20080630

Phillips branches out with organic vodka

William M. Dowd photo

Ed Phillips and Sons is at it again.

The company is cooking up its new Prairie brand organic vodka at its Benson, MN, distillery, using certified organic No. 2 yellow corn and distilling the product anywhere from four to six times to reach the quality level it desires.

I first tasted Phillips' products back in the fall of 2005 when Dean Phillips, fifth-generation head of the company long known for flavored schnapps and vodkas and spiced whiskies, came up with his line of Union whiskies.

The basic expression was a blend -- a "union'' -- of Kentucky bourbon and Canadian whisky. In addition to the basic blend, he created one flavored with Michigan Royal Anne cherries, another with Madagascar vanilla.

The vodka, like the Union whiskies, is anything but run of the mill. It is a full expression of Phillips' industry in sustainable agriculture, reduced carbon footprint manufacturing, and organic/kosher products.

To be certified organic by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, the growing process -- of corn, in this instance -- cannot use genetically modified seeds, hormones, artificial fertilizers, pesticides or weed controllers. That makes it more expensive than crops grown with the aid of such things.

As the company explains its process, the distillery, which has a working relationship with 900 farmers, "converts leftover corncobs and other biomass to create biogas energy for powering the stills and returns distillers grains, a co-product of distillation, to farms for re-use as feed."

Phillips already had a wide range of flavored and unflavored vodkas, sold under the Phillips and UV labels. Including its cordials, schnapps and whisky expressions, Phillips has more than 70 brands.
Go here for my tasting notes.
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20080629

Sweet Tea Vodka a quick hit

Although sweet tea has been a Southern beverage staple for generations, McDonald's and other fast-food companies only recently discovered it and are offering their version to the public at large.

However, Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka is an entirely different thing. In just three weeks on South Carolina store shelves it has become the top-selling flavored vodka in the state.

I reported on this new product back in April, but never thought I'd be talking about this sort of success so soon.

“We’re a company based in the South and everyone in the South loves sweet tea. We were thrilled that Firefly Sweet Tea met our expectations and became the number one selling flavored vodka in such a short time frame,” said co-owner Jim Irvin.

Firefly, which is based on Wadamalaw Island, 30 miles south of Charleston, now is distributing its new flavored vodka in New York, Nevada and Colorado as well as South Carolina.

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After-work cocktails still an American icon

William M. Dowd photo

Anyone who thinks the after-work cocktail hour is merely a thing of the '40s and '50s should think again.

According to a study conducted for the online job site CareerBuilder.com, one in every five U.S. workers "regularly" has after-work drinks with co-workers.

Why? Most attend to bond with colleagues, although 15% go to hear office gossip and 13% feel obligated to go, according to the Harris Interactive survey of nearly 7,000 full-time workers conducted between Feb. 11 and March 13.

A few other findings:

• 85% said attending did not help them get closer to someone higher up
• 25% attend at least once a month
• 21% said attending happy hours are good for networking
• 16% of respondents said they bad-mouthed a colleague
• 10% shared a secret about a colleague
• 8% kissed a colleague
• 8% drank too much and acted unprofessionally
• 5% shared a secret about the company
• Workers ages 25-34 are most likely to attend
• Workers 55 and over are least likely to attend

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'Outlaw' sangria legalized in Virginia

That old evil sangria will become legal in Virginia on Tuesday, July 1.

Sangria? Evil? An illegal drink?

True. Since the 1930s, the wine- and spirit-based punch has been illegal under state regulations forbidding the mixing of wine with distilled spirits. The law was changed, thanks to state Delegate Adam Ebbin (D-49th District).

The Alexandria Gazette Packet, which inadvertently kicked off the campaign, reports:

"The time was 5:20 p.m. on a gusty December afternoon in 2006 when Special Agent Katherine Matikonis walked into La Tasca Restaurant on King Street in Old Town. She sat down and ordered sangria, a cocktail that was illegal at the time — forbidden under 1930s regulations encouraging temperance.

"Matikonis charged the restaurant with multiple code violations, initiating a widespread confrontation between regulators and restaurateurs that would culminate in a statewide legislative effort earlier this year. Fortunately for La Tasca and every other restaurant that wants to serve the traditional Spanish drink, the sangria legalization effort of 2008 was a success."

Richard Jarrouj, manager of the Piola Pizzeria in Arlington, told the newspaper. "This whole thing has been just totally absurd."

His restaurant had to take sangria off the menu earlier this year after getting a cease-and-desist letter from state regulators. "Our customers thought it was totally ridiculous when we told them ... ."

After being asked by the newspaper for his reaction to the ban, Ebbin met with several restaurant operators then crafted language that became House Bill 1269. It was passed by the General Assembly with little opposition.

As the Web site WineIntro.com explains it:

"Sangria recipes are the inspiration for many red wine punch styles. Sangria was created in Spain and made popular in the U.S. at the 1964 World's Fair. It normally has red wine, brandy, and fruit. However, it can be made in just about any style you can imagine. Sangria is based on the traditional red wine punch popular across Europe for hundreds of years. ... Sangria can be made in any number of styles, from spicy to mild to rich to bubbly. You can make sangria with red wine, white wine, and even sparkling wine. ..."

Go here for the particualrs of various sangria recipes, ranging from the simple to the complex.

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What will they think of next (July edition)

This month's collection of cocktail recipes come from bartenders who competed in separate New York City events plus one from a Miami hotspot.

• THE WILD BLOSSOM

James Scarito of BLT Market in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 50 Central Park South, NYC, came up with this recipe to win the city's Department of Consumer Affairs 3rd annual Sidewalk Cafe Drink Mix-Off, held June 25.

2 ounces Plymouth Gin
¾ ounce St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
¾ ounce grapefruit juice
1 ounce cranberry juice

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add gin, liqueur and juices. Shake well and pour into a martini glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist or wedge.

MARTIN MILLER'S SPICY A&T

This concoction is from James Menite, beverage manager for PorterHouse New York, 10 Columbus Circle, fourth floor, who used it to win a bartender competition to re-invent the gin-and-tonic, sponsored by Martin Miller's gin.

2 ounces Martin Miller's gin
1/4 ounce Canton Ginger liqueur
1/4 ounce St. Germain Elderflower liqueur
Teaspoon of Martin Miller's gin infused with Mexican chili peppers for three days
1 tart green apple, washed
Tonic water, preferably Fever Tree

Mix the spirits in a shaker with ice. Cut the apple in half and then, using the small holes on a box grater, grate about a teaspoon of apple pulp into the mix. Shake vigorously to dissolve apple pulp, strain into a highball glass, and top with tonic water. Garnish with a few more grates of apple and a fresh wedge of green apple and/or a slice of strawberry.

• PASSION FRUIT MARGARITA

This is one of the currently popular cocktails at The Shore Club, 1901 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, FL.

1½ ounces tequila
1 ounce spring water
Juice of half a passion fruit (save the shell)
¾ ounce agave nectar

Measure all ingredients into an ice-filled shaker. Shake; strain into a cocktail glass. Fill passion fruit shell with mescal and float on top.

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Colorado blue law fading away

If you're in Colorado and find yourself in need of a bottle of something alcoholic on a Sunday, July 6 will be your lucky day.

That's when the state's blue law ban on liquor stores operating on Sunday goes away. That brings to 35 the number of states now allowing liquor sales on Sunday. A dozen of those states have repealed their blue laws since 2002.

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20080628

'Liquid deli' a Scottish delight

William M. Dowd photos

EDINBURGH, Scotland -- If you're ever in Edinburgh or Glasgow and looking for something truly different, may I suggest Demijohn or, at least, its products.

Demijohn is billed as the first "liquid deli" in the country, having opened the original in 2004, and subsequently expanding to Glasgow. The place is inspired by Italian cantinas and Euro-style markets and offers a lengthy array of liqueurs, spirits, oils, vinegars and whisky either on-premises, by mail order or online.

I ran into their products during a visit to Iglu, a nearby Edinburgh spot that bills itself as an "ethical eatery." It is essentially a gastropub that pays attention to sustainable and local food and drink. It's doing so well after less than two years in existence that it won the "Scottish Gastropub of the Year" for 2006-07.

Among the Demijohn-supplied liquers available at Iglu from special glass wall containers (see above) are:

• Damson Gin 22%, made from Scottish Damson plums, to be ingested with a bit of ice as an aperitif or an after-dinner drink.

• Solas Blaeberry Liqueur 19%, and, no, that is not a typographical error. It is made with aged malt whisky, honey and real fruit.

• Lyme Bay Chocolate Orange Cream Liqueur 17% , made from a subtle blend of dark chocolate, real Devonshire cream, apple brandy and orange zest.

Demijohn recently came out with a pair of seasonal liqueurs to add to its longer list, including organic rhubarb and organic cucumber liqueurs.

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Bu-Tay call

They said it, I didn't.

The folks behind Bu-Tay vodka, from Orange County, CA, say their product is "Not Just Another Vodka, But A Lifesyle Experience." They also say, "Make BU-TAY Your Call."

The main vodka is made from corn and from spring water drawn from the Bend, OR, area, then filtered five times through charcoal and crushed lava rock. The citrus-flavored version is just 60 proof. It won a bronze medal at this year's San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

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20080626

Tea goes into a lot more than cups

Illustration by Richard Lovrich & William M. Dowd

Every time the weather goes on a warm run, I like to refresh my cocktail selections with the latest ones using tea, the perfect summer beverage. Here, I'm re-posting two of my standby recipes plus a new one from the folks at Wild Turkey.

As I poured a generous splash of Arizona Green Tea into the skillet 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, here are three drinks that utilize tea as a major component.

PATRIOT TEA

This concoction utilizes American Honey, a honey liqueur from the makers of Wild Turkey Bourbon.

4 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
8 black tea bags
1 lemon, cut into 8 wedges
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
2 cups American Honey liqueur

In a large saucepan, boil 4 cups water. Add 1/2 cup sugar; stir to dissolve. Remove from heat; add 8 teabags of black tea. Steep 10 minutes; discard teabags. Add 4 cups cold water; transfer to pitcher and chill. Mash or muddle lemon wedges and add to pitcher. Add 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves. Using a wooden spoon, crush mint until fragrant. Stir in 2 cups of American Honey. Serve over ice.

DOWD'S MARTEANI

I created this cocktail three 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), stir briskly with a cocktail spoon, then strain quickly into a frosted martini glass. 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

ESMERELDA'S SPICED TEA

This cocktail comes from the folks at Absolut vodka but, of course, any basic vodka can be used. As for the Fee Brothers syrup mentioned in the recipe, it is made in Rochester, N.Y., and can be ordered from them online.

1 part vodka
3 parts fresh 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.

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20080624

A celebri-quote: Michelle Branch

• Pop/country singer-songwriter Michelle Branch, 24, plans to mix baking and drinking. In an interview with the Celebrity News Service, she spoke about her plans to open a bakery with a liquor license in Nashville named The Sugar Bar.

Q: "It will be an old-fashioned bakeshop and bar where you can go grab a drink after dinner and a slice of Bourbon Chocolate Cake or Summer Berry Pie."

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DISCUS fighting Delaware tax proposal

DISCUS, the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., is taking on a Delaware plan that would raise the tax on beer, wine and spirits by 50%.

A radio ad targets what DISCUS calls the "hypocrisy of legislators spending millions of dollars toward boosting tourism, while at the same time proposing devastating taxes on tourism-related businesses and their workers."

"The Legislature is trying to quietly sail through a massive alcohol tax hike that is going to hurt consumers and businesses alike," said Jay Hibberd, vice president of the industry organization. "This ad gets the word out that this tax increase will cost hundreds of jobs in the hospitality industry among those least able to afford it."

DISCUS also notes that such a proposal runs counter to a Delaware Legislature action in 1997 that saw the state economy grow after a decrease in the spirits tax.

DISCUS analysts contend that that a 50% hike would lead to a decline in economic output of more than $22 million and lead to the loss of an estimated 330 hospitality sector jobs, such as waiters, waitresses, bartenders and others.

Delaware is facing a $217 million budget shortfall. State officials, doing what so many state officials do by meeting behind closed doors, would not verify the 50% hike level, but a proposal sheet from the state Office of Alcohol Beverage Control uses figures that match that.

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A celebri-quote: Alan Cumming

• Tony Award-winning actor Alan Cumming, who also is a writer, model and now host of PBS' "Masterpiece Mystery!," made this comment in an interview with PopMatters.com.

Q: Your ideal brain food?

A: Almonds, or any kind of nut or seed. I always keep some in my bag for those lulls in the day.

When I have to do something like sing or go along a red carpet or something scary and potentially humiliating I find a vodka martini takes the edge off in a very pleasing way. So, a martini and nuts would be my brain food of choice.

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St. Croix to get mega-distillery

Diageo, the world's largest spirits, wine and beer company, has signed an agreement with tiny St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin islands to construct and operate a high capacity distillery.

It will begin making rum in 2011, and by the following year is projected to supply all bulk rum used to make Captain Morgan branded products for the U.S. market.

It is estimated that the distillery will have capacity to distill up to 20 million proof gallons per year, and the 30-year commitment is expected to provide a major economic stimulus for the entire Territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"This agreement, when ratified by the Legislature of the Virgin Islands, marks the greatest single financial step forward we have taken in this territory in 50 years," said V.I. Gov. John P. deJongh Jr. "This will bring jobs and a tremendous future stream of revenue, a long-term source of funds that will go far towards solving many of the challenges we face as a territory."

Presently, the Virgin Islands rum industry is limited to Cruzan production.

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20080618

Michigan companies battle over name

What's in a name? In Michigan, the Chateau Grand Traverse winery is trying to stop the Grand Traverse Distillery from continuing to use the name by filing a federal lawsuit.

It's not the first shot fired in the war over naming rights. When Grand Traverse Distillery filed a trademark application for its name, Chateau Grand Traverse filed an objection. The distillery, which has been getting a fair amount of press since introducing its True North Vodkas, contends there is no infringement.

“We’re keeping our name. We’re going forward,” said Kent Rabish, owner of Grand Traverse Distillery.

In its trademark and federal court filings, The Old Mission winery says it has used the name “Chateau Grand Traverse” since 1977 and the stylized, all-capital letters name since 1992. It formally registered the trademarks in January and February 2007, and was granted the registration later that year. Grand Traverse Distillery filed for trademark protection of its name in July 2005, acquired its license in June 2006 and began production in January 2007.

Rabish said searches prior to deciding on his company’s name uncovered no problems and that the local telephone book contains numerous businesses that use Grand Traverse in their name.

“No one had a trademark on Grand Traverse Distillery,” he told the Traverse City Business News. “You can’t trademark a geographic region.

“I didn’t call Grand Traverse Pie Company and ask them could I use the name. I didn’t call Grand Traverse Auto, and I certainly didn’t call Chateau Grand Traverse.”

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20080616

Michigan winery adds a grape vodka

For 87 years, the St. Julian Winery has been turning out a variety of table wines at its Paw Paw, MI, facility. Now it has joined the boutique vodka craze.

The state's oldest operating winery will be allowed to sell its own grape vodka next month, after getting state approval to do more than manufacture the spirit.

Dave Braganini of St. Julian said the company had been allowed to make vodka, "but we're not allowed to sell it. There's a quirk in the law."

That quirk was removed by the state senate last week and Gov. Jennifer Granholm is expected to sign the legislation into law in the next few days.

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Latest Long Island potato vodka debuts

The folks at Long Island Spirits Inc. have unveiled their first product: LiV (rhymes with 5) potato vodka, a truly unique product made in what usually is known as wine country.

I reported last September that co-owners Richard Stabile and Dan Pollicino were shooting for a January debut for their product. But in any startup operation, a few months' delay is no surprise.

The original announcement said LiV would be made from a combination of local Marcy potatoes and upstate winter wheat. However, the product as presented is distilled strictly from potatoes. It is being sold at a suggested retail price of $38 for the 750ml bottle and $44 for the liter bottle. The first year's production will be limited to 5,000 to 8,000 bottles.

The distillery is located in a barn set on an 80-acre potato farm in Baiting Hollow in Long Island's North Fork wine country.

The company says it crushed more than 150,000 pounds of Long Island potatoes for the initial release. The vodka is crafted in custom-made, twin 650-liter copper stills from Germany.

“There are three different primary boiling points during distillation and what is released during this process is known as the heads, hearts and tails. Unlike some other distilleries, our artisan distillers discard the heads and tails, keeping what can be considered the filet mignon of the spirit," co-owner Stabile said.

"We actually go one step further by taking extremely tight cuts on the hearts, which creates an incredibly smooth taste profile.”

On Long Island's South Shore, the late, lamented Peconika company that used mainly local potatoes for its product, went out of business in 2004. Hamptons Vodka is headquartered in Westhampon Beach but its 100% yellow corn vodka (20% of which comes from Long Island), three different flavored vodkas and gin are made in the Midwest. Owner Ronnè Bonder originally hoped to build a distillery on his property there, but local government red tape proved too much, although he kept the name on his labels.

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20080611

2 spirits take 'Great Gold' in Concours Mondial

Only two spirits earned "Great Gold" medals in the annual Concours Mondial de Bruxelles competition just completed in Bordeaux.

They were:

• La Mauny VSOP, a rhum from Martinique in the French West Indies, produced by Bellonnie Bourdillon Successeurs.

• Viñas De Oro Pisco Mosto Verde Torontel 2007, a pisco from Peru produced by Bodegas Viñas de Oro.

The international competition, founded in 1994, has as its aim "to offer optimal conditions for tasting wines and spirits from the four corners of the world, and to award the top-class products among them."

Go here for a complete list of the "Great Gold" medalists in all sectors of the competition this year.

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1800 adds 'blended' silver tequila

1800 Tequila has added an expression to its line, one with a high alcohol content.

Proximo Spirits Inc. claims the new 1800 Select Silver, a 100% agave spirit, is the first 100-proof tequila on the market. It is packaged in a glass bottle with a stopper that doubles as a shot glass.

Although this is a young silver -- or blanco -- tequila, it has been double distilled then blended with "a touch" of aged tequila.

The new expression carries a suggested retail price of $29.99 for a 750ml bottle, and also is available in 375ml and 1-liter sizes.

Proximo Spirits is a newly formed, privately owned, premium spirits distributor based in New York. In addition to 1800 Tequila, its portfolio includes Three Olives Vodka, Gran Centenario Tequila and Ron Matusalem Rum.

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20080610

SKYY Vodka adds infusion line

SKYY Vodka has come up with a new line of products targeted primarily for the retail travel field.

Owner Gruppo Campari says it is releasing a product called SKYY Infusions, made with SKYY Vodka and real fruit. It is being billed as "an all-natural revolution in the flavored vodka category" that "has been named 'Best in Class' by the prestigious Beverage Testing Institute (BTI)."

Three flavors -- citrus, passion fruit and raspberry -- will be launched worldwide this summer, and in the U.S. -- which had been getting some early limited shipments of the products since April -- the line also will include grape and cherry flavors.

The flavored drinks are available in 50ml, 750ml and one-litre bottles, with the citrus also available in a 1.75-litre size. Campari suggests the infusions be used with club soda, lemon-lime soda, in cocktails or on the rocks.

By the way, if you want to see a really cool Web site, SKYY's is about as edgy and entertaining as it gets.

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Tullamore Dew adds 10 Year Old for U.S. market

Tullamore Dew has added a 10 Year Old Reserve blend to its line of Irish whiskies for a limited number of markets.

Luckily for American consumers, the U.S. is one of those markets.

C&C International, which owns the brand, today announced the triple distilled offering which it says is aged in Spanish and American oak casks for a minimum of 10 years.

"With the huge growth in appreciation of Irish whiskey, there is a real aged blend trend being driven by consumers looking to trade up," Ann O'Leary, C&C International's marketing manager, said today. "It's a sure sign that the category has reached its next stage of maturity."

Tullamore's range includes a 12-year-old "deluxe blend" matured in ex-bourbon casks and the Heritage Blend.

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Scottish whisky museum in trouble

From the Northern Scot newspaper:

DUFFTOWN, Scotland -- A showcase for Speyside’s proud whisky heritage could be under threat unless new museum premises can be found.

The Dufftown Whisky Museum is living on borrowed time and this summer is set to be the last in its present town centre location. The lease is up early next year and local promotion group Dufftown 2000, which currently pays a peppercorn rent for the former undertaker’s premises, has been told it will not be renewed.

The bombshell could not have come at a worse time with museum visitor numbers booming and two major events due in 2009.

The "Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival," which is one of the museum’s main crowd pullers, will be doubled in size next year to 10 days and 2009 is the "Year of Homecoming" when visitors from all over the world will descend on" the country.

Go here for the rest of the story.

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Shetlands' first whisky a hit with a bad crowd

Talk about consumer demand. The first batch of legal whisky ever made in the Shetland Island of Scotland was stolen before any of it reached market.

A 360-case consignment of Muckle Flugga brand was stolen from a depot in Hampshire over the weekend, where it was waiting to be shipped overseas to VIP shareholders, according to the Scottish Daily Record.

Investigators say it appears that thieves cut through the walls of a warehouse and stole the whisky, worth an estimated $59,000 US.

The whisky, made by Blackwood Distillery, is a blend of three eight-year-old malts from across the north of Scotland. It is matured on the isle of Unst for 18 months, making it the first whisky from the 110-island group known for the purity of its water.

The Shetlands are the most northerly region of Scotland, consisting of 110 islands of which only 19 are inhabited. They lie only 180 miles off the coast of Norway, putting them about halfway between London and the Arctic Circle, and have a population of just 23,000.

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Glen Grant undergoes rebranding

Glen Grant has been around for 168 years, but even such a venerable Scotch whiskies can use some tweaking every now and then.

That's the situation as seen by Gruppo Campari, the Italian company that bought the brand from Pernod Ricard in December 2005. It has now completed a program, using the phrase "Whisky As It Should Be," to rebrand the single malt.

Italian investors' interest in the brand seems only logical since it has been the top-selling Scotch whisky in Italy for more than 40 years.

Since its acquisition, says The Moodie Report, "Gruppo Campari said it had redefined Glen Grant, paying close attention to its heritage and unique positioning, and investing in the brand image and the distillery. One of the world’s top three single malt whiskies in sales" behind The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich "and a market leader in Italy, Glen Grant has increased its turnover under Gruppo Campari’s ownership."


A new, contemporary visitors center (right) was opened in May at Rothes, Scotland, to be used for tours, business meetings and sales of a variety of Glen Grant expressions and souvenirs.

Glen Grant was founded in 1840 by James “The Major” Grant. Its classic label is the Glen Grant Single Malt, and its 10 year old expression is its No. 2 seller. In addition, the line includes a limited edition of older expressions such as the 15 year old and several rare cask-strength expressions are available in small numbers only at the distillery for its visitors.

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20080609

Diageo takes share of Ketel One

Diageo, the largest alcoholic drinks producer in the world, has bought into The Nolet Group, owners of Ketel One vodka.

Diageo said in a press statement that it has finalized a deal first announced in February, paying $900 million for a 50% equity stake in the Dutch company and has "perpetual exclusive global rights to sell, market and distribute" the vodka.

The Nolet family, which began distilling in 1691, will continue to own the brand rights for Ketel One and the Nolet distillery in Schiedam, the Netherlands.

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20080606

Raising the bar in Lake Placid


April Dowd photo

Cocktails guru Tony Abou-Ganim (left) and drinks writer Bill Dowd work out behind the bar during a Lake Placid workshop this week.

LAKE PLACID, NY -- Tony Abou-Ganim, the celebrity mixologist who helped the cocktail culture return nationwide with a rush over the past decade or so, was in fine form during an hour-long cocktail-making workshop at T-Bar on Thursday night.

T-Bar, a ritzy Adirondack-style cocktail lounge within chef Charlie Levitz's eponymous Charlie's restaurant on Main Street, was briefly turned into the kind of classroom no one wants to avoid.

Abou-Ganim splits much of his time between Las Vegas and New York -- he's a partner in the recently-opened Manhattan spot Bar Milano -- but pops up all over the country for trade shows, training events and special occasions. He'd just appeared at the annual Santé magazine industry trade show in Manchester, VT, and was returning to a place where he'd personally trained Levin's bartending staff a year ago in the fine points of cocktail making.

This workshop preceded a cocktail-pairing dinner prepared by Charlie's head chef Lendell Eaddy and Levitz, who oversees the Charlie's kitchen but spends much of his time at his other Lake Placid restaurant, Chair 6, and with his extensive catering operations.

During the show-and-tell, Abou-Ganim invited several onlookers to step behind the bar to help him make some basic drinks -- Cosmopolitans, Marqueritas, Martinis. He also challenged yours truly to a "Manhattan throwdown" since both of us are fans of the historic drink. I, in fact, consider it a food group.

He laid down the ground rules: The same recipe had to be followed — bourbon (we both liked the sweetness of Maker’s Mark), Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth, Angostura Bitters and a maraschino cherry. The catch was that Abou-Ganim preferred to shake his concoction over fresh ice — which I normally do for a straight-up cocktail — while insisting I stir mine with ice to properly chill each drink.

He shook.

I stirred.

We poured.

The audience voted on the cocktail with the most alluring appearance.

Modesty prohibits revealing the voters results. Let's just say I won't ask for a recount.

Here are a few more shots from the event:
William M. Dowd photos


Abou-Ganim discusses "feminine" (heavily botanical) vs. masculine gins.


Abou-Ganim and April Dowd of Troy, NY, whip up a Cosmopolitan.


As many fresh ingredients as possible help make cocktails work.
This shrimp/blue crab risotto with a roasted leeks sauce was a dinner highlight.


Abou-Ganim shows the art of the pour.


Teddi Jones of Albany, NY, is about to build a mojito.


Abou-Ganim's favorite, The Negroni: 1 oz. Bombay Sapphire Gin, 1 oz. Campari, 1 oz. Cinzano Rosso Sweet Vermouth, stir well in an ice-filled glass, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with burnt orange twist and serve.


Abou-Ganim and Charlie Levitz.


Abou-Ganim flames a citrus peel.


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20080604

G'Vine is just g'reat

Bill Dowd photo

The alcoholic beverage field is a multi-billion-dollar playground where financial giants vie for control and international market share and entrepreneurs keep working in cellars, garages and the occasional squeaky-clean laboratory to come up with new products.

In the course of a year, I sample literally hundreds of wines and spirits, many of them part of the flood of new items. Most of the time I find the samples OK. Rarely is one really bad. Just as rarely I find one that is superb. This is one of the latter: G'Vine Gin de France.

Jean Sébastien Robicquet and Bruno de Reilhac, who are the proprietors, lead oenologists and master distillers of G'Vine, wanted to make something that bridges the gap between botanical gins and flavored vodkas. They hit on a gin recipe utilizing the rare green grape flower that blossoms only briefly in mid-June in the Cognac region of France before maturing into grape berries. The recipe also includes ginger root, licorice, green cardamom, cassia bark, coriander, juniper berries and lime.

G'Vine ($36 retail) is first an eye-catcher. The rather squat-shaped bottle has a green cap, neck label and a coating on the top portion of the bottle that casts a green glow over the gin that says "grapes." The taste says even more.

One of the key ingredients in this handcrafted, limited edition 80-proof gin -- made in a copper still -- is the rare and subtle green grape flower. Not that the plant is exclusively French -- a lot of them are grown in Oregon, for example -- but I'm not aware of any other distiller using them in a gin recipe.

Nosing the gin is like wandering through a fragrant herb garden. Notes of thyme, dill, coriander and rose petals quickly conjure up expectations. G’Vine comes through in the first taste, all those aromas blended with elements of spice, grass and additional florals. The taste is long, smooth and lingers pleasantly.

In a modest martini -- shaken over fresh ice with a touch of Noilly Pratt dry vermouth, then garnished with a tomolive -- G'Vine stands up to the water and the vermouth in all aspects of fragrance and taste.

(Note: For those unfamiliar with the tomolive, it is an olive only in appearance. It actually is a tiny pickled tomato that explodes with spice and brine when bitten into, and a complete treat when the martini is sipped over it before swallowing.)

Here are briefer looks at a few other fairly new items reaching the market:

Depaz Blue Cane Rhum Agricole: This singular rhum (the French spelling of "rum") has been made on the island of Martinique in the French West Indies since 1651 from the first press of select blue cane since 1651. It's a limited issue made only when the cane is harvested each spring. Rum comes in many guises -- made from cane (agricole) or from molasses (industriel or traditionnel); dark or light; pure or with additives; aged or new-make. But it is only the higher-end styles that offer the true range of nuances that are possible.

Depaz ($35 retail) is an exquisite, light amber 90-proof expression. Its opening aroma offers up grassy and floral notes, followed by the warmth of a traditional high-end rum, this one smacking of banana, honey and vegetal notes. I mixed a cocktail with the rhum, a bit of Depaz label cane syrup -- distilled water is the only "additive" to the syrup -- fresh lime juice and a lot of cracked ice in the shaker. Excellent stuff, just enough of the extras to release all the potential of the rhum itself.

Baojing 168 Vodka: In something so idealistic, at least in theory, as the "People's Republic," it might seem frivolous to filter a vodka through diamonds. But modern China is trying to compete on the world market in every way, and delicious excess might as well be one of them. This grain-based import ($ 38 retail) differs from others of its ultra-premium ilk in that, say its distillers, it is created in a small-batch fashion and undergoes "unique filtration through 168 carats of diamonds."

I'm not sure if that is a whole bunch of little diamonds, or even diamond dust, or one gigantic fat rock. I do know the number 168 is regarded in Chinese custom as "being on the road to infinite prosperity." And, I know Baojing has a clean, crisp, ever so slightly aromatic of vegetal notes. There's a hint of lemon about the middle notes, and a clean, slow finish.

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20080603

Letters: What's my 1913 Dougherty rye worth?

Bill:
I have an unopened bottle of J A Dougherty and Sons Rye Whiskey from 1913. I was wondering if you knew what it was worth approximately? Thank you.

-- Judy Illingworth

Judy:

I'm not a whiskey evaluator, so I have to look at what others have been paying for the types of whiskies readers ask be about.

The last two bottles of 1913 whiskies made by the Pennsylvania distiller sold publicly were handled by the respected McTear auction house of Scotland for £110 each (that's about $216 U.S. each). They may not be exactly what you have, however. This is how they were described in the auction list:

• Dougherty's Private Stock - 18 Summers Old - 1913: Made Spring 1913, bottled Fall, 1923. Overprinted (1931). Rear label states Made Prior to Jan 17th 1920. Bottled in Bond by J A Dougherty’s Sons, Inc., Distillers, Distillery No. 2 P.A. Clear glass flask shaped bottle. Aluminium cap, printed paper seal. In original carton. Level: 6.5 cm from base of capsold for £110.

• Dougherty's Private Stock - 18 Summers Old - 1913: As above lot, paper seal torn, dates legible and intact. Level: 5.5cm from base of cap. Sold for £110.

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Auchentoshan revs up its line and its look

Repositionings and repackagings are popping up with some regularity in the world of Scotch whiskies.

The latest is Morrison-Bowmore's unveiling of a line of expressions for its Auchentoshan whisky range along with new package design.

The range extension, hitting the market this month with debut events in London and Edinburgh, includes the Classic and 18-year-old expressions while the 12-year-old, Three Wood, and 21-year-old will all get a new look. The new bottle shape and packaging design will include a thick base bottle, which is more oval-shaped.

Karen Murray, marketing manager for Auchentoshan, told Just-Drinks.com: "We've made bold changes to the packaging design and introduced some new expressions to widen our market appeal and ultimately drive long-term and sustainable growth. It was important for us to consider existing single malt enthusiasts in the design development, while at the same time creating a look that would appeal to first time malt drinkers. The result is a design which incorporates both traditional and contemporary elements."

The new look is designed to appeal to a younger and wider audience of emerging malt consumers.

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Letters: What's happening with crops and prices?

Mr. Dowd:

Greetings once again from Kentucky!

Have there been any studies or reports on how the currently inflated grain (specifically corn) prices will affect bourbon and other spirit prices in the future?

I read where many of the agave cactus plants have been eliminated in order to plant corn so that outcome is pretty obvious.

-- Carla Griffin, Crestwood, KY

Carla:

Some agri-conomists are raising a caution flag about "potential" price increases due to corn growing, but nothing from credible sources that it will happen beyond the usual inflationary changes.

As to the agave situation, that's essentially an overhyped CNN story that has very little basis in reality. Most tequila fields are estate-owned (i.e., owned by the distillers) and they're in no mood to rip out their plants to put in corn.

Agave takes 8-10 years to mature, so ripping out current fields would be a waste of the last decade's efforts. Plus, the tequila market is on a huge growth spurt and demand is up for higher-priced tequilas.

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20080602

What will they think of next? (June edition)

Australian mixology expert Ben Hehir has been commissioned by the Glenmorangie Distillery to come up with a line of signature cocktails -- or "serves," as he prefers to call them -- using the company's Scotch whiskies.

I had the opportunity to try several during a recent private dinner at Glenmorangie House in Cadboll, near Inverness, Scotland, and highly recommend them -- particularly The Kalamansi, made with the hard-to-find Indian fruit of that name.



Glenmorangie Spring Tea

1½ ounces Glenmorangie Original
¾ ounce Earl Grey tea
2½ ounces apple juice
¾ ounce strawberry juice
1½ ounce fresh lemon juice

Shake all ingredients and strain into a tall glass full of ice. Garnish with a lemon wedge.


• The Kalamansi

60 ml Glenmorangie Original
1/2 fresh lime
1 fresh kalamansi
2 barspoons soft Demerara sugar
20ml creme de peche

Muddle the lime in a stemless cocktail glass. Add remainder of ingredients and stir over crushed ice. Garnish with kalamansi fruit slices.


The Orangie

50 ml Glenmorangie Original
15 ml creme de peche
10ml Grand Marnier

Stir ingredients over ice. Garnish with a grapefruit slice.

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20080601

Heaven Hill expansion completed

Heaven Hill Distilleries will hold a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday morning to mark completion of a multi-million dollar expansion project at its Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, KY.

The project expanded distillery size and capacity by 40% and is expected to add what the company calls "a significant number" of new workers to the 34 already employed there.

It will enable the company to meet projected demand for its Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, Old Fitzgerald, Heaven Hill, Rittenhouse Rye and Bernheim Wheat whiskey brands.

Heaven Hill, founded in 1934, is the nation's largest independent, family-owned marketer and producer of distilled spirits products. Aging in its facilities is the second-largest holding of Kentucky whiskey in the world.

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Knocking 'em back with Hillary

If Hillary Rodham Clinton makes it to the White House, we know one thing that will be on the daily agenda: The return of the cocktail hour.

The current top resident of 1600 Pennsylvania doesn't drink anymore, and there have been other teetotalers in the White House. But many of our presidents were known for their cocktail preferences. George Washington ran his own distillery. John Adams started his day with hard cider. Thomas Jefferson even introduced the presidential cocktail party.

In later years, Franklin D. Roosevelt quickly mixed up a martini -- the real kind, with gin -- to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition. John F. Kennedy regularly served daiquiris aboard the presidential yacht. Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon both enjoyed drinking Scotch.

Now we have Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, the likely contenders for the office in November, each of whom has the occasional drink. But Clinton makes no bones about enjoying her drinks more than they do, and likes them neat, as this photo -- one of a series taken aboard her plane by the Associated Press and made available here in slideshow format -- shows after a campaign stop in South Dakota this week.

Clinton also made news a few weeks ago when she had a shot of whiskey and a beer with some members of the public during a campaign stop in Indiana, but this is the first time she let her hair down with reporters.

This time, she showed the good political sense to avoid the Canadian whiskey offered to her in Indiana -- Crown Royal, to be specific -- and enjoyed a shot of Maker's Mark bourbon from Kentucky, U.S. of A.

Here's a video of her Indiana outing:



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Entrepreneur launches new Jamaican rum

Most people who know of Chris Blackwell are familiar with the entrepreneur for his successes as a hotelier and record label magnate.

Blackwell, 70, creator of Island Records, wants to add one more descriptor to his resume: rum manufacturer.

His product is called Black Gold, Blackwell's Fine Jamaican Rum. The dark rum will be produced, bottled and distributed by the iconic Jamaican rum producer Wray & Nephew, which at one time was owned and managed by the Blackwell family.

The recipe for Black Gold comes from a family recipe that dates to the Blackwells' 17th Century rum trade efforts. According to Caribbean Business Report, 12,000 bottles will be produced annually, with the first 150 cases already produced and earmarked for advanced sales. It will sell in the U.S. at a suggested retail price of $33.

The official public unveiling of Black Gold is scheduled for two venues in Jamaica -- the Terra Nova Hotel All-Suite on June 9 and Montego Bay's Half Moon Hotel on June 11.

How much chance does a newcomer have in the crowded rum field?

Consider Blackwell's business record. He made worldwide stars of the likes of Bob Marley and signed such recording stars as U2, Roxy Music, Sly & Robbie and Marianne Faithful before eventually selling the Island label to PolyGram. In the hotel field, he has such high-end Jamaican spots as Goldeneye in Oracabessa, The Caves in Negril and Strawberry in rural St. Andrew.

And, consider his partner. Richard Kirshenbaum of the New York advertising agency Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners helped create such brands such as Kenneth Cole, Coach and Snapple and helped reinvigorate Target, Jergens and Moet & Chandon.

Sounds like it has all the earmarks of a successful startup.

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Koreans forsaking soju for wine

Soju, the liquor traditionally beloved by Koreans, isn't as favored as wine these days.

Sales of wine brought in $23.6 million in the first five months of the year, moving it into the No. 2 position among Korean consumer right behind beer and just ahead of soju, according to the discount giant E-Mart.

Soju is usually regarded as Korean vodka, although it is a sweeter-tasting distillation. It historically was distilled from rice or tapioca -- known as dangmil -- but sweet potatoes have become more popular in recent times. It varies in potency from about 20% to about 45% alcohol by volume (ABV), with 20% ABV being most common. In common U.S. parlance, that's about 40 proof.

The statistical report means wine sales have more than doubled at E-Mart, the largest seller, since 2005 when wine was in fifth position. That year, only 41 bottles of wine were sold for every 100 bottles of soju sold.

Wine is the only kind of liquor for which sales have been constantly on the rise over the past few years while soju sales have stagnated, the company told the Korea Times.

"This is the outcome of rapidly growing demand for wine of late," an E-mart official said. "We expect wine to be neck-and-neck with beer sales sooner or later with this growth."

The wine boom is ascribed to the influx of brands with reasonable prices from such producer countries as Chile, helped along by Korea's free trade agreement with that country.

The less costly wines are the most popular at the moment, with those selling for less than $10 moving fastest and accounting for 34.1% of overall wine sales, followed by those between $10 and $20 a bottle accounting for 30.1%, according to E-Market statistics. Discount stores have a 40% share of the wine sales nationwide.

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