude just has a way with words.
Bonterra Organic Wine

Everything In Balance...

This “post of praise” is long overdue. When I first tried the Bonterra line (last fall), I was surprised that an organic wine could taste so delicious. Sure, I liked the concept, and felt happy to know that Bob Blue, Bonterra’s winemaker, was committed to a biodynamic product. However, I was skeptical. Would it taste as good as traditionally made wines?

Over the course of a week, I tried Bonterra’s Syrah, Cabernet, Viognier, Zinfandel, Shiraz-Carignane and Muscat. Each one was consistently delightful to sip on its own, paired well with food and, well, let’s just say I was sorry when I was left with a pile of empty bottles.

The wines are made from 100% organically grown grapes in Mendocino County. And, the vineyard follows biodynamic farming methods. For those who don't know, the very abreviated definition has to do with rotating fields, to avoid exhausting them. Very fitting, given that Bonterra's motto is "everything in balance." Bonterra’s numerous medals and awards prove I’m not the only one who is impressed with this sustainable product.

The most recent addition to the Bonterra family is the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc. Winemaker Blue says, “This is a wine that truly is made in the vineyard.” Grapes were picked at varying levels of harvest, capturing both green and ripe fruit notes. It is praised for its layered flavors of berries, lemongrass, kiwi and guava, balanced with vibrant acidity. I also enjoyed an essence of peach and mango.

Playing off the wonderful fruit and freshness of the Sauvignon Blanc, I created an organic “Green” and White Sangria in celebration of summer. I presented this recipe in my Sustainable Sips Cocktail Class, on Tuesday July 24 at X bar in Century City. I just couldn’t resist sharing it with you, Sipsters!

The Liquid Muse “Green” and White Sangria
2 cups chopped organic, seasonal fruits (I used mango, kiwi, peach, plum and pear.)
3/4 cup Square One Organic Vodka
1/4 cup organic raw brown simple syrup
Bonterra Organic Sauvignon Blanc

Place chopped fruit in a glass bowl, and douse with vodka and simple syrup. Marinate in refrigerator for several hours. When ready to serve, spoon 2 tablespoons of fruit mixture into a bowl-shaped wine glass. Then, fill half way with Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc.

Organic Raw Brown Simple Syrup:
2 parts organic raw brown sugar to 1 part purified water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for on low for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Cool, and refrigerate.
Cocktails with S.O.L.E.

From the Farm to the Glass -
and the first flavored organic vodka is coming soon...!

Seasonal. Organic. Local. Ethical. “Sole” is the heart of sustainable cuisine. And, a sustainable diet doesn’t stop at the kitchen. Today it’s easier than ever to carry that philosophy behind the bar!

This topic came up at Tales of the Cocktail, and a panel of speakers passionate about blending “eco” and “gourmet” contributed their two cents.

Of course, the one nearest to my heart was Allison Evanow, CEO of Square One Organic Vodka. I first interviewed Allison last fall. One of the things that stands out most when remembering that phone call, was her stirring the persimmon puree bubbling on her stove. How often does a CEO of a liquor company create “from scratch” cocktail recipes in her own kitchen?

Allison considers herself a foodie and ‘environment local advocate.’ She lives in the Bay Area and shops at the farmers market, incorporating fresh, seasonal ingredients into her cooking and home bartending. Her product reflects her commitment to an organic lifestyle.

While some vodka boast about being distilled 4, 5 or 6 times, Square One Organic Vodka is made from organic rye and distilled only once. As Allison points out, “Some people say, ‘You distill out all the impurities, so who cares?’” Evanow’s answer to that is: “Start at square one and do it right the first time.” It even has a USDA Organic seal on the bottle.

And, Square One fans will be excited to know that the first flavored organic vodka – Square One Organic Cucumber – will be out this fall!

So, it is little wonder that I included Square One Organic Vodka in my Sustainable Sips Cocktail Class in Los Angeles, last week. I took a cocktail Square One presented in the Farm to Glass seminar called the Creole Martini, and gave it my own twist to create this cocktail, which I demonstrated to the students in my class:

Farm Fresh Caprese Martini

2 ounces of Square One® Organic Vodka
2 ounces of tomato water
juice from 1/2 lemon
dash angostura bitters
Garnish: Caprese Skewer

Shake vodka, tomato water, lemon juice and bitters with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a Caprese Skewer.

Caprese Skewer: Marinate a piece of mozzarella (or mozzarella ball) in olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar for a few hours. Before serving, slide mozzarella, an organic cherry tomato and organic basil leaf onto skewer and lay across glass.

Tomato Water: Freeze large round organic tomatoes overnight. In the morning, set them out to thaw in a glass dish. Peel the skins and over a separate dish, squeeze the tomatoes with your (clean) hands. Collect that liquid, and set tomato “meat” aside to use in cooking sauces, later.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Singapore... Way More Than A Sling...

And, another Hemmingway Tribute!

The Gilded Fork hails from New York, and has some awe-inspiring food photography. It also has the very creative Singaporean native, Damien Sim of Provocachic as its resident Mixologist and "Flavor Impressionist." (Now, that's a fancy term!)

Damien's Summer In The Woods cocktail is comprised of pan-seared buttered pineapple, brazilian rum, ruby grapefruits, maraschino liqueur and bitters. He says that Ernest Hemmingway is the inspiration for this drink... so I guess this makes Hemmingway Week an international extravaganza!

*Photo from the Gilded Fork / Provocachic website
Make Like A Girl Scout...

Be Prepared!

Just in case the skies open up and start to pour down whiskey.

(A girl can dream can't she?)
San Francisco is going off, this weekend!

I’ve raved and raved about the San Francisco Cocktail scene. So much talent, and a lot of collaborative cohesion makes it a ‘mecca of the drink.’

I’m currently bringing The Liquid Muse to the forefront of cocktail culture in LA. There is no reason why we can’t get more inspired, or celebrate and promote those who are!!

So, while The Liquid Muse Blog remains devoted to covering "cocktails, places and faces" worldwide, The Liquid Muse Cocktail of the Week is about to get very LA-centric. I’ll be highlighting the best drinks from the hottest spots around town. Join The Liquid Muse Cocktail Club now, if you want to mix and mingle with the most cutting edge cocktail-loving people in Los Angeles!

In the meantime, let me share a couple of highlights from our drinking buddies, up north.

- If you read my recent post on Pisco, you know it is coming up in a major way. So, head to Cantina, this weekend, to celebrate Peru’s Independence Day. Duggan is aiming to feature eight pisco cocktails, plus a flight of three different piscos. As he puts it, “Pisco is such a great spirit to use in cocktails, particularly for its grape base, its almost-grappa-esque bite, and its aroma.” (So, please drink one for me, and let me know how it was!)

- If you’re a Hemmingway fan, head over to Elixir, where H has lined up 9 drinks at $9 each in honor of Poppa’s Birthday. A sampling of his fascinating concoctions include:
  • Hemingway Daiquiri 10 Cane Rum, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, Fresh-squeezed Lime and Ruby Red Grapefruit juices and a touch of simple syrup; served tall and over ice with a lime wheel.
  • The Tuscan Sun Fresh Cantaloupe muddled with Fresh Mint and Fresh Lime juice, then shaken with Tuaca and served up with a Fresh Melon ball and a Fresh Mint leaf
  • Sunset on Dunnigan Night Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, Damrak Gin, and St. Germain Elderflower Cordial, stirred and served up with a Grapefruit zest to garnish
  • Emperor Norton’s Mistress Muddled Fresh Strawberries and Cointreau, Shaken with Old Whiskey River Bourbon and Navan Vanilla Cognac Liqueur: served over ice with a Fresh Strawberry
  • Screaming Eagle Sour Eagle Rare “Elixir Select” Bourbon, Lemon Juice, Powdered Sugar, Organic Egg White and St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, shaken and served up
Take A Sip of Summer

I wrote this cocktail round up for Valley Life Magazine, a regional publication, here in LA. I created or put my own twist on the recipes below, with the excpetion of the White Sapphire Ginger Martini, which is created by Bombay Sapphire's James Moreland. Since many of you "sipsters" live outside the LA area, I wanted to share these refreshing drinks with you!

Whether chilling out with a steamy novel, planning a sophisticated dinner party al-fresco or slapping some meat on the barbeque, the perfect accompaniments to summer’s favorite pastimes are only a sip away… Enhance longer days and lazy afternoons with these lip-licking libations..

Relax By the Pool:
Zen Green Tea Liqueur takes the “tea-ni” cocktail trend one step further by infusing the herby,
unique flavor of green tea with alcohol. (Caution: This refreshing iced tea for grown ups puts yoga to shame!)

Zen Time Cooler
1 ounce Zen Green Tea liqueur
1 ounce vodka
1 ounce lemon juice
2 kumquats
2 teaspoons, sugar
freshly-brewed green tea

Muddle 2 kumquats, sugar and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, Zen Green Tea Liqueur and vodka, then shake. Strain into tall glass filled with fresh ice (never serve a drink on used ice). Garnish with the third kumquat on a drink pick.

Whet Someone’s Appetite:
Bitter liqueurs (rather than sweet ones) and dry spirits are believed to open the appetite, and prepare the body for the nourishment to come. From Capri to Cannes, Campari is the quintessential summer ingredient for a Mediterranean

Invented in the 1800’s by Italian “Mixologist” Gaspare Campari, the aromatic bitter liqueur became a main ingredient in the Negroni, first concocted a hundred years later. Named for Count Camillo Negroni, a Florentine aristocrat, the classic Negroni is made with gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. This version features a citrus twist:

Summer Negroni
1 1/
2 ounces gin
1 ounce Campari
2 ounces freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
generous dash of blood orange bitters
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

Shake gin, Campari, juices and bitters, with ice. Strain into a rocks glass, filled with fresh ice. Garnish with an orange twist across the top of the glass.

Plan A Pairing:

A popular trend in restaurants (and homes) is pairing cocktails with food, rather than wine. Whereas one bottle of wine may not suit each person’s meal or preference, a mixed drink can be customized. (And, don’t we all love that kind of personalized attention!)

James Moreland, formerly a bartender at Manhattan’s infamous Town, is now the head Mixologist for Bombay Sapphire gin. “Perfect Pairings” are collaborations between Moreland and top chefs around the country, whereby specialized cocktails complement high-end cuisine. This White Sapphire Ginger Martini was created to accompany Personal Chef Tara Weaver’s ‘crab cake in sweet pepper and lime vinaigrette’ for a private party aboard a luxury train dining car, between San Diego and Los Angeles.

White Sapphire Ginger Martini (courtesy of James Moreland, Bombay Sapphire)
1 p
art Bombay Sapphire
Slither of Fresh Ginger
8 White Grapes
1/2 part Fresh Apple Juice

Muddle ginger and grapes at the bottom of a cocktail
Linkshaker. Add remaining ingredients, along with lots of ice. Shake, then strain into chilled martini glass.
A Little Bubbly:
Prior to St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, the only thing available to barkeepers was elderflower syrup. The fragile elderflowers bloom for a mere two weeks per year in the mountains above Provence, and distilling them proved to be challenging. According to
Robert Cooper, a third generation spirits maker, it took three seasons before he perfected the recipe and method used to create this exquisite liqueur. The result is lightly floral and decadently bohemian, and presented in an art-deco style, Italian-made bottle. This creation is a nod to the sweet aroma of the south of France.

1 1/2 ounces St. Germain Elderflower liqueur
lavender sprig

Pour elderflower liqueur into a chilled, sugar-rimmed champagne flute. Gently top with champagne. Garnish with lavender sprig across the rim of the glass. Breathe in Provence.

Party Like A Brazilian:

Named after one of Rio de Janeiro’s chic districts, Leblon Cachaça conveys the spirit of Brazil. With a slogan like “Live,
Love, Leblon,” what else would you expect? This earthy cocktail sambas its way into any celebratory occasion, especially this time of year!

Acai Caipirinha
2 1/2 ounces Leblon Cachaça
2 ounces Acai juice
1/2 ounce lime juice
6-7 mint leaves, torn
1 teaspoon raw brown sugar
club soda

Muddle mint, lime juice and sugar, in cocktail shaker. Add Leblon Cachaça and acai juice, then shake with ice, and strain into Collins glass. Top with club soda.

Fire Up the Grill:

Nothing says “barbeque” like beer. This version of a south-of-the-border favorite is great with ribs and burgers, or the next day as the ultimate “pelo del perro,” or hair of the dog!

Mexican Michelada
5 ounces pale Mexican beer
2 ounces Clamato juice
Dash each: Tabasco and Worcestershire sauces
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon
1 ounce tequila
Leafy sprig of Cilantro

Pour beer, juices and condiments into a tall, chilled beer mug. Garnish with cilantro.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Drink In the History of New Orleans

According to legend, in the early 1800’s, Antoine Peychaud, a New Orleanian apothecary, prescribed a mixture of distilled spirit, bitters and sugar as a medicinal remedy. He mixed this concoction in an eggcup - or “coquetier” (ko-ke-tee-ay) - which over the years has morphed into the English word “cocktail.” Whether one ascribes this story as fact or fiction, one thing is for sure - few cities take their cocktails as seriously as New Orleans.

Reputed for its unique cuisine, architecture and history, New Orleans is the pinpoint on the world map to immerse oneself in authentic cocktail culture. Most residents have home bars. Grannies whip up batches of family specialties whose secret recipes are handed down from generation to generation. Tourists clog the sidewalks of Bourbon Street, visiting jazz bar after dance club, sipping from plastic cups of 7-11 Slurpee-style Hurricanes (made famous by Pat O’Briens). Meridith, now a 39-year old New Orleans native, even recalls her father being pulled over driving with one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding a cocktail, to which the officer suggested, “Now, drive carefully, and don’t spill your drink.”

Every meal of the day, in New Orleans, is an important one. And, every meal, including breakfast, includes an alcoholic beverage, or two. Many bars in the French Quarter, and beyond, are credited with creating some of the good, old classic cocktails, which are currently enjoying an international resurgence. Many places also present their own creations, or twists on the classics, which make dining and drinking an educational indulgence. The cocktails of New Orleans create their own guide to the Big Easy!

Café Pierre
The Loews New Orleans Hotel has several acclaimed dining spots from which to choose. For example, the historic Commander’s Palace restaurant, established in 1880, is the former stomping ground of famous New Orleans chef, Emeril Lagasse. Breakfast at the hotel’s Café Adelaide means being greeted with a smile and a Café Pierre, their version of a traditional Café Brulot. Sometimes also served as an after-dinner drink, a Café Brulot is a flaming coffee drink made with orange and lemon peels, sugar, cloves, cinnamon sticks and orange-flavored liqueur.

The café’s co-owner, Ti Adelaide, retrieved this recipe from her Aunt Claire, who with the help of a dining captain named Pierre, came up a twist on the NOLA favorite:

1 lime wedge
2 tablespoons sugar

1ounce brandy
unce kahlua
1 ounce Galliano

1 cup hot, strong, black coffee
1/4 cup sweetened whipped cream

Rub the lime wedge around the rim of a heatproof wineglass, then dip it into the sugar.
Hold the glass by the stem, and turn it slowly over a low flame until the sugar caramelizes. Add the liquors and coffee. Top with cream. Serve immediately.

(And, when visiting the Loews, don’t forget to try the refreshing Swizzle Cocktail, created by the Swizzle Stick Bar’s respected female mixologist Lu Brow.)

Brandy Milk Punch
Café Adelaide’s other owner is Ti’s cousin Lally Brennan from the famous family behind Brennan’s Restaurants. Among other imbibe-able pleasures, Brennan’s Brandy Milk Punch is a favorite “eye opener,” as are called breakfast cocktails, in New Orleans:

1 cup ice cubes
1 1⁄2 oz. Napoleon brandy or bourbon

2 tbs. simple syrup
1⁄2 cup half and half
3⁄4 tsp. vanilla
pinch of nutmeg

Combine all ingredients, except nutmeg, in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously, then pour into a chilled old-fashioned glass. Sprinkle with nutmeg and serve.

The Sazerac
The quintessential New Orleans classic cocktail is the Sazerac, which many people say was invented by Antoine Peychaud, himself. Sewell Taylor, who owned the Sazerac Coffeehouse is said to have served this drink around 1853, and only made it with a cognac he imported called Sazerac-du-Forge et fils. It is said that one of his bartenders came up with the idea of coating the glass with absinthe.

Today, the Sazerac Bar, located in the Fairmont Hotel serves its namesake, originally made from cognac, absinthe, sugar, lemon peel and Peychaud bitters. However, throughout the 20th century, expensive cognac was replaced with rye whiskey, and anis-flavored pastis was substituted when absinthe became illegal. Absinthe has just become legal again, a few months ago, and many bars in New Orleans are making use of it!

Pimm’s Cup
The nearly 200-year old Napoleon House was first occupied by the mayor of New Orleans, Nicholas Grid, from 1812 – 1815. It is rumored that the governor set about a plan to rescue the exiled Emperor Napoleon, and offered his own home as refuge. While Napoleon died before that plan could be put into action, the name stuck, and the Napoleon House has provided inspiration for writers and artists throughout most of the 20th century.

One of the most recent temporary residents was author Jenny Adams, who stayed at several New Orleanian landmarks while penning Mixing New Orleans, this spring. (Buy her book here.)

The Napoleon House is known for its Pimm’s
Cup cocktail. While the establishment is quite secretive with its recipe, visitors can try to recreate it at home by purchasing the house-mix Pimm’s #1 and adding lemonade, 7-up and a cucumber garnish.

The Whacker
Liuzza’s was established in 1947, and is located well outside the French Quarter, in one of the neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Katrina. After what locals call “that little weather incident,” the restaurant was submerged in 9 feet of water, and it took nearly a year to re-open.

I was fortunate enough to be turned on to this place by San Fran's Tablehopper, herself, Marcia Gagliardi. She invited me along to sample Liuzza’s decadent sandwich the “Frenchuletta” (a muffaletta served on French bread instead of traditional round white loaf) is a popular draw.

However, being the boozy floosie that I am, I was particularly drawn to the specialty drink of the house, aka: The Whacker, served in a frosty 18-ounce mug. Be forewarned that it is appropriately named. It goes down waaay too easily!

A month would not be enough time to cover everything New Orleans has to offer. However, a few additional alcohol-related highlights include:
  • The Old New Orleans Rum Distillery has been stewing up Louisiana-grown sugar cane and molasses for over 10 years. Stop by for a tour, and support the local spirits industry!

  • The Bombay Club, located at 830 Conti Street and owned by lovebirds Richard & Willie (right) boasts more than 100 “specialty martinis” on its leather-bound drink menu. Catch Johnny Angel & The Swinging Angels, most weekends.

  • Cocktail enthusiasts and spirits industry professionals return “home” to New Orleans every summer for the international cocktail conference, Tales of the Cocktail. There is no better way to get to drink in the local cocktail history.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

TLM Becomes A Swag Hag...

Round 2 (ding!)

So, I wrote about the swag I got from the MTV Movie Awards pre-party, a few months ago. Little did I know what was in store at Tales of the Cocktail! Woo-hoo.

Camper at Alcademics wrote about his swag. I, too, was so astounded that I took a photo of some of the goodies in the media bag, upon arrival. Mini bottles of booze, muddlers, keychains, pens (writers always need those, right?), Tony Abou Ganim's new DVD "Modern Mixology," a beer DVD, a jazzy CD from Napa Wine Country and a CD from New Orleans. There was more but those were the highlights. Oh yeah, I also liked the $10 discount card deck and the Martini T-shirt. I'll wear it to the gym if I ever return...

I also enjoyed collecting the cocktail recipe cards.

So, here's my contribution to the swag party. Anyone else want to chime in?
Celebrity Sips
Hard-Living Hemingway

In honor of Hemmingway Week, I am re-running a TLM post from last year, and will be including more Hemmingway fun, in the days to come. Happy Birthday Hemmingway (July 21)!

As a huge fan of the Bohemian writers of the 1920’s - 30’s. I inhale biographies from that era (particularly of the female writers - sometimes Hemingway's lovers). Their rebellion, curiosity, restlessness, hunger for life, to-hell-with-it attitude and far-less-than-perfect humanity are qualities to which I can relate, as any boozy broad should!

The life and writings of Ernest Hemingway reflect social transitions of that era and are revered for their insight, adventure and candor.

Sipster, Noah Raizman, of New York, an aficionado of “Classic Cocktails,” sent in a wonderful recipe, apparently enjoyed by Ernest Hemingway, during his time in Cuba. I am putting Noah’s drink write up, first. For those interested, my very general coverage of Ernest Hemingway’s career follows…

As per Noah’s letter to The Liquid Muse, “I just made a pitcher of Hemingway Daiquiri's for a few friends, roommates and squatters. A daiquiri is just white rum, simple syrup and lime. At La Florida, a legendary bar in Havana, they added grapefruit to their version of a daiquiri, which they blended and called a La Florida Cocktail.

Locals called the place by its diminutive, La Floridita, so the cocktail eventually became known as a La Floridita. When Hemingway was in Cuba, La Floridita was his local haunt. Hemingway, being Hemingway, didn't like sweet drinks, so he convinced the bartender (he would only allow his drinks to be made by the head bartender, Constante Ribalaigua) to make the cocktail with maraschino liqueur instead of simple syrup. This drink became known as The Hemingway Daiquiri."

The Hemmingway Daquiri
(as per Sipster, Noah Raizman)

3 oz white rum
1.5oz lime
3/4 oz grapefruit juice
1 oz maraschino liqueur
(and I will add a tsp of simple syrup, depending on how sweet the limes are, and always if I blend it)

Pour rum, lime and grapefruit juices, and simple syrup into a shaker with ice. Serve in a preferably chilled glass. Top with maraschino liqueur and garnish with a cherry.

Celebrity Profile:
Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois. By the time he graduated from High School, World War I raged in Europe. His desire to enlist was deferred, due to poor vision. When he heard the Red Cross was taking volunteers as ambulance drivers, however, he quickly signed up. He left his job at the local paper and sailed for Europe in May 1918.

In the short time that Hemingway worked for the Kansas City Star he learned some stylistic lessons that would later influence his fiction. The newspaper advocated short sentences, short paragraphs, active verbs, authenticity, compression, clarity and immediacy. Hemingway later said: "Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing. I've never forgotten them."

In 1919, at age 19, Hemingway returned home from Italy, and found Oak Park dull compared to the adventures of war. In 1920, he moved to Chicago and wrote for the Star Weekly. In 1921,he met and married his first wife, Hadley Richardson. By November of the same year Hemingway accepted an offer to work with the Toronto Daily Star, as its European corespondent.

The Hemingways arrived in Paris on December 22, 1921 where the whole of literature was being changed by the likes of Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Ford Maddox Ford. He would not miss his chance to leave his mark, as well.

Their apartment at 74 rue Cardinal Lemoine had no running water. The bathroom was basically a closet with a slop bucket inside. Ironically, they could have afforded much better; with Hemingway's job and Hadley's trust fund their annual income was $3,000, a decent sum in the inflated economies of Europe at the time.

Hemingway rented a room at 39 Rue Descartes where he could do his writing, in peace. While in Paris, he reported extensively on Geneva Conference in April of 1922, The Greco-Turkish War in October, the Luasanne Conference and the post war convention in the Ruhr Valley in early 1923. Along with the political articles, he wrote lifestyle pieces as well, covering fishing, bullfighting, social life in Europe, skiing, bobsledding and more.

Just as Hemingway was beginning to make a name for himself as a reporter and a fledgling fiction writer, and enjoying his place in the literary social circles in Europe, the couple found out that Hadley was pregnant. The Hemingways left Paris in 1923 and moved to Toronto, where he wrote for the Toronto Daily Star. On October 10, 1923, John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway was born. By January of 1924 the young family boarded a ship, and sailed back to Paris.

From 1925 to 1929, Hemingway produced some of the most important works of 20th century fiction, including the landmark short story collection In Our Time (1925) which contained "The Big Two-Hearted River." In 1926 he came out with his first true novel, The Sun Also Rises. Following that, came Men Without Women in 1927, another book of stories including "The Killers," and "In Another Country." In 1929 he published A Farewell to Arms, arguably the finest novel to emerge from World War I. In four short years he went from being an unknown writer to being the most important writer of his generation, and perhaps the 20th century.

He divorced Hadley in 1927 and married Pauline Pfeiffer, an occasional fashion reporter for the likes of Vanity Fair and Vogue, later that year. In 1928, they left Paris for Key West, Florida where they lived for nearly twelve years.

Finding it a wonderful place to work and to play, in Florida he discovered the sport of big game fishing which would become a life-long passion and a source for much of his later writing. Hemingway loved it. "It’s the best place I’ve ever been anytime, anywhere, flowers, tamarind trees, guava trees, coconut palms...Got tight last night on absinthe and did knife tricks."

On June 28, 1928, Pauline gave birth to Hemingway’s second child, Patrick. And, in December of that year, Hemingway received a cable reporting his father’s suicide.

Despite the personal turmoil, Hemingway continued to work on A Farewell to Arms, published in 1929. He wouldn’t enjoy that level of critical acclaim again, for nearly a decade.

In 1931 Pauline gave birth to Gregory, the last of Hemingway’s children.

In 1932, his Spanish bullfighting dissertation, Death in the Afternoon, was published. He managed to make an encyclopedic book readable, even by those who had no real interest in the corrida. He inserts observations on Spanish culture, writers, food, people, politics, history, etc. Hemingway wrote, "It is intended as an introduction to the modern Spanish bullfight and attempts to explain that spectacle both emotionally and practically. It was written because there was no book which did this in Spanish or in English."

Before leaving to Spain, to to cover the Spanish Civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance, in 1937, he met a young writer named Martha Gellhorn in Key West at Sloppy Joe’s bar in Key West. The two conducted a secret affair for almost four years.

Upon returning from Spain, divorcing Pauline and marrying Martha, Hemingway moved to a large house outside Havana, Cuba, which the newly wed couple named Finca Vigia ("Lookout Farm"). Hemingway decorated it with hunting trophies from his African safari. Here, he began work on his Spanish War novel, For Whom The Bell Tolls, in 1939.

In the spring of 1944 Hemingway went to Europe to report on WW2. He headed first to London where he wrote articles about the RAF and about the war’s effects on England. While there, he was injured in a car crash, suffering a serious concussion and a gash to his head which required over 50 stitches. Martha visited him in the hospital, castigating him for being involved in a drunken auto wreck. Her cavalier reaction triggered the beginning of the end of their marriage.

While recovering, Hemingway met Mary Welsh, with whom he openly conducted a courtship in London and then in France, after the allied invasion at Normandy and the subsequent liberation of Paris. For all intents and purposes Hemingway’s third marriage was over and his fourth and final marriage to Mary had begun. Hemingway wrote, "Funny how it should take one war to start a woman in your damn heart and another to finish her. Bad luck."

In 1944, he set up camp in The Ritz Hotel and spent the next week or so drinking, carousing and celebrating his return to the city that meant so much to him as a young man.

Hemingway returned to America in March of 1946 with plans to write a great novel of the war, which never materialized.

In September of 1952 The Old Man and the Sea appeared in Life magazine, selling over 5 million copies in a flash. For the first time since For Whom The Bell Tolls in 1940 Hemingway was atop the literary heap...and making a fortune. Though Hemingway had known great success before, he never had the privilege of receiving any major literary prizes. The Old Man and the Sea changed that, winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1953.
Flush with money from the Old Man and the Sea, he decided to exercise his wanderlust, returning to Europe to catch some bullfights in Spain and then to Africa later in the summer for another safari, with Mary.

In January of 1954, Hemingway and Mary boarded a small Cessna airplane to take a tour of some of east Africa’s beautiful lakes and waterfalls. The pilot hit a telegraph wire and they made a crash landing. Luckily, the group’s injuries were minor.

After a boat ride across Lake Victoria they took another flight in a de Haviland Rapide. Heading toward Uganda, the plane barely got off the ground before crashing and catching fire. Hemingway, using his head as a battering ram, broke through the main door. This accident was not as lucky.

In his biography of Hemingway, Jeffrey Meyer lists the various injuries to the writer. "His skull was fractured, two discs of his spine were cracked, his right arm and shoulder were dislocated, his liver, right kidney and spleen were ruptured, his sphincter muscle was paralyzed by compressed vertebrae on the iliac nerve, his arms, face and head were burned by the flames of the plane, his vision and hearing were impaired..." Though he survived the crashes and lived to read his own premature obituaries, his injuries cut short his life in a slow and painful way.

Despite his ailments, Hemingway and Mary traveled on to Venice one last time and then headed back to Cuba. On October 28, 1954 Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but due to his injuries was unable to attend the ceremonies in Sweden.

In 1959, Life magazine contracted with Hemingway to write a short article about the series of mano y mano bullfights between Antonio Ordonez and Louis Miguel Dominguin, two of Spain’s finest matadors. Hemingway spent the summer of 1959 traveling with the bullfighters to gather material for the article.

When he began writing the story however, it quickly grew to some 120,000 words. The magazine published the article as "The Dangerous Summer" in three installments in 1960. This was the last work that Hemingway would see published in his lifetime.

His physical deterioration soon became obvious. Photos show Hemingway looking like a man closer to eighty than one of sixty. His mood swings, exacerbated by his heavy drinking of up to a quart of liquor a day, were also taking a toll on those close to him.

During this time Hemingway worked on his memoirs, which would be published posthumously, in 1964, as A Moveable Feast, which critics praised for its tenderness, beauty and for its rare look at the expatriate lifestyle of Paris in the 1920’s.

In his last year of life, Hemingway registered at the Mayo Clinic where he underwent between 11 to 15 shock treatments. One of the sad side effects of shock therapy is the loss of memory, and for Hemingway it was a catastrophic loss. Without his memory he could no longer write, could no longer recall the facts and images he required to create his art.

Hemingway spent the first half of 1961 fighting his depression and paranoia, seeing enemies at every turn and threatening suicide on several more occasions. On the morning of July 2, 1961 Hemingway rose early, selected a shotgun from a closet in the basement, went upstairs to a spot near the entrance-way of the house and shot himself in the head. It was little more than two weeks until his 62nd birthday.

(much of this biographical information is taken from LostGeneration.com)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Elixir of the Night...

You knew it was only a matter of time before the two biggest passions in liquid dining came together... wine & cocktails. H Joseph Ehrmann at San Fran's first "green" saloon, Elixir, has teamed up with winemaker Night Harvest to create these amazing sounding drinks:

The Star Gazer - Summer Cocktail (Night Harvest Chardonnay)
2 ounces Night Harvest Chardonnay
1 ounce dark rum
½ ounce vanilla bean syrup
½ ounce pineapple juice
1 lime wedge

In a Boston shaker, add all ingredients and shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Fill a 10.5 ounce highball glass with ice and strain the cocktail over the fresh ice. Squeeze the lime over the top of the drink, and drop the lime in to finish the drink.

Mixologist’s Notes:
The Night Harvest Chardonnay has bright, crisp, apple and pear notes with a hint of pineapple on the nose. I chose to build on the pineapple and create a summery, tall cocktail. The dark rum highlights the tropical flavors and brings out the oak. To further highlight the oaky vanilla, I used vanilla bean syrup as the sweetener. Shaking the drink hard creates a frothy head, and the addition of a tiny bit of lime juice on top brightens it all.

Yuletide Moon - Holiday Cocktail (Night Harvest Merlot)
4 pitted bing cherries
¼ ounce of simple syrup
1½ ounce Night Harvest Merlot
1 ounce Bourbon
one wheel slice of lemon
fresh nutmeg to grind

In a 16 ounce mixing glass, muddle the cherries (if not pitted, just remove pits after muddling). Add simple syrup, merlot, bourbon and lemon slice. Top with ice to 2/3 full and shake lightly. Empty entire contents into a 10.5 ounce Old Fashioned glass. Top with grated nutmeg and enjoy!

Mixologist’s Notes:
The Night Harvest Merlot has delicious cherry flavors and slight oak to it, so I focused on those cherry and oak notes as the building blocks of the cocktail – a riff on a classic Sangaree. Cherry and Bourbon are a natural pairing for me, so I decided to cut the drink with Bourbon, which blends superbly with the Merlot. The lemon brightens the drink and makes it surprisingly refreshing and light, while the nutmeg provides a wonderful nose on every sip.

Sunset on Dunnigan - Valentine’s Cocktail (Night Harvest Sauvignon Blanc)
2 ounces Night Harvest Sauvignon Blanc
1 ounce citrus forward, light juniper gin
½ ounce elderflower cordial
Grapefruit zest to garnish (either thin strips or a simple round slice without pith)

Pour all ingredients over ice and stir for 15 seconds. Julep strain, and serve up in a cocktail glass. Garnish with a 2” pass of a bar zester over a fresh grapefruit rind, directly over the cocktail so as to spray the oils over the surface of the cocktail. Drop the zest into the drink.

Mixologist’s Notes:
A romantic cocktail that will brighten your evening, the Sunset on Dunnigan complements the citrusy herbal qualities of the Night Harvest Sauvignon Blanc with the same notes in the spirit, while simultaneously adding the botanical dryness of a crisp gin. Elderflower cordial lends a summery, floral aspect that balances the drink nicely with its light sweetness. The slight bitterness of a spritz of grapefruit zest ties it all together.

And, the other big news... H has also started a blog! Behind My Mahogany features "sips and tips from the Elixir stick."
All Hail Art of the Bar!

A hearty congratulations to Jeff Hollinger, author of Art of the Bar and General Manager of San Francisco's gorgeous brasserie style bar, Absinthe. His book won the honorable title of "Best Cocktail Book" at Tales of the Cocktail!

Jeff is also one of the founders of the San Francisco Cocktail Week (along with Duggan from Cantina and H. from Elixir). fyi - those guys all rock. If you find yourself in the Bay Area, drink with them. Trust me on that one.

This pic features a few of the movers and "shakers" in the San Francisco cocktail culture. From left to right: Jeff, Debbie, H. and Erin.
Celebrity Sips - Paris Hilton's Liquid Viagra

It has been a while since I've done a dedicated Celebrity Sips, so I found something fun to share with you all. This comes up now because I tasted Tyku at Tales of the Cocktail, and it is reported that Ms. Hilton sipped Tyku and Dom at her birthday bash, a few months ago. (Not sure how I missed that one...)

Apparently, Tyku has aphrodesiac properties, and since we all know that poor little rich girl's sex life has not been documented for a bit (though we're surely waiting with baited breath for "Bad Girls Behind Bars: The Hilton Sexcapades") maybe Paris needed a little birthday boost. After all, 26 in "celebrity years" is like being 74 years old in the real world...

It sounds like the old gal had a ball, despite the fact that guests left early due to her posse of classless clods. As midgets, monkeys and goats trailed around her fete, the heiress grabbed the mic, and crooned "I want you, I need you" to on again, off again boyfriend Stavros Niarchos.

btw - They're off again, this summer. But, who knows. The shipping heir and hospitality heiress could still end up sprouting little heir babies swaddled in orange jumpsuits, someday.

Actually - with that thought in mind, maybe we should keep the Tyku away from her...

*Photo Credit: Lauren Herman / Startrakphoto, borrowed from this article in People Online.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Sonnema Party Suite and the Fabulous Shaker Boys...

I've already covered Sonnema on The Liquid Muse, and will feature it soon in "Travel Buzz" when I take over the nationally-syndicated column, which runs in all 20+ editions of Where Magazine. Needless to say, partying in New Orleans with the folks behind a product I enjoy was extra fun!

The handsome fellow pouring in the photo on the left is Misja Vorstermans, one of the Fabulous Shaker Boy who came over from Holland to shake things up Ansterdam-style. Making the night even more special, some high-profile bartender / mixologist guests hopped behind the bar with the Sonnema Shaker Boys.

With admirable drink-o-logists like Jacques Bezouidenhout from San Francisco and Vincenzo Marianella of Providence in LA, and Tal Nadari, another Fabulous Shaker Boy, I couldn't help but over-indulge... just a little...

The Sonnema Suite was the place to party, and nearly everyone made an appearance. Party hostess Debbie Rizzo and Cocktailian Gary Regan also took part in the festivities. The next night the Sonnema Suite hosted a Poker Party, and the following night a closing farewell.

Rock on, boys!

Raise A Glass To Cocktail Blogging

One of the few things to drag me out of bed early on a Saturday morning in New Orleans is meeting up with fellow cocktail bloggers. Yes, there are other sane, rational, intelligent people out in the world who write, passionately, about cocktails and liquors several times a week, sometimes for little or no money. Why do we do it? If you have a cocktail blog, you already know the answer to that question. If you don’t, these four gentlemen may give you a little insight…

Paul Clarke from Cocktail Chronicles moderated the seminar. He brilliantly describes cocktail blogging as “combining the inherently social act of mixing a drink with the inherently solitary act of sitting in front of a computer,” which made me (and Camper English sitting next to me at the seminar) laugh out loud.

A full time journalist in Seattle, Paul enjoys the freedom of writing about whatever he tickles his fancy in a realm without the pressure editors, word counts and deadlines. (Hear, hear to writer anarchy!) He says that he blogged to “get his chops” for other drink writing, and recorded his endeavors trying out new recipes.

For example, after struggling with Dale Degroff’s recipe for falernum, Paul decided, “I would not let this stupid syrup make a money out of me!” Not only were his online trials popular posts but you can read about it in this month’s Imbibe Magazine.

Paul says that there are 175,000 new blogs per day, and attributes much of the success of this kind forum to blogs’ timely and interactive way of working toward the “squishy web 2.0 goal of creating an online community.” I like to think of our blogs and links as our own cyber-Algonquin round table of sorts. (On that note, James Beard Award winning Jennifer English has a radio show featuring food and drink “conversations” built around that very concept!)

Reader interaction is something that we all enjoy but Paul says when people first started commenting on his blog, it took him by surprise. He recalls writing about an obscure drink called the Police Gazette Cocktail, which is comprised of whisky and “dribs and drabs of other stuff.” Paul says, “I made it and loved it, and wrote about it. Then, some guy in Oregon made it and sent a comment saying he liked it. It prompted me to keep writing and think about how I was doing it.”

Taking a cue from food bloggers, whose community slightly preceded ours, Paul and a few other “cocktailians” got together to create a day when everyone blogged together. Mixology Mondays was born in the spring of 2006 with 8 paraticipants. Paul says that they now average 25 participants, including a few “honorary food bloggers.” It basically works like this: each month, somebody volunteers to host. The host picks a date and a topic, and on that day, everyone posts a drink. (I think I’m hosting in October, so let me know if you want to participate!)

As cocktail bloggers do, he gave shout outs to several fellow bloggers during the seminar, many of whom did not make it to New Orleans (though you were all with us in spirit)! Among others, he mentioned some blogs that he enjoys are: A Dash of Bitters, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Alcademics (Camper’s new name), Robert Hess’s drinkboy.com, Thriston Powell, Cocktail Nerd, Dr. Bamboo, and yes, The Liquid Muse. (Of course, he had to say that… I was sitting in the front row ;-)

Next up was Chuck Taggart from The Gumbo Pages. Chuck is based in Los Angeles and also does the radio show Gumbo Ya Ya on our public radio station, KCRW. Chuck grew up in New Orleans has a leans toward the vintage and antique. As he puts it, “Everything old is new again. Now everyone is talking about tinctures but in the 1860’s Jerry Thomas was already doing them!”

His site, has a large focus on food and drink, not only cocktails. He says that he began a blog because he got tired of copying out his recipes for people, and it snowballed from there. He grew up in New Orleans, where they had a bar in their family home. Chuck recalls, “My dad taught me to make Old Fashioneds when I was 12 years old.” (I can relate. My family re-modeled our garage into the most beautiful entertaining room in our house, which featured a full size, fully stocked bar. And, I made my dad 7 & 7’s as a kid. This weekend in New Orleans, I began to realize that this was not an unusual phenomenon!)

On the topic of reader interaction, he shared a humorous anecdote. After spending a lot of time researching and getting hold of Plymouth Sloe Gin, which is used in some 1930’s era cocktails, and not available in the United States, he made this special cocktail and wrote about it on his blog. In honor of the occasion, he presented the drink in a rare glass made for the 1939 World’s Fair.

Laughingly, he recounts that the comment which most stood out was not about the careful research, the “rediscovered” antique recipe or the vintage glass in which it was poured… but someone noted “I can’t believe you used refrigerator ice!” (If you’re not chuckling at this observation, read my notes from the Tales of the Cocktail seminar, “On The Rocks” about the important role ice plays in a high-end drink.)

Chuck gave a little insight into the origin of the word “blog.” He says that around 1999, someone joked around with the original term “web log” turning it into “we blog.” The word “blog” both noun and verb is now in Webster’s dictionary.

Chuck’s cocktail epiphany happened around 99 – 2000. “I got sick of bad drinks in bars. At bayona (in New Orleans) I had a perfectly made Sazerac. That inspired me to seek out good cocktails.” I met ted hay, and a whole new world opened up to me. One day, I got an email from Brooks Baldwin about a cocktail recipe that he got from his grandmother. As he puts it, “This is a truly lost cocktail that was passed down through generations.”

Fancy Free Cocktail contains:
Maraschino liqueur, Bourbon, 2 kinds of bitters angostura and orange

Rick Stutz stared Kaiser Penguin in March 2006 (about a month before I started The Liquid Muse.) In addition to great writing and recipes, his blog features a heavy emphasis on photos. Rick says, “If I take a photo and don’t want to immediately jump in andrink it, I thow it away.” Actually, Paul Clarke refered to Rick’s blog shots as “Cocktail porn with a tiki fetish.” (If that doesn’t lure you over, I don’t know what will!) Also, his original cocktail recipes have been published in print and his Orange Viola is served in a Seattle bar.

Rick lives in Pennsylvania and started a blog because, as he puts it, the only people in his area with whom to discuss quality cocktails were about 50 frat houses or the Amish down the road. He says that he began his foray into cocktailian culture with Dale DeGroff’s book, and began making the drinks. He also began to discover other drink blogs, and thirsted for more Mixology interaction.

He began to realize the far-reaching fingers of his cyber bar tending when he went to the Forbidden Island with his friend. He recounts, “Adam started introducing me to his friends, and one of them said, I like your tiki focus.” Another told him he should post more often. He says that in addition to enjoying doing it for himself, realizing that people actually read the stuff he wrote inspired him to keep at it.

Darcy O Neil (featured here with Robert Hess) from The Art of Drink has a particularly unusual slant. After studying chemistry for four years in college, he went on to work for 6-8 years in a lab before becoming a bartender. He says that the name of his blog came from “The Art of War,” which I think would seems appropriate to any of us who has worked in a restaurant or bar!

He says that he started his blog as an “independent thought project” and a way to practice learning the recipes he’d use behind the bar. Soon, judging by the comments he’d receive from readers, he realized it was more of a communal thought project, and those comments helped to guide future posts.

Darcy noted that people liked the way he talked about chemistry, with regard to drinks. He says, “ You can’t just throw ingredients and hope for the best. Research makes drinks more intersesting – how the recipes developed. And, people want to know the history of drinks.”

He even went so far as to dig up old chemistry papers. Again, with ice being a ‘hot’ topic, he mentioned that his original post on the chemistry of ice was so successful that he had to write a second post on it. He notes, “Water is basically life.”

I would argue that the same can be said for spirits… at least in our little corner of the blogosphere!
Another Quality Tonic Hits Shelves!

It is gratifying to know that not only are boutique liquor companies presenting us with small batch, superior products - but our cry for quality is being heard is also being heard by companies manufacturing other cocktail ingredients. Mixers, for example, are joining the cocktail revolution.

I am using all-natural Fever Tree mixers in my Sustainable Sips cocktail class, this Tuesday at X bar in Los Angeles, which I first had the pleasure of tasting in May. And, while at Tales of the Cocktail, I became acquainted with Q Tonic, which is made from Andean quinine and organic Mexican agave. It also boasts all-natural ingredients and 60% fewer calories than other mass-produced tonic waters.

So far, it is only available in New York city, but we in California know that the drive to head West is just a matter of time...
America’s New Latin Sweetheart, The Pisco Sour

According to the Barsol sponsored seminar at Tales of the Cocktail, Pisco makers see the mojito as the drink that opened the door for the next big South American craze. Personally, I see the caipirinha as the ice-breaker for the Pisco Sour… but anyway… who cares. I’m already a pisco fan and happy to see it spreading in popularity as our steamy love affair with Latin America continues to sizzle.

If you’ve been reading The Liquid Muse from the beginning, you may recall last year’s post titled “Sour
Grapes?” on the battle over the Pisco Sour as a national drink between Chile and Peru. I even asked the Chilean Ambassador about it when interviewing him for my upcoming article in the September 2007 issue of Capitol File. As far as its “terroire” both Chile and Peru have the right to claim the pisco liquor, although the town of Pisco lies on the Peruvian coast. However, Chile currently produces more pisco than Peru. And, both countries are avid consumers.

When the Spanish colonized South America in the 1600’s, they brought grape vine roots to plant vineyards for the monks to make sacrificial wine. The grapes flourished to such an extent (hello – Chilean wines…) that there was a surplus of produce. That juice was then distilled into a clear, distilled spirit - basically an un-aged brandy. And, voila – a grappa-esque eau de vie was available. (But, don’t be confused. It is different from grappa in that it is made from skinned fruits, where as grappa is made from grape skins and stems.)

And, it didn’t stop there! Some of the Spanish ships stopped in the pisco regions, picked up this new spirit, and continued their journey north into the area of the New World now known affectionately as San Francisco. In 1854, the Pisco Punch is recorded as being served in the City by the Bay, and touted as the secret Signature Cocktail of Duncan Nichol. (He is on the far left. Photo came from here.) Then, a little nuisance called Prohibition came along in 1920. When Duncan died in 1926, his recipe for Pisco Punch went with him.

Side note: Barsol wanted to buy the historic House of Pisco bar, built just after prohibition, and refurbish it. However, they were in a bidding war with another company, which won. That spot is now going to be turned into a sushi restaurant. Boo, hisss!

Victor Morris, from the Bar Morris in Lima, Peru, is widely credited with adapting the whiskey sour to use pisco, instead, around 1915. The drink was also famously associated with the Maury Hotel, in Lima, around 1938.

Since the mid 1990’s, young chefs returning from European culinary schools have been building a progressive, modern culinary landscape in Peru. Along with that comes an interest in revitalizing the pisco trade. Entrepreneurs are expanding the vineyards, and we can expect to see a lot more pisco coming down the pipeline. Barsol is at the front of that push, and has incorporated “cocktailian” Gary Regan’s declaration touting pisco as “The other white spirit.” (playing off the pork industry slogan)

Barsol’s formula for the perfect Pisco Sour is 2-1-1:
2 ounces of pisco
1 ounce lime
1 ounce simple syrup
1/2 ounce egg white

Fill a mixing glass 3/4 with ice, shake like hell to make the egg froth!
* And, if you want to make a Pisco Passion, add some passion fruit puree.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Conduct A Home Tasting!

There is so much to learn and experience at Tales of the Cocktail. I have tons of notes, and am trying to finally get some info up on the blog!!

This tasting seminar, taught by Jared Brown and Eric Fossard, has some good tips. I’ve added a few extra tidbits here and there, too. If you want to learn to sample liquors like a pro, read on:
  • Start with lighter, less flavorful spirits. For example, begin tasting vodkas, then move to gins, then up to rums and scotches. You get the idea…
  • When tasting, use more than your sense of taste. Use your eyes first. Like with wine, look at the “legs” of the spirits (how it runs down the sides of the glass after swirling). Note the thickness of the liquid, which contributes to the “mouth feel.”
  • When you put your nose above the glass to smell the “nose” of the spirit, Take one preliminary whiff to clear the olfactory senses. Then, smell it again, with your mouth open, and pay attention to the aromas. If your eyes water from the alcohol, blow into the glass once to clear the fumes, then swirl and smell again. Most of “taste” comes from the aroma (just think of why everything is tasteless when you have a cold)
  • When you’re ready to taste, take a little of the spirit into the front of your mouth, first, then let it run to the back, to clear the palate. Now, take another sip, and breathe out across it. The alcohol comes right off with the exhale, and you are able to taste it.
  • Taste is part nature and part nurture. While some people have naturally sensitive palates, we can all learn to discern certain qualities in food / wine / spirits.
  • Keep in mind that while good spirits warm the throat and mouth, bad spirits burn.
Note: Ever wake up feeling like you can still taste the alcohol?
Cheap booze binds its taste to your tongue. Pay a little extra for the good stuff, and you may suffer less the following day. Also, drink one glass of water per alcoholic beverage. This will help keep you hydrated, which lessens the effect of a nasty hangover!

Here are some notes from our tasting session. Up first: Vodka!

Note: Frozen vodka was good for early vodkas which were less refined. The cold help cover the flavor and lessen the ‘burn.’ A good vodka should be savored and experienced at room temperature.
Also, many vodkas have sugar added. Less than 2% is considered “legal.”
  • Absolut is lightest, made in the Scandinavian style. It is also the first vodka to step up and call itself a top shelf vodka. It brought about the concept of high-end spirits. This is a wheat based vodka.
  • Reyka is less sweet than absolut. Has a mineral character, “stoniness”comes from filtration through lava rock. (also charcoal – purifies it) With vodka, 3-4 distillations is optimal. More than that strips vodka of all its flavor. This is a wheat based vodka.
  • In Russia, they are now making a law that vodka must come from wheat. Although, vodka can be made from anything as long as it is distilled up to 90%. And, as we have all noted, the vodka market is very aggressive, doing all sort of new things to capture our imagination, tastebuds and pocketbooks!
  • With Stoli, we noticed incease in pepper notes, increase in sweetness, and more mouth feel. It is rounder, smoother (contains glycerine)
  • Potato vodkas generally a bit sweeter but are very hard to make because there is a 50/50 chance as to whether potato will fermetnt or rot
  • Imperia sharper than stoli, It follows the recipe standardized in 1894.
  • Ciroc is a French “premium” vodka. Big lemon aroma comes through as soon as you bring the glass to your nose. Also, on the tongue - big lemon. Jared points out, “This is great with a squeeze of fresh lemon, a little simple syrup and you’ve got a great lemon drop.”
Next, Gin! We made a gentle transition from citrusy Ciroc to junipery gin.

Note: Trying to make Gin with fresh juniper berries is a bad idea! They have to be dried for 6 – 18 months, which condenses down the pleasant oils.
  • Plymouth has a very floral balance. Strong juniper comes through right away. A London gin is very citrus, and drier. Legend has it that the Mayflower travelers sailed with more alcohol than water on their ships. They ended up in Plymouth by accident because they were on their way to Virginia but ran out of booze.
Note: The reason why hangovers are worse with gin? Originally, gin was a kidney tonic. It has diuretic effect. It de-hydrates you so the hang over is worse.

Note: When making gin cocktails, if the gin is too intense, you can use a little vodka to dilute it. Conversely, take any vodka drink and use gin for an extra kick.

Onto Rum!
Most of us are familiar with the Puerto Rican rum style - sweet, caramel, vanilla.

Note: Rums are made from sugar cane.
Note: Light to dark is not an indication of flavor in rums. Some lighter rums can be more refined and have richer flavor than some dark ones.
  • 10 Cane is from the French side of the Caribbean. Aged in light wood. Oak is used in 90% of wood aging. How does it work? The spirit soaks into the wood, which is where it gets its flavor. When warm, the liquid expands into the wood. When it pulls back, it brings along the flavors. Wood has 175+ flavors, most of which are vanillas. The caramel notes come from charring the barrel, which “caramelizes” the wood.
  • Cruzan Estate Diamond rum – Jared shares, “Tasting this, I had an epiphany, and an immediate love.” Underlying caramal and banana. Aged for 2 years.
  • Cruzan Estate Dark Rum is sweeter smoother richer on the palate. Underlying walnut. Butterscotch. The aging process refines it. Aged 5 years.
  • Note: If rum is aged too long, it has more cognac characters than rum ones. The sharpest flavors are also the ones which dissipate the most quickly.
  • Rum Clement – aged 5 years. Already has a cognac qualities.
  • Rhum clement XO – Pour it into a brandy snifter you could fool a lot of people into thinking it’s a cognac. Priced to compete with cognacs. Jared says that it could even stand up a to a cigar better than a cognac.
  • Captain Morgan Private Stock Rum from rums of Puerto Rico is sweetened, spiced. (By spiced we mean “vanilla-ed”) Less refined and less expensive than Rhum Clement, but very fruity and fun! Still a great product, it’s a matter of how you’re using it and what your taste is at the moment.
At the end of the day – drink what you like – these tips can help you figure out why you like it!