20071230

Help at the 11th hour



If you need a last-second inspiration for your New Year's Toast or a bit of verse appropriate to the moment, just go to my "Toasts & Crumbs" blog and scroll down. I think you'll find something you like.

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2008!

20071226

Tasting ... AsomBroso tequilas

Don't drink garbage on New year's Eve. Or ever, for that matter.

If like me you're sick and tired of hearing adolescent horror stories about overindulging in cheap tequila, open your wallets and try this line of classy Mexican spirits. Details on my "Tasting Notes" site.

My best beverage moments of 2007

PHOTOS BY WILLIAM & APRIL DOWD

In no particular order, here is a big chunk of my 2007 in review:

(1.) Best Drinking and Driving: Put down the protest signs. Some fellow writers and I did the drinking and the charter-bus driver did all the driving -- through Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia as we traversed the major portion of the American Whiskey Trail.

In addition to visiting such iconic distilleries as Jack Daniel's, Jim Beam, Labrot & Graham, Maker's Mark, Wild Turkey and George Dickel, we hit some historic sites and got to meet a wide range of people in all those states. True Americana.

(2.) Best Ad Campaign: The bust-a-gut-laughing set of TV commercials for the Irish whiskey known as The Knot. (See the whole batch of them here.) They feature a bantam rooster sort of guy in a pub who takes no nonsense about whiskey.

(3.) Best New-to-Me Whiskey: I had already completed, or so I thought, an article on American ryes for the UK magazine Whisky when I received this hard-to-find gem as a birthday present. It completely changed my mind on which ryes were the best. Black Maple Hill Rye is tough enough to find in the 18-year-old version, but the 23-year-old takes special investigatory powers.

An initial burst of brown sugar, heat and spice quickly transforms into a mellow, oaky smoothness. Despite the richness there is an ethereal lightness one seldom experiences in hot ryes. Fruit notes such as apple and pear dance around the edges, but the palate responds again and again to the varied spices. Utterly splendid, and worth every moment you spend tracking it down.

(4.) Best Appelation Visit: After participating in a wine competition judging in Napa, CA, I drove to nearby Lodi to experience a region in transition from wine grape producing to winemaking, sort of what Napa was like 20 years ago. The region is dotted with third- and fourth-generation farm families who have been moving from mostly supplying major winemakers to developing their own wines and brands.

They’re working hard at making the Lodi brand known outside the Pacific Coast and trying to develop tourism and ancillary businesses along with it, just as Napa did in its early days

(5.) Best New Cocktails Tried: This was a very interesting category to narrow down. In the course of my business I try a lot of different drinks in the course of the year. Some are very complex, some very simple. I like simple better. In two establishments -- T-Bar at Charlie's Restaurant in Lake Placid, NY, and the Reluctant Panther in Manchester, VT -- I coincidentally ran into signature drinks created for each place by Las Vegas-based mixology guru Tony Abou-Ganim then used by the on-premises bartenders to spin off their own versions.

At T-Bar, I enjoyed both the Gondolettes' Blackberry Caiprosca, a simple drink with a complexity of flavors from muddled fresh lime and berries with citrus vodka. Bartender Laura Keaney's recipe switched it to a raspberry recipe to take advantage of the availability of plump local berries.

At the Reluctant Panther, the signature drink takes on the name of the establishment. It's a mixture of Belvedere vodka, freshly-made lemon sour, chambord, champagne and blackberries marinated in Grand Marnier. Bar manager John Cohen created a spinoff using Stoli Blueberry vodka, freshly-made lemon sour, Blue Curacao, Sprite and fresh berries marinated in Grand Marnier.

(6.) Best New-to-Me Beer: Toña, hands down. This Nicaraguan beer is a lager brewed by Compania Cervecera de Nicaragua (CCN), made with German yeast and malt, North American hops and Nicaraguan deep-well water. The chief brewer is Rudiger Adelmann, who formerly worked for Steinecker GmbH, a German company that designs and produces brewing and filter technologies for the beverage production industry.

When I served up Toña at a beer blind-judging session, among the comments were: "It's much smoother than the Budweiser, and with a bolder flavor. ... I'd drink this beer all night ... It's very rich and creamy. ... Plenty of taste but doesn't overdo the carbonation so it goes down easy. ... This is easy to evaluate: It's an excellent beer!"

(7.) Best News Story Comment: When I reported that an illegal cache of Jack Daniel's whiskey products, including some old and rare ones, had been seized in Tennessee and probably would be destroyed by the authorities, one of my readers e-mailed this perspective:

"When the authorities in Tennessee recover stolen art do they burn it?"

(8.) Best Host's Revenge: I've often wanted to find a way to get even with guests who reply to "What would you like to drink?" with the non-committal -- and unhelpful -- response "Anything" or "Whatever." A Singapore company called Out of The Box came up with soft drinks called "Anything," a carbonated drink, and "Whatever," a tea-based non-carbonated product. So, when someone makes the appropriate inappropriate reply, you can hand them a can of what matches their response. But that's only one level of revenge.

The second twist is that the flavors inside the cans remain a mystery. They could be cola with lemon, apple, root beer, lemon, peach, jasmine, apple, white grape and chrysanthemum , but there is no indication on the exteriors of the cans which flavor is inside. Gotcha.

(9.) Best New Old Beer: Most brewers strive to come up with something new. Sam Calagione, owner of the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery group in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, is using a 9,000-year-old recipe for his latest offering, Chateau Jiahu. He explained it this way: "Preserved pottery jars found in the Neolithic villiage of Jiahu, in Henan province in northern China, has revealed that a mixed fermented beverage of rice, honey and fruit was being produced that long ago, right around the same time that barley beer and grape wine were beinginning to be made in the Middle East."

So, in 2005, molecular archeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania asked Dogfish Head to re-create their second ancient beverage and Chateau Jiahu was born, and went to market in '07. It's an 8% beer.

(10.) Best New Old Distillery: No contest here. While some distillers were pumping millions of dollars into new or expanded facilities, the historic-minded folks at Mount Vernon, VA., rebuilt George Washington's original distillery, based on his diary accounts of the operation that burned down nearly 200 years ago.

Washington's rye whiskey has been recreated there, and the new structure is being used as a tourist attraction several miles from the mansion. I was privileged to be part of the invited group attending the official opening of the facility, and sampled some of the young rye.

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20071224

Nollaig shona duit!

That's in the old Irish tongue. Put in plain English, Happy Christmas!

If you're looking for toasts and salutations for the holidays that will make friends and family smile or laugh out loud, check my "Toasts & Crumbs" blog, the sub-title of which is "When Words Fail You, Try These."

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20071222

Raising a lot more glasses to cognac

William Dowd photo

Cognac may not come immediately to mind when one thinks of the rapidly growing niches of alcoholic beverages. It should.

A little background. Cognac is a brandy, a grape-based product -- an "eaux-de-vie'' fermented like wine then twice distilled. By French law, supported by the World Trade Organization, the spirit can originate only in the town of Cognac and six surrounding viticultural areas.

There is more than one kind of cognac due to the variety of soils in the region. The grapes used are from several white wine varieties, principally the Ugni Blanc, known elsewhere as the Trebbiano grape. Cognacs must be aged in wood at least two years. Most producers use Limousin oak. Martell, for example, prefers the more aromatic Troncais oak.

According to the 2007 edition of "The U.S. Distilled Spirits Market: Impact Databank Review and Forecast" the market looks like this for cognac:

• It has posted 13 consecutive annual U.S. consumption gains.

• The U.S. remains its largest market despite its popularity in Asia with 4 million cases consumed annually.

• A demographic shift is holding steady in which younger Americans are consuming cognac as a main drink or main ingredient in a cocktail rather than merely as an after-dinner digestif.

• Cognac accounts for one-third of all brandy consumed by Americans.

Hennessy, Remy Martin, Courvoisier and Martell combined for 94% percent of the U.S. market last year, according to the report. While three-quarters of cognac volume in the U.S. is standard-priced VS (very superior) brands, much of the recent sales growth has been with VSOP (very superior old pale) and more upscale cognac, such as Napoleon and XO (extra old), according to Impact Databank.

Go here and type "cognac" into the search box to see my tasting notes on a couple of cognacs.
Jacques Menier (seen above), Asia Pacific sales director, presenting the new Martell Creation Grand Extra at an invitation-only dinner I attended earlier this year in Las Vegas. Go here to read my report on the event.

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20071221

Dickeling around with the consumer

The folks at the George Dickel distillery are either idiots or marketing visionaries.

My vote is for the latter. It's the people who have fallen for the manufactrured "shortage" of George Dickel Whisky No. 8 who are acting idiotically.

Dickel stopped production of No. 8 from 1999 to 2003 at its Tullahoma, TN, facility, thus intentionally reducing inventory. Once the normal supply-and-demand forces came into effect, Dickel wasn't able to supply enough of its tipple to consumers.

Result: Dickel recently launched an advertising campaign "apologizing" for the shortage and saying it came about because its whiskey is so popular.

That was a great way to (1.) raise consumer awareness of a whiskey that, while a good Tennessee sipping spirit, is a pale shadow of category leader Jack Daniel's, and (2.) feed the fantasy that it is so popular the supply dried up.

Wise up folks. Nothing wrong with controlling production of your own product, but the beverage writers ought to know better than to fall for the gimmick.

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20071220

Tasting ... a historic Bushmill's

When Bushmills celebrates next year the 400th anniversary of being awarded its license to distill by King James I, the Northern Ireland company will be doing it with a very special whiskey. This particular commemorative was made using something known as "crystal malt."

I was able to get an advance tasting and you can read the results on my "Tasting Notes" site. If you scroll down a few postings on that site you'll also see my thoughts on a re-tasting of that old favorite Black Bush.

20071215

Tradition in good taste for the holidays

If there is any holiday season that demands attention to tradition, we're in it.

With that in mind, I've been hitting the books to honor the season. The bar books, that is. Such classic cocktail bibles as "The Ideal Bartender'' (1917), "The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book'' (1935) and "The Savoy Cocktail Book'' (1937) provide fascinating looks at the society of their day as well as some great drinks. And, they make excellent last-minute gifts, available in various editions through the likes of eBay and Amazon.com.

"The Ideal Bartender" was written by Tom Bullock, an African American master bartender who in the early years of the 20th century was beloved by his customers at such upper-crust Midwestern and Southern places as the Pendennis Club in Louisville, KY, and the St. Louis Country Club in that Missouri city. His wizardry was so respected that the foreward to his book was written by George Herbert Walker, a patron of the St. Louis club and grandfather of President George Herbert Walker Bush.

The Waldorf-Astoria book is a post-Prohibition collection of pre-Prohibition drinks, honoring the bar at the storied Manhattan hotel that closed in 1929 then reopened in 1931 but without its iconic watering hole.

The Savoy book was written by Harry Craddock who reigned as head barman at The American Bar in London's elegant Savoy hotel in the 1920s and '30s where he was instrumental in transplanting the high-spirited American cocktail society to Europe.

That society, memorialized in jokes, films and stage plays, is acknowledged in each of the books. Such as this utterance by W.C. Fields: "Once during Prohibition I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.''

Incidentally, if you pick up any or all of these books, don't be surprised if some terms and ingredients are unfamiliar to you -- acid phosphate, carbonic, Calisaya, Bevo, shrubs, gum syrup and so forth. Remember how much the language and public tastes have changed since they were written. Nevertheless, it's easy to substitute an available modern ingredient for the original when necessary.

Here are samples from each of these guides to spruce up your holiday gatherings, begging with a trio of punches that were popular early in the 20th century.

From "The Ideal Bartender"

BRANDY PUNCH (serves 1)

2 teaspoons superfine sugar
1/2 fresh lemon
1 slice fresh orange
1 piece pineapple
1/2 jigger dark rum
1 1/2 jiggers brandy

Fill glass portion of cocktail shaker three-quarters full of shaved ice. Dissolve the sugar in a little water. Put juice from the half-lemon, sugar, rum and brandy into the glass with the ice. Shake very well, strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with pineapple and orange.

FISH CLUB PUNCH (serves 8)

2 1/2 jiggers fresh lemon juice
4 jiggers peach brandy
2 jiggers cognac
2 jiggers jamaican rum
3 pints ice water

Pour all ingredients into a large punch bowl. Stir well and ladle into punch glasses and serve.

BLACK & TAN PUNCH (serves 10)

1 pound white sugar
Juice of six fresh lemons
1 quart Guinness Stout
1 quart champagne
Assorted fresh fruit slices

Mix the lemon juice and sugar. Pour into that mixture the champagne and stout, both ice cold. Stir gently, serve in punch glasses dressed with fruit.

From "The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book''

BERMUDA HIGH-BALL

1 part brandy
1 part Plymouth gin
1 part French dry vermouth
1 strip of lemon peel
Club soda

Combine brandy, gin and vermouth into a coocktail tumbler with several ice cubes, stir gently, then top off with a splash of soda.

WHITE LION

Juice of half a fresh lemon or lime
1 part raspberry syrup
1 part curacao
2 parts Jamaican rum

Put all ingredients in a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice. Shake, strain into a tumbler filled with fresh ice. Garnish with fruit if desired.

NARRAGANSETT COBBLER

Whole peel of orange
Juice of one fresh orange
1 jigger whiskey
1 8-ounce bottle of ginger ale

Muddle the orangel peel in a tall glass, discard. Add remaining ingredients over ice and serve.

• From "The Savoy Cocktail Book''

ENGLISH ROSE COCKTAIL

1 dash fresh lemon juice
4 dashes grenadine syrup
1 part apricot brandy
1 part French dry vermouth
2 parts dry gin

Put all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with fresh ice. Shake vigorously, strain into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with cocktail sugar.

PALL MALL COCKTAIL

1 dash orange bitters
1 teaspoon white dreme de menthe
1 part Italian sweet vermouth
1 part French dry vermouth
1 part English dry gin

Shake all ingredients well over ice, strain into cocktail glass with fresh ice.

HONOLULU COCKTAIL

1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash fresh orange juice
1 dash pineapple juice
1 dash fresh lemon juice
1 glass dry gin
1/2 teaspoon powdered sugar

Shake all ingredients together in a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and serve.

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20071214

Tasting ... Hendrick's Gin

The folks at the Hendrick’s distillery in Ayrshire, Scotland, really try to emphasize that their gin is not for everyone. “Loved by a select few” is its byword.

I count myself as part of that discerning group. Go to my “Tasting Notes” site for thoughts on the iconic spirit and a lot of other interesting beverages.

20071211

Macallan 55 for a cool $12K

If you're looking for a special holiday gift for that special person, you better hurry.

Only 100 of the obviously limited edition of 430 Lalique decanters of Macallan 55-Year-Old Single Malt Whisky are available in the U.S., and are going for $12,000 each.

The extremely rare, cask-strength whisky has remained undisturbed for over a half-century at the Easter Elchies House in Speyside, Scotland, where it matured in a sherry oak cask. The decanter's design was based on the classic Paquerettes tiara perfume bottle designed by the company's founder, Rene Lalique, in 1910.

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A new tequila joins the anniversary dance

The tequila field is expanding nearly at the same pace as vodka. Which is to say, at an astonishing rate.

The latest brand is MuchoTE, a super premium reposado produced in limited quantities, produced by an entrepreneurial set of twins from Denver, CO, identified only as "Will and Dave." The tequila is distilled in Arandas, a small city in Mexico's Jalisco state.

Their launch gimmick is that the agave spirit will be introduced on Tequila.net, the agave online site celebrating its first anniversary on Dec. 12. MuchoTE is scheduled to be on store shelves on Dec. 26. However, it will be made available to Tequila.net members as a reserved inaugural, limited production bottle prior to the release date.

An online virtual tasting is scheduled for Jan 29, 2008, when Tequila.net members can discuss the new brand online and talk with the brand owners.

MuchoTE Tequila Reposado is aged for more than six months in American whiskey and sherry oak casks. The suggested retail price will be under $30.

Darin ("Mr. Agave") Jones, founder of Tequila.net, said of his company's Dec. 12 anniversary, "It has been a wonderful and productive year. In 12 short months we have added over 500 reviewable listings, including tequila, mezcal and sotol products. Our members have submitted over 350 reviews, along with news articles, links, and suggestions. There are close to 200 links to brand and distillery web sites, 55 reviewable tequila bar listings, and 11 tequila-friendly liquor store additions."

Tequila.net is sponsoring the 2008 Agave Spirits Competition, scheduled for Cancun in February. Entries and awards will be listed on Agave.net, the Tequila.net companion site.

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20071210

Bushmills 1608 marks 400th anniversary

When Bushmills celebrates next year the 400th anniversary of being awarded its license to distill by King James I, it will be doing it with a very special whiskey.

Bushmills 1608 is made with a blend of the Northern Irish distiller's classic malt whiskies and newer whiskey made with "crystal malt." The recipe marries special malted barley, roasted while germinated, and elements from the basic whiskies that are matured in a combination of used American white oak and Spanish Oloroso sherry casks.

The 1608, made in limited quantities and carrying a suggested retail price of $100 for the 750ml bottle, will be available in the U.S. only from February to December next year. After that it will be sold only at the Bushmills facility.

Go here for my tasting notes on the 1608.

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20071209

NY spirits auction a hit

The first auction of alcoholic spirits to be held in New York since Prohibition went off smoothly Saturday in Manhattan.

Rare spirits went for record prices at Christie's New York auction house, the top price of $54,000 for a bottle of 1926 Macallan Scotch that experts had predicted would be the main attraction.

It thus became the most expensive bottle of Scotch whiskey ever sold by Christie's, which has been holding similar sales in Europe since the 1990s. It was purchased by a private New York investor. The whisky was bottled in 1986 after spending 60 years in a wooden barrel. Early estimates were that it would bring a winning bid in the $20,000-$30,000 range.

An anonymous buyer had the winning bid of $102,000 for a collection of 729 Scotches, ranging from blends to single malts, including some from distilleries no longer in operation.

Also auctioned off were bottles of rare Armagnac, Calvados, Chartreuse and Cognacs. A bottle of Cognac Grande Fine Champagne named for Napoleon's wife, the Empress Josephine, and distilled in 1811 sold for $3,600. Overall, the auction brought in $304,800. Prices did not include the buyer's premium and sales tax.

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20071206

This tequila on the up and up

Things are on the upswing at Dos Lunas Tequila.

Its first releases, Dos Lunas Silver ($44.99) and Dos Lunas Reposado ($49.99), were marketed last year. The first was priced at $44.99, the second at $49.99.

Product No. 3, Dos Lunas Grand Reserve, is now being distributed at a slightly higher price: $2,500 a bottle.

Heaven only knows what the sticker will say on the fourth tequila, Dos Lunas Añejo, scheduled for release next year.

Grand Reserve has been aged for 10 years in French oak casks that had been used for Spanish sherry, and is bottled in a numbered Baccarat decanter, kept in an ebonized wood box with an accompanying crystal stopper and sterling silver key and necklace.

Richard C. Poe II, founder of Dos Lunas, said: “In many ways Grand Reserve is closer to the finest single malts and cognacs than to other tequilas. We set out to create the world’s best tequila and that goal informed every decision that was made, from growth through production to packaging.”

Poe, an El Paso, TX, businessman, founded the company in 2005. Dos Lunas tequilas are distilled and bottled in Guadalajara, Jalisco.

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Whiskey maker has a run at rum

Bruichladdich, the iconoclast distiller in Islay, Scotland, has branched out.

In addition to its whiskies, the company's newly-created Renegade Rum group is making rum.

Bruichladdich is serious about the effort. Says Managing Director Mark Reynier, "Ours is rum 'unplugged,' bottled naturally, without chill-filtration and coloring-free on Islay, where it is reduced to 46% alcohol with island spring water.

"The rums are not for mixing with cola. They're for single malt aficionados and cognac enthusiasts."

Renegade Rum is expected to produce about 5,000 bottles, with prices running up to $85 a bottle.

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20071205

Prohibition repeal anniversary, or not?

Today is the 74th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. Or is it truly the day that hideous experiment in social control ended?

Beer historian Bob Skilnik has some strong thoughts on the topic, which he has posted online as he does from time to time in debunking other myths. Even though he specializes in beer, Prohibition affected spirits as well, so let's see what he has to say:

"December 5, 1933 notes a 'first' in constitutional history. It was on this day, 74 years ago, that American voters, through state referendums, added the 21st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It was the first time in our history that a constitutional amendment was passed, not simply by the will of legislators, but instead through popular mandate, i.e., the power of the U.S. citizenry. For some of us, December 5, 1933 might even be remembered as the end of National Prohibition. Unfortunately, there are too many writers and trade organizations who should know this, but have chosen, instead to revise U.S. history for their own purposes, and if I might, usually for self-promoting ones.

"You might recall my rants back in April when organizations like the Brewers Association, the A&E network, Anheuser-Busch, with its pimping of 'The American Brew' an hour-long movie commissioned by the St. Louis brewery, and beer geek sites like Beeradvocate proclaimed April 7 as the day that Prohibition was 'repealed today in 1933.' The Jacksonville Business Journal went so far as to proclaim that 'The 21st amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect April 7, 1933 …' -- an amazing feat since the states hadn’t even gotten around to setting up constitutional referendums and state conventions to vote for delegates who would set the constitutional change into effect.

"They weren’t alone in repeating this historical inaccuracy, but the list of offenders would probably be longer than this entire blog entry. So once again, let me beat this dead horse of a canard one more time. The passages below are from my book 'Beer: A History of Brewing in Chicago,' and gives the perspective of events leading up to December 5, 1933 from a Windy City perspective. But throughout the story, the thread leading up to the end of Prohibition can be found."

You can find his full essay here.

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20071201

What will they think of next? (December issue)

PHOTO BY WILLIAM M. DOWD

Signature drinks sometimes have close competition within their own establishment. I found that to be the case when I visited the luxurious Reluctant Panther Inn & Restaurant in Manchester, VT, where a cocktail created by one of the industry's top names is being challenged by the man in charge locally.

Then, we finish this month's collection with a new concoction from a trendy Manhattan watering hole.



The Reluctant Panther

This is the establishment's signature cocktail, created for it by Las Vegas-based mixology guru Tony Abou-Ganim. It fits in with owner Jerry Lavalley's penchant for grain-based vodkas.

1 1/2 ounces Belvedere vodka
1/2 ounce freshly- made lemon sour
1/2 ounce chambord
Champagne
Blackberries marinated in Grand Marnier

Combine vodka, lemon sour and chambord in a cocktail shaker with fresh ice. Shake vigorously and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Top off with champagne and drop in several of the berries.


• Blueberry Fusion

Bar manager Josh Cohen came up with this spinoff drink that is giving the Reluctant Panther a run for the most-popular status at the inn.

1 1/2 ounces Stoli Blueberry vodka
1/2 ounce freshly-made lemon sour
1/2 ounce Blue curacao
Sprite
Fresh berries marinated in Grand Marnier

Combine vodka, lemon sour and curacao in a cocktail shaker with fresh ice. Shake vigorously and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Top with Sprite and drop in several of the berries. Note: Cohen says six hours is sufficient marinating time.


Ruby Manhattan

This drink was created by Michael Waterhouse of the Devin Tavern (363 Greenwich St.) in New York, substituting ruby port for the usual sweet vermouth.

2 ounces Michter's Rye Whiskey
1 1/2 ounces ruby port
Dash of Reagan's Orange Bitters
Orange twist
Maraschino cherry

Dash orange bitters into a chilled cocktail glass. Squeeze and treat the glass with orange twist. Build ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice. Stir 20 seconds and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with maraschino cherry and orange twist.

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Letters: What was that green stuff?

Bill:

While reading a recent "Dowd on Drinks," it suddenly occurred to me that your encyclopedic knowledge of adult beverages might be able to solve a 25-year-old mystery.

Long before Sebastian's bar in Latham, NY, became a strip club, it was a popular hangout for employees of Factron, an electronics manufacturer. Sometime in the early 1980s, I was wasting oxygen there with a bevy of co-workers, chatting with the barmaid.

As we were still young and foolish instead of just foolish, we were discussing the various bottles of alcoholic beverages visible behind the bar. This led to taste-testing, conducted without benefit of scientific reasoning, or, for that matter, without much reasoning at all.

In a rather non-prominent place was a bottle containing a bright green liquid, and somebody asked what it was. The barmaid, acting somewhat surprised that it was there, said she had no idea. She took down the dust-coated bottle and we passed it around. It had a brand name (which of course I cannot remember), but none of us, including the barmaid, had ever heard of it.

We tasted it. It was rather sweet but might be good as a minor ingredient in certain cocktails. More importantly, all agreed that its taste was something we had experienced before. Yet we could not identify it. Suddenly someone shouted "Circus peanuts!" Everyone else said "That's it!" as we remembered the orange marshmallow-like confections we had occasionally consumed as children.

Every now and then, I wonder what that beverage was. Circus peanuts have a distinctive flavor, but I don't know what that flavor is.

Any thoughts?

Michael D. Trout, Selkirk, NY

Michael:

I love a good mystery, and this one is particularly intriguing.

"Circus peanuts" are made by four different companies (no one ever bothered trademarking the name), so the ingredients might vary slightly from one manufacturer to another. However, they are marshmallows made of sugar, corn syrup or high-fructose cporn sweetener plus gelatin, pectin, maybe even soy powder and some color plus a bit of artificial flavoring.

I suspect it's the latter element that piques the curiosity and may cauise some differences of opinion. Melster, Brach’s, Farley and Spangler are the four manufacturers, and Melster makes many of the candies for other brands.

Candy aficionadoes have often remarked that Circus Peanuts, while of indeterminate flavor, usually are most like banana. Using that as a basis, the closest I can come to banana flavor and a green liqueur -- without it actually being banana-infused -- is, ta da!, Chartreuse Green. (I rule out creme de menthe since you made no mention of a minty smell or taste in your mystery liquid.)

Chartreuse Green (there is a yellow version as well) is one of those ancient potions created by 16th century monks -- in this instance the Carthusian order located near Grenoble, France -- who didn't have anything better to do. It's a 110-proof liqueur made up of 130 plant ingredients, and the precise recipe and proces usually are known to only two monks at a time as a security measure.

While it can be mixed in a cocktail, to get the true experience Chartreuse should be chilled and sampled on the rocks.

(See Michael's response under "Comments.")

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20071130

Tasting ... Forester's Birthday Bourbon

Every year since 2002, master distiller Chris Morris has issued a commemorative bourbon of excellent quality. Join me at my "Tasting Notes" site for some thoughts on a very special spirit.

Liquor auctions return to NY

New York's first liquor auction since Prohibition is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 8, at Christie's Rockefeller Center in Manhattan.

"This historic auction is a perfect opportunity for collectors and connoisseurs to bid on rare and extraordinary liquors," said Frank Coleman, senior vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS).

DISCUS lobbied strongly in favor of the law passed this summer allowing spirits auctions. Effectively as well, as shown by the fact that the bill passed the State Senate 58-1 on June 19, unanimously passed the Assembly on June 20, and was signed into law by Gov. Elliot Spitzer on Aug. 15.

Six other states -- Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Texas -- and the District of Columbia also allow liquor auctions.

Among items up for bid on Dec. 8 will be a rare bottle of 1926 Macallan, one of the most expensive whiskies in the world; a bottle of Cognac Grande Fine Champagne named for Imperatrice Josephine 1811; the Napoleon Cognac of the legendary
Halley's comet vintage of 1811, and, one of the first bottles of George Washington's Distillery Straight Rye Whiskey made in over 200 years by a team of America's leading master distillers in 2003.

Go here to view the full e-catalog.

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20071129

Mexico fears Asian pressure

Two cactus species used to create alcoholic beverages have been targeted by Mexican politicians demanding action to protect the tequila industry from Chinese and Japanese competition.

The lower house of Mexico's Congress has voted to urge the government to stop Chinese firms patenting maguey. They also have expressed concern that companies in both China and Japan are targeting nopal, another species.

"Nopal and Maguey are Mexican plants and if we don't take the necessary measures in time, we run the risk of losing the denomination of origin," Cesar Duarte, the legislator who sponsored the move, told the EFE news agency.

He said the main Mexican farmers union has been told that Chinese firms have begun legal moves to register the nopal plant with the European Commission as a Chinese product. However, a spokesman for the Mexican Agriculture Ministry said the EC so far has received no requests regarding either nopal or maguey.

Mexico argues that the maguey is a uniquely Mexican product because 150 of the 200 varieties of the plant are found in its territory.

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Distillery startup for Wyoming

They don't have a name or marketing plan for their product yet, but a startup company called Wyoming Whiskey will begin construction next month on a distillery in the small northern Wyoming town of Kirby.

The distillery will produce about 50,000 gallons of charred-oak aged whiskey annually. Not bad in a town of just 80 residents.

20071126

Anheuser-Busch adds another vodka

Anheuser-Busch today began distributing another vodka on the already-crowded market, extending its spirits line called Longtail Libations.

This one is Purus, billed as an Italian-made 100% organic wheat vodka using glacial water from the Alps and grain from Italy's Piemonte region.

Last March, Anheuser-Busch partnered with Ku Soju Inc. to test market a vodka-like 48-proof soju beverage distilled from sweet potatoes, a Korean drink favorite.

In June it announced a deal with Vermont Spirits to become the master U.S. distributor for the Vermont Gold, Vermont Gold Vintage and Vermont White super-premium vodkas sold primarily in New England.

Vermont Gold is handmade in small batches from pure maple sugar, Vermont Gold Vintage from early-run maple sap, and Vermont White from pure milk sugar. Each is 80 proof, and sold in 750ml bottles.

Purus, also bottled at 80 proof in 750ml bottles, is distilled five times and refined through an active charcoal filtration process.

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20071124

2, 4, 6, 8, who do we inebriate?

Leave it to a New York business to make money off labor unrest.

The Living Room Lounge at the glitzy W hotel in Times Square has created a new drink called a "Striketini" to mark the current labor strike that has shut down numerous Broadway shows.

"We are known for our martinis, so we wanted to make something special," concierge Marcelo Surerus told reporters. "We'll be serving this for the duration of the strike."

The takeoff on the classic Manhattan consists of 1 1/2 ounces of bourbon, an ounce of Grand Marnier, a half-ounce of white cranberry juice, and a splash each of sour mix and sugar syrup. The finished product, garnished with a maraschino cherry, is darker than the usual Manhattan.

Dark, as in theater lights out.

The drink is going for $15, about normal for high-end Big Apple bars.

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20071123

Shake and a haircut

Ah, those wacky folks in Alqonquin, IL.

The village trustees voted 5-1 this week to permit consumption of alcohol as a secondary use to a primary business.

That cleared the way for Martini Manicures, a hair salon that petitioned the village for such action, to apply for the new Class A-4 liquor license. Who gets such a license is up to the village liquor commission, but the commission is made up of village board members.

Village Manager William Ganek told the Arlington Daily Herald that business owners still have to specifically request a liquor license, show proof of insurance, and verify health department requirements, adding, "Any license holder is also subject to the same requirements for getting beverage alcohol sellers and servers education training. All the same rules apply."

The license can go only to a business whose principal source of sales is services and goods, not alcohol, and is not a restaurant. The license would allow its holder to serve only customers who are using the business' services, not walk-ins in search of a cocktail.

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20071119

Heaven Hill releases new bourbon, rye


Heaven Hill Distilleries has released two new whiskies for national sales.

One is the 23-year-old version of its Rittenhouse Very Rare Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey, which follows last fall's release of a 21-year-old.

The other is the 13th annual edition of its Evan Williams Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

Heaven Hill is the largest remaining family-owned, independent spirits producer in the U.S. and the No. 2 worldwide holder of aging bourbon. It is located in Bardstown, KY.

As with the previous 12 vintages, each bottle of the special Evan Williams bourbon is marked with the exact date it was placed in oak and bottled, in addition to the exact serial number of the single barrel from which it was drawn.

The 86.6 proof spirit is matured under the supervision of the father-son team of Parker and Craig Beam. It goes for a suggested retail price of $24.99 for a 750ml.

The new Rittenhouse rye release was aged on the lower floors of the distillery's choice "OO" rickhouse, where the temperature extremes are not as variable as other spots. The aforementioned release of the very-limited 32-barrel release of the 21-year-old rye has been depleted. The 23, with a suggested retail price of $170 for a a set of three 750ml bottles, is being made available in major metropolitan areas. Only 25 barrels are being made available.

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An insider's guide to the 1st Agave Competition

Cancun, on what the travel brochures like to call Mexico's "Mayan Gold Coast," is known for its brilliant blue waters, luxurious hotels and eco-tourism. In a short time, it will be known as the site of the first agave-only event.

The 1st Agave Spirits Competition has been set for Feb. 2-9 in Cancun. The event, open to all agave spirits of Mexico, will include tequila, mezcal, sotol, destilado de agave, raicilla, and bacanora.

Beyond Mexico, some of these spirits are not widely known. True tequila, of course, must be made 100% from the blue agave plant and distilled only in Jalisco state and certain specificed adjoining counties.

Here's a quick rundown on the others:

Bacanora: This traditional liquor, mentioned by the earliest Spanish explorers as a native drink, is made in the state of Sonora, which lies below Arizona. It was illegal until 15 years ago when rules for its manufacture were put into place. It is made from a variety of the agave plant that grows exclusively in Sonora's climate and terrain.

Mezcal: The state of Oaxaca in south-central Mexico claims this spirit as its own. It's the result of the fermentation of the native maguey plant by the indigenous people and the distillation techniques introduced by Spaniards. The unique topography of Oaxaca -- at the confluence of three great valleys at an altitude of 6,500 feet -- creates a wide variety of growing micro-climates for numerous varieties of the agave variety known as maguey, from the giant pulque maguey to the maguey tobala from which one of the rarest mezcals is made.

Sotol: This shrub looks like a bouquet of spiney leaves with fringed tips. It grows in deserts, mountains, and on dry rocky slopes. Its powerful fermented juice is the state drink of Chihuahua state, south of New Mexico. Like tequila and mezcal, it was improved by distilling the original fermentation.

Raicilla: This liquor, widely known as "Mexican moonshine," now can be found in somewhat more sophisticated varieties as a result of modernization and commercialization. It usually is distilled from a fermented mash made from the roots of the maguey plant. It's a harsh liquor, 100 proof or higher. Despite its dicey repuation, the tourist haven of Puerto Vallarta thinks enough of it to hold an annual raicilla festival.

Destilado de agave: This spirit is quite similar to tequila, but is brewed outside the state of Jalisco which has 98% of all legal tequila production. As with tequila, it may or may not be made with 100% agave.

All invited judges will have no affiliation to any brand or product, and for fairness to all entries, all tastings will be done blind, and calculated real-time during each tasting. The number of judges present will be determined by the amount of entries.

While the Feb. 2-9 event, to be held at the Royal Resorts Club International and hosted by founder Darin Jones, owner of TEQUILA.net, will not be open to the public the entire event results will be available for viewing on AGAVE.net, including the name of each entry, category, photo, and final tasting results/awards.

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20071118

A Rx for laughter

TV ads for various medicines, the kind that are murky about what they're meant to treat, often wind up being lengthy lists of side effects. The same might be said of, oh, maybe tequila. At least that's what you get on this site.

20071116

Cheers to Walt Disney World Resorts

It was a Disney world when the editors of Cheers, the beverage industry magazine, released its 2008 Cheers Awards for Beverage Excellence.

The awards are widely considered the adult beverage industry's highest honor for beverage program operators in chain and multi-concept restaurant companies.

They are divided into 12 categories, two of which were won by Walt Disney World Resorts. Each award is given based on the innovation and creativity of an establishment's beverage program and its impact on the sales and profitability of the establishment. Additional consideration is given to the level of operator support of the program, such as a high level of staff training or unique marketing efforts.

The winners:

Best Overall Chain Beverage Program: Walt Disney World Resorts
• Best Signature Drink: Walt Disney World Resorts
• Best Chain Hotel Beverage Program: Hilton Hotels
• Best Chain Wine Program: Carrabba's
• Best Chain Beer Program: Buffalo Wild Wings
• Best Chain Spirits Program: Bennigan's
• Best Beverage Merchandising Program: Hard Rock Cafe
• Best Beverage Menu: Outback Steakhouse
• Best Drink Program: Ruth's Chris Steakhouse
• Best Adult Non-Alcohol Drink Program: ESPN Zone
• Best Responsible Alcohol Service Training Program: Applebee's
• Best Multi-Concept Beverage Program: Back Bay Restaurant Group

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Big Easy making event even bigger

If you like your cocktail parties long, loud and lively, circle next July 16-20 on your 2008 calendar. That's the date for the 6th annual Tales of the Cocktail New Orleans.

The culinary and cocktail event hosts mixologists, authors, chefs, bartenders, designers and cocktail gurus from around the world who present seminars, tastings and professional series' for amateurs, experts and professionals.

New events for 2008 will include a cocktail market, cocktail cinema, seminars on subjects including eggs in cocktails, absinthe in the modern era, beer cocktails, molecular mixology, and the first-ever International Symposium of Cocktail Shaker Collectors.

The New Orleans Culinary and Cultural Preservation Society, a non-profit organization produces Tales of the Cocktail annually. Full details are available online.

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Seized Jack Daniel's may go down the drain

I recently reported on the seizure of a large cache of Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey.

The update: It mught be dumped.

According to the Associated Press:

" ... Hundreds of bottles of Jack Daniel's whiskey, some of it almost 100 years old, may be unceremoniously poured down a drain because authorities suspect it was being sold by someone without a license. Officials seized 2,400 bottles late last month during warehouse raids in Nashville and Lynchburg, the southern Tennessee town where the whiskey is distilled.

"Investigators are also looking into whether some of the bottles had been stolen from the distillery. No one has been arrested.

"Authorities are still determining how much of the liquor will be disposed of, and how much can be sold at auction.
Tennessee law requires officials to destroy whiskey that cannot be sold legally in the state, such as bottles designed for sale overseas and those with broken seals.

" 'We'd pour it out,' said Danielle Elks, executive director of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The estimated value of the liquor is $1 million, possibly driven up by the value of the antique bottles, which range from 3-liter bottles to half-pints. One seized bottle dates to 1914, with its seal unbroken. Elks said it is worth $10,000 on the collectors market."

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20071115

Ancient bison-grass vodka comes to U.S.

Poland's famous bison grass vodka has finally been introduced directly into the U.S., beginning with New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Chicago outlets.

It only took a few centuries, since this particular type of vodka has been made in Poland since the 1600s, well before the U.S. was founded.

Zubrowka Bison Grass Flavored Vodka is made with the rare aromatic herb grass. It is the only distiller using the grass, and the finished product has long been a European market favorite. It is available in a 750ml bottle for a suggested retail price of $25.

Zubrowka says the vodka "originated in the early 14th-century as a local specialty from the Bialowieza forest region, which today is Europe's last remaining primeval forest, relatively untouched by civilization and pollution. The secretive Bialowieza Forest, located deep in northeastern Poland, remains home to the largest population of European bison, and the storied, aromatic bison grass on which the herd of 400 feeds. Bison grass cannot be grown artificially, and production of authentic Zubrowka vodka has remained unchanged for centuries."

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'Tis the season to use your noggin

My introduction to eggnog came at about the age of 7 in the form of my grandmother's do-it-yourself kit: One egg, an 8-ounce glass, a spoonful of sugar, a little bottle of vanilla extract and a fork.

It was a special treat she'd devised for two older cousins and I, and we made a contest out of seeing who could make the best nog. The process was simple in those days before we worried about potential contamination from raw eggs. After all, it was a small farm-country town and we practically knew the hens on a first-name basis.

Crack the egg into a glass (a particularly good way of teaching kids to handle this basic kitchen chore some adults still can't master), beat it up a bit, add the sugar and beat some more till the sweetener dissolves, then add a few drops of vanilla, fill the glass with milk, and beat it some more until it got evenly gold and frothy.

Simple, direct and delicious.

Nowadays, the commonplace way to have eggnog is to buy a waxed carton of it at the market. Maybe you'll doctor it up a bit with a sprinkling of nutmeg or cinnamon, perhaps pop in a candy cane stirrer or mint leaf if it's Christmas time. But, on the whole, it's a pretty unexciting proces. That's where you get into the spirits, or vice versa. A touch of brandy, rum or cognac goes a long way to racheting eggnog up to a different level. The key is restraint.

More isn't necessarily better. Keep the alcohol additive light, adding a bit at a time until you can just taste it through the thickness of the eggnog. Remember, you can always add more; you can't take it out.

Of course, it's not mandatory to add alcohol to your nog. You can give it a boost with freshly grated nutmeg or cinnamon plus a little extra vanilla extract (although that does contains a touch of alcohol). Some people even add a grind of white peppercorns.

The healthy way, if you'd prefer to make your own nog as we did but are leery of potential problems from uncooked eggs, there are several cautious routes to take.

First, of course, is to use an egg substitute. I don't vouch for the overall quality of the eggnog, but it's better than skipping the drink entirely.

Second, exercise rigorous caution when selecting your eggs. Be sure they are clean grade A or AA with no visible cracks or indentations in the shells, and that they are properly refrigerated. Also, be sure to avoid contact between the insides of the eggs and the shells.

As for ready-to-drink eggnog, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it must contain at least 1% by weight egg-yolk solids and must be pasteurized. It may also be homogenized.

Eggnog comes to us, as so many of our Christmas season traditions do, from England, where it sometimes is called egg flip. Food historians generally agree that "nog'' is an old dialect word from East Anglia that described a kind of strong ale and "noggin'' was the vessel it was drunk from.

Today's eggnog can be traced to something the English called "posset'' -- eggs, milk and ale or wine. Somewhere along the way, nog and posset blended into eggnog.

Eggnog in various forms was popular here from the earliest days of the nation. George Washington was known for his powerful recipe that included rum, sherry and rye whiskey. Of course, he owned a distillery at Mount Vernon that turned out one of the young country's top ryes, so its inclusion is not surprising.

Eggnog, like so many dishes and drinks, tends to pick up regional characteristics. In the American South, bourbon often is the alcohol additive. In Puerto Rico, where it is called "coquito,'' rum is the spirit of choice and coconut juice or milk also is used. In Mexico, "rompope'' has a lot of cinnamon plus rum or a grain alcohol and is sipped as a liqueur.

A version known as "Tom and Jerry'' was first popularized in early-19th century England, thanks to Pierce Egan, a well-known writer on sports and popular culture. In his book "Life of London: or Days and Nights of Jerry Hawthorne and His Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom,'' he whipped up a variation of eggnog with a healthy dose of brandy atop the usual recipe and named it for his protagonists.

Although that was nearly two centures ago, his drink keeps popping up even in today's better bartender guides. But the iconic American journalist and novelist Damon Runyan (1884-1946) had the best take on the drink in his short story "Dancing Dan's Christmas''‚ "This hot Tom and Jerry is an oldtime drink that is used by one and all in this country to celebrate
Christmas with, and in fact it is once so popular that many people think Christmas is invented only to furnish an excuse for hot Tom and Jerry, although of course this is by no means true.''
ALTON BROWN'S EGGNOG

This recipe from the Food Network TV personality was first presented on his "Good Eats'' show in 2005. Serves 4-5.

4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
1 pint whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 ounces bourbon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 egg whites

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the 1/3 cup sugar and continue to beat until completely dissolved. Add milk, cream, bourbon and nutmeg and stir to combine.

Put egg whites in mixer bowl and beat to soft peaks. With the mixer still running gradually add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Whisk the egg whites into the mixture. Chill and serve.
COQUITO

This recipe for the Puerto Rican version of eggnog serves 16.

2 cups water
8 three-inch cinnamon sticks
6 large egg yolks
3 12-oz. cans evaporated milk
2 cans coconut milk
3 14-oz. cans sweetened condensed milk
3 cups white rum

In a two-quart saucepan, heat water and cinnamon sticks to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until liquid is reduced to one cup. Remove cinnamon sticks and set liquid aside to cool to room temperature.

In a three-quart saucepan with a wire whisk, beat egg yolks and evaporated milk until well-mixed. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens and coats a spoon -- about 10 munutes (do not boil). Set aside to cool slightly. When cinnamon flavored liquid has cooled, stir in coconut milk, until well mixed.

In serving bowl, combine coconut mixture, yolk mixture, sweetened condensed milk and rum. Chill well and serve.
EGGNOG COUPE DE MILIEU

This recipe, which serves 6-8, comes from the book "In the Land of Cocktails,'' by New Orleans food and drink mavens Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan.

2 medium eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1/8 cup sugar
Pinch of ground cinnamon
3/8 cup Southern Comfort
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
Grated nutmeg for garnish

Bring about an inch of water to a simmer in the bottom half of a double boiler. While the water heats, in the top half of the boiler combine the eggs, heavy cream, sugar and cinnamon. Place the top half over the simmering water and whisk until thick and frothy, about 6 to 8 minutes.

Pour the mixture through a mesh strainer into a bowl. Refrigerate until chilled like custard, about two hours. When cold, whisk in the Southern Comfort and vanilla. Divide among chilled shot glasses and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

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Citrus tequilas enliven Canada

For Americans heading north, perhaps the fact that a rare happenstance -- the Canadian dollar now is worth 7% or so more than the Yankee dollar -- has taken place will lose its sting when they use their deflated money to purchase something new to the Canadian market: flavored tequila.

Kaban Tequila, a new offering from Mixology Canada, combines a 100% blue agave spirit base with citrus-infused flavors in lime, tangerine and tropical: i.e., pineapple.

The tequilas are distilled and bottled in Mexico and are Canada's first naturally flavored tequila.

A number of national restaurant chains, pubs and resorts already are offering Kaban.

For example, Nathan Cameron, master mixologist for Prime Restaurants, is featuring what he calls a "Kaban Caesar" throughout the Casey's restaurant chain in Ontario province. It features Kaban lime tequila, garnished with a new specialty Caesar salt and a spicy bean.

Kaban is offered in a tall, slim 750ml bottle and has a retail price of $34.95.

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20071110

One fuehrer the road

The resemblance is uncanny in some photos, but the intent was purely unintentional.

The pub sign in a soon-to-open UK watering hole in a place called Rock Ferry, Wirral, is supposed to be an homage to poet John Masefield, according to the pub chain JD Wetherspoon.

Unfortunately, the image of Masefield (right) looks a lot like one A. Hitler, late of Berlin, Germany. A lot of customers and neighbors have begun calling the pub The Adolf. They are asking the chain management to change the sign before the pub opens for business.

Says manager Seanie Walsh, 55: ''We must admit he does look a bit like Hitler on the sign, but that didn't occur to us until after we put it up. We've got lots of pictures of John Masefield inside from different stages of his life and we hope people come down and learn more about him while having a drink.''

Masefield, who died in 1967, is perhaps best known for his poem "Sea Fever," which begins: "I must go down to the seas again ... ."

At least this faux pas wasn't on purpose, unlike one in India in which a restaurateur decided to post a swastika over the store and call it Hitler's Cross. As the headline on my blog entry said about that one, "Perhaps the Hitler Youth menu was over the top."

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20071107

Malt Advocate makes annual awards

The 2007 Malt Advocate Whisky Awards were released during the recent WhiskyFest in New York by editors of the magazine.

The category results:
Best Buy of the Year: Black Bottle Original

American Whiskey of the Year: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (2007 Release)

Canadian Whisky of the Year: Crown Royal Cask No. 16

Irish Whiskey of the Year: Redbreast 12 year old

Scotch Whisky Blend of the Year: Chivas 18 year old

Scotch Whisky Malt of the Year: The Macallan 1976 Vintage (Cask 11354)

World Whisky of the Year: Suntory Yamazaki 18 year old

Industry Leader of the Year: Mixologists

Distillery of the Year: BenRiach

• Pioneer of the Year: Bruichladdich Distillery

• Lifetime Achievement Award: Jim Rutledge, Four Roses Distillery

• Lifetime Achievement Award: David Stewart, William Grant & Sons

Top Ten New Whiskies for 2007 (in alphabetical order; $ in U.S)
(1.) Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Chardonnay Aged Bourbon, 14 year old, 45%, $50/375ml

(2.) Crown Royal Cask No. 16, 40%, $100

(3.) Dun Bheagan (distilled at Springbank), Cask No. 1704, 35 year old, 1970 vintage, 50.5%, $300

(4.) The Glenlivet Cellar Collection, 1969 vintage, 50.8%, $750

(5.) Highland Park, Cask #13308, 1973 vintage, 33 year old, 54.4%, $280

(6.) Highland Park, Cask #7957, 1977 vintage, 29 year old, 48.5%, $300

(7.) Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, 1994 vintage, 47%, $40

(8.) The Macallan 1976 Vintage, 29 year old, cask #11354, 45.4%, $1,500

(9.) Parker’s Heritage Collection, First Edition, 1996 vintage, 61.3%, $80

(10.) Wild Turkey American Spirit, 15 year old, 50%, $90

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20071106

Rare Jack Daniel's whiskey seized

Tennessee state agents have 2,400 bottles of Jack Daniel's whiskey impounded after they were found in several storage buildings.

The cache, valued at $1 million, was discovered as part of an investigation into possible illegal sales of whiskey by two businesses in Lynchburg, where the Jack Daniel's distillery is located. Some of the illegal whiskey also was found in a motel in Nashville, 65 miles away. No arrests have been announced.

"There are bottles here that are not even sold in this county," said Mike Cawthorn, senior agent in charge of the Nashville office of the Tennessee Alcohol Beverage Commission. "There are bottles of Jack Daniel's here that are to be sold only in Italy and Spain."

Danielle Elks, executive director of the ABC, said one bottle dates to 1914 and could be worth as much as $10,000.

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New on the market

Bambu Rum: David Kanbar's experience at Skyy Vodka (as an executive for the enterprise founded by his uncle) let him know a start-up spirit is possible even in a crowded market. So, he created this "rum for vodka drinkers," as he terms it. It's quadruple distilled and triple filtered in the Britosh West Indies to remove any impurities that cause vodka headaches for some people (his wife is one of those). It is made in tiny batches and packaged in a fancy-schmancy bottle carrying a suggested retail price of $47.99.

• TØZ Rum: St. Lucia Distilleries named this new offering for the "troy ounce," the measurement usually used for weighing precious metals. TØZ, like all St. Lucia rums and rum liqueurs, is made from molasses shipped in from Guyana. The final product is a blend of rums anywhere from two to seven years old, distilled in copper alambic pot and continuous stills, then aged in American white oak barrels and, finally, finished in vintage port casks. Suggested retail price: $23 for a 700ml bottle.

Boomerang Vodka: This vodka from Foster's Wine Estates in Australia is a grape-based, charcoal-filtered distillation made from Chardonnay grapes. It is being marketed in a joint venture with Chris Williams, who also owns Wattle Creek Winery in Sonoma, CA. Suggested retail price: $19.99 for a 750ml bottle.

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20071105

Latest Utopias a 'beer' with many differences

Non-carbonated. Resealable bottle. Aged in used sherry or bourbon barrels.

Is this stuff still beer, or is it somewhere in the cognac universe?

There is more to Samuel Adams' newest product than the container.

Yes, Utopias is bottled in a replica of one of the Boston brewery's brew kettles, and its makers are suggesting it be served at room temperature as an after-dinner drink in a glass specifically designed for it by Riedel. But what is causing the biggest stir is that Utopias has five times the alcoholic strength of the average beer.

At 27% alcohol by volume, or 54 proof, Utopias is a powerful brew. However, it can be saved because of its resealable bottle, so consumers used to lower-proof beers can pace themselves when drinking this non-carbonated brew.

This is just the latest version of Utopias, which was introduced to the market in 2002, then released again in 2003 and 2005. This release is blended with some batches that have been aged 13 years in different wood barrels. Some of the Utopias have been aged in Madeira barrels and sherry casks. Some is aged in used bourbon casks. It is brewed with a variety of malts and hops and several yeasts, including champagne yeast.

The company has limited production to 12,000 bottles. The holiday gift box package of Utopias and a Riedel glass will retail for a suggested price of $150.

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20071103

Liquid luxuries on video

Regular visitors to this site know that over the years I've posted information on the latest extravagant four-figure cocktail creations. A few examples:

A $1,400 Mai Tai is no gimmick
The race to excess
The high cost of keeping up
No thanks, but I'll take the cash

Now, the Forbes.com Video Network has weighed in on the topic with an interesting video (punctuated by several commercials).

Nice images of crazy-pricey drinks.

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20071101

What will they think of next? (November edition)

As I poured a few ounces of Arizona Green Tea into the pan to deglaze it from the sauteed chicken and shallots I'd just removed, it occurred to me how underutilized tea is in much of our cuisine.

The ancient plant has seen a tremendous boom in popularity -- green tea, white tea, red tea -- in recent years, but primarily as a stand-alone drink. Too little use is made of it as a deglazing agent, a marinade base, or even as a component in cocktails.

So, in honor of the traditions of both tea and the upcoming holiday season, this month's cocktail roundup utilizes tea as a major component.



Esmeralda's Spiced Tea

This cocktail comes from the folks at Absolut vodka but, of course, any basic vodka can be used. The Fee Brothers syrup is made in Rochester and can be ordered online.

1 part vodka
3 parts freshly brewed cinnamon spiced tea
Sweeten to taste with Fee Brothers spiced cordial syrup

Combine, shake lightly without ice, garnish with a cinnamon stick and service in a cocktail tumbler.


Dowd's Marteani

I created this cocktail two years ago to celebrate the emerging popularity of both vodka and tea.

3 parts Arizona Green Tea with Honey and Ginseng
3 parts all-grain vodka
6 drops Angostura Bitters
1 teaspoon Galliano liqueur
1 mint leaf
2 orange slices

Put all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with fresh ice (you can substitute Strega for the Galliano if you like a drier drink), stir briskly with a cocktail spoon, then strain quickly into a frosted martini glass before the ice melts. Twist the juice from an orange slice into the drink and let it meander through the solution on its own. Garnish with an orange slice and a mint leaf for color.


Old Colonial Hot Tea Punch

The That's the Spirit Web site has a large archive of reader-contributed drink recipes. This recipe for a large bowl of punch with a definite punch is great for a party and honors the colonial-era penchant for hot drinks as opposed to our modern insistence on chilled ones.

6 cups hot tea
3 ounces Curaçao
16 ounces brandy
1/2 cup honey, orgeat syrup, or sugar syrup to taste
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
1 liter dark rum
1 pint lemon juice

Mix rum, brandy, hot tea, lemon juice, honey or syrup, and curaçao in a saucepan and stir until honey or syrup is completely dissolved. Check for sweetness, and when cool, pour into a chilled punch bowl with a large cake of ice. Garnish with lemon slices.

Makes about 30 servings.

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