20081229

A celebri-quote: Daniel Craig

• He's most familiar to the public for being the latest incarnation of super-spy James Bond, but English actor Daniel Craig is far more than that. His newest film is “Defiance,” set during World War II as the Jews of Eastern Europe are being massacred by the thousands. He was interviewed by MoviesOnline.

Q: I know the grandchildren came on the set of this film. Did talking to people who actually knew (your character) help inform your role in this film?

A: Very much. It's sort of difficult because your mind is full of expectations when meeting a family member, a son, a daughter, because you sort of feel that there will be an immediate connection to what you're doing and that's not the reality of it though. What did strike me about them very much and what was really very pleasant is that you're kind of awkward when you meet someone like that. You're like, “Hi. It's lovely to see you in Lithuania. It's very nice over here.” [laughs] There's no sort of starting point for the conversation and so they all sat down.

I kind of sat them all down and I'm in uniform and working and it's like, “It's great to see you.” I went, “Vodka? Vodka? Vodka?” I kind of wandered off and found the caterer and I said, “Have you got any vodka?” And, of course they did because we were in Lithuania, for breakfast over the cornflakes.

They cracked it and I sort of slowly passed this around and we all sort of toasted and they kind of came out of their shells and got very loaded and had to be told to leave because they were making so much noise. We connected and they're full of life. They're full of energy. They're a big family. They're a strong New York family. You kind of go, “Good. That's what this is about.”

The heart of this movie is my relationship with Liev [Schreiber] and Jamie [Bell] and the fact that we're a family unit and how we then make that into a bigger family unit. So, I kind of felt good about it.

[Go here for more celebri-quotes.]

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20081228

Holiday Party Survival Guide (Part III)

Katrina and Sarah of Diet.com have come up with a three-part "Holiday Party Survival Guide" to help you enjoy the inevitable festivities without ruining your diet and your health through the wrong selections of food and drink.

Here is Part III to help you get ready for the coming onslaught of parties.



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20081227

Holiday Party Survival Guide (Part II)

Katrina and Sarah of Diet.com have come up with a three-part "Holiday Party Survival Guide" to help you enjoy the inevitable festivities without ruining your diet and your health through the wrong selections of food and drink.

Here is Part II, with Part III to appear Sunday, to help you get ready for the coming onslaught of parties.



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20081226

Holiday Party Survival Guide (Part I)

Katrina and Sarah of Diet.com have come up with a three-part "Holiday Party Survival Guide" to help you enjoy the inevitable festivities without ruining your diet and your health through the wrong selections of food and drink.

Here is Part 1, with the next two appearing Saturday and Sunday to help you get ready for next week's onslaught of parties.



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20081225

Taking the snap out of Sparks

If you no longer feel that boost when you down a Sparks energy drink, don't be surprised.

MillerCoors, maker of the alcoholic beverage, has agreed to remove caffeine and several other ingredients from the drink.

The move is part of a deal the company made with 13 states and the city of San Francisco. A coalition of state attorneys general had complained that the stimulants reduced drinkers' sense of intoxication. And, they charged that the drink was marketed to younger consumers who, as a demographic group, tend to be prone to risky behaviors in driving and other activities.

"They are fundamentally dangerous and put drinkers of all ages at risk," New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. The "agreement will ensure that from here on out, these drinks are kept off New York shelves and away from New York consumers."

Cuomo had spearheaded the investigation into caffeinated alcohol beverages. The settlement also includes the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio and Oklahoma.

MillerCoors has agreed not to produce caffeinated alcohol beverages in the future, and it will $550,000 to cover the cost of the investigation into Sparks.

Competitor Anheuser-Busch agreed last summer to reformulate its Tilt and Bud Extra drinks to remove the stimulants, part of a settlement with 11 attorneys general.

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20081224

Letters: Pricing some very old bourbons

Bill:

I actually have two separate bottles to discuss with you.

I have a 1916 Kentucky bourbon bottle with bourbon still inside. The seal broke when we moved from our house to an apartment and part of the cork is floating.

The second is Old Forester Kentucky Bourbon Whisky 1955. This seal is broken, too, but (the bourbon was) not tasted. the sticker on the seal gave way.

Both bottles have a beautiful, rich-colored bourbon inside, about the same color of iced tea. I'm interested in the value of these unique finds, especially the 1916 bourbon, since this was prior to Prohibition, so I understand this is extremely rare.

Melissa A. Burpo
Martinsville, IN


Melissa:

No matter whether you're talking about stamps, action figure toys or lovely whiskies, the value is greatly diminished once the wrappings or seals are broken.

However, I can point you to a bourbon authority who can give you some official guidance. He is Michael R. Veach, Special Collections Assistant for the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, KY, and a member of the Bourbon Hall of Fame since 2006. Mike is an expert on identifying and evaluating rare bourbons. Just click here for contact information.

Incidentally, you can go here to read my report on a "timeline tasting" of old and rare Old Forester bourbons held at the Filson.

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20081222

It's all a matter of scale

William M. Dowd photos

The essential principles of distilling spirits remain the same, whether it's done on a mass production basis or in a one-pot "backyard" operation.

These photos shot at The Glenlivet distillery in Scotland show part of the main distillation complex (above) compared to the rudimentary process of a small still powered by a wood fire (below).

In the latter process, set up by brand manager Ian Logan (right), the heated liquid goes through a series of copper coils running into a cooling bath, then condenses into the clear distillate that dribbles out of the end into a copper pot.

Tasting the new make whisky is a treat, It begins with a light strawberry note, then quickly moves to banana as the chemistry relaxes. It's anything but oily, because of its estimated 70% abv (140 proof) at that point.




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Embryonic bourbon maker has clear start

If you're planning on going into the bourbon-making business, you ought to figure into your plan something to do while you're waiting for the whiskey to take shape.

At the Barrel House Distilling Co. in Lexington, KY, they've found an activity. They're making vodka and rum.

Frank Marino, Jeff Wiseman and Peter Wright teamed up to create the micro-distillery at the former Pepper Distillery on Manchester Street. But first, they're making the other spirits, with their Pure Blue Vodka now available on a limited, and local, basis. In the new year, they'll expand sales to area liquor stores and some restaurants and bars. It's currently selling for $20 for the 750ml bottle.

By late in 2009, they're planning to produce a honey rum aged in bourbon barrels. The bourbon will come in 2114 or so.

"We need people to buy the vodka to support the other products," Marino told Kentucky.com. Marino, an architect, is the company's master distiller.

Marino is at left in photo, with Wiseman in the middle and Wright on the ... well, the right.

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20081218

NY raising the price of raising a glass

New York State is so strapped for cash, Gov. David Patterson is dusting off a lot of old ideas to raise money. Among his proposals for the new year, which still need to be debated and voted on by the state legislature, are numerous ones that will affect the beverage consuming habits of state residents.

Chief among them is his proposal to allow sales of wine in grocery stores, which would put New York on the same page as 35 other states that already allow it. Until now, strong lobbying by liquor store owners and their allies in state government has kept the lucrative slice of the market all to themselves. The usual posturing and debating now will ensue as the matter is debated.

Other beverage-related plans in Patterson's 2009-10 budget proposal:

• An increase in the excise tax on wine and beer from 18.9 cents a gallon for wine and 24 cents a gallon for beer to 51 cents a gallon for both.

• Increasing the tax on flavored malt liquors.

• Raising the sales tax on fruit drinks and non-diet sodas with less than 70% fruit juice by 18%.

Paterson delivered a balanced Executive Budget, more than one month prior to the State constitutional deadline, which would eliminate the largest budget deficit in state history -- a $1.7 billion current-year shortfall and a $13.7 billion 2009-10 deficit.

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20081217

New Scapa an older product

Scapa, the single malt from Scotland’s Orkney Islands, is getting a makeover from stem to stern. Or, more precisely, from content to container.

The availability of older whisky stocks coming of age has allowed the company to replace its 14-year-old expression with a 16 year old made in first-fill American oak casks. It is being presented in a newly-designed bottle.

The new Scapa will be available in the U.S. beginning in February, at a suggested retail price of $75.

Says Neil Macdonald, international brand director for Scapa, “Since Chivas Brothers acquired Scapa in 2005, we have taken great care to improve the stock profile which means we are now in a position to release this very rare, precious new expression
that perfectly showcases Scapa’s unique personality.”

The Scapa distillery was founded in 1885 and uses a rare Lomond pot-still. Scapa 16-Year-Old showcases was produced under the direction of master distiller Stuart Pirie using water from the Lingro Burn spring and distilled in two pot stills with a slow fermentation for up to 100 hours.

“There are just three other people who work at the distillery with me," said Pirie, "and we are all thrilled at the opportunity to launch Scapa as a 16 year old. The malt is very limited and therefore we expect huge demand for this special whisky which tastes even better as an older expression. The new Scapa remains true to its roots but will appeal to an even wider audience.”

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'Tis the season to use your noggin

From the Dowd's Spirits Notebook archives:

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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20081215

Letters: In search of Khortytsa

Mr. Dowd:

Would have you a way to find out where Khortytsa Vodka is sold in Florida, especially in or
near West Palm Beach?

I hear good things about this vodka. They make a honey and pepper vodka that seems to be quite popular. Can't wait to try it, but I just need to find out where to buy it.

Thanks so much for your feedback.

Bob Gable, Okeechobee, FL

Bob:

Try Cheers Distributors at 2283 NE 164 Street in North Miami Beach, FL 33160. You can call ahead (305/945-4565) to check on availability.

For my readers who are not familiar with Khortytsa, it's a Ukranian product that won the 2006 Grand Prix, and 23 other awards, for quality at the Lenexpo Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Also in that year, the Consumer Protection Association of the Russian Federation acknowledged Khortytsa Trade Mark as the best protected imported brand on the Russian market.

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20081213

Study: Teen alcohol use down

The use of alcohol by teens has declined considerably since recent peaks in use were reached in the mid-1990s, according to the just-released 34th annual national survey in the Monitoring the Future series conducted by scientists at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. .

Thus, alcohol has moved in parallel with illicit drug use to a considerable degree, the investigators note. The 30-day prevalence of use (reporting drinking an alcoholic beverage at least once in the 30 days prior to the survey) has fallen by 40% among eighth graders since their peak level in 1996.

The proportional declines since recent peak rates are smaller for the older students, nearly one-third for 10th graders and one-sixth for 12th graders. The upper grades showed continuing declines in use this year, but the investigators caution that the decline in 10th grade is likely exaggerated because the random sampling process yielded a few schools in the 10th-grade sample this year that had unusually low rates of alcohol use (including two schools with high proportions of Mormons).
Thirty-day prevalence now stands at 16%, 29% and 43% for the three grades surveyed -- eighth, ninth and 10th.

The greater long-term decline in use among eighth graders may well reflect the greater decline in their reported availability of alcohol. While there has been some decline in reported availability among the upper grades, eighth graders have shown by far the greatest decline. In 1996, 75% thought they could get alcohol if they wanted some, whereas by 2008 the percentage had fallen to 64.

How it works: Monitoring the Future has been funded under a series of competing, investigator-initiated research grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health. Surveys of nationally representative samples of American high school seniors were begun in 1975, making the Class of 2008 the 34th such class surveyed. Surveys of eighth and 10th graders were added to the design in 1991, making the 2008 nationally representative samples the 18th such classes surveyed.

Sample sizes in 2008 are 16,253 eighth graders in 144 schools, 15,518 tenth graders in 122 schools, and 14,577 twelfth graders in 120 schools, for a total of 46,348 students in 386 secondary schools. The samples are drawn separately at each grade level to be representative of students in that grade in public and private secondary schools across the coterminous United States. Schools are selected with probability proportionate to their estimated class size.

Peter H. Cressy, president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), released a statement saying:

"The Distilled Spirits Council is pleased to see the continued long-term decline in underage drinking. The study's authors point out that these declines may reflect the greater decline in reported availability of alcohol by those under the legal drinking age. The research is clear that most youth who drink get their alcohol from parents and other adults. While more needs to be done, clearly parents and other adults are getting the message that providing alcohol to underage individuals is unsafe, illegal and irresponsible.

"The distilled spirits industry remains committed to working to further bring these underage drinking numbers down through community outreach, prevention programs and supporting tough legislation penalizing adults who knowingly provide alcohol to youth."

The study covers alcohol, drug use, and other addictive and illicit substances. Click here for a full summary.

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20081211

Glenmorangie expansion moving along

Photo courtesy of the BBC

Glenmorangie has installed the last piece of a new four-still set in its Tain, Ross-shire, Scotland, distillery.

The 5.14-meter high swan-necked copper is part of what the company says is the nation's tallest whisky still.

The installation is part of an overall $68 million (US) expansion and upgrade that included additional fermentation capacity and additions to existing buildings in phase one which was completed in October. The distillation equipment expansion and upgrade is phase two.

It is the largest expansion in the history of the distillery, which was founded in 1843.

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20081210

Monkey Shoulder big for the holidays

William M. Dowd photo

When William Grant & Sons began producing Monkey Shoulder Triple Malt Scotch Whisky a few years ago, it quickly became the darling of the UK cocktail scene.

I first ran across it during a bar crawl in Edinburgh, Scotland, at Olorosso, an upscale restaurant and cocktail lounge where bartenders pour with such precision one would mistake it for a college chemistry exam. (See photo above.)

Monkey Shoulder is a bold, smooth whiskey with spice notes and nuances of vanilla and toffee, made from a blend of single malts from the company's three Speyside distilleries -- Glenfiddich, The Balvenie and Kininvie -- by malt master David Stewart, who eschews grains in creating this spirit. The name, by the way, is the slang name for a form of repetitive stress injury once common among distillery workers who turned the barley on the malting floors. It has pretty much disappeared since few distillers continue to malt their own barley, instead buying it from vendors who produce it in a mechanized process.

Grant has just released a special bottling of Monkey Shoulder, nicknamed "The Gorilla," for Christmas gifting, but it is in such small supply it's doubtful anyone but a few buyers in the UK will get it. It's a huge 4.5-liter, individually numbered bottle, only 85 of which were made. It is selling for £333 ($493 US) only at Selfridges in London, Birmingham and Manchester.

Making Monkey Shoulder in small amounts goes along with the distiller's policy of limited production. It is crafted in small batches of just 27 casks. The bottle design includes a trio of brass monkeys, each of which represents one of the constituent single malts.

Don't let the fact you probably won't be able to latch on to a "Gorilla" bottle keep you from trying this blend. Check with your favorite spirits merchant who may carry, or may be able to order, a regular bottle of Monkey Shoulder for you. It should retail in the $35 range.

By the way, the origin of the whisky's name comes from a term for a physical injury that was common in the days when distilleries' workers stooped over for long periods of time while turning the malt, causing them to hunch their shoulders.

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20081209

A little sangrita is good for the soul

William M. Dowd photo

I was having dinner at a Mexican restaurant in a suburb of the New York state capital of Albany a few weeks back, chowing down on some authentic ethnic food (several of the cooks are from the beautiful Mexican city of Guanajuato, where I've enjoyed some excellent meals), when I decided to request some sangrita to go with my tequila.

"We don't have sangria," said the waitress, referring to the fruit-and-wine punch.

"No, not san-gree-AH," I replied. "San-gree-TAH -- to go with my tequila."

She hastily corraled a bartender who told me that, while they didn't usually have sangrita, he'd whip some up for me. Now, that's service.

Sangrita is to tequila drinkers what garlic is to Italian chefs. Important. At heart, it's a combination of tomato juice, orange juice, peppers and hot sauce. Most of the time. What I got at Pancho's was that particular bartender's version. In various visits to Mexico, I've had maybe four other versions. All are basically tomato juice that's been tweaked, but arguments over what you tweak it with are sometimes akin to arguing about how to make the perfect martini. Particularly after a few tequilas.

(A self-interruption: A word about drinking tequila. I am bored to tears with people whose opinions of the iconic Mexican spirit run along the lines of "I got sick on it in college and never tried it again." Drink enough of anything, including water, and you'll get sick. Besides, much of what anyone drinks in college is rotgut because that's what you can afford. Plus, college drinking tends to be for purposes of show-and-yell, rather than for the pleasure of the drink and the company in which it is consumed.)

But, back to sangrita, Spanish for "little blood." Like most tequilas, it is served in a small glass called a caballito (cab-ah-YEE-toe). The most common way to drink it is to have a sip after a couple of sips of tequila. The bite of the non-alcoholic concoction nicely complements its companion, each helping bring out the best in the other.

My own recipe for sangrita has a V-8 base, rather than plain tomato juice. I like the additional vegetable notes, and make it three parts V-8 to one part orange juice, several grinds of fresh cracked black pepper, and liberal shots of Tabasco jalapeno sauce. Shake well, refrigerate and serve well chilled.

Other people add clam juice, or minced chile peppers, Tabasco or Worcestershire sauce, fresh lime juice ... . As noted, there really is no one way. Like a Virgin Mary cocktail, which it resembles, sangrita is in the eye of the beholder.

A tip when ordering or making a completo, the Mexican term for a set of sangrita and tequila: Do NOT serve a cheap tequila. Look for one that is 100% blue agave, the premium grade of a wonderful spirit that increasingly is being appreciated on the world stage rather than just in Mexico and border areas.

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20081208

Making a list? Check it twice, then hurry

Holiday shopping season extends well beyond video games, gaudy sweaters and plasma TV sets. Take the spirits industry, for example.

This is when we often see the collector-centric offerings being made, with companies hoping to not only spread the word about their products but to offer a readymade, one-of-a-kind gift for discerning folks that the not-so-discerning might be tempted to buy for them.

Here are a few examples. I've reported to you on them individually as they became available, but now we're down to shopping crunch time, so it's time to review:

• It's been a long, dry spell for American fans of Rémy Martin's single-harvest cognacs. The last one was released in the U.S. in 1965. That now has been remedied, with the release of the cognac crafted from the famous 1989 vintage. In that season, hot summer days and cool nights helped an ouyttanding maturation of the Ugni Blanc grapes in the company's Grande Champagne vineyards.

This new release was aged for 18 years in Limousin oak barrels, kept separately in a dedicated cellar. Pierrette Trichet, the current cellar master, said at last year's tasting that the '89 was near peak. It now has become the first vintage produced by a major cognac house in four decades.

The cognac, packaged in a two-piece gift box, will sell for a suggested retail price of $300 for the 750ml bottle.

• Heaven Hill Distilleries of Kentucky has released the 14th annual edition of its Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon, this time the 1999 vintage. The official unveiling was made in Kentucky for the Bardstown Bourbon Society in a private event for 500 people from 16 states. The whiskey will be available nationally beginning in January, at a suggested retail price of $25.99 for the 750 ml bottle, but you can always get a gift certificate for it from your favorite spirits shop in time for holiday gifting.

The single barrel bourbon has won a variety of awards for the series, “Spirit of the Year-American Whiskey” from Food & Wine magazine, “Domestic Whiskey of the Year” from Malt Advocate magazine and “Whiskey of the Year” from The Spirit Journal.

As with the previous 13 vintages, each bottle of the '99 is marked with the date it was placed in oak and bottled, as well as the serial number of the single barrel from which it was drawn. The 43.3% abv (86.6 proof) bourbon is matured in natural open-rick warehouses.

• The Renegade Rum Co.'s 2008 collection is being released. The collection of new bottlings includes six rums, each of which is from a single estate and single vintage. This year's come from

Renegade Rums are natural bottlings from Caribbean distilleries in their rarely seen, unblended state. Rare stocks from stills that no longer exist also are featured. This year's group comes from Guyana, Trinidad, Panama, Grenada, Jamaica and Barbados.

The rums unusually have been matured in American oak bourbon barrels, then put in French oak casks for additional aging. They then are bottled at the Bruichladdich Distillery, on Scotland's Isle of Islay, at 46% abv (92 proof) without coloring or chill-filtration. Bruichladdich owns the renegade company. Only 900-1,500 numbered bottles of each rum are available for worldwide distribution.

• Jim Beam has released a limited quantity of "The Distiller's Series" premium collector's bottles.
The series showcases contributions from seven generations of the Beam family to creating the world's top-selling bourbon. The bottles will be available only through January 2009 at a suggested retail price of $20 per 750ml bottle.

The latest release, aged seven years to 45% abv (90 proof), is characterized as a "new recipe." Each premium bottle features direct printing, with photos of the distillers and a brief history of their accomplishments.

"As the only living distiller among the seven generations honored with 'The Distillers Series,' I work everyday to uphold the legacy we've created," said Fred Noe in a statement. "These limited edition bottles are more than nice holiday gifts; they're the stories of my great-grandfathers and uncles. They're more than two centuries of history and tradition. And, more than anything, they're great bottles of bourbon."

A hint: If such items are on your holiday gift list don't wait till the last minute to track them down. Most such worthwhile collections are severely limited and probably won't be available on Christmas Eve.

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20081205

A celebri-quote: Oprah Winfrey

Anything Oprah says makes news. Thus, this revealing comment -- quoted by "Extra!" -- at the recent Alvin Ailey Dance Theater's 50th anniversary celebration conjures up all sorts of images.

"In my wildest, wildest, crazy, crazy dreams, I am a dancer. ... When I've like had too many tequila shots and I go to sleep, I dream of being a dancer."

[Go here for more celebri-quotes.]

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20081204

75 years since The Noble Experiment fizzled

There is something about Americans that requires special treatment of anniversaries ending in the numbers 0 and 5.

Rarely do we make a big deal about the fourth anniversary, or the ninth, or even the 24th of some event. Ah, but let us get busy when it comes to the fifth, 10th or 25th.

So, imagine all the hoopla that will be going on around the country tomorrow, Friday, December 5 -- the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. Let the happy hours begin!

Officially, the prohibition on the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, with a rare few licensed exceptions, was a result of the National Prohibition Act of 1919 -- commonly called the Volstead Act, after U.S. Rep. Andrew J. Volstead, R-Minnesota, chairman of the Judiciary Committee and sponsor of the bill that went into effect in 1920.

This came about in a period in our history in which religious organizations and anti-drinking societies abounded and had plenty of political clout. Chief among them were the American Temperance Society, the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League, all of which had gained phenomenal political clout.

According to the National Archives, "Between 1905 and 1917, various states imposed laws prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating beverages. ... In 1917, the House of Representatives wanted to make Prohibition the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. Congress sent the amendment to the states for ratification, where it needed three-fourths approval. The amendment stipulated a time limit of seven years for the states to pass this amendment. In just 13 months enough states said 'yes' to the amendment that would prohibit the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic liquors.

"The amendment worked at first, liquor consumption dropped, arrests for drunkenness fell, and the price for illegal alcohol rose higher than the average worker could afford. Alcohol consumption dropped by 30% and the United States Brewers' Association admitted that the consumption of hard liquor was off 50% during Prohibition. These statistics however, do not reflect the growing disobedience toward the law and law enforcement.

"The intensity of the temperance advocates was matched only by the inventiveness of those who wanted to keep drinking. Enforcing Prohibition proved to be extremely difficult. The illegal production and distribution of liquor, or bootlegging, became rampant, and the national government did not have the means or desire to try to enforce every border, lake, river, and speakeasy in America. In fact, by 1925 in New York City alone there were anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasy clubs.

"The demand for alcohol was outweighing (and out-winning) the demand for sobriety. People found clever ways to evade Prohibition agents. They carried hip flasks, hollowed canes, false books, and the like. While Prohibition assisted the poor factory workers who could not afford liquor, all in all, neither federal nor local authorities would commit the resources necessary to enforce the Volstead Act. For example, the state of Maryland refused to pass any enforcement issue. Prohibition made life in America more violent, with open rebellion against the law and organized crime."

Finally, the political pendulum swung far enough in favor of ridding the nation of what came to be called by some "The Noble Experiment." As many anti-Prohibition organizations popped up as had anti-drinking groups. The Democratic Party platform in the 1932 election included an anti-Prohibition plank and Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for the presidency promising repeal, which occurred on December 5, 1933.

The popular vote for repeal of prohibition was 74% in favor, 26% opposed. Thus, by a 3-to-1 margin, the American people rejected Prohibition. Only two states opposed repeal.

Crowds raised glasses and sang "Happy Days are Here Again!" and President Roosevelt, referring to what he called "The damnable affliction of Prohibition," sipped a martini at the stroke of midnight, what was widely reported as the first legal cocktail since Prohibition began.

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20081202

Burn, baby, burn

William M. Dowd photo and video

When your entire business relies on years of aging your spirit in charred barrels, you need a large and never-ending stream of properly prepared barrels. The automated process for charring oak barrels to be used to age bourbon and Tennessee whiskey is seen in the photo above taken at the Bluegrass Cooperage in Louisville, KY.

However, when only a piece of your business requires the use of charred barrels you can use a more personal, even artisanal, process, That's the case at Jose Cuervo's LaRojeña distillery in Tequila, Mexico, where I shot the footage below of a worker burning wood shavings in a small barrel to prepare it for aging añejo and extra añejo tequilas.

video

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Beam collector's bottles for sale

Jim Beam has released a limited quantity of "The Distiller's Series" premium collector's bottles.

The series showcases contributions from seven generations of the Beam family to creating the world's top-selling bourbon. The bottles will be available only through January 2009 at a suggested retail price of $20.00 per 750ml bottle.

The latest release, aged seven years to 45% abv (90 proof), is characterized as a "new recipe." Each premium bottle features direct printing, with photos of the distillers and a brief history of their accomplishments.

"As the only living distiller among the seven generations honored with 'The Distillers Series,' I work everyday to uphold the legacy we've created," said Fred Noe in a statement. "These limited edition bottles are more than nice holiday gifts; they're the stories of my great-grandfathers and uncles. They're more than two centuries of history and tradition. And, more than anything, they're great bottles of bourbon."

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Happy birthday, Mary

Monday was a special day in New York City, the 75th birthday of the Bloody Mary.

The festivities began in Times Square where Carol Bradley, granddaughter of the drink's creator, toasted all Bloody Mark drinkers. Throughout the day and evening, numerous bars, lounges and restaurants offered Bloody Mary specials.

The drink was originated in Paris in the 1920s by bartender Fernand Petiot, although it began as just tomato juice with a shot of vodka and called the Red Snapper. After he moved to the U.S., he perfected the drink by adding dashes of both Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces.

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20081201

Rémy single harvest released

William M. Dowd photo illustration

This is part of "Gotta Have ...", a series of occasional postings on unusual products.

It's been a long, dry spell for American fans of Rémy Martin's single-harvest cognacs. The last one was released in the U.S. in 1965.

That now has been remedied, with the release of the cognac crafted from the famous 1989 vintage. In that season, hot summer days and cool nights helped an ouyttanding maturation of the Ugni Blanc grapes in the company's Grande Champagne vineyards.

This new release was aged for 18 years in Limousin oak barrels, kept separately in a dedicated cellar. Pierrette Trichet, the current cellar master, said at last year's tasting that the '89 was near peak. It now has become the first vintage produced by a major cognac house in four decades.

The cognac, packaged in a two-piece gift box, will sell for a suggested retail price of $300 for the 750ml bottle.

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Evan Williams '99 unveiled

Heaven Hill Distilleries has released the 14th annual edition of its Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon, this time the 1999 vintage.

The official unveiling was made in Kentucky for the Bardstown Bourbon Society in a private event for 500 people from 16 states. The whiskey will be available nationally beginning in January, at a suggested retail price of $25.99 for the 750 ml bottle.

The single barrel bourbon has won a variety of awards for the series, “Spirit of the Year-American Whiskey” from Food & Wine magazine, “Domestic Whiskey of the Year” from Malt Advocate and “Whiskey of the Year” from The Spirit Journal.

As with the previous 13 vintages, each bottle of the '99 is marked with the date it was placed in oak and bottled, as well as the serial number of the single barrel from which it was drawn. The 43.3% abv (86.6 proof) bourbon is matured in natural open-rick warehouses.

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What will they think of next? (December edition)

• Think globally, drink locally. For this month's collection of recommended cocktails I've perused a lot of different sources. These offerings I've culled from that research should help you spice up the usual array of drinks served at holiday season get-togethers.
• Conquistador

Ryan Duvenage won the recent International Bartending Association World Championships qualifying spot from South Africa. (The main event is scheduled for Berlin in 2009). This is one of the two original cocktails he created en route to the title.

50ml Havana Club Anejo Reserva
12.5ml Tio Pepe Fino Sherry
10ml Monin Raspberry
10ml Monin Blackberry
10ml Balsamic Vinegar
2 dashes Peychauds Bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail or champagne glass. Garnish with an orange twist and a nasturtium flower.

• Golden Cadillac

The International Bartenders Association, which will turn 58 in February, has a list of "official" cocktails. This is one of the after-dinner ones.

2 parts Liquore Galliano
2 parts Créme de cacao (white)
2 parts fresh cream

Pour all ingredients into a shaker filled with ice. Shake briskly for few seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

• In-Law House Rules Cocktail

This cocktail was inspired by the in-laws of owner Chris Ojeda for The Edison restaurant and lounge in Los Angeles. It's a hot toddy-ish recipe you can make to sedate your family after holiday dinners.

2½ ounces applejack bonded or applejack
3 ounces of hot water
½ ounce mulling spiced syrup*
Slice of a baked apple**
Lemon peel (expressed in the drink)
Star anise
Grated nutmeg

In toddy glass or mug place the baked apple slice in the bottom and slightly muddle to break up. Pour the applejack, mulling spiced syrup and water and stir. Add the star anise and grated nutmeg for garnish.

(* Mulling spices syrup: Make simple syrup (1:1 sugar and water) and let the spice steep like you would a tea over a low heat. Turn off heat and let them steep for 30 minutes and strain out. Mulling spices are available at most grocery stores or health food stores.)

(** Bake an apple for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees.)

[Go here for all the monthly installments of this feature.]


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