Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wednesday Sips & Nibbles

I am here with a special Wednesday edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I briefly highlight some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently. There are plenty of interesting events coming up soon in the local area.
1)  In celebration of Leap Year, and this year’s extra calendar day, Chef Paul Turano of Tryst restaurant, located in Arlington, is offering a menu special which will have guests leaping for joy, almost literally. On Wednesday, February 29, from 5pm-10pm, Chef Turano will be serving a Fried Buffalo Frog Legs special, for $8, featuring a spicy rice krispie coating, Stilton blue cheese and celery sticks.

4 frog legs
3 tablespoons buttermilk
½ tablespoons Sriracha
1 cup rice krispies
1 cup of flour
1 chopped shallot
black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup of Franks Hot Sauce
2 tablespoons of honey

1. Marinate the frog legs with salt, pepper, Sriracha and buttermilk and allow to stand in the fridge for 30 minutes
2. Remove from legs, dredge in flour, salt and pepper and rice krispies, dip in buttermilk mixture and recoat with remaining flour and rice krispies.
3. Deep fry at 350 degrees for 6-7 minutes or until fully fried.
4. Remove and lay of paper towels to drain oil.
5. In a bowl mix together butter, Franks hot sauce, honey and chopped shallot.
6. Toss legs in mixture and Plate with Stilton blue cheese and celery sticks.

Reservations are recommended. Please call 781-641-2227

2)  Legal Sea Foods soon will feature a specialty menu highlighting the “Taste of Azores.” Indulge in the seafood-abundant, intensely flavored, hearty cuisine that this archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean has to offer.

The closest point to Europe from America, the Azores have bonds with New England that date back over three hundred years. Ships traveling to the New World would often stop in the Azores to restore supplies before continuing the journey to their final destination, New England, while also taking with them the first tastes of the Azores. At the heart of this cuisine is a wealth of fresh seafood steeped in the centuries-old traditional practices of the Azores which are marked by a deep respect for the plentiful species in the waters surrounding the islands.

Legal Sea Foods’ Azorean-inspired specialty menu features the following. For appetizers, options include: Escabeche de Camarão (Shrimp Escabeche with sweet and sour peppers and onions - $8.95); Polvo à Lagareiro (Braised Octopus with punched potatoes, caramelized pearl onion, roasted kale - $9.95); and, Pastéis de Bacalhau (Salt Cod Fritters with chouriço aioli - $8.95). For entrees, selections include: Peixe Frito (Crispy Fish with tomato rice, port braised shallots, Azorean pepper tartar sauce - $16.95); Espadarte Grelhado (Grilled Swordfish with shrimp açorda, garlicky green beans, cilantro - $22.95); Arroz Cremoso de Peixe (Creamy Seafood Rice with clams, shrimp, white fish - $16.95); and, Torremos de Porco com Aměijoas (Braised Pork with Clams, olive oil fried potato, pickled vegetable - $18.95). For dessert, indulge in the Gelado de Figo (Fig Ice Cream with traditional Azorean pastry - $5.95).

The “Taste of Azores” menu is available at all Legal Sea Foods locations in Massachusetts and Rhode Island from March 14th through April 11th. For more information and a chance to win a dream vacation to the Azores, please visit:

3)  Guest Chef Hákon Már Örvarsson, Bocuse d’Or and World Culinary Cup winner, has created a special Icelandic menu with Chef Matthew Audette of Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks. Sourcing the freshest ingredients straight from Iceland, the two chefs will collaborate to offer a unique, four course menu that will showcase the best of Nordic cuisine to Boston-area diners. In addition, the restaurant will feature a custom-made Reyka Vodka cocktail created by Eastern Standard Bar Director Jackson Cannon.

The featured cocktail offered is called Iceland's Bell, named for the seminal work of Nobel-prize winning Icelandic author Halldor Laxness. This light and savory sour, highlights the indigenous flavors of crowberry, rhubarb, sea salt and wild thyme in harmony with the pure minerality of Reyka, an Icelandic Vodka.

The Icelandic Menu will be offered from March 1-4, for $65.00 and will include:

First Course
House made cold smoked filet of Icelandic Arctic char. Served with grainy mustard crème fraiche, dill oil and Icelandic rye bread.
Second Course
Grilled Icelandic Langoustine tails sprinkled with grinded “Söl” Icelandic seaweed. Served in garlic butter on top of creamy mousseline potatoes, fresh herbs and tomato-shallot dressing
Main Course
Icelandic free range lamb filet flavored with wild herbs and dried blueberries. Served with glazed root vegetables, carrot purée and juniper berry infused lamb jus reduction.
Dessert Course
“Skyrkaka:” a delicate mousse of Icelandic Skyr on top of a hazelnut-oat crust. Served with cinnamon flavored rhubarb and strawberry compote.

Reservations can be made by calling 617-532-9100.

4)  Celebrate the 3rd Anniversary of Swissbäkers, located in Reading, and join the for a day of family-fun, raffle prizes and complimentary Swiss treats. On Wednesday, March 7, from 5:30am-2pm, they will be celebrating at their Reading location, 32 Lincoln Street.

Enjoy Swissbäkers baked goods and complimentary offerings:
--George Howell coffee in a signature swissbäkers mug
--Juice and chocolate milk (for all children under the age of 10)
--Appearances by the Swiss Consul (7am-9am) and Reading Town Manager (7:30am-8:30am)
Activities for children and families including a magician (11am-2pm) and The Lindt Easter Bunny Car with chocolate samples
--Enter to win many exciting raffle prizes including two Switzerland hotel packages: One-week stay at Hotel Albana, Silvaplana, Switzerland (For two people, airfare not included) or a Two-night stay at Hotel Lauberhorn, Grindelwald, Switzerland coupled with a three-night stay at Hotel Loewen, Melchnau, Switzerland (For two people, airfare not included)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Turkey Shore Distilleries: Rum With A Sense of History

Could there be a historical connection between Privateer Rum and Turkey Shore Distilleries? Could the historic individuals, Andrew Cabot and John Heard, who inspired these new rum distilleries been involved together in privateering? This is a fascinating historical puzzle, one I would like to further explore in the near future.

On the same day that I toured Privateer Rum, I also visited Turkey Shore Distilleries, another new rum distillery in Ipswich. Turkey Shore was founded in 2010 by two childhood friends, Evan Parker (pictured on the left) and Mat Perry (pictured on the right). Mat is a former high school history teacher and Evan, who works as their Master Distiller, is enamored with history as well. This strong passion for history is a primary component of their distillery, and touched upon my own love for history. While engaged in local research, they realized they had a personal connection to a rum distillery from colonial times.

Evan and Mat both grew up on Turkey Shore Road in Ipswich, which once was the site of a rum distillery. In 1765, William Story Sr. purchased a plot of land on Turkey Shore Road and soon after constructed a rum distillery. On May 1, 1770, William then sold the land and distillery, in equal shares, to his son, William Story, Jr. and John Heard, though sometime soon after, Heard would acquire full title to the  property and distillery, which would continue to operate until 1836.

Along the nearby Ipswich River, there was a wharf, once known as Dodge's Wharf though which later took on the name of Hunt's Wharf, which was a port for ships importing molasses and other goods. Hunt's Wharf was located in what is now Mat's back yard. The molasses would be unloaded from the ships and then rolled across the street to Heard's distillery. In addition, the distillery manager was Nathaniel Heard, who once lived in Mat’s house. Between 1795 and 1800, John Heard built himself a mansion, which still exists and is now a museum and the offices of the Ipswich Historical Society. In February 1818, John Heard transferred ownership of the distillery to his son, George Heard.

As I mentioned previously, Andrew Cabot once owned a rum distillery in Beverly, so it is likely his company was a competitor to John Heard's distillery in Ipswich. Being engaged in the same business, it seems likely they knew each other. What really intrigues me though is the question whether these two men had a privateering connection or not. During the Revolutionary War, Andrew Cabot became a privateer, plying the waters against the British while John Heard financed a number of privateers. Did Heard help to finance Cabot's privateering efforts? I don't know right now but it is worth some additional research.

Mat and Evan desire to create affordable, artisan rum in an old New England style, and they did plenty of historical research on rum production, which is reflected in much they do. They also follow a compelling philosophy of using local when available, and then sourcing domestic as a back-up. About the only item they use which is not local or domestic are their bottles, which are produced in Germany.

Pictured above, the large white tank is for their molasses, which is table-grade rather than low quality blackstrap molasses. Pursuant to their philosophy, the molasses is not sourced from the Caribbean, but is more domestic, usually from Louisiana or sometimes Florida.

Turkey Shore has four 500 gallon, open top fermenters and each one is named after one of the original owners, John Heard and William Story Jr., and their sons. An open top fermenter is very traditional, and it is also supposed to be easier to use and easier to clean. Usually, they mix into the fermenter about 75-100 gallons of molasses with 400 gallons of water and this mixture ferments for about 12 days. That results in a "molasses beer" with an alcohol content of 9-12%.

Above, you can see that "molasses beer" which has almost completed its fermentation. The picture also shows wires that sticking down into the mixture and they are used to provide heat to the interior of the fermenting liquid. That is necessary as they are using a Rhum Agricole-style yeast which requires the heat throughout the mixture, and without the wires extending through this large tank, the yeast might stall and prevent proper fermentation.

After more research into the type of rum they wished to produce, Mat and Evan had a 250-gallon copper pot  still custom-built by Vendome Copper & Brass Works in Kentucky. They use only a pot still, not column distillation, and there is no automation involved. Everything is assessed by taste and feel, providing a more artisan product. In addition, this is more of a traditional method, rather than the heavily automated processes found in some large, commercial distilleries.

The two barrels, pictured above, have seen quite a journey, starting out in Spain where they were used to age sherry. In time, those barrels then traveled to Scotland, to be used for Macallan Scotch. Eventually, the barrels were transported to Massachusetts where they were first used by Samuel Adams Brewery and then by the Ipswich Ale Brewery.  Finally, they came to Turkey Shore Disillery, where they are primarily decorative, the housing for distilling equipment. But what a history those barrels possess.

The first barrel holds the condenser while the second barrel contains a retort, which allows them to distill to high alcohol while still retaining flavor. They normally conduct 3 distillations, including the stripping run, spirit run and then the retort.

After distillation, their white rum gets blended with redistilled water to reduce it down to about 90 proof and then it is run through charcoal filters, those thin pipes on the right in the photo, to strip off its rough edges, the cheaper alcohols. Then, it can be bottled.

Their amber rum undergoes barrel aging in mostly new American oak, from northern Minnesota, with a medium char. They own about 100 barrels, using 15 gallon and 5 gallon casks, feeling that the smaller barrels give better oak notes in a shorter time period.  About 30 of their 15 gallon barrels are currently full of aging rum. Their 5 gallon casks are new and first use oak, and primarily used to produce special edition rums or be part of their consumer by the barrel program. The main problem with these 5 gallon barrels is that there is a greater amount of "angel's share," that amount of rum lost to evaporation during aging.

The amber rum is a blend, and they do all of their own blending rather than hiring an outside expert. This is another element of their artisan focus, doing as much in-house as possible. They feel that their amber rum drinks more like a whiskey with rum flavors.

Turkey Shore currently produces two rums, a white and amber, respectively named Old Ipswich White Cap Rum and Old Ipswich Tavern Style Amber. In addition, probably in May, they will release a third product, a spiced rum called Old Ipswich Green Head Rum.They try to get local artists to design the paintings on their labels. Both their white and amber rums were originally designed to be used for mixing in cocktails, but they are also sippable on their own. Mat and Evan led me through a tasting of their three rums.

The Old Ipswich White Cap Rum ($21-$23) is named "for the tempestuous seas that define New England coastal living."  This white rum has a mellow aroma, subtle floral notes with touches of herbs. On the palate, it is relatively smooth, with a little bite on the finish, and mild flavors of vanilla and herbs. Though you could sip this on its own, my personal preference would be to mix it in a cocktail. It is far superior to many of the big commercial white rums out there, such as Bacardi.

The Old Ipswich Tavern Style Amber (about $26) spends about six months in a 15 gallon cask, and they wax dip the end of the bottle neck. I was really enamored with this rum, which had plenty of complexity and depth, and interesting flavors of vanilla, caramel, butterscotch, herbs and a subtle smoky aspect. It actually did remind me of a whiskey in some regards, and I would certainly drink this on its own rather than mix into a cocktail. The smaller casks seem to provide more depth to the rum, in a shorter time period, than does a larger cask as is used at Privateer Rum. This Tavern Style Amber is highly recommended.

In their researches, Mat and Evan found many historical recipes for spiced rums so they decided to produce some special editions of their own, using local ingredients as best as possible. Their Old Ipswich Green Head Rum (likely around $23-$25) is their first spiced rum and has been created with lemongrass, green tea, and spearmint. Its aroma is strong with the spearmint and on the palate it is very herbal, with a backbone of green tea, and presents a very unique taste. For my own personal tastes, I would not drink it on its own but it could form the basis for some interesting cocktails. I look forward though to future spiced rums they develop.

Currently, Turkey Shore has about 100-110 accounts, a rough 50/50 split between restaurants and wine/liquor stores, and mostly on the North Shore though they have started making some inroads into Boston. They recently partnered with Burke Distributing Corp., a full service beverage distributor, to spread their rums to Boston and southern Massachusetts, so you should soon start seeing their products in a number of local liquor stores and restaurants.

Turkey Shore is located next to the Ipswich Brewery, which will be moving in a few months and then Turkey Shore will expand into their space, giving them much more room. They also hope to partner with Ipswich Brewery to produce a whiskey, using grain grown within 5 miles of the distillery.  Ipswich Brewery owns some nearby farms, and they would supply the grain to Turkey Shore for the whiskey. Turkey Shore also plans to create some different styles of rum and well as more spiced rum.

Like Privateer Rum, Turkey Shore is still a new company, continuing to learn and refine their products, but has already done well and has much potential. Mat and Evan have a true passion and it can be infectious, and I love the fact that they have great respect for the history of rum, including local history. They produce a very artisan product, with primarily local and domestic ingredients, and that is very appealing. Their Tavern Style Amber is an excellent product and I strongly urge you to check it out. If you are in Ipswich, stop by for a tour and tasting. If not, look for their products at local restaurants and wine/liquor stores.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Rant: Blame The Wine Distributors

It is a subtle means of mind control, and the blame must go to certain wine distributor representatives.

Some recent wine tastings, run by wine distributor representatives, have brought this issue once again before my eyes. These were small tastings, with only about 3-6 wines, that were held in local wine stores. For consumers, these are great opportunities to taste and learn about wine, to get a better idea of their own palate. I always recommend that consumers taste all of the wines available, as you never know which wines you might find appealing. Expand your palate and take a chance on something different.

When a consumer buys a wine without tasting it first, they must rely on other factors to determine whether they might enjoy the wine or not. They might take the advice of a wine store employee, or like what they see on a shelf talker. They might be relying on the recommendations of friends, or have seen a review of the wine elsewhere.  Whether or not you agree with it, some people also rely on wine scores in helping to make their decision.

But, if you get to taste the wine first, then wine scores should be irrelevant to your decision. It shouldn't matter how many points Robert Parker might have awarded a wine. All that is important is what you think about the wine, whether you enjoy the taste or not. It all revolves around your own palate, your own preferences. The unknown has been removed from the equation so you don't need many of the other factors to help you decide on selecting a wine.

So why do many wine distributor representatives presiding at a tasting feel the need to tell people the scores of the wines they are pouring? It should be irrelevant to the customers' decision to purchase the wines, as the key should be what they think about the taste. Instead, information on scores may be seen more as a form of mind manipulation, and may also cause to intimidate customers. All directed to the goal of selling more wine rather than the promotion of a wine drinking community. That is wrong.

For example, a customer might be told by a wine distributor representative of a wine's high score before he actually tastes the wine. That can manipulate a customer's perception of a wine, making him think that he should like the wine because it received a high score. The customer's personal taste becomes less important than the palate of a professional wine critic. If the person actually dislikes the wine, then he might feel bad about it, intimidated that he actually does not "get wine" because his experience is so different from the wine professionals who scored the wine highly. We should not be intimidating consumers, but rather instead should be making wine more friendly.

So, though the goal of the wine distributors is to sell more wine, their promotion of wine scores might actually cause the opposite reaction. Maybe they sell a few more wines at that tasting, but they might also be turning away future purchases from those consumers they have intimidated. If those same consumers learn to trust their own palates, without concern for wine scores, they are more likely to buy more wine in the future. They will feel more confident in their abilities, and more likely to experiment and expand their palates. But if they feel inadequate because their tastes do not conform to the scores the wine distributor representative stated, then they are less likely to expand their buying.

Wine distributors, if you hold a tasting, then don't discuss wine scores. Let the consumers taste the wines, and rely on their own palate and preferences. Stop manipulating them, making wine more intimidating.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sake Exports Continue To Rise

(The above sign says, Umai Nihonshu Arimasu, which translates as "Great sake here.")

In a December 2011 post, I mentioned that though Sake exports had struck a rough patch in 2009, due to economic issues, they had roared back in 2010, actually setting a record. From January to November 2010, Sake exports reached 12,223 kiloliters, more than the prior record of 12,151 set in 2008. Of those exports, approximately 25% went to the U.S.

Now, The Mainichi Daily News reports that Sake exports in 2011 have set a new record, a very positive continuation from 2010.  In 2011, Sake exports reached 14,013 kiloliters, up about 243 kiloliters from the previous year. It had previously been thought that exports might take a hit in 2011 because of the terrible disasters which struck northern Japan in March 2011. The earthquakes and tsunami destroyed and damaged a number of Sake breweries in the Tohoku region. Plus, fears of contamination from the nuclear problems at Fukushima Power Plant raised consumer concerns.

But, numerous PR campaigns and programs were launched to help the Japanese Sake industry and they apparently were effective, considering the record number of exports. The public has reacted very favorably, buying sake to help support the industry, to help the recovery. I hope that this continues through 2012 and beyond, and that more people are willing to take a chance on premium sake. Wine stores and restaurants should take notice of this surge in sake interest and carry it at their establishments.  Sake is a fascinating and diverse alcoholic beverage which would appeal to most people if they only tasted it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Privateer Rum: Silver Reserve to True American

In many respects, a privateer was simply a legal pirate, and an enemy would not even accept the validity of their legality. Privateers received letters of marque from a government, granting them the right to attack foreign ships, and they were frequently used during the 16th-19th centuries. During the Revolutionary War, American privateers plied the waters, attacking British ships, and one of those privateers was Andrew Cabot. Six generations later, his descendant and namesake, Andrew Cabot, is honoring this history with the creation of Privateer Rum.

About five years ago, Andrew Cabot discovered the history of his ancestor, and also learned that the original Andrew Cabot had operated a rum distillery in Beverly, Massachusetts. This inspired Andrew, and with his partner Nelse Clark, they started a rum distillery in Ipswich. Recently, I toured their facility, getting to meet Nelse and Jeff Murphy, their Head Distiller, and tasted their two products.

The distillery, which opened last year, is nestled in a warehouse within an industrial area of Ipswich, a short distance from the Clam Box. Cabot and Clark initially hired Eric Watson, a Master Distiller from West Virginia, to design their facility and create the basic recipes for their rum. Since then, Jeff Murphy has been refining those basic recipes, so they can produce a unique product. Jeff has a background in commercial brewing, having spent a couple years in Singapore and then a number of years in San Antonio, Texas, making vodka and whiskey. Jeff explained to me how they made the rum, answering all of my questions.

In making rum, obviously the most important ingredients are the sugar products that are used, most rums being produced from molasses. There are three basic quality levels of molasses, the lowest being blackstrap. Privateer does not use blackstrap in their rums, preferring a higher quality molasses, and obtain their sugars and molasses from AmCane Sugar, LLC., most which seems to originate from the Caribbean. In addition, not all of their rums use molasses.

They currently have two fermenters, pictured above, which each hold 15 barrels, and they will soon obtain a third fermenter, which will be twice as large. They typically ferment their product for about six days, creating a mixture that is about 8% alcohol. The alcohol will then be stripped out and the mixture will next go be placed into the pot still.

Privateer uses both a pot still and column still to produce their rums. First, the mixture is put into the pot still until it reaches about 40% alcohol when it is then put through column distillation, which will create a liquid that is 40%-90% alcohol. Next, that portion of the rum which is designated to become white rum will be placed into stainless steel tanks for a time until bottling. It takes about eight weeks for their white rum to go from column distillation to bottling.

The portion of their rum that will become amber rum will undergo oak aging, starting with a period of about 6-8 weeks in Hungarian oak. They use new charred barrels, most with a medium toast and medium char, though they have some with a medium toast and heavy char. After some experimentation, they discovered that Hungarian oak gave their rum the specific flavor profile that they desired. After that time, the rum will then be placed into used Bourbon American oak barrels. Their amber rum ages for approximately four months, though they are aging a small portion for much longer. At the moment, they possess about 25-30 barrels which contain aging rum.

Their amber rum is a blend, and Privateer hires Nancy Fraley, the Director of Research at the American Distilling Institute in San Francisco, to blend their rum for them. Above, you can see a small portion of the sample bottles that Nancy uses to create a blend, indicative of the complexity of the process. Though the amber rum will be essentially similar from batch to batch, there will be some minor flavor variation as this type of artisan blending is far from an exact science. The first two production runs of the amber rum were only about 100 cases each.

Jeff believes that the specific sugars, amount of aging and type of oak that they use makes their rum more unique than other rums on the market. Their rums generally have light rum flavors, as they do not rely on as much molasses as other distilleries use. Jeff also told me that there is really no tough part of his job, and his enthusiasm and passion for his work and rum was quite evident.

Privateer currently produces two rums, a white and amber, respectively named Silver Reserve and True American. The flag on their bottle label is the original 13 stripes and "True American" was the name of a ship in the fleet owned by the original Andrew Cabot. Both rums were primarily intended to be used for mixing in cocktails, but they are also sippable on their own. Nelse ran me through a tasting of their two rums, as well as giving me other rums to compare them against, such as Bacardi White and Mount Gay Eclipse.

First, I began with the Silver Reserve White Rum ($23-$27), which is made only from cane sugar and brown sugar, without any molasses. So, in some respects it reminded me more of a Cachaça than other rums. It is 80 proof, and had a very appealing nose, smells of tropical fruit, such as banana, with herbal accents. Both come out on the palate as well, especially the herbs, such as anise and fennel. It actually presents a fairly complex taste, very different from many other white rums, and I very much enjoyed its herbal elements. In addition, it is fairly smooth on the palate, with only a mild bite on the finish.

This is actually a white rum that I could drink on its own, such as on the rocks with maybe a sprig of basil. They suggested that in making cocktails with this rum, that using herbs might be best to bring out the rum's flavors. For example, they suggest a Light & Stormy, using their rum, ginger beer and some muddled basil. As I prefer more savory cocktails, this rum would work very well for me and it receives a high recommendation.

Their True American Amber ($28-$33) is produced from a blend of molasses, cane sugar and brown sugar with the molasses present to give it more body and flavor, though trying not to be too heavy handed with it. Though it is oak aged, they do not list an age date on the labels of their Amber. This is 90 proof, and has a more subtle aroma of spice, butterscotch and tropical fruits. It has a rounder mouth feel with pleasant tastes of vanilla, spice, coconut, and minor molasses notes. Overall though, it tends to be a light rum, lacking the depth that can come from longer aging. It shows potential, and in time, their production should improve in complexity and depth of flavor. For my preferences, I would use this in cocktails rather than sip it straight. But I look forward to the future of this rum.

At the distillery, they even have a fully stocked bar area where they experiment with creating cocktails with their rum. As their products are still new, they are constantly learning more about its versatility in various cocktails.

Currently, Privateer Rum is available at about 150 accounts, a 50/50 split between restaurants and wine/liquor stores, including places like Gordon's Fine Wine, Kappy's Liquors, Rialto, Clio, and Mistral. They are self distributing and do not yet sell outside of Massachusetts.

You can also purchase your own barrel of Privateer rum, from 3-15+ gallons, which includes a one-day distilling workshop to help teach the art of distilling. Prices start at $495 and the next workshop is scheduled for April 21. The prices actually seem very reasonable if you break them down. For example, for $495, you will get eighteen 750ml bottles of rum, which breaks down to only $27.50 per bottle.

In the future, Privateer has plenty of plans, including adding additional rums to their portfolio. They might create a Navy Rum, which would be aged longer and taste richer, or a Clean Shore Rum, where they redistill parts of their white rum. They also want to produce some limited edition Special Releases, as well as experiment with different barrels, such as Sherry and Cognac ones.

Though they are within a warehouse, that doesn't mean they can't make their facility look cool. This is a bell that was recovered from an undersea wreck.

Privateer is still a new company, continuing to learn and refine their products, but has already done well and has much potential. Their Silver Reserve is an excellent product and you really should check it out. Their True American Rum is a tasty product, which is sure to gain depth and complexity with time. If you are in Ipswich, stop by for a tour and tasting. If not, look for their products at local restaurants and wine/liquor stores.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I briefly highlight some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently.
1)  Join the Beacon Hill Hotel and Bistro in celebration of “Pi Day.” Pi Day is celebrated on March 14th each year since 3, 1 and 4 are the three most significant digits of π in the decimal form. A toast to the beginning of the famous sequence of numbers, on Wednesday, March 14, the Beacon Hill Hotel and Bistro will be offering slices of pie and coffee for only $3.14 during breakfast service served from 7am-10am.

Celebrated by math enthusiasts around the world, the U.S. House of Representatives officially recognized Pi Day in 2009. Just as Pi represents the relationship between a circle’s diameter and its circumference, the Beacon Hill Hotel and Bistro represents the relationship between quaint atmosphere and exquisite taste.

Offer is good while supplies last; cannot be combined with any other offer.

2)  On March 20th, at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods will honor the first day of spring with a Legal Holiday: Vernal Equinox. Legal Sea Foods will serve up a seasonal celebration, over a four-course menu designed for its healthfulness and balance, in Park Square’s 10,000 bottle wine cellar:

First Course
Raw Oysters with fresh lemon
Domaine du Montru Muscadet, Loire Valley, 2010
Second Course
Scallop Ceviche with fresh juices and vegetables
Casa Marin “Les Cipreses” Sauvignon Blanc, San Antonio Valley, 2008
Third Course
Wood Grilled Tuna with mashed parsnip, roasted tomato & fennel
Bonny Doon “Fish Out of Water” Rhone Varietal Blend, Monterey, 2010
Dessert Course
Sparkling Sorbet with lemon sorbet, cava, fresh mint

Cost: $40 per person (includes tax and gratuity)
Reservation required by calling: 617-530-9392

3)  Towne Stove and Spirits has unveiled a new bar and cocktail menu, available at all three of their bar and lounge areas: Street Lounge, Downtowne & Uptowne.  New items include the following: Hot Crab & Spinach Dip (with focaccia toast - $12); White Corn Tortilla Chips (with cumin-scented avocado and salsa - $9); Chicken & Vegetable Spring Rolls (with sweet chili sauce - $8); Mahogany Chicken Wings ($9); Duck Quesadillas (with sour cream and salsa - $10); Cornmeal Fried Popcorn Shrimp (with remoulade sauce and lemon - $11); and, Fried Potato Skins (with Vermont cheddar, bacon and truffle oil - $10). These new options will join signature items such as: Lobster Popovers ($14); Sweet Potato Fries (with chipotle mayo and lime - $8); Fried Zucchini Sticks (with spicy tomato and parmesan - $9); and, Artisanal Sausage & Pepperoni Pizza ($17).

There are new libations ($13.50) too, including: Gin Squeeze (gin, elderflower liqueur, grapefruit dash, lemon, soda); The Manhattan (single barrel Kentucky bourbon, bacon-infused sweet vermouth, angostura bitters); Cucumber Rose (cucumber vodka, rosemary simple syrup, prosecco float, sugar rim); Champagne Cocktail (brut dry, sugar cube, angostura bitters); The Last Word (gin, green chartreuse, lemon squeeze, house simple syrup); Ginger Flower (prosecco, ginger, cognac, elderflower liqueur, lemon dash, twist); Roman Candle (prosecco, Chambord, pineapple dash, fresh raspberry); and, The Mario Capone (rye whiskey, ginger, cognac, Cointreau, orange dash, raw sugar).

Coming soon, Towne will also open the liquor lines up for sharing with their House Spiked Punch Bowl (premium vodka, orange liqueur, champagne, lemon, sugar, raspberry – $46; serves 4-6 people).

Towne Stove and Spirits’ bar and lounge areas are open weekdays from 4:00pm to 11:00pm and weekends from 11:00am to 12:00am.

4)  Sip wine and sample signature dishes from more than 50 of Boston’s most popular chefs and some of New England’s favorite wineries at the 14th Annual "Chefs Cooking for Hope." Hosted by the Friends of Dana-Farber, this culinary extravaganza takes place Thursday, March 8, from 6:30 to 9 p.m., at 125 High Street, Boston. Chef Jeremy Sewall, of Lineage, Eastern Standard and Island Creek Oyster Bar will serve as honorary chef. If you peruse their website, you will see the long list of restaurants and wineries that will be present at this event.

Chef Jeremy Sewall explains, "It's hard to find anyone alive today who has not been touched by cancer. As chefs, we get asked to do a lot of events and this is one that I feel strongly about."

Admission is $100 per person. Proceeds benefit cancer research and care at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. For tickets call (617) 632-3909 or log on to Tickets may also be purchased at the door.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Chateau La Nerthe: Lobster & White Châteauneuf-du-Pape

"A good Châteauneuf-du-Pape is first and foremost a wine-lover's wine."
--Eric Asimov, The New York Times

Last October, I attended a fascinating and delicious lunch at L'Espalier with the wines of Chateau La Nerthe, spawning my article Chateau La Nerthe: All About the Blends. In addition, that wine lunch became my 2011 Favorite Single Winery Tasting. This week, Chateau La Nerthe returned to Boston for a wine lunch at Bistro du Midi, and it too was a tasty and interesting event.

Bistro du Midi is a French Provençal restaurant on Boylston Street, and its second floor dining area is elegant without being pretentious, with large windows overlooking the city, an open kitchen visible through another window and even another window looking into a wine cellar. They served us a three-course lunch, and our first two courses are regular menu items and the cheese course is likely available as well. Though I attended a wine reception there before, this was the first time I actually dined there, and I was impressed enough that I will return.

For some background information, history and tasting notes on Chateau La Nerthe, please consult my previous post, All About the Blends. We began our lunch with an apertif, a glass of the 2011 Prieure de Montezargues Tavel Rosé. As was their 2010 Rosé, this was a superb wine with plenty of complexity, and I could easily enjoy it year round. This wine was only bottled a few weeks ago so we were the first people in the U.S. to taste it. It possessed a paler pink color than last year's vintage though its flavors were very similar. It is available in this special magnum bottle, which has a long, extended neck. I give this wine my strongest recommendation and will be seeking it out myself as well.

At the luncheon, we met Christian Voeux, who has been the wine maker at La Nerthe since 2008. Previously, Christian spent 24 years working as the wine maker at Chateau Mont Redon in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

We also met Christophe Bristiel, the Export Manager for La Nerthe, who had also been present at the October event. Christophe is a charismatic and personable person, with an evident passion for wine.

Our first course was Coral Infused Chitarra Pasta with Maine Lobster, Sea Beans, and Lobster Jus (which was about half the portion than you would receive at dinner). There was plenty of lobster in the dish, and overall this was a compelling plate. The pasta was cooked well, there was a richness to the jus and the flavors blended harmoniously. I could have easily devoured a few more plates of this pasta. And with the wines, it became an even greater dish, just a superb pairing.

With this pasta, we sampled the 2009 and 2010 Chateau La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blancs as well as the 2009 Chateau La Nerthe "Clos de Beauvenir" Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (about $140-$150). The 2010 was exuberant in its aroma and flavors, while the 2009 was much more muted, having shut down to a degree. That is partially because 2009 was a warmer vintage while 2010 was an excellent vintage. The 2009 Clos de Beauvenir, of which only about 250 cases were produced, thoroughly impressed me once again. A sublime, albeit expensive, wine that is sure to please any wine geek.

The winery tends to harvest early, as they want to preserve freshness and fruit flavors, and are usually one of the first, if not the first, to harvest in the region. For example, during the last couple years, they harvested on August 20 and 24. In general, good white Châteauneuf-du-Pape tends to be very aromatic when young but after 2-5 years will experience a shut-down stage, which will also last for 2-5 years. After that, the wine will tender to emphasize its minerality. The winery tends to use higher percentages of Roussanne as it creates a more aromatic wine than will Grenache Blanc. Whatever they do certainly works well.

For our second course we were presented a Grilled Pork Chop with Sunchokes, Brussel Sprouts, Salsify, Chestnuts, Serrano Ham, and Pork Jus. Two large hunks of tender, flavorful meat satiated the carnivore within me and I was pleased to enjoy some red Châteauneuf-du-Pape with this pork.

We tasted the 2007 and 2008 Chateau La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouges as well as the 2005 Chateau La Nerthe Cuvee des Cadettes Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Back in October, I got to taste older vintages, as far back as 1982, so it was interesting to taste their more current vintages of these wines. 2007 was supposed to be a great vintage while 2008 was a difficult one, with maybe the smallest yields of the last 25 years. Both wines were excellent though, albeit with their individual differences. The 2008 had more prominent fruit though the 2007 still had good fruit flavors. Neither was overly tannic, and both, to different degrees, possessed elements of minerality, spice and earthiness. They are excellent food wines, with a nice aging potential and worthy representatives of the quality that can be found in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region.

The 2005 Cuvee des Cadettes was a superb wine, a perfect balance of elements with plenty of depth and complexity. It is a bolder wine than the prior vintages I have tasted, yet still elegant and refined, and should age wonderfully. This wine also deserves my strongest recommendation.

Our final course included Petite Basque Cheese with Candied Nuts & Maraschino Macerated Cherries. A beautiful cheese, and I am always pleased to enjoy a cheese course after a meal. But personally, I am not a huge fan of most red wines with cheese. Give me instead Sake, dry Sherry, or a Rosé.

Our last two wines were from other properties in the Rhône owned by the Richard family, La Petite Fontaine and Domaine de la Renjarde. Though the La Nerthe wines tend to be pricier, these wineries produce more inexpensive, value wines.

The 2010 La Petite Fontaine Côtes du Rhône Rouge ($10-$15) is a blend of 60% Grenache Noir, 20% Syrah, 15% Cinsault and 5% Carignan. This is the first year that this wine is being produced. This was a simpler wine than the others we had tasted so far, yet still with its own allure. Dominant black fruit flavors with a spicy backbone, moderate tannins and a mild earthiness on the finish. A delicious, every day drinking wine, that would work with pasta to burgers.

The 2009 Domaine de la Renjarde "Massif d'Uchaux" Côtes du Rhône Villages ($15-$20) is a blend of 65% Grenache Noir, 17% Syrah, 11% Cinsault, 4% Carignan, and 4% Mourvedre. This wine had a bit more complexity than the Fontaine, again with dominant black fruit but a stronger spicy element as well as mild notes of vanilla and chocolate. Its tannins were a bit stronger, yet still far from overpowering, and its finish was lengthier. Again, this is a delicious, every day drinking wine yet with potential to age well. Both the Fontaine and Renjarde offer good values.

Chateau La Nerthe delivers once again, and I have even more respect for white Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Unfortunately, not much is produced in the region, though it can compete with the best white wines of any region.

What's your experiences white Châteauneuf-du-Pape?

Bistro du Midi on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Food Safety: The Importance of Orange Peels

It is estimated that the deadly bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Salmonella cause over 500,000 human deaths worldwide each year. In addition, these bacteria cause millions of others to be sick, some which require hospitalization. Were you aware that orange peels could be used to prevent some of these illnesses and deaths?

Proper cooking can greatly decrease the chances of bacterial infection. Those who live in hot and humid regions, which are more conducive to the growth of dangerous bacteria, have developed another method of combating bacteria: the use of spices. Spices can possess antibacterial abilities, thus making food safer, and that is a significant reason why people from those hotter regions use for more spices than those from colder climates. The most potent antibacterial spices are garlic, onion, allspice and oregano. Thyme, cinnamon, tarragon and cumin are also powerful, with capsicums (such as chilies and other hot peppers) being fairly effective as well.

Though I was aware of the powers of spice, the uses of orange peels had previously eluded me until I picked up the latest issue of Scientific American (February 2012) and read the brief article Peeling Away Microbes.  The article states: "A cow's rumen has an incredibly thick population of microbes, somewhere between 10 billion and 100 billion microbes per milliliter of its fluid. Escherichia coli and Salmonella are two, but they are found in relatively low levels, maybe one out of 10 million cells." Most efforts to reduce these dangerous pathogens occur after the cow has been slaughtered, but that is certainly not 100% effective. So, if these pathogens could be reduced before the cow is killed, their meat would be even safer.

In Florida and California, where orange juice is produced, orange peels are usually waste products, sold off cheaply to dairies as cows will eat them. As an unintended benefit, this practice may actually be making some of our beef supply safer. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been conducting research in the use of citrus byproducts in reducing dangerous pathogens in cows. Orange peels contains d-limonene, a naturally occurring compound with antimicrobial properties, and some studies indicate that these peels can reduce dangerous microbes up to ten fold. That would be a significant reduction.

ARS microbiologist Todd R. Callaway, who has been involved in this research, has said: "While foodborne pathogens are found in the gut of food animals, non-antibiotic methods to reduce such pathogens in the live animal are important to improving food safety."  Obviously, there are not enough orange peels to feed all of the cows in our country so researchers are trying to develop citrus pellets which can be distributed across the country. The research is very hopeful and it could save lives.

So the next time you enjoy an orange, show some respect to it as an instrument of food safety.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Rant: Whose Responsibility Is Food Safety?

Have you ever had food poisoning? It can be extremely unpleasant, as well as very dangerous. As there are approximately 76 million cases of food-related illnesses each year in the U.S., chances are that you probably have been affected at some time. Though most of those cases are relatively minor, although you may feel rather miserable, some can be much more serious, with about 323,000 cases requiring hospitalization and 5200 leading to death. So food safety is a significant concern.

I recently read the new book The Philosophy of Food, edited by David Kaplan, a collection of philosophical essays on a wide range of food-related topics, from veganism to sustainability, from aquaculture to Slow Food. For any food writer, this collection will spawn numerous ideas for articles and I highly recommend it. For any food lover, these essays will spark much contemplation about these important issues.

I was especially intrigued by the article "The Ethics of Food Safety in the Twenty-First Century" by Jeffrey Burkhardt, a Professor of Agriculture & Natural Resource Ethics and Policy at the Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida. Burkhardt stated: "Although individuals and personal entities have a role to play in ensuring a safe and secure food system, governments are the primary agents to secure, or 'keep,' this public good." This is due, in large part, to the great complexity of the international food chain, where much of it is out of the hands of the average consumer. Most of the problems with food safety globally are associated with bacterial/viral contamination or spoilage but other hazards exist as well such as pesticides, industrial chemicals, and foreign material like waste.

This makes plenty of sense, but it also does not absolve the consumer from their responsibility toward food safety either. Especially considering that the U.S. government may not be doing enough to protect consumers from food illnesses. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates about 80% of our food supply while the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for other 20%. One of the dangers we face is from imported foods, which is a significant portion of our food supply. For example, we import over 40% of our fruit, 15% of our vegetables, and 80% of fish & seafood. The average American diet includes about 18% of imported food.

The problem though is that the FDA inspects very little of this imported food. For example, in 2007, the FDA inspected only 1.3% of the food that it was regulates that was imported into our country. This percentage has actually been decreasing over time, down from 8% prior to the NAFTA and WTO agreements. If so little imported food is being inspected before reaching our tables, then the consumer must take on more of the burden of ensuring their own food safety. In addition, we should be demanding greater oversight from the FDA and other governmental agencies.

Now, meat can be a source of food illnesses, and gets much press, but plenty of other food products can be the culprit as well. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group that tracks food safety issues, compiled a list of 10 foods, non-meats, that cause a significant amount of food illnesses. At the top of that list are leafy greens, which are responsible for 24% of all non-meat outbreaks. Tomatoes, sprouts and berries also were in the top ten. Eggs came in at second place while tuna occupied third place. Even ice cream made the list, in seventh place.

We should be advocating for the government to do more about food safety, but consumers also need to arm ourselves with the knowledge to address food safety issues on their own. There are plenty of sites where you can go for more information about food safety.  For instance, you can check out the blog by iPura, a food safety company. Some of their most informative articles include: 5 Things Every Consumer Should Know About Food SafetyQuick Food Safety Checklist For Grocery ShoppingFood Safety For Busy People - 5 Keys To Better Health, and Food Safety Myths & Facts - Arm Yourself With Truth. These are practical articles, which will help you make better decisions.

Many cases of food borne illnesses are preventable, if the proper precautions are taken in cleaning, storing and preparing your food. It is your obligation to understand your role in food safety, and do what needs to be done to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

2nd Annual iPura Tweet & Blogfest At IBSS 2012

Last month, I threw down the Gauntlet of Poseidon and issued a challenge to all local bloggers, and now I have more information for my competition. In a few weeks, it will be time for the 2012 International Boston Seafood Show (IBSS), to be held March 11-13 at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. Hundreds of vendors connected to the seafood industry, from all across the world, will attend this fascinating trade show.

Last year, one of those vendors, iPura, which handles food safety, offered a challenge to local bloggers, the iPura Tweet & BlogfestThe concept was for local bloggers to tweet and blog about the IBSS and their writings would be assessed by an impartial judge, with the winner receiving $1000! Certainly a worthy prize and I am proud to say that I won last year's competition. Since then, and due to my achievement, I have self-proclaimed myself the Fish Head Whisperer.

This year, iPura has proudly announced their 2nd Annual iPura Tweet & Blogfest, and it is very similar to last year's competition, except even better. You should check out their post for all of the official rules but in short, you will be judged on the quality, content, creativity/originality, number of entries, and depth of your tweets and blog posts concerning the IBSS. If you win the competition, you will be awarded $1000! In addition, and new for this year's contest, they will also be awarding a special cash prize, to be determined soon, for the Best Coverage of "Seafood Sustainability."

As the reigning champion, I will be back to try to retain my crown and I am challenging all local bloggers to come out and try to dethrone me. It is a fun show, and there are tons of free seafood samples, more than enough to satiate any hunger. It is an excellent opportunity to learn more about seafood and should give you plenty of ideas for blog posts. So I hope that many of you come out to the show, and match your skills against me.

I have already written a post advising all would-be competitors how to defeat me. Yes, it is more tongue in cheek but there is some valuable information there as well. Plus, I will moderate a Twitter chat, using the hashtag #IBSS12, about the seafood show and competition on Monday, February 27, at 8pm. I will share my experiences at the show, give suggestions about attending and answer questions. A representative of iPura will be there too and can field questions about the contest and show as well. Hope to see you at the Twitter Chat as well as the seafood show.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

My New Endeavor in Melrose: Beacon Hill Wine

Today, I start a new adventure....

At 3pm, you'll find me at a wine shop, but I won't be shopping or attending a wine tasting. Instead, I will be starting a shift working at the Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose. I'll be working the register, stocking shelves, assisting customers and more. This will be my first weekend working there, and my usual schedule will be Saturdays from 3pm-7pm, and every other Sunday, starting tomorrow, all day. I might also be there for additional shifts, filling in when needed.

I'll be surrounded by wine, at all price points, from California Chardonnay to Oregon Pinot Noir, from South African Pinotage to French Bordeaux, from Port to Sake. I'll be surrounded by food, much of it local, from a cheese counter to D'Artagnan meats, from wonton chips to dessert hummus, from Dom's sausage to chili chutney. There will be chilled beers and hard ciders, including local brews, as well as giftware, such as glasses and decanters.

Feel free to stop by while I am working, and maybe I can help you select something interesting and delicious to eat and/or drink.

Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet
538 Main Street
Melrose, MA
Phone 781-665-3332

Friday, February 17, 2012

Rum: A Brief History & Trivia

"Fifteen men on a dead man's chest Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum! Drink and the devil had done for the rest Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!"
--Robert Louis Stevenson in Treasure Island

When people visit a Chinese restaurant, they might choose to drink a cocktail like a Mai Tai, Scorpion Bowl, or Zombie. These are all very popular drinks, and in addition, are all rum based. Rum, which was invented over 460 years ago, has a rich, vibrant and controversial history, especially in New England. The U.S. is now seeing a renaissance of small, local rum distilleries and I recently visited two in Ipswich, which I shall profile in the near future.

You will find here a brief history of rum, especially during colonial times and in New England, as well as some rum trivia. Some of the early history of rum remains vague, due to a lack of primary sources, thus some of the information I present may be estimates and approximations. I am also not going to delve much into the more controversial aspects of the rum trade, its strong connection to the abhorrent practice of slavery. That is deserving of its own post.  

I pity them greatly, but I must be mum, for how could we do without sugar and rum?
--William Cowper

It all begins with sugar...

By 1500, Madeira, a Portugeuse archipelago, became the largest exporter of sugar in the world. A young Christopher Columbus received training in the Madeira sugar trade and that experience would spark an idea when Columbus eventually journeyed to the Caribbean. During his first journey, as he pondered ways to make money from his discovery, Columbus realized that the Caribbean islands would be an excellent spot to grow sugarcane. Thus, on his second voyage, in 1493, he allegedly brought sugarcane with him to plant in the Caribbean. There is a question though whether the sugarcane died on route and that later explorers were actually the first to plant sugarcane in the Caribbean.

During the mid-1500s, Portugal, which already had expertise from their Madeira efforts, began planting sugarcane farms in Brazil, and soon after started importing slaves from Africa to work on these farms. It did not take long for people to start fermenting sugarcane juice to make alcohol, which became known as cachaça. Cachaça is kind of the precursor to rum, and sometimes is even called a rum, though many consider it its own unique alcohol.

The English landed on the island of Barbados in 1627, and tried to grow tobacco but quickly learned that the crop would not grow well there. They decided to plant sugarcane instead, acquiring the sugarcane, equipment and necessary training from the Portuguese in Brazil. In addition, they also imported slaves from Africa to work on the farms, just like it had been done in Brazil. In time, Barbados would even come to dominate the sugar trade.

"All roads lead to rum."
--W.C. Fields

When sugarcane is processed into sugar, one of the byproducts is a sludgy and sticky dark residue known as molasses, which derives from the Portuguese word melaço. On average, you might derive one pound of molasses for every two pounds of sugar. Initially, as it was considered to be a waste product, it would be fed to cows, pigs and slaves or used as fertilizer. But, the British on Barbados eventually decided to try to ferment it, thus producing the first rum. Rum is a unique spirit in that it is created from the byproducts of the processing of a plant, rather than directly from the plant itself. Vodka, whiskey, tequila and most other alcohols are created from the plants themselves, such as grains, rice or potatoes.

Though rum was produced before this date, the first known mention of rum is in 1651 in Barbados where it was referred to as "rumbullion" or "kill-devil."  "Rumbullion" is allegedly British slang for "an uproar, a brawl or a violent commotion." Most sources claim that "rumbullion" is the origin of the word "rum," and it seems to be a logical choice, but there are several other competing theories of the term's origin. We may never know the truth.

"Rum, n. Generically, fiery liquors that produce madness in total abstainers."
--Ambrose Bierce

The popularity of rum seemed to explode, and rum distilleries started opening throughout the Caribbean and elsewhere. In 1664, the first rum distillery in the British colonies of North America opened on what is now known as Staten Island. Three years later, a rum distillery opened in Boston, Massachusetts. Rum production soon became early Colonial New England's largest and most prosperous industry. In part, New England was an ideal environment because of their existing expertise in  metalworking and cooperage skills as well as the existence of abundant lumber.

Rum production eventually became an element of the infamous Triangular Trade, the trade of slaves, molasses and rum. As mentioned previously, sugarcane farms in Brazil and the Caribbean imported slaves from Africa to labor on their farms. This formed one leg of the Triangle. Molasses would then be sold to New England, which often purchased it with cod. Cod for molasses became a significant aspect of New England fisheries. This was the second leg of the Triangle and that molasses would be transformed into rum. For the final leg of the Triangle, the New England rum was transported to Africa, to trade for slaves. There were even rum distilleries in Newport that produced a stronger rum specifically to be used to purchase slaves.

As for quality, it was generally though that most American produced rum was inferior to that made in the Caribbean but it was much cheaper, making it more popular. It was also said to be lighter than Caribbean rum. For example, in 1740, a gallon of American rum might cost only 1 shilling and 8 pence while a Caribbean rum would sell for 2 shillings and 5 pence. American rum was inexpensive enough that almost anyone could afford to drink it.

"I know not why we should blush to confess that molasses was an essential ingredient in American independence."
--John Adams

Estimates of rum consumption in Colonial America are difficult to determine, but some historians have attempted to calculate it. Prior to the Revolutionary War, it was thought that rum consumption equated to every man, woman, and child drinking about 3 gallons of rum per year. During the 1770s, it was estimated that the average adult male drank about three pints of rum each week. Taverns were the primary place where people would obtain rum. Consider that in 1656, Massachusetts passed a law mandating that every town had to possess a tavern. In general, the poorer folk drank their rum neat while the wealthier folk preferred their rum in punch or other mixed drinks.

There are differing opinions on the number of rum distilleries in New England and specifically Massachusetts, during the Colonial period. One opinion states that in 1717, there were about 25 rum distilleries in Boston, and Massachusetts produced about 200,000 gallons of rum each year. Another opinion is that in 1738, Boston only had 8 rum distilleries, which increased to 63 by 1750. By other estimates, in 1770, there were over 140 rum distilleries in Colonial America, with 50 in Massachusetts. The country produced about 4.8 million gallons of rum each year, exporting about 600,000 gallons, but also imported another 3.78 million gallons.

Interestingly, in 1727, Connecticut banned the distillation of rum, because they thought it was causing molasses prices to be too high, as well as that they considered rum to be "unusually unwholesome." Fortunately, the ban only lasted six months due to the great demand for rum.

Medford, Massachusetts, became a hot spot for rum distillation, as well as considered one of the best places for quality domestic rum. The designation "Medford Rum" became very popular, and was considered indicative of quality. One of the famous producers of Medford Rum was Daniel Lawrence & Sons, which existed from 1715 to 1905.

"If you keep on drinking rum, the world will soon be quit of a very dirty scoundrel."
--Robert Louis Stevenson

After the Revolutionary War, rum eventually became replaced in popularity by whiskey, and there was then a boom in whiskey distilleries. Rum production continued to decrease over time and by the start of Prohibition, there were no longer any rum distilleries in New England. But in recent years, new rum distilleries have started to sprout up all across the country, including in New England.

For example, in Massachusetts, you will find rum distilleries such as Berkshire Mountain Distillers, Bully Boy, Ryan & WoodPrivateer Rum, and Turkey Shore Distilleries. In Maine, you will find Sweet Grass Farm Winery and Distillery while in Rhode Island there is the Newport Distilling Company

Raise a glass to this Rum Renaissance!

Some Rum Trivia:

--Some of the other names for rum include Barbados Water, Nelson's Blood, Demon Water, Grog, Red Eye, Pirate's Drink, Navy Neaters, and Splice the Main Brace.  
--From 1655 on, rum became the traditional drink, replacing beer, on Royal Navy ships in the Caribbean. Rum did not spoil on long journeys as did beer. The allotted daily ration was half pint, though that was cut in half in 1825 and then cut in half again in 1850.
--Benjamin Franklin's favorite rum was from Jamaica, and it also happened to be the most expensive rum.
--In Colonial Massachusetts, one suggested way to revive a drowning victim was to blow tobbaco smoke up their rectum (and there were machines which could do this) and bathe their chest with hot rum.
--In 1742, the Massachusetts General court banned the use of rum and wine during funerals, as it was thought funerals were getting too rowdy.
--In 18th century England, men would occasionally auction off their wives for rum. I couldn't find an average price, in rum, for a wife.
--In the 1800's, rum was considered excellent for cleaning hair.
--In the Caribbean, rum is sprinkled on the forehead of newborn babies.
--In Australia's early history, there wasn't enough hard currency in the country so they decided to use rum as money for a time.
--During World War I, some doctors prescribed rum for gas poisoning and shell shock
--At the end of World War I, when the Spanish flu was killing many, France believed that rum was both a cure as well as preventative.
--In 1960, on the evening that John F. Kennedy was elected President of the U.S., he drank daiquiris, a rum-based cocktail.

If it be the design of Providence to extirpate these savages in order to make room for the cultivation of the earth, it seems not improbable that rum may be the appointed means.
--Benjamin Franklin

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I briefly highlight some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently.
1)  On Monday, February 27, from 6pm-8pm, The Beehive will host the 12th installment in The Beehive's continuing art series entitled, Sting! XII: Boston Contemporary. This installment welcomes 13 artists selected by the Boston Contemporary Group (BCG) whose members include Camilo Alvarez of Samsøn, Anthony Greaney of the Anthony Greaney Gallery, Russell LaMontagne of LaMontagne Gallery and Steven Zevitas of the Steven Zevitas Gallery. BCG was formed to support an environment in Boston for critically relevant contemporary art. BCG will use this exhibit at The Beehive to bring awareness to their group as well as to launch their new website hosted by Gallerist, the event’s sponsor, a New York based company revolutionizing the way people interact with art.

The ongoing Sting! series always signifies the launch of a new art installation at The Beehive and highlights an evening of live entertainment, food & libations along with amazing art. The 12th installment will highlight a remarkable group of artists (most of whom are working here in Boston or who otherwise have connections to the city) as well as brings attention to a dedicated group of gallerists in Boston who possess a deep well of knowledge and expertise just waiting to be tapped. Visitors to The Beehive will be witness to the broad diversity of mediums, materials and techniques presented by this group of artists, including works on paper, works made with film on linen, drawings, photography, paintings, video animation, performance and even a disco ball made from laser cut disco records.

The artists will include:
From the Anthony Greaney Gallery, 450 Harrison Avenue, Boston
Erik Benjamins, Greg Hayes & Wayne Stokes
From Samsøn, 450 Harrison Avenue, Boston
John C. Gonzales, Maria Molteni, Zsuzsanna Szegedi & Mike Szegedi
* All of these artists are former, current or future resident artists at sübsamsøn
From the LaMontagne Gallery, 555 East 2nd Street, South Boston
Holly Coulis, Kim Faler, Boru O’Brien O’Connell, Jeff Perrott & Daniela Rivera
From the Steven Zevitas Gallery, 450 Harrison Avenue, Boston
Michael Krueger, Ben Sloat & Jered Sprecher

Performances by: Funk, soul queen Sarah Brindell will bring her sultry and melodious blend of Soul, Jazz, Bossa Nova, Reggae, Pop and R&B that captivates audiences around the world. Also joining us artist Erik Benjamins who will present a textual intervention within The Beehive’s dinner and drink menus for this evening only. Erik is a graduate student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts who explores the choreography of the performing, culinary and visual arts, teasing the relationship between the home and away place.

No cover charge, cash bar. Dinner reservations recommended.

2)  On Monday, March 26, from 6:30pm-9:30pm, the Spoonful of Ginger will once again feature Boston’s chefs for a special food tasting at the Museum of Fine Arts new Art of the Americas Wing. Guests will enjoy an evening of gourmet dishes prepared by some of Boston’s most renowned chefs, including Joanne Chang, Jose Duarte, Gordon Hamersley, Jacky Roberts, and Jasper White. Proceeds benefit Joslin Diabetes Center’s Asian American Diabetes Initiative (AADI) which strives to enhance the quality of life and health outcomes for the rising number of Asian Americans living with diabetes, as well as working with Joslin in their commitment to finding a cure.

At this year’s event, Joslin Diabetes Center will honor Chef Wesley Chen of Lotus Blossom Cuisine and local architect Been Wong for their contributions to the AADI’s mission and the Asian American community.

I have been to this event a few times, and it always is a fun and delicious time. It is great to meet and chat with local chefs, while enjoying some delectable dishes that they have prepared for the event. Plus, the event is for a very worthy cause.

COST: Tickets are $250.
FOR TICKETS: Call 617-732-2512 or e-mail

3)  In Quebec, maple syrup is an excuse to sit down for a feast at a Sugar Shack or “cabane à sucre,” where just-tapped maple sap is boiled until it's transformed into sugary syrup. Hundreds of sugar shacks lie just outside Montreal and Quebec City, and many have massive dining halls, where families sit at communal tables and are fed an endless parade of simple country cooking, pickled beets, pancakes, fried eggs, stews, sausage and bacon, split pea soup, pork cracklings, meat pie, maple syrup pie, often accompanied by a live band playing traditional folk music (similar to Cajun music) and dancing.

On Wednesday, March 7, from 5pm-2am, The Beehive teams up with Chef Alexandre Loiseau and his crew from Bistro Cocagne in Montreal, Quebec to offer Bostonians an original twist on the Sugar Shack experience with a multi-course family style feast accompanied by live musical performances by traditional Quebec performers. Guests will be seated at communal tables and served a series of dishes on shared platters as well as the diner’s own choice of entrée. The meal has a set price of $45 per person.

To ensure authenticity and in observance of Celebrations de la Francophonie in March, a month long celebration of the diversity of the French speaking world, The Beehive has partnered on this event with the Association Québécoise en Nouvelle-Angleterre, the Quebec Delegation of Boston, and the Consulate General of Canada in Boston. Harpoon Brewery will be participating as well, with an advanced release of their limited batch Catamount Maple Wheat Ale.

This event is an opportunity to sample the talents of Chef Alexandre Loiseau, one of the top young chefs in the highly regarded Montreal culinary scene. After years working with some of the greats such as Norman Laprise, David McMillan, Stelio Perombelon and Jean-Paul Giroux, Chef Loiseau opened Bistro Cocagne in 2004 to critical acclaim. Chef Loiseau will be working with resident celebrity Chef Rebecca Newell producing authentic, yet innovative twists on traditional Sugar Shack fare.

The Beehive is proud to present two very special performances from award-winning Québec artists.

Beginning at 6:30pm, guests will delight in the sounds of Isabelle Cyr and Yves Marchand. From Témiscamingue Lake in Québec, to the Acadian shores, Isabelle Cyr and Yves Marchand offer a stunning repertoire of original songs and traditional pieces. To the spellbinding rhythms of the piano, the harmonium, the drum, the autoharp and the guitar, the irresistible duo blend their voices and cultures for the greatest pleasure of us all.

At 8:30pm, The Beehive is proud to present De Temps Antan. Songs from the past and songs of today, dosed with uncontrolled laughter, deep-rooted couplets and sudden impromptu shifts - this is the sum total of De Temps Antan! Since 2003, Éric Beaudry, André Brunet and Pierre-Luc Dupuis have brilliantly explored and performed a traditional repertoire of Quebec's musical past. With an explosion of fiddle, accordion, harmonica, guitar, bouzouki and a number of other instruments, they enjoy a devilishly good time straying from the ordinary and thrilling audiences with their contagious joie de vivre.

The Sugar Shack Menu:

Table Accoutrements
Beets Marinated with Cider Vinegar & Maple Syrup,
Homemade Pickles, Homemade Ketchup, Maple Syrup Bacon
Family Style First Course
Cream of Turnip Soup with Maple Syrup Crouton
Pork Creton (Rustic Pate)
Plate of Dried Ham, Raspberry Vinegar Reduction & Maple Syrup
Lettuce Salad, Oreille de Christ (Pork Cracklings), Maple Dijon Vinaigrette
Entrée Course (Each Diner Chooses one of following):
--Roast Pork, Apple Cider, Maple Sugar & Baked Beans
--Seared Salmon, Maple Roasted Root Vegetables, Crystallized Lemon & Sour Cream
--Braised Lamb Shank, Tomatoes, Maple vinegar, French Beans Amandine
--Baked Stuffed Lobster, Garlic, Parsley, Lardon, Maple Vinegar and Lobster Butter, Mashed Parsnip Puree, Creamy Spinach +$10
--Quebec Meat Pie (Pork, Turkey, Venison) with Baked Beans
Family Style Dessert
Vanilla Maple Panna Cotta
Maple Syrup Pie
Bread Pudding Chomeur with Maple Ice Cream
*Menu Subject to Revisions

Cost: $45 per person (Tax, Gratuity, Beverages not included).
Call 617-423-0069 for reservations.

4)  Beginning this month, Tavolo chef-owner Chris Douglass and Tavolo chef de cuisine Nuno Alves will take their act on the road, conducting pasta-making classes in customers’ homes. Nuno will trek to your home kitchen on a Saturday afternoon with all the necessary equipment and ingredients. Within two hours, you and your friends will have learned the secret to making restaurant-quality pasta.

Nuno recommends these curriculums:
· beet, saffron, squid ink or other flavored linguini or spaghetti
· ravioli with various stuffings like ricotta, sausage or escarole
· gnocchi with mushroom Bolognese, artichoke or other sauces
· garganelli, cavatappi, orrechietti or other hand-cut pastas
· gluten-free pastas

A minimum of six people are required for a class. Cost per person depends on the dish to be made, the location, and the size of group. Those who prefer to mess up a kitchen besides their own can arrange for Saturday classes in the Tavolo kitchen in Dorchester anytime. $60 per person includes instruction, lunch and wine.

For more information, or to schedule a class, please call 617-822-1918.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mohegan Sun Restaurants: Bubba to Bobby

While attending the Mohegan Sun Wine Fest, I had a hankering for fried chicken and decided that maybe dinner at Big Bubba's BBQ could satiate my craving. The restaurant serves BBQ and southern cuisine, and there are three New York locations in addition to their Mohegan Sun location. The Executive Chef is Francis Collymore, a native of Barbados, whose resume includes a five year stint at Virgil’s Real BBQ in New York City, first as Executive Sous Chef and later as Executive Chef. Since 2001, he has been the Executive Chef at Big Bubba's BBQ.

It is a casual place, with an eclectic and fun decor, just appropriate for its cuisine. The menu is fairly extensive with Appetizers ($3.95-$10/.95), Salads, BBQ Sandwiches ($10.95-$12.50), Po' Boys ($9.95-$11.95), Sandwiches ($9.95-$11.95), Burgers & Dawgs ($8.95-$12.95), Barbecue Platters ($16.95-$24.95), Country ($16.95), Grilled ($14.95-$31.95), Seafood ($16.95-$20.95), Big Bubba Salads ($11.95-$13.95) and Sides ($4.95).  Thus, with all that variety, you might have difficulty deciding on what to order, though there should be something for everyone.

We began our meal with an appetizer of Mardi Gras Popcorn Crawfish ($9.95), a hearty basket of crispy crawfish which was a good meal to start our dinner. My companion ordered the St. Louis Pork Ribs ($22.95) and raved about their taste, very tender and flavorful pork which easily fell from the bone. I tasted them and was very pleased with their flavor too, definitely very well made ribs.

For myself, I ordered the Finger Lickin Fried Chicken ($16.95, $2 more for all white meat), which comes with 2 Sides and iron skillet cornbread. I decided to get the Cheese Grits and French Fries with cheese. What a platter of food! I received two large chicken breasts and two wings, more than enough chicken to satisfy my craving. In addition, it was superb fried chicken with a nice crispy and well seasoned coating and very moist, tender white meat. Perfectly cooked chicken, and I was only able to finish the breasts and never made it to the wings. I would highly recommend their fried chicken. The fries were fine though the cheese grits were just ok, not the creamy grits I prefer. But all I truly cared about was the chicken and it was well worth the price.

Service was very good, prices were reasonable considering the quality and quantity of the food, and my craving was more than satisfied. Kudos to Bubba!

Big Bubbas Bbq on Urbanspoon

On my second evening at the Mohegan Sun, I ended up at Bobby Flay's Bar Americain, which is a more higher-end restaurant, with a menu of more American favorites, some with a southern flair, as well as plenty of fresh seafood. Its menu is moderate sized, with a Raw Bar, Appetizers ($11-$17), Entrees ($24-$49), Steaks ($39-$46) and Sides ($9). Plenty to choose from and many of the dishes sounded appetizing. There were several dishes which appealed to me and it took me a little bit to decide which to order.

I began the dinner with a Dark and Stormy cocktail, though it was not made in the traditional manner, and was more like a martini. It just didn't taste like what I expected and I much prefer the traditional version. Fortunately, that was my only complaint of the meal.

My dining companion and I started with a dozen Oysters ($36), three different types, and they were clean and tasty, each type providing its own unique flavor profile. My dining companion then ordered the Buttermilk Fried Chicken, with Honey, Pink Peppercorns, Lime, and Black Pepper Biscuits ($29). He enjoyed his meal and I also tasted the chicken, finding the crispy coating to have a sweeter taste, but still good, than what I had at Bubba's.

I decided on the Duck with Dirty Wild Rice, Pecans, & Bourbon ($34), which is pictured above. Slices of tender breast breast and a confit leg, I was very pleased with its taste, enjoying the bourbon flair in the sauce. As a side, I ordered the Hot Potato Chips with Blue Cheese Sauce ($9) and they were a decadent delight, dipping the crisp chips in the creamy and tangy sauce. I almost could have made a meal just of the chips and sauce.

Service was good, the food was tasty, and I would return.

Bar Americain on Urbanspoon