20101229

A 'go-to' hot chocolate with a twist


NEW YORK — Looking for something a little out of the ordinary to chase away the winter chill? Jenn Smith, general manager of the Astor Center, shares with us her “go-to” hot chocolate recipe just in time for you to use as a New Year’s Eve treat.

CHOCOLATE VERTE

(Serves 4)

4 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
¼ cup cocoa powder
¼ cup sugar
½ cup heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
4 teaspoons Chartreuse Green

Mix dry ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring until chocolate melts. Whisk in heavy cream and beat with spoon until sugar melts. Whisk in milk, more or less than called for depending on how thick and dark you prefer, and continue to stir until hot.

Distribute evenly among four mugs, and add one teaspoon Chartreuse to each mug.

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Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey sold to NYer


NEW YORK -- Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey has become a New York product, in a sense.

Proximo Spirits of New York has purchased the Denver micro-distillery founded in 2004 by Jess Graber and George Stranahan, according to Graber who confirmed the sale but offered no details.

This isn't the only venture beyond the East Coast for the New York company. Proximo also owns Hangar 1 in the San Francisco Bay area and Kraken Black Spiced Rum, which is finished in Indiana, and 1800 Tequila made, of course, in Mexico.

Graber's announcement said, "Through combined efforts, Stranahan's will be able to increase production, distribution, and marketing. Founder Jess Graber will continue working with the company to maintain quality control and as brand ambassador. We are all very excited about the new opportunities available to Stranahan's."

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20101228

Guest comment: The myth of micro-distilling


The author is a New York City writer and editor. This commentary appeared on The Atlantic magazine's online site.

By Clay Risen

In a recent profile of New York-area micro-distillers, The New York Times praised the way that, like craft charcuteries and urban apiaries, these small-bore labors of love churned out a better product than their larger, more established cousins. "Virtually all craft distillers use small pot stills rather than the huge column stills used by the industry giants," wrote author Toby Cecchini. "Though more labor-intensive, these more faithfully capture the essence of fruit and grain, and let a distiller precisely select what part of the distilling run to use to create the most nuanced styles and flavors."

... I've written admiringly of some of the distillers he mentions in his piece, including Tuthilltown, Breuckelen, and Kings County, in this space over the past year. It's hard not to love people who spend their free time making alcoholic beverages. But there's a difference between praising their efforts and lauding the outcomes.

When it comes to the craft food movement, one of the operating assumptions is that smaller is better. Corporate ownership and large-scale production are not only karmically bad, but they guarantee an inferior product. Two guys carving up meat in a rented kitchen, we're told, will always do better than Oscar Mayer.

This is, of course, ridiculous.

(Go here for the full commentary.)

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20101227

Memories of Zhivago, bottles of vodka

Bill Dowd photo illustration
On Christmas Eve, Constant Companion and I snuggled under some blankets, cranked up the fireplace and watched a DVD of the iconic David Lean film “Doctor Zhivago.” The images of ice-encrusted Russian buildings and shivering peasants and star-crossed lovers returned easily to mind when we awoke this morning to a blanket of 22 inches of new-fallen snow at our high-elevation home in Upstate New York.

No wonder I began thinking of vodka. No hot toddies or mulled cider for me. When I want to warm up on a blustery winter’s day, I’m reminded of the late great actor Rod Steiger’s Komarovsky character stumbling into the drafty “Zhivago” apartment shared by Julie Christy and Omar Sharif, ice-coated whiskers and snow-coated parka fairly screaming “I need heat!” And, what does Komarovsky reach for to fight the cold? Vodka, of course, true Russian that he was.

My favorite vodkas usually are those that are made from potatoes. In truth, you can make vodka out of virtually any organic matter — grains, grasses, tree saps, grapes, pineapple, honey, etc. — but I prefer the likes of Chopin, from Poland, and LiV, from Long Island if I have the choice. For non-potato styles, I prefer the Van Gogh Blue, made from a trio of European wheats.

Here’s my top 15 of vodkas of all sorts, from all over the globe:

1. Chopin (Poland)
2. LiV (New York)
3. Van Gogh Blue (Netherlands)
4. Vermont Gold (Vermont)
5. Diamond Standard (Poland)
6. Stolichnaya (Russia)
7. Bluecoat American Dry Gin (Pennsylvania)
8. ZYR (Russia)
9. Prairie Organic (Minnesota)
10. Reyka (Iceland)
11. Cirrus (Virginia)
12. Cold River (Maine)
13. Hangar 1 (California)
14. Idol (Franco-American)
15. Finlandia (Finland)




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Glengoyne's 'slow release' going to market

A man walks into a bar and says, "Gimme a single malt, quick."

Chances are the whisky won't be the newest release from Glengoyne. The Scottish distiller plans to launch its slowest-ever bottling over a four-year period from a single cask. It's calling it a "world’s first" small batch release from a single cask, a claim that's hard to dispute.

The Glengoyne Christmas Cask will first be available tomorrow, December 28, and will be released each Christmas until 2014. Just 100 bottles will be released at a time, exclusively available to buy in person from the distillery shop.

Glengoyne says Cask 790, a First Fill Oloroso Sherry Butt distilled in 2002, "is currently rich, with hints of rose hip syrup, cocoa beans, oak and spice. It still clings to the last of its spirited youth, but delivers plenty and promises much more."

Says Stuart Hendry, Glengoyne brand heritage manager,"One day, after a particularly productive tasting session, we got to thinking: What if there is something more? We at the distillery are able to taste casks as they mature, witnessing their highs and lows, their flavor peak and troughs as they wind their way towards maturity.

"Headspace -- the area within the cask unoccupied by liquid -- is normally created through evaporation at the rate of approximately 1.5% per annum. In the case of the Christmas Cask, we will be removing 70 liters from the cask each year, leading to much increased headspace, giving the potential for higher rates of evaporation and interactive maturation.

"We don’t know for sure what will happen, but we’re looking forward to finding out."

Each bottle will be numbered and signed by the Glengoyne Tasting Panel, but will be presented without packaging in order to keep the price down. The first 100 bottles are priced at £100 each, or US$155. They will not be available online.

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20101221

Whiskey giant's wine business on the block

From the Associated Press

NEW YORK — There may be two more wine businesses up for sale as some parts of the industry struggle with weak sales volumes and pricing.

Brown-Forman Corp., the maker of Jack Daniel's whiskey, is putting its wine business on the block, The Wall Street Journal reported online late Monday, citing unnamed sources. The company, based in Louisville, KY, has reportedly hired Rothschild to run the auction process after its wine business -- which includes brands such as Fetzer and Bonterra Vineyard -- delivered sluggish sales for several years.

The deal could fetch a few hundred million dollars, according to the report. Brown-Forman and Rothschild declined to comment.

The paper also said that people familiar with matter expect Constellation Brands Inc. to sell the bulk of its non-U.S. wine business to an unknown buyer as soon as this week. That deal is reportedly valued between $300 and $400 million.

Constellation Brands, based in Victor, NY, did not return calls seeking comment.

UPDATE (December 28): Strong international sales helped Brown-Forman Corp. make up for a lackluster U.S. performance and post a 5% increase in its second-quarter profit. Brown-Forman raised its full-year earnings forecast to a range of $3.18 to $3.42 per share. That's up from $2.98 to $3.38 per share.

"Based on our first-half success, we have more confidence in our outlook for the remainder of the year and reflected that in our guidance," Brown-Forman CEO Paul Varga said in a statement.

The company earned net income of $154 million ($1.05 per share) in the three months ending Oct. 31. That's up from $147.3 million (99 cents per share) a year earlier.


[Go here for the rest of the story.]

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Do’s and don’ts for holiday partying

'Tis the time of year when inhibitions go out the window.

Office parties, gatherings of friends, family feasts, New Year's Eve ... Ah, how the drinks do flow.

Unfortunately, too many occasional drinkers tend to overdo in such circumstances, to the regret of not only themselves, but those around them who are (a) embarassed, (b) annoyed and/or (c) disgusted by their behavior.

Simply telling people to drink responsibly won't avoid all such negative experiences. But, armed with a little knowledge of one's own alcohol capacity and how well you metabolize what you drink, you and those near you will get through holiday partying in a dignified, enjoyable way. Here's a guide taken from my Spirits Notebook archives.

A few don'ts:

(1.) Don't "do" shots. Spirits are not for "doing." They are for slow enjoying. The only reason to do shots is to get drunk, which mature adults try to avoid.

(2.) Don't assume mixed cocktails are much less potent than straight whiskies, rums or vodkas. Many mixers -- red or white vermouth, for example, in Manhattans, Rob Roys, Martinis, etc.; various liqueurs in other recipes -- have a significant alcohol content on their own, so drinking too many cocktails made with them still lets the impact mount.

(3.) Don't be fooled by how easy a drink goes down. Fruit juices and liqueurs add color and flavor, but they also mask temporarily how much alcohol you're ingesting.

(4.) Don't use diet sodas as mixers. You need sugar in cocktails since it helps metabolize alcohol. Using diet sodas results in a higher concentration of alcohol in your bloodstream.

A few do's:

(1.) Do bear in mind that drinking whiskey can result in a worse hangover than drinking vodka. That is according to recently-released research by scientists at Brown University. They say the reason may be because of the number of molecules called "congeners" which whiskey contains compared to vodka (Their study was just published in "Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.")

(2.) Do order water. In my family, we have a running joke that if you're given water when you ask for something to drink, you should inform the server "I'm thirsty, not dirty." However, alternating alcoholic drinks with glasses of water makes sense on several levels. You'll stay hydrated, important since alcohol tends to dehydrate you and creates a hangover; you'll satisfy the desire to have a beverage without loading up on alcohol.

(3.) Do avoid topping off your drinks. Get a refill only when you've finished so you can keep track of how much you're drinking, something that's easy to forget in the hustle and bustle of a party.

(4.) Do stay aware of calories. A piña colada has about the same number as a Big Mac. A straight shot of alcohol has about 90 calories but mix it with orange juice or pineapple juice, for example, and the calorie count climbs to 150.

There are, of course, one major do and one major don't to keep in mind at all times. Do have a designated driver and don't drink and drive. Even if you ignore the other do's and don'ts, following those two will help you have a safe, happy holiday season.

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20101218

12 Drinks of Christmas: Part 4

'Tis the season for entertaining and being entertained. No need to limit yourself or your guests to beer, wine and the standard martinis, Manhattans and Cosmos when serving up cocktails. Not when there is such a rich heritage of cocktails in the American archives of mixology. This is the final trio of recipes, leaving you enough time to be sure you have the ingredients on hand for the Christmas-New Year’s party crush.

DRINK N0. 10 -- THE SEELBACH COCKTAIL

During my travels, I've stayed at some historic hotels in various countries and tried their signature drinks. My favorite comes from the Seelbach Hilton Hotel in Louisville, KY.

The Seelbach is one of the South's "golden age" luxury hotels, opened in 1905 and since then host to nine American presidents and innumerable dignitaries. The stunning ambiance of the place, awash with oak and marble and gilded surfaces, inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald to use the hotel as the backdrop for Tom and Daisy Buchanan's wedding in "The Great Gatsby."

4 ounces quality champagne
1½ ounces bourbon
½ ounce triple sec
7 dashes Peychaud bitters
7 dashes Angostura bitters


Add bourbon, bitters, and triple sec first. Fill rest of glass with champagne. Garnish with orange twist, serve in a champagne flute.

DRINK NO. 11 -- THE DiVINE

One of the nicest new spirits to come on the market in the past few years is G'Vine, the French grape gin distilled in the Cognac region. (See my Tasting Notes entry here.) Michael McDonagh, beverage director at Fisherman's Wharf-adjacent bar/club The Parlor in San Francisco has come up with a cocktail featuring it.

2 ounces G'Vine Gin
½ ounce Dimmi Italian liqueur
4 lemon slices
¼ ounce simple syrup
5 drops La tourment Vert Absinthe


Muddle lemon slices with simple syrup in a mixing glass. Add gin & Dimmi. Fill with ice. Shake and fine strain into cocktail glass. Drop absinthe over the cocktail. Garnish with lemon twist.

DRINK NO. 12 -- THE PAINKILLER

This luscious concoction comes, via the pages of Wine Enthusiast magazine, from the island of Jost Van Dyke, in the British Virgin Islands. It was dreamed up at the Soggy Dollar Bar. It also is popular on tourist-rich Tortola -- using the locally-made Pusser's Rum, especially during the 4-6 p.m. happy hour at the Bananakeet Café.

2 ounces Pusser's dark rum
1 ounce cream of coconut
4 ounces pineapple juice
1 ounce orange juice


Blend rum with juices and coconut and serve over the rocks. Top with freshly grated nutmeg.

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20101217

12 Drinks of Christmas: Part 3

‘Tis the season for entertaining and being entertained. No need to limit yourself or your guests to beer, wine and the standard martinis, Manhattans and Cosmos when serving up cocktails. Not when there is such a rich heritage of cocktails in the American archives of mixology. I'm now offering four days of three-recipes-at-a-time, with enough time after the final installment for you to be sure you have the ingredients on hand for the Christmas-New Year’s party crush.

DRINK NO. 7 -- THE FLYBOY

I whipped up this cocktail for an acquaintance, an off-duty commercial  airline pilot -- thus the name -- who usually doesn't venture much  beyond a beer or a glass of wine. He quickly anointed it his official personal drink.

2 oz. Michter's rye whiskey
½ oz. St. Germaine Elderflower Liqueur
½ oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. Fever Tree tonic


Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice, stir 35 times (yup, 35) with a bar spoon to release just the right amount of water from the ice, and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a cherry or fruit slice as desired.

DRINK NO. 8 -- THE WARD 8

This concoction, sort of a variant on the whiskey sour, was dreamed up in Boston at the Locke-Ober restaurant bar in 1898, according to the most persuasive version of the story. Ward 8 was the section of the city that consistently delivered a winning margin of votes to the powerful Democratic political leader Martin M. Lomasney, who reigned for a half-century. The drink supposedly was created to honor him.

There are variations on the drink, using bourbon or rye or blended whiskey, and using lemon juice or lime juice or no juice. This is the original version re-introduced to legal drinkers at the Locke-Ober after Prohibition was repealed.

2 ounces rye whiskey
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
½ ounce fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon grenadine
Maraschino cherry


Shake the whiskey, lemon juice, orange juice and grenadine with ice. Strain over ice into a chilled Collins glass or Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a cherry. (Originally, the drink was decorated with a small paper Massachusetts flag.)

DRINK NO. 9 -- PADMA'S SWEET LIME-GINGER RUM PUNCH

This recipe is from international model/magazine writer/cookbook author/TV personality Padma Lakshmi, host of Bravo television's "Top Chef." It is the second punch recipe I've selected for the "12 Drinks of Christmas" collection.

⅔ cup water
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
¾ cup fresh lime juice
2 cups dark rum
2 cups ice, plus more for serving
Lime slices, cilantro for garnish


In a small saucepan, bring the water, sugar and ginger to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat for 5 minutes. Strain the syrup into a large pitcher, pressing hard on the ginger. Let cool to room temperature. Stir in the lime juice, rum and the 2 cups of ice. Strain into ice-filled glasses and garnish with lime slices and cilantro. Makes 8 drinks.

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20101216

12 Drinks of Christmas: Part 2

‘Tis the season for entertaining and being entertained. No need to limit yourself or your guests to beer, wine and the standard martinis, Manhattans and Cosmos when serving up cocktails. Not when there is such a rich heritage of cocktails in the American archives of mixology. I'm now offering four days of three-recipes-at-a-time, with enough time after the final installment for you to be sure you have the ingredients on hand for the Christmas-New Year’s party crush.

DRINK NO. 4 -- THE JACKIE COLLINS

Cuddling up with a good book and a good drink is a pasttime to be savored. Here’s a cocktail that serves the purpose perfectly. It was created by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck in honor of steamy-novel writer Jackie Collins’ 25th book, “Drop Dead Beautiful.”

7 raspberries
2 ounces vodka
2 ounces lemonade
One-half fresh lime
1½ ounces club soda
Simple syrup
1 fresh mint leaf


Muddle raspberries in a shaker with a splash of simple syrup. Add ice then the vodka and the lemonade. Squeeze juice of half a lime. Shake all ingredients vigorously. Add the club soda, then shake once more. Strain into a highball glass and garnish with a raspberry and the mint leaf.

DRINK NO. 5 -- THE PIRANHA

I hate the overuse of the word "ultimate," but I do like like "The Ultimate Book of Cocktails," Stuart Walton's 256-page tome first published in the UK by Hermes House in 2003. Here is a particularly simple and tasty drink. But, beware. As with virtually any cocktail using a soft drink as a main component, one can down too many of these too easily.

1½ parts vodka
1 part brown creme de cacao
1 part ice-cold Coca-Cola or other cola


Pour the alcohol into a rocks glass containing plenty of cracked fresh ice and stir vigorously before adding the cola.

DRINK NO. 6 -- THE UPSTATE MANHATTAN

The borough of Manhattan, on Manhattan island, is the center of the universe for most people. So, they like to think of that area when they drink their Manhattans. However, after attending a seminar on New York State's emerging craft-distilling scene, it occurred to me to jump on the "Pride of New York" bandwagon that promotes state-produced food and drink to come up with my own cocktail using only Upstate ingredients.

3 parts McKenzie Rye Whiskey or Tuthilltown Baby Bourbon
1 part Warwick Valley Sour Cherry Cordial
2 dashes Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters
1 Montmorency cherry


Put whiskey, sour cherry cordial and fresh ice cubes in a cocktail shaker. Stir several times, then add bitters. Stir vigorously to chill the mixture, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with Montmorency cherry. If not in season, you may use a traditional maraschino cherry. (For a tangier cocktail, substitute Fee Brothers Rhubarb Bitters.)

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20101215

12 Drinks of Christmas: Part 1

'Tis the season for entertaining and being entertained. No need to limit yourself or your guests to beer, wine and the standard martinis, Manhattans and Cosmos when serving up cocktails. Not when there is such a rich heritage of cocktails in the American archives of mixology.


Beginning today, and running for three more days, I'll be sharing a trio of drink recipes each day, with enough time after the final one for you to be sure you have the ingredients on hand for the Christmas-New Year's party crush. Here's the initial cocktail.

DRINK NO. 1 -- EYES WIDE SHUT

This recipe was created to honor the odd mix of Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise in the offbeat 1999 movie of the same name. The disparate ingredients are colorful and pleasing in combination, and certainly festive.

½ ounce Southern Comfort peach liqueur
½ ounce Crown Royal Canadian whiskey
½ ounce amaretto almond liqueur
½ ounce orange juice
½ ounce pineapple juice
½ ounce cranberry juice
Splash of grenadine syrup


Place ice in shaker and add all ingredients. Shake well and strain into  cocktail glass filled with ice. Garnish with orange slice and cherry.

DRINK NO. 2 -- FISH HOUSE PUNCH

This drink has a name that smacks of colonial America. And with good reason. The origin of this concoction dates to as early as 1732.  It is the official drink of what purports to be the oldest club in America, the Schuylkill Fishing Company, founded by Philadelphians with a  love of fishing.

2 parts dark Jamaica rum
1 part cognac
½ part peach-flavored brandy
1 part fresh lemon juice
1 to 1½ parts (to taste) simple syrup
2 parts (more or less, to taste) water


Stir  with ice and serve in a punch cup. If you make it in bulk, do so in a  sizable punchbowl with a large block of ice. You may decorate the punch  with thin slices of lemon.

DRINK NO. 3 -- CIDER MILL MARTINI

For the apple-cinnamon vodka infusion:

1 750 ml bottle of vodka
3 cinnamon sticks
4 red apples (any kind you like; organic are best)
1 doughnut hole


Put cinnamon sticks and vodka in air-tight container or jar, seal. Let soak for a few days, then wash, seed and quarter the apples and put them into the cinnamon vodka. Leave it refrigerated for four days, then strain into an empty bottle. Infusion will keep for up to a week refrigerated.

For the cocktail:

5 ounces apple-cinnamon vodka
2 ounces fresh apple cider
1 ounce simple syrup

Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker, shake well, strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a mini regular doughnut or cinnamon doughnut hole on the rim.

(Note: To make simple syrup, put equal parts sugar and water in saucepan, heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Chill.)

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20101209

Tequila.net Awards announced

Tequila.net is a website chock full of all things tequila. It also has its own awards program, and today announced this year's winners.

Gold Medalists
  • La Piñata Tequila Plata
  • Marquez de Valencia Tequila Reposado
  • Dulce Vida Tequila Añejo
  • Corrido Tequila Extra Añejo
  • Ilegal Mezcal Reposado
Silver Medalists
  • Azuñ ia Tequila Platinum Blanco
  • Tres Genaraciones Tequila Reposado
  • Ambhar Tequila Añejo
  • Voodoo Tiki Tequila Extra Añejo
  • Fidencio Mezcal Joven
Bronze Medalists
  • Revolucion 100P Tequila Silver
  • Dulce Vida Tequila Reposado
  • El Viejito Tequila Añejo
  • El Gran Jubileo Tequila Extra Añejo
  • Ilegal Mazcal Joven

Tequila.net describes itself as "a community website for aficionados and consumers including product listings, ratings and reviews for over 800 Tequilas, 46 Mezcals, and many other spirits of Mexico."

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20101203

Celebri-quote: KT Tunstall

Singer-songwriter KT Tunstall is a true child of Scotland. She even has a guitar made from an old Talisker whisky barrel. In an interview in the current issue of Whisky magazine, she commented on -- among many things -- her passion for whisky.

"Whisky for me is linked to the landscape, and I find there is a bit of escapism in whisky when I know where it's made and I've been to some of the places where it's made and I've learnt about how it's made.

"I really, really respect and appreciate the process and the unique aspects to different whiskies. And, I know how much passion goes into it. A lot of the time it's a natural process. Seeing these distilleries and these fantastic locations, there is something exceptionally romantic about it. It is the work of artisans."

(Go here for more celebrity quotes.) 

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20101124

Controversial Captain Morgan distillery open


Diageo photo

Some time back, I reported on the progress of a new distillery being built on St. Croix in the American Virgin Islands. This week it officially opened.

Gov. John de Jongh and other politicians from the U.S. Virgin Islands, of which St. Croix is one, on Tuesday joined executives from Diageo PLC at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new Captain Morgan Rum distillery.

The new distillery, the governor said, "will not only reinvigorate our local rum industry but also will serve as a major economic engine for the territory," noting it is expected to generate more than $100 million annually in revenue for the islands over the next 30 years.

The project was not without its controversy, and not as one might think from the formerly lone rummaker on the island, Cruzan. Instead, politicians from neighboring Puerto Rico, which is not part of the Virgin Islands, have been expressing extreme unhappiness at the loss of jobs that had been on their island because a distillery there had been making Captain Morgan under contract.

You can get the rundown on the whole flap by clicking here.

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Distiller making Chicago's first legal whiskey


Koval Distillery photo
Al Capone would have been so proud. Well, sort of.

The Prohibition-era bootlegger, who made his headquarters in Chicago,  made his fortune by not paying taxes on booze. Now, the first legal whiskey made in the Windy City since that period is on the market.

Once past New Year's Day, Lion's Pride Organic Whiskey will become available beyond the immediate Chicago area where it has been on the market for several weeks.

It is distilled at Koval Distillery in Ravenswood, north of the city and halfway between it and Evanston. It was named for Lion Birnecker, son of Kobal owners Sonat and Robert Birnecker.

The single-grain expressions are available in rye, oat, dark rye and dark oat at $48.00 for a 750 ml bottle.

Koval also utilizes its copper still to produce a line of vodka and such liqueurs as rose hip, ginger, chrysanthemum, jasmine and coffee.

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Former USSR state making whiskey


ABC photo
The former Soviet Union republic of Azerbaijan is about to become the first whiskey producer in the Caucus region of Central Asia.

Naig Mammadhasanov (right), general director of the beverage company Tovuz-Baltia, told the Azerbajian Business Center's ABC news office that the company has just begun entering the market.

It plans to finish 15,000 bottles by the end of this year, and "the future will depend on market reaction to our new product. At the same time, German businessmen have already expressed interest in whiskey of our production. They say that there is demand for such output."

Tovuz-Baltia already exports 80% of its other output to European Union and and Commonwealth of Independent States markets in Europea and Asia. Only 20% is sold in-country.

The company was founded in December 1989 and focuses primarily on the cultivation of grapes and the production of wine and wine products such as cognac. However, Tovuz-Baltiya has recently introduced new technology and is producing fruit- and berry-based wines and spirits.

"We decided against bringing spirits from Ukraine, Iran and Russia and are producing vodka with our own raw materials. We have started the production of a new brand of alcohol from watermelon, quince, pomegranate and other fruits," Mammadhasanov said.

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Mississippi's 1st legal distillery opening

Cathead Vodka photo
No one ever said people didn't make whiskey in Mississippi. But legaly whiskey? Ah, that's a different story.

Come January 2011, though, a pair of young entrepreneurs in Gluckstadt, Madison County, plan to  begin operations as the state's first legal distillery.

Cathead Vodka will be made there by Austin Evans and Richard Patrick. They opened the facility earlier this year and have been using it to distribute their corn-based vodka which currently is being made out of state.

The legal process "took us about three years," Evans told the local Madison County Journal. "We've been studying the law books and the people at the ABC (Alcohol, Beverage Control) have been real helpful to us."

Cathead isn't the only alcohol-producing facility in the state, but it is the first distillery. The Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company in Kiln brews Southern Pecan brand beers, the Old South Winery in Natchez produces muscadine wine, and a third facility produces wine in Louisville.

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Woodford adds a maple-icious option


Photo provided
Woodford Reserve is a classy example of American distilling. The Versailles, KY, company's standard bourbon is a potent (94.4 proof) whiskey with a powerful, tasty edge.

Under Master Distiller Chris Morris, the line (once known as Labrot & Graham) has a strong commercial following. A new example of his Master's Collection -- Woodford Reserve Maple Finish -- will do nothing to harm that status. It is perhaps the best Woodford I've ever tasted.

Although I like Woodford in a cocktail, I find its finish a bit too sharp when tasted straight. The new wood finish of this version -- the industry's first bourbon to be finished in barrels made from toasted sugar maple wood after the standard aging in charred new white oak -- takes care of that, adding a sweet earthiness to both the nose and the finish: honey, spice and maple all creating a pleasing bouquet.

Suggested retail price: $89.99.

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20100815

Indiana Vodka adding infused line


Photo provided
Heartland Distillers, the first legal distillery to open in Indiana since Prohibition, is on the brink of unveiling a line of seven flavored vodkas, some of them rather unusual.

The company's Indiana-brand vodka and Prohibition-brand gin -- the latter new to the market as of March this year -- constitute its portfolio at the moment, but it has been promising the addition of liqueurs, whiskies and bourbons at some point.

The brand was launched about a year and a half ago from its distillery in Indianapolis. Now, according to the company's own blog:

"Yes, the rumors were true, we have a whole line of flavored Indiana Vodka coming out soon ... . In creating our new flavors we discovered -- after much trial and error! -- that many flavors are enhanced if we add just a little bit of a complementary flavor.

"For example, we kept trying to flavor our vodka with cherries, but the end result, even if better than the last, always tasted a little too much like cough syrup. Then we added a touch of vanilla and something magical happened -- great taste! So an idea was born.

"Our new line of flavors will consist of Cherry Vanilla, Chai Tea, Orange Cream, Double Vanilla, Raspberry Citrus, Chocolate Espresso, and Honey Lemon."

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Cold River Vodka gets a gin sibling

Photo provided

Maine Distilleries has added gin to its portfolio.

The distiller of Cold River Vodka has been working on a new gin for about two years. It is made in the company's copper pot still in Freeport, ME, where its vodkas are created.

Head distiller Chris Dowe bases the gin on a 400-year-old traditional gin recipe that utilizes seven botanicals -- the requisite juniper berries plus coriander, lemon and orange peel, cardamom, orris root and angelica root. The base spirit is made from potatoes grown at the family-owned Green Thumb Farms in Fryeburg, ME, just as the signature vodka is made. The finished product is gluten free with no added sugar.

Cold River Gin went on sale in late July in Maine at a suggested retail price of $25.99. Throughout the remainder of the summer, it will be shipped to stores in New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maryland, Georgia, and Washington, DC.

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A new chapter for recovered Antarctic whisky

A straw-wrapped bottle of Mackinlay's Scotch whisky being unwrapped.

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand -- Part of the cache of rare Mackinlay's whisky recovered from an icy grave in Antarctica has been opened.

Five crates that had been part of the supplies for the explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton's expedition more than a century ago had been found in 2007 below a hut on Ross island that had been Shackleton's headquarters in 1909.

In January of this year, the crates were taken to a special room set up here by the Antarctic Heritage Trust.

When the crate was opened on Friday, one of the original 12 bottles was missing and another was not as full as the rest. Whoever had that small taste won't be joined by any modern imbibers as of yet, although a sample will be taken for the Scottish distillery, which lost the original recipe, can try to replicate it.

[Go here for a Sky News video of the unwrapping.]

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20100812

Three Olives hires rapper with rap sheet

Nothing says quality like hiring an ex-con to promote your product.

That apparently is the thinking at Three Olives which has hired the rapper/perjurer/felon Lil Kim as the spokesperson for its new Three Olives Purple Vodka.

Three Olives can count on the entertainer -- real name Kimberly Jones, and with a police record dating back more than a dozen years -- not saying a negative word about the vodka. She makes a habit of never noticing bad things around her.

Elwyn Gladstone, marketing VP for Promixo Spirits which owns Three Olives, gushed, "A perfect match for our latest flavor, Lil' Kim is the personification of the sassy, fun and confident brand that Three-O strives to embody. We are so delighted to welcome Kim to the Three-O family, and look forward to introducing Three-O Purple to her dedicated fan base."

The rapper modestly announced in a press statement, "Since I'm Queen Bee and purple is the color of royalty, I'm thrilled Three Olives has asked me to bring my flavor to the sexy 'O-Face' campaign for their new Purple vodka!"

If you're not familiar with Lil Kim's resume, here are some of her hits:

Arrest made in Lil Kim party murder case
Rapper guilty of telling lies about gunfight
Lil Kim sued over unfinished album
Rapper Lil' Kim released from jail
Much to do before checking into prison
Security tape shows Lil Kim next to manager before shooting

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20100811

Bill's eMailbox: Seals of disapproval

Q: 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

A: 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.

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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20100809

DeWar's unveils new-look portfolio

The top-selling premium Scotch in the U.S. has changed its look.

DeWar's Blended Scotch Whisky today released information on its White Label, 12 Years Old, 18 Years Old and Signature brands.

It visually links the products as one unit for the first time in the brand's history. While the whiskies remain the same, the new look will be heavily used in advertising campaigns.

Suggested retail prices for the 750ml bottles: White Label, $21.99; 12 Years Old, $28.99; 18 Years Old, $79.99; Signature, $199.99.

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Bill's eMailbox: In search of 1893 book

Q: I'm trying to find a book on making spirits. I believe at one time I found a reference to it on your blog. The book is "The Manufacture of Spirit As Conducted In the Distilleries of the United Kingdom" (1893) by J.A. Nettleton.

Any idea where I might get this book in any form, including digital?

Brendan Wheatley

A: Amazon.com has one (1) copy of this out-of-print and rare book. Just go to the "books" section of their website and type in the title and author.

For comparison's sake, you might also want to consider getting a copy of a more up-to-date book, such as "Craft of Whiskey Distilling" or "Modern Moonshine Techniques," both by Bill Owens, founder of the American Distilling Institute.

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20100806

Stoli adding 12th flavored vodka

Stolichnaya, an industry trailblazer in flavored vodkas, has another one ready for its portfolio.

Stoli Wild Cherri Vodka is scheduled for an October release, making it the 12th flavored vodka for the label.

The company says it is made with a natural refined fruit extract. It is made in the distiller's Riga, Latvia, facility.

The suggested retail price for the new flavor is $23,99 for the 750ml bottle.

Stoli's other flavored vodkas are Ohranj, Blueberi, Razberi, Vanil, Citros, Cranberi, Peachik, Strasberi, Blakberi, Gala Applik and White Ponegranik.

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20100805

Poll: Drinking moves from bars to homes

From TIME magazine

When the going gets tough, the tough, um, go drinking. That's the word from a new Gallup poll showing that 67% of Americans are hitting the bottle, the most since 1985. Another sign of challenging economic times: more and more of those rounds are happening in the kitchen, not at the corner pub.

A new report by Mintel International, a market-research firm, shows that a growing number of Americans are guzzling down wine and spirits at home as opposed to in bars and restaurants, and many are trading down to cheaper brands as they seek fiscally conscious ways to party in a sluggish economy.

[Go here for the full story.]

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Canadian Mist adds 'Black Diamond'

Later this month, Canadian Mist Whisky will send a new Black Diamond expression to selected markets.

The premium line extension has been blended at 86 proof by new master blender Steve Hughes, and has a higher sherry and rye content than the standard Canadian Mist.

"Our consumers told us they wanted a premium offering from their favorite brand for those special occasions and every day celebrations," Hughes said. "We wanted to enhance two main flavor attributes that are the key contributors to our gold medal-winning formula."

Canadian Mist Black Diamond will have a suggested retail price of $14.99 for a 750ml bottle. It will launch in six markets -- Texas, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Colorado and Georgia -- with other markets to be added next year. Of course, it will be available immediately throughout Canada.

Hughes became Mist's master blender when Harold Ferguson retired earlier this year. Go here for a report on a lesson in blending I got from Ferguson several years ago.

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A celebri-quote: Patricia Clarkson

• Oscar nominee ("Pieces of April") Patricia Clarkson recently completed filming "Cairo Time" in Egypt. In an interview with PopEater.com, she answered questions about food and drink there.

Q: Did you eat a lot of Middle Eastern food?

A: To some extent. I don't know if you've known anyone who has gone to Cairo, but it's kind of like Mexico -- you get sick. But I never got sick, so whenever I ate, I ate pretty much the same thing. There was nothing for them to shoot if I got sick, so I was religious about it. But I had some beautiful food and beautiful Egyptian wine.

Q: So you're telling me you never got food poisoning ... but you were tipsy on the set.

A: [Laughs] Yes, that's all I drank. No, at the end of the week when I didn't have to shoot the next day -- oh my, the beautiful wines and the sun setting over the Nile...

Q:
You've been described as having a whiskey voice.

A: I don't like whiskey at all, but I have always liked bourbon.

[Go here for more celebri-quotes.]

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20100801

Parker's bourbon series wheat this time

This year's edition of the Parker's Heritage Collection bourbon from Heaven Hill is coming out this month.

It's a 10-year old, non-chill filtered, cask strength wheated bourbon, something different from Heaven Hill's usual rye mash.

It is priced at a suggested retail price of $80 for each of the 4,800 750 ml bottles being released. This is the fourth release in this series. However, it is the first of the series produced at the Bernheim Distillery in Lousiville, KY, where Heaven Hill makes its Old Fitzgerald bourbon.

[Here is a link to my original 2007 story announcing the startup of the Parker's Heritage Collection series.]

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20100731

Last of Royal Navy's rum for sale

It has been exactly 40 years since the last daily ration of rum was handed out to members of the Royal Navy.

On July 31, 1970, on what was known as "Black Tot Day, the tradition going back some 300 years ended, with sailors wearing black armbands and conducting mock funerals to bid farewell to the rations.

That did not mean, however, that the rum was all gone. A small supply from E.D. & F. Man & Co, official rum merchants to the Navy since 1784, was stored in wicker-clad stone veessels and went untouched except for state occasions.

Now the remaining 6,000 bottles, each in a dark wooden case with a copper cup measuring the official "half gill" measure, are going on sale at £600 ($940 U.S.) each at the HMS Belfast anchored on the River Thames in London.

[Go here for the story of the Royal Navy's rum ration, known as "grog."]

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Beam sends six-grain spirit to limited outlets

Jim Beam is known mostly for the consistency of its standard version of bourbon. That's one reason it is such a favorite with cocktail makers for such classics as the Manhattan.

Now, the Brown-Forman company that owns the brand has come up with a new six-grain expression called Jim Beam Signature. It is being tried at the moment as a product available only through what is known as "travel retail" -- in other word, European duty-free shops -- at 29.99 euros per bottle.

It is made from a blend of spirits distilled from corn, barley, wheat, triticale, rye and brown rice. (And, no, "Start Trek" fans, triticale is not the same grain used in the immortal episode "The Trouble With Tribbles." That was quadro-triticale.)

The limited-production spirit -- 13,800 bottles of the six-year-old, 89-proof spirit, to be precise -- is, says a gramatically-challenged company statement, "a result of us mingling different bourbons together. Each were made from a standard bourbon recipe (high percentage of single grains). For instance, we distilled a high wheat, small grain bourbon; a high triticale, small grain bourbon; and a high brown rice, small grain bourbon. Each were barreled separately then mingled together prior to bottling."

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Moscow heat makes wedding cocktails haute

From RIA Novosti

MOSCOW -- A blistering heat wave that has been engulfing Russia since mid-June has forced Muscovites to change their wedding traditions.

"Nobody expected such a heat wave; applications for [marriage] registrations are submitted two months in advance. ... It's sad to see newlyweds and guests limp from the heat at their wedding receptions" a wedding planner said.

Moscow newlyweds traditionally tour Moscow having their photos taken at the city's main tourist attractions after they tie the knot, but the heat is forcing couples to give the custom a miss.

There has also been a move away from the heavy spirits, usually drunk at Russian weddings, towards ice-filled cocktails, with many wedding makers ordering a full cocktail bar for the big day.

A second absolute temperature record this week was registered in Moscow on Thursday. Temperatures reached 99.8F, the Fobos meteorological center said. The previous record of 98.9F was registered on Monday.

The heat that has gripped Moscow since mid-June has become a new urban trend-setter and made Muscovites choose light beachwear for outings and even subway trips.

For the past four weeks temperatures across western Russia have topped 95F, killing scores of people and creating what is thought to be the worst drought since 1972.

RIA Novosti journalists have noticed that Muscovites try to peel off as many clothes as they can. Young women in swimsuit bras and hot pants as well as men in shorts have been seen in various stations of the Moscow metro.

On the whole, women abandon high-heeled shoes in favor of flat ones. Muscovites have tuned to doctors' advice and wear caps and hats to avoid heat stroke.

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'Sex and The City 2' better in a bottle

"Sex and The City 2" was a bust with critics and at the box office this summer, but Skyy vodka is hoping its promotional tie-in with the film is more successful.

The distiller teamed up with Patricia Field, costume designer for the flick, to create a limited-edition bottle for the vodka brand.

The push was to connect in the minds of consumers and "couture and cocktails/" You can add another name to the promotional credits for Sex and the City 2, but we give them credit for this one – what other movie would have its own official vodka? The return of Carrie and crew will also mark the return of a special edition Skyy bottle lending its cobalt blue imprimatur to "sophisticated cocktail culture around the world."

At the time the first "SATC" film came out in 2008, I was in Edinburgh, Scotland. The top cocktail lounges there -- and there are many good ones in the cocktail-mad city -- had whipped up special promotions and drinks to mark the cinematic event. They, at least, had a good film to work with.

Suggested retail price for the new 750 ml bottle: $18.49.

Cosmopolitans have long been the signature cocktail of the "Sex and The City" franchise. The simplest recipe:

2 ounces vodka
½ ounce Triple Sec
Splash of cranberry juice
Squeeze of fresh lime

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with fresh ice, shake well, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a slice of fresh lime.

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VA distillery to mimic Scottish style

LOVINGSTON, VA -- A distillery its owners say will be different than other American facilities is under construction.

The Virginia Distillery Company's project on a 15-acre site in Eades Hollow, Nelson County, about midway between Lynchburg and Charlottesville.

The company currently is making whiskey in Scotland and importing it until the new site is up and running. Once that happens sometime next year, say company officials, they will produce what they claim is the first single malt whiskey in the U.S. using the traditional Scottish recipe and genuine copper pot stills.

Whiskey is getting a sharper focus here these days, since state law began allowing ABC stores to provide in-store samples of some products. That is a Virginia first, and it took effect July 1.

"There is an American craft whiskey movement that is emerging all over the country and we are part of the forefront of that," said Pat Jones-McCray, vice president of marketing for the Virginia Distillery Company.

The noted Scottish master distiller James McEwan of Bruichladdich has prepared a vatted malt for the Virginia company, although he has no other connection with the project.

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20100728

Whiskey infusers debut green tea vodka

In 2005, the Phillips Distilling Company came up with cherry- and vanilla-infused blended whiskies under the Phillips Union brand name. In 2008, they added Prairie brand organic vodka. This week, the enthusiastic infusers at the Minnesota company introduced UV Sweet Green Tea Vodka.

"This is not your grandmother’s sweet tea," said Dean Phillips, president and CEO of Phillips Distilling, in a statement.

An early run of the vodka recently won the Distinguished Platinum Medal by the Spirits International Prestige Awards in San Diego.

This is the 12th variety of flavored vodka bearing the UV brand. Among earlier flavors were lemonade, cherry, coconut, vanilla and grape.

UV Sweet Green Tea Vodka is sold at a suggested retail price of $12.99 for a 750 ml bottle.

Phillips's other brands include Trader Vic’s Rums, Liqueurs and Cocktails' Feckin Irish Whiskey; SourPuss Liqueurs, and Ice Hole Liqueurs. Obviously, class isn't part of the company's attempts at an image.

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20100726

Dunkeld liqueur undergoes a relaunch

Heard of Dunkeld Athol Brose liqueur? Well, if the name doesn't come readily, and trippingly, to the tongue, Gordon & MacPhail is seeking to change that.

The Scottish distiller has relaunched the liqueur, made with honey, oatmeal and Speyside malt whisky. The new packaging features an illustration of a well which features in the legend on which the drink is based.

Local lore has it that the Earl of Atholl in A.D. 1475 lured the rebel Iain MacDonald to a well filled with honey, oatmeal and whisky, where the earl captured him as he drank. If true, it shows how foolish Mr. MacDonald was. If not true, it's a fine marketing ploy.

Says Michael Urquhart, Gordon & MacPhail joint managing director, "Dunkeld Atholl Brose is a product with a fascinating history. It has a wide appeal and can be enjoyed all year round, either on its own or as the base for a cocktail. We’re hoping this rebrand will encourage younger consumers to discover this versatile drink."

Dunkeld Atholl Brose is bottled at 35% abd (70 proof) in 50cl bottles, marketed at a suggested retail price of US$30.

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20100723

The Pisco Sour: How sweet it is

At one time, the sour was a popular cocktail form. It could be a Whiskey Sour, a Brandy Sour, an Apricot Sour or whatever locally popular form you came across.

Although those drinks have been around since the early years of the 20th Century, my favorite version came into being in, by most accounts, the late 1800s. It's the Pisco Sour, the main ingredient being the South American brandy in the name which predates the cocktail itself by about 400 years.

Pisco itself is a delightful distillation of grapes. The name comes from the Peruvian town of Pisco, which in turn got its name from the indigenous Quechua language word for a type of bird abundant in the region or, perhaps more to the point, the Pisku people who ruled in pre-Incan times.

However, credit for the creation of pisco remains a matter of intense debate between aficionados in Peru and Chile. At the time of its creation, what now is Chile was part of Peru. Many of the muscat grape vines that produced the fruit used to make pisco were transplanted to central Chile. Early in this century, Chile began a major marketing campaign claiming ownership of pisco as its national drink. But, Peru may have gained a slight edge in 2003 by declaring a National Pisco Sour Day be marked on the first Saturday of every February.

Rather than take sides, I like to credit the Spanish throne for the invention of pisco by banning wine in its Peruvian-region colonies in the 17th Century, thus pressuring the locals into coming up with a new form of adult beverage. It probably is no coincidence that the Spanish empire, embarking on a long line of bad decisions, slipped into a prolonged decline at about that point.

The whole pisco thing came to mind the other day when I was enjoying several of them in El Serrano, an elegant Peruvian/Mexican restaurant in Lancaster, PA, located in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country where I was vacationing. (Hey, we're a melting pot, right?)

I was explaining to my dinner companions that the traditional pisco sour contains the clear brandy, lemon or lime juice, egg whites, simple syrup, and bitters of whatever sort is locally available. But, to avoid lulling them into a stupor, I had greatly simplified. The history of pisco goes much deeper.

In his book "Wings of Cherubs," Guillermo Toro Lira said a version of the drink emerged in the Viceroyalty of Peru (created in A.D. 1542), with a pisco-and-lemon mixture known as "punche." The drink had made its way to the U.S. by the early 20th Century. One of its more popular proponents was the Bank Exchange Bar in San Francisco which made it with the brandy, lemon and pineapple. In between those years, numerous stories were published in various countries giving credit for the invention of the Pisco Sour -- and its several recipes -- to various individuals.

Variations run the gamut, from the basic pisco and citrus, the latter which accounts for the word "sour," to sweeteners such as simple syrup and fruit juices, to the Aji Sour with a spicy green chili or the Sour Haas with avocado, pineapple and mint.

Today, the production of pisco begins when the grapevines are tied with wet cattails to hardwood logs to make them grow horizontally. Vineyard workers begin pruning the vines in early August. Once ripe, the grapes are taken to lagares, the wine press houses, to be crushed the same day to prevent acidification. The grape "must" then is put into slanted earthen containers, called pisqueras. The outdoor fermentation process lasts up to two weeks. The contents of the containers then are distilled to create the aguardiente, or finished alcoholic beverage.

Here are several variations on the Pisco Sour recipe:

TRADITIONAL PISCO SOUR

3 parts Pisco brandy
1½ parts lemon juice
1 to 2 tablespoons fine sugar

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with fresh ice. Shake until the ice is melted, then pour into a chilled highball glass and garnish with a lemon or lime slice.

PERU TRAVELER

1 egg white
1 tablespoon sugar
1 glass of Pisco brandy
Juice of 6 limes
Chopped ice
Angostura bitters
(Makes 6 drinks)

Beat the egg white and sugar in a blender. Add Pisco, lime juice, ice and Angostura bitters. Mix well and pour into shot glasses.

PISCO SLUSHIE

4 cups ice cubes
1 cup Pisco brandy
⅓ cup lemon juice
⅓ cup white sugar
1 egg white
Aromatic bitters

Put the ice cubes, Pisco, lemon juice, sugar, egg white, and bitters in the bowl of a blender. Blend on high speed until finely pureed. Pour into two glasses and garnish with an additional dash of bitters.

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20100715

Quad Cities getting new distillery

• From KCRG-TV

LeCLAIRE, IA - Construction has begun on a new distillery here that expects to begin operation later this year.

Mississippi River Distilling Co. plans to produce handmade premium gin, vodka and whiskey made from locally-grown grains. It would be the first distillery to operate in the Quad Cities since the end of Prohibition and the second eastern Iowa distillery to produce spirits from Iowa corn and other grains.

Cedar Ridge Vineyards Winery & Distillery in Swisher manufactures bourbon whiskey, brandy, gin, grappa, rum, vodka and wine from locally-grown fruits and grains. On July 1, Cedar Ridge became the first Iowa distillery to produce bourbon whiskey from corn since the end of Prohibition.

Garrett Burchett, a partner with Mississippi River Distilling, said the public will be able to tour the company’s distillery to see the production of vodka, gin and bourbon whiskey.

[Go here for the full story.]


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