Friday, November 29, 2013

Assorted Southern Oregon Wines & Black Bear Diner

During my Oregon trip, there wasn't enough time to visit all of the wineries in Southern Oregon, but some of the wineries sent representatives or their wines to the wineries we did visit, so we got some exposure to other wines. I wanted to highlight some of those wines, as well as a cool diner where I ate a couple times.

During our visit to Abacela Vineyards, Patrick Spangler (pictured on the left) of Spangler Vineyards joined us for the tour and lunch. Pat purchased the vineyard and winery in 2004, and has about 9 acres of grapes, purchasing many grapes too from select sites. He has far more interest in wine making than wine growing, and has some water issues with his estate. He makes primarily red wines, about 3000 cases a year, and only sells direct. I enjoyed his wines, and they paired well with our paella lunch.

The 2012 Spangler Viognier ($21) was intriguing and aromatic, with a hint of sweetness and lush tropical fruit flavors and a touch of smoke. A complex and delicious wine and strongly recommended at this price. The 2010 Spangler Grenache ($32) had nice red and black fruit flavors, a spicy backbone and moderate tannins. A smooth, easy drinking wine with sufficient complexity to intrigue the drinker. The 2009 Spangler Cabernet Franc ($25) was compelling, rich and intense with silky black fruit and cherry flavors. Another wine I strongly recommend.

Cliff Creek Cellars is family owned, with about 70 acres of vineyards, the first having been planted in 2000. The 2012 Cliff Creek Cellars MRV ($22) is a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier, and tantalized my palate with interesting floral, peach, and apple tastes. The wine was crisp, clean and nicely balanced. Enjoyable on its own or would be excellent with food too. Only 400 cases were produced.

Irvine Vineyards is another example of a second career for the winery owners. Coming from a background of real estate development and investment, they originally purchased an 80 acre estate, not initially thinking of growing grapes. However, the wine bug caught them and they realized their land was fortuitously perfect for a vineyard. I tasted their 2009 Irvine Vineyards Pinot Noir ($45) and it was impressive, reminding me of some Carneros Pinots. A nice melange of cherry, raspberry, and spicy notes, with a hint of earthiness, especially on the nose. Silky smooth, a lengthy finish, and good acidity. Pinot can be very different in Southern Oregon from the Willamette.

Jaxon Vineyards was founded in 2007, transforming an old pear orchard into vineyards. The 2011 Jaxon Grenache ($36) is 100% Grenache, only 45 cases were produced and this was the first release of this wine. It was an elegant, balanced wine with delicious ripe plum, black cherry and hints of blueberries. Moderate tannins, a spicy backbone and a long, satisfying and complex finish. Simply delicious.

When I first arrived in Oregon, I checked into my hotel in Medford and was hungry for lunch after the long flight from Boston. Across the parking lot from the hotel was the Black Bear Diner, and I decided to eat there, though I knew nothing about it. I would later learn that the first diner was founded in 1995 and now there are over 60 locations in eight states, the majority in California. There are none on the East Coast, but based on my experiences I certainly would like to see them here.

They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, and you can get breakfast all day. The menu is extensive, with plenty of comfort food, and prices are reasonable, especially when you consider the quantity of food you receive. It is a bit kistchy with all of the bear decorations, but you come here for the food not the decor. And the food was tasty and fresh, hearty and ample. After a delicious lunch, I returned the next morning for breakfast.

For lunch, I had a Double Cheeseburger with French fries, and it seemed like hand-made patties, which were juicy and flavorful. The roll was simple, but fresh, and didn't detract from the burger. The fries were crisp with a fluffy interior. It hit the spot.

They make their own pies, which are displayed in a glass counter at the front of the restaurant. They made an enticing display when you enter the restaurant.

I wanted to taste the Coconut Cream Pie, and rather than serve you a slice, you get a whole pie. It is smaller than a standard pie, but still quite substantial and it is nearly a meal in of itself. I enjoyed its rich coconut flavor with the homemade whipped cream atop it. I couldn't finish it so they boxed it up for me and I took it back to my hotel room. I'll suspect their other pies are just as tasty.

To start a full day of wine tasting, I wanted a hearty breakfast and went with the Chicken Fried Steak, which comes with two eggs, hash browns and a biscuit. Everything seemed to have been made from scratch and the steak was tender, with a rich, flavorful gravy. Even the biscuit was top notch. I was well ready to face my day, touring wineries.

If you are traveling on the West Coast, and want some good comfort food, check out a Black Bear Diner.

Black Bear Diner on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving: A Day Of Reflection

Today is about more than turkey and wine, stuffing and football, pecan pie and naps. Many of us will gather together with family, friends and others, savoring a feast of food and drink. We might go to local football games, or watch it on TV. We will talk and laugh, savoring all the goodness of the day. However, we cannot forget the meaning of the day.

Thanksgiving is a day for reflection upon our lives, to ponder and be thankful for all of the positive things in our lives. We need to appreciate the goodness in our lives, to be happy with everything we have (and I don't mean in a material sense). No matter what troubles or adversities we might have in our lives, I am absolutely sure there is also much to bring us joy.

Our focus today, and actually how it should be every day, should be on the positive aspects of our lives. Savoring the positive in our lives can brighten the darker parts of our lives, and place everything in perspective. Complaining and criticizing often accomplish little and instead we should concentrate on solutions. We can make our lives better if we truly desire to do so. It may take time and effort, but we can accomplish much with a positive mindset.

I am thankful for many other things in my life, including family, friends, health, and much more. I am thankful for all my blog readers, as well as the fans of my Tipsy Sensei series. It would take too long to list every single thing I am thankful for here, but I will take the time to reflect upon all of them today. I won't dwell on any negative elements in my life. It will be a day of appreciation and reflection, of hope and a brighter future.

I fervently hope that everyone else does the same, rather than dwelling on the negative. Share your positive feelings with your family and friends. Tell them that you love them, thank them for being in your life. It may be corny, but a hug and kind words can mean so very much.

I am going to enjoy plenty of tasty food and drink today, but I will remember that today is about more than the feasting. It is primarily a time for thanks, for all the good that is in our lives, and for being with the people we care about and love.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wednesday Sips & Nibbles

With Thanksgiving tomorrow, I am posting my weekly Sips & Nibbles column today, briefly highlighting some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming.
1) Fromager and Mâitre d’ Louis Risoli collaborates with Chef de Cuisine Matthew Delisle and Wine Director & Sommelier Lauren Collins to bring you the latest Cheese Tuesday from L’Espalier.

Once a month, Louis Risoli hosts the wildly popular Cheese Tuesday at L’Espalier. He provides insightful commentary, while sommelier Lauren Collins describes the wine. The December edition of Cheese Tuesday is “Home for the Holidays” which celebrates the comforts of the season. Chef Delisle presents a three-course dinner composed of his favorite holiday dishes, paired with heartwarming wines from Sommelier Lauren Collins. To conclude the evening, Fromager Louis Risoli has hand-selected cheeses with great character and depth of flavor that will only increase holiday cheer.

When: Tuesday, December 10, at 7pm
Cost: Cheese Tuesdays are $85 per person not including tax and gratuity.
For reservations, please call 617-262-3023

2) Ring in 2014 in style and head over to Boston’s South End on Tuesday, December 31, from 9pm-2:30am, as The Beehive hosts its 7th annual New Year’s Eve gala celebration. The Beehive’s, “Discothèque Burlesque New Year's Eve 2014” is an evening of bohemian decadence and eccentric fun. Guests will explore their senses as they take in the wonders of sultry Parisian burlesque performances by “The Sexation” Calamity Chang, Lil’ Steph and Stormy Leather and boogie to the explosive sounds of the all-star band The AB’s featuring vocalist Sinclair Jennings. The AB’s boogie in a modern way to the timeless soul and funk tunes The Beehive’s guests want to hear with a wall of funk like they’ve never experienced before.

Throughout the evening Executive Chef Marc Orfaly will feature a buffet of hors d’oeuvres and desserts, all served in a cocktail setting. To top it all off, guests can toast the evening with one of The Beehive’s signature cocktails, wine or champagne from one the evening’s sponsors including Chandon, SKYY Vodka, Hennessy Cognac and Moët & Chandon champagne.

The cost is $125 per person with food buffet, or $85 per person without buffet. Both ticket options include admission and entertainment. There is a cash bar all evening. Non-refundable without 24 hour advance notice. Reservations are required so please call 617-423-0069.

3) Legal Harborside is gearing up for the holiday season at Liberty Wharf. From December 4 through 31, the second floor at Legal Harborside will serve a “Feast of the Seven Fishes” tasting menu, featuring seven courses from the best of the sea, with optional wine pairings.

The Menu: 
Oyster (pickled quince mignonette)
JCB “No. 21” Cremant de Bourgogne, Burgundy, NV
Swordfish Belly (olive oil poached, pink grapefruit, fennel, red Fresno pepper)
Domaine Bernard Moreau, Bourgogne-Aligoté, Burgundy, 2011
Octopus (octopus mortadella, marinated tentacles, chick peas, frisée, harissa, preserved lemon)
Domaine du Viking “Tendre” Vouvray, Loire, 2011
Nantucket Bay Scallops (Georgia sugar squash agnolotti, brown butter, ginger snap, fried sage)
Schloss Schönborn Hochheimer Domdechaney Riesling Spätlese, Rheingau, 1997
Baccalà (roasted cod - lightly cured, Sicilian braised calamari, baccalà crostini, tomato chili broth)
Terlano Lagrein Rosé, Alto Adige, 2011
Monkfish (porcini dusted, black trumpet mushrooms, Tuscan kale, mussel froth)
Bouchard Aîné & Fils, Pommard, Côte de Beaune, 2009
Loch Duart Salmon (slow roasted, squid ink gnocchi, charred broccoli rabe, romesco purée)
T-Vine “Doc Gold Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, 2010
Lemon Pudding Cake (citrus biscotto, pomegranate)
Kracher “Cuvée Eiswein,” Burgenland, 2009

Cost: $75 per person for tasting menu; $125 per person with wine pairings.
For reservations, please call 617-477-2900

4) When your child is sick, it’s hard to keep up a normal daily routine, and even harder doing so during the holiday season. This is something that Paul Turano, executive chef/owner of Tryst located in Arlington, and the newly opened Cook in Newton, knows all too well, having spent time with his son at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Hematology, Oncology and Stem Cell Transplant Units over the past few years. Both Turano’s children have Severe Combined Immune Deficiency Syndrome (SCIDS), and when his son was just two months old he had a bone marrow transplant at Boston Children’s Hospital that saved his life. This holiday season, Turano is giving back to the hospital that was there for his family by holding a holiday fundraiser for the Patient and Family Resource Room, a program that helps provide services to over 45 families whose children are being treated at the Boston Children’s Hospital Oncology and Hematology Center.

In cooperation with Boston Children’s Hospital, Turano has set up a branded donation page online and will be encouraging holiday donations for the family resource program from December 1st, 2013 through December 31st, 2013. To donate, guests can visit the donation page online, or can donate at either Cook or Tryst where a QR code will be set up which, when scanned, will take guests directly to the page where they can make a donation on their mobile devices. In exchange for donating, Turano will give donors a gift certificate to Tryst (for up to $20) with proof of donation.

I can’t emphasize how much the Patient and Family Resource Room helped my family and I when we were going through this difficult time. It’s because of their team and services that we were able to maintain a sense of normalcy and routine, and I want to be able to give that back to other families that are going through it,” said Chef Turano, Executive Chef/Owner of Tryst and Cook.

Funded through donations from area businesses and families, the 6th floor Patient and Family Resource Room is staffed by a patient and family educator who can help patients and families learn about their medical treatment. The Patient and Family Resource Room also offers a space for patients and families to relax and connect with others going through a similar experience. Whether the donated money be used for a morning coffee at the local Dunkin Donuts, or towards purchasing a generic American Express donation that can be used towards gas, or parking (daily routines that are often overlooked), each donation will help parents regain a sense of normalcy in their lives. With the extra help of these funds, Chef Turano will be putting the holidays back in the hands of these families.

Donate on or visit one of the restaurants and scan the QR code (displayed throughout the restaurant). After donation, present your receipt at Tryst to receive your gift certificate (of equal value, up to a $20 value).

Limited to one Tryst gift certificate per person per visit. Gift certificates cannot be combined with any other offer. To receive gift certificate diners must visit Tryst. Cannot be done online.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Valley View Vineyard: A Friday the 13th Connection

When you visit a winery tasting room, one of the last things you might expect to see is an homage to the Friday the 13th movie franchise, including images of Jason Voorhees, the hockey-masked killer. While in Southern Oregon, wandering around the tasting room of a historic winery, I was surprised and puzzled to find a large collection of Friday the 13th memorabilia in one corner of the room. Why was it there? What did it have to do, if anything, with wine? I'll provide you the answers later in this post.

First, let us delve back to the early history of wine in Oregon, and especially Southern Oregon. As I have mentioned before, in the 1850s, Peter Britt, a Swiss immigrant and photographer, came to the Oregon Territory because of gold fever. Though his primary income derived from photography, he tried his hand at mining as well. A man of eclectic interests, he also was intrigued by horticulture and took time to plant orchards, such as pears and peaches, and eventually even grapes. He planted his own vineyards in the Rogue Valley and eventually established, in 1873, the first commercial winery, the Valley View Vineyard, in Jacksonville.

Fast forward about one hundred years to 1972, when the Valley View was purchased and restored by the Wisnovsky family. The father, who had been an engineer, decided that he wanted to become a farmer. The family initially planted twelve acres of grapes, and began as a co-op, selling off their grapes. In 1976, they decided to start their own winery and in 1978, converted a barn into a winery. The Wisnovsky family still owns and operates the winery, and we met Mark Wisnovsky at his winery, and dined there one evening too.

The winery now has about 36 acres of grapes, including one acre of original planted Cabernet Sauvignon, and they grow about 10 different grapes. The vineyard is sustainable and they feel that Tempranillo is now their signature grape. Their site is about 3-5 degrees cooler than other surrounding vineyards, and frost can be an issue, especially as Tempranillo is a later bloomer. Back in 1985, they hired their winemaker, John Guerrero, a graduate of UC Davis, giving him nearly 30 years of experience with the winery.

Unfortunately, their wines are generally not available outside of Oregon, except through their wine club and online sales. Within Oregon, one of their outlets is that they sell directly a number of their wines to Costco and Trader Joe's. They have created a special, inexpensive red blend, Rogue Red, which will be available at Costco for $9.99. There are very few wines in Southern Oregon, except for some second labels, which sell at around the $10 price point. That does make it more difficult for people to consider Oregon wines as an everyday purchase. The Rogue Red is non-vintage and each bottle is marked with a Lot number. I didn't get to taste this wine so can't comment on its taste, but I like the concept.

As for those wines I did taste, most with dinner, the 2011 Anna Maria Viognier ($22) was aromatic, crisp and clean with pleasant citrus, pear flavors and floral accents. Easy drinking and delicious, it would be enjoyable on its own or with food. The 2012 Anna Maria Sauvignon Blanc, which has a little bit of Viognier added, also had nice acidity and clean, balanced fruit flavors of grapefruit and citrus. Another easy drinker, with or without food.

Onto reds! The 2008 Anna Maria Cabernet Sauvignon ($24) was a powerful wine, but with restraint, that showcased pleasant ripe plum, black cherry, and spice flavors. Nice complexity at this price point, and best served with a thick steak or hearty Bolognese. The star of the evening was their 2008 Anna Marie Tempranillo ($26), which was dark, spicy, and filled with plenty of black fruit flavors. Complex, supple and with a lengthy finish. Another delicious food wine which will remind you of some Spanish Tempranillo wines.

Overall, these wines are good values at these price points and you should check them out if possible.

And what about Jason and Friday the 13th?

In the original Friday the 13th movie, the sole survivor of the massacre at Camp Crystal Lake was Alice Hardy. The killer was Pamela Voorhees, whose son, Jason, drowned at the camp about 20 years before, and Alice ended up decapitating her with a machete. At the end of the movie, while resting in a canoe, Alice had a nightmare that the dead Jason, came up out of the water and grabbed her. In the sequel, Alice was murdered, with an ice pick to her head, by the resurrected Jason. The character of Alice Hardy was depicted by actress Adrienne King

At one point, Adrienne moved to Oregon, loved wine, and eventually worked for a time at Valley View Winery. Together, they created Crystal Lake Wines, which uses specially chosen Valley View wines in unique labeled bottles, including a painting done by Adrienne of her character lying in a canoe on Crystal Lake. That explains the strange homage to the horror movie series. If you know a horror fan, then these wines might be a great gift. As I am a horror fan, I thought it was quite cool that the Valley View made this collaboration and had the courage to showcase it in their tasting room. And as it is their wine in these Crystal Lake bottles, I can vouch that the wine is tasty too.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thirst Boston: Whiskey--From Kentucky to Japan

With the growing popularity of Whiskey, and new distilleries constantly opening all over the world, Thirst Boston showcased whiskey in several seminars, from Bourbon to Japanese Whisky. I attended three of the Whiskey seminars and there was little overlap in the subject matter. Each presenter offered their own unique viewpoints on the topics, and we got to taste a variety of whiskey, including some that I have never tasted before. Because of my predilections, I was especially interested for the Japanese Whisky seminar.

The first seminar I attended was The Evolution of Bourbon presented by Bernie Lubbers, known as the "Whiskey Professor" and Ambassador for American Whiskey for Heaven Hill Distillery. Bernie was a funny, knowledgeable and energetic speaker, and he presented a basic history of Bourbon. This wasn't a dry recitation of historical facts, but showcased history through a tasting of whiskey representative of what would have been produced at various times in the past. He also provided the essentials of bourbon, such as discussing how corn and wheat are the two grains of Kentucky, as well as the differences between toasting and charring barrels.

Though I knew much of the history of bourbon, and have read Bernie's book Bourbon Whiskey: Our Native Spirit, there were things I learned. Though I knew George Washington was once the #1 distiller in the country, I wasn't aware that his primary customer was the U.S. Cavalry. Washington produced a rye whiskey, though it was only known then as "whiskey" and there were two versions, one distilled twice, costing 50 cents a gallon, and the other distilled four times, costing $1 a gallon. On the jug, there would be either "XX" or "XXXX" to indicate the number of distillations. Unfortunately, when Washington died, he had no children to take over his distillery so it ended up closing.

With the advent of Prohibition, those states located on the borders had an easier time as they could import, aka smuggle, alcohol from where it was legal. For example, Florida imported Caribbean Rum, Texas brought in Tequila, and Minnesota bought Canadian whiskey. Kentucky, lacking such a convenient border, often had to rely on itself, which led to them making their own moonshine, a tradition that continues to this day.

After World War II, gin started gaining in popularity so numerous bourbon producers decided to change their products to make them lighter, more gin-like in some respects. Bourbon started to be watered down from 100 proof to 86 proof. Coincidentally, to "86" something is slang for "getting rid of something." They got rid of some of the bourbon, substituting water, and they may have lost some bourbon lovers who were not pleased with the change, preferring the higher proof bottles.

Our historical tasting began with a whiskey that was reminiscent of what Washington once produced, back in the late 18th century, an un-aged whiskey made with lots of rye. The Trybox Series Un-Aged Whiskey uses the Ritttenhouse Rye recipe but without any aging, and it is 125 proof. Lots of spicy flavor and a high enough alcohol that it would be best by adding a little water to it. We then moved onto corn whiskey, both un-aged and aged, including the Georgia Moon Corn Whiskey and the Mellow Corn. The Mellow Corn, like corn whisky in the early 1800s, was aged, for four years in charred barrels and is 100 proof. Bernie described it as "popcorn with a kick" as well as the "PBR of whiskey."

By 1836, Kentucky had established a reputation for its whiskey, both corn and wheat. So we tasted the Bernheim Wheat Whiskey, which is 90 proof, and has a little sweetness from the addition of some corn. It is relatively smooth, with lots of upfront flavors, and a strong grain taste.

The next major step in bourbon was the Bottled In Bond Act of 1897, which helped to protect straight whiskey. Nowadays, very little Bottled in Bond whiskey is produced, though we tried the Evan Williams Bottled in Bond, a 100 proof bourbon that was aged for four years. This is the type of bourbon they were drinking around 1897, and it was smooth and sweet, with notes of vanilla, caramel and spicy notes on the finish.

In the modern age, the emergence of small batch and single barrel bourbon was a big innovation. We tasted the Larceny Small Batch Bourbon, which was aged for 6 years and is 92 proof. It is a "wheated bourbon" meaning that the secondary grain is wheat rather than rye. It is a nice sipping bourbon, with sweet corn notes, honey, caramel, mild spice, and a lengthy finish.

Kudos to Bernie for a fun and informative seminar.

I knew I wanted to attend the Whiskey Women seminar as my good friend, Fred Minnick, was one of the presenters. Fred is a talented writer and photographer, and often writes about whiskey topics. In fact, he recently wrote a fascinating book, Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch & Irish Whiskey, which was one of the primary focuses of this seminar. If you love whiskey, history or women, then this is a book you need to read.

Joining Fred as a presenter was Joy Richard (pictured on the left), aka “Bourbon Belle” and the Bar & Beverage Manager of Franklin Restaurant GroupJoy has long worked in restaurants and ended up working as a bartender at a dive bar in the Hamptons, acquiring a love for mixology. She is a member of Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails (LUPEC) and acquired her nickname from the name of a whiskey cocktail she created. The Bourbon Belle is made with bourbon, peach liqueur, bitters, and sweet vermouth, and was made to be an approachable cocktail.

The third presenter was Allisa Henley (pictured on the right) who is the Dickel Distillery Marketing Director and the Dickel Barrel Program Director.  Allisa was born about five miles from the distillery and she has worked for Dickel for about 9 1/2 years. The distillery is located in Tennessee, in the Bible Belt, with poses some challenges, though matters have improved over time.
Fred began the seminar by discussing his inspiration for his book. A new organization, Bourbon Women, started spreading the word that women were some of the first distillers. Fred wondered why no one had really told this story before so he began researching the matter to write just such a history. Fred continued his talk, providing a brief historical summary of some of women's contributions to brewing and distilling, back to the time of the ancient Sumerians. The historical outline continued to the modern day, highlighting some of the women that now occupy important and influential spots in the whiskey industry.

His presentation was compelling, providing lots of fascinating historical tidbits, and enticing attendees to want to read his book. In fact, each attendee received a hardcover copy of his book as part of their ticket, and the seminar didn't cost anymore than the other seminars. After his presentation, Joy and Allisa spoke about their own experiences in whiskey and spirits, and later Fred asked them both a series of questions about women and whiskey. It was compelling to hear their viewpoints, and the stories of their lives with whiskey. The overall presentation gave plenty of evidence of the significant role women have played in whiskey both historically and in the present. It isn't a man's world, and hasn't ever really been so.  

One of my favorite slides from Fred's presentation was why "women were the best bootleggers" during Prohibition. You see plenty of stories about male bootleggers, from Al Capone to Lucky Luciano, but when was the last time you heard of a female bootlegger? 

Of course we got to sample some whiskey. First, we began with a tasty Whiskey Punch, made with Dickel #12, black tea and lemon. It sees like black tea is being used more and more in cocktails, and I fully approve. We then moved onto Bulleit Bourbon, which is made with about 28% rye, making it very different to many other bourbons. It is a mix of sweet and spicy, and is good on its own or in a cocktail.

Next up were three Dickel Whiskies. The Dickel Rye, which has only been out for about a year, is made from 94% Rye, is about 5-6 years old, and undergoes cold filtration, making it taste smoother and mellowing some of the spice notes. I was impressed with this Rye, especially as it is priced around $25 or so. The Dickel #8, is made from a blend of 84% corn, 8% rye, & 8% malted barley, is 5-7 years old and is 80 proof. It has an intriguing smoky finish, and those who enjoy Scotch were said to like this whiskey. The Dickel #12 uses the same mashbill, is 7-9 years old and is 90 proof. It didn't seem as sweet and lacked the smokiness of the #8. The additional age and higher proof definitely create a different tasting product.

Kudos to Fred, Joy, Allisa and all the women who have contributed to the history of whiskey.

I was eager to attend the seminar, Japanese Whisky: Pride. Perfection. Passion, as the Japanese Whisky industry has been producing so much excellent whisky, which has won some of the top international whisky awards. However, in the local area, only a few Japanese whiskies are available and it is always interesting when a new product hits the shelves, such as Nikka Whisky
. Brought in by the Anchor Distilling Company, this seminar was an excellent introduction to their whisky.

The presenters included Alyssa DiPasquale, advanced Sake professional and manager at O Ya, and Nick Korn, a bartender and Japanese whisky enthusiast. The presenters did a good job of providing a brief history of Japanese whisky production, background on Nikka, and some general information on Japanese alcohol. There would also be a tasting of Nikka whisky accompanied by a couple snacks from O Ya.

One of the initial ideas presented was the Japanese concept of Shokunin, which roughly translates as "craftsman" or "artisan" but it goes beyond mere technical skill. It also comes with a social obligation to work for the general good of the community. How many Western artisans, such as whiskey makers, see their work through this lens? I have seen some wineries,distilleries and breweries (and also chefs) who possess a strong social consciousness. They may not know the concept of Shokunin, but they are still adherents without even knowing it.

In 1854, when Commodore Matthew Perry came to Japan to negotiate a treaty to open Japan to the world, he brought a few hundred gallons of American whiskey with him as a gift. The Japanese were quite taken with it and tried to imitate the whisky by adding additives to Sake and Shochu but that was largely a failure. I've read of an incident during World War I, when a couple U.S. transport ships landed in Japan, en route to Russia. At a local bar, the American soldiers drank some Japanese-made "Queen George" whiskey and an American officer stated "I never saw so many get so drunk so fast."

Deliverance finally came in the form of Masataka Taketsuru, whose family had been Sake brewers since 1733 (and still are involved in Sake production). In 1918, Taketsuru traveled to Scotland to learn the secrets of distilling and eventually brought his new knowledge back to Japan. Taketsuru ended up working for Kotobukiya (now Suntory) and helped to establish the first whisky distiller in Yamazaki. In 1934, Taketsuru went out on his own, forming Nikka Whisky
 and established the Yoichi distillery in Hokkaido. He believed that this location was very similar to Scotland, and he would later establish, in 1969, a second distillery, Miyagikyo, in Sendai. As a follow-up, during World War II, American soldiers in the Pacific were enamored with Japanese whisky.   

Japanese whisky production is about 90% similar to that of Scotch however one of the most important differences involves their use of wort, a liquid produced during the mashing process. In Scotland, they generally use a cloudy wort, which contains husk chunks, and will add grain flavors to the whiskey. The Japanese though use a clear, or crystal, wort, which doesn't contain anything else. Thus, the wort doesn't add any grain flavors to the whisky and it leads to Japanese whiskies often being said to have a purer or brighter flavor.

At Nikka, the art of blending is vital to their whiskey production and it is said there are 2000 permutations of whiskey available at any one time. This comes from different peats, 12 different still types, different aged whisky, different barrel types, different parts of the warehouse and more. They also use a special, native oak, Mizunara, which is expensive, difficult to work with, and imparts little flavor to whisky. It actually takes 40-50 years of use to provide flavor. Such a fascinating process, and uniquely Japanese.

It should be noted that even Japanese whisky is created to be food friendly. Because of this, O Ya provided us a couple snacks, Miso Pickles and Rice Crackers wrapped in Nori. All of the Nikka whiskies we tasted were 12 years old, intended to give us a better idea of the differences between the whiskies based on everything beside their age.

We had two cocktails, the first being the Sakura, which means "cherry blossom." It contained Nikka 12 year old, Italian vermouth, a reduction with Moresca cherry wine, Luxardo Maraschino liquer, and a salted cherry blossom. It had a bright cherry flavor, wasn't too sweet, and the whiskey notes weren't hidden behind the cherry flavors. The Mizuwari cocktail is kind of a whiskey soda, containing the Nikka Coffee Grain whiskey, homemade soda water, and sweet green tea. Mixed with water, you bring the alcohol content down by about 20%, making it a less potent alternative.

Next up, the two 12 year old whiskies were from the two different distilleries, Miyagikyo & Yoichi. The Miyagikyo is the more feminine whisky, being light, softer and more elegant. It had some nice spice, mellow caramel notes and more fruit flavors on the finish. The Yocihi is the more masculine, being bolder, spicier, less fruity and with a smoky edge. I preferred the Yoichi though I enjoyed the Miyagikyo as well. Both possesses a nice complexity and depth of flavor. For now, the Yoichi 12 is not available in the U.S., though the Yoichi 15 year old is available. The Miyagikyo 12 is also available.

We finished our tasting with the Taketsuru Pure Malt, a blend of whisky from both the Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. This was a whisky of power and balance, complexity and rich flavors. It was smoky with peaty notes, with elements of autumn baking spices, apples, caramel, cocoa and more. So much going on in this whisky, and the finish just lingers in your mouth. A superb sipping whisky which is going to appeal to any whiskey lover. Definitely my favorite of the seminar. There are also Taketsuru 17 and 21 year old whiskies that I'll have to track down.

Keep an eye out for Nikka whisky.

Domo Arigato and Kanpai to Alyssa and Nick.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Rant: Eliminating Sake Tariffs?

Sake lovers have been excited and hopeful after hearing recent news that Japan was considering pushing for the elimination of Sake tariffs, for both exports and imports. If this occurred, Sake prices would probably decrease and it would be likely that much more Sake would be imported into the U.S., increasing diversity and choice.

This sounds great but how likely is it to occur? Consider me skeptical.

We need to place this new in its proper context, and when we do, it seems unlikely to come to pass as currently envisioned. Japan's discussion of the elimination of Sake tariffs revolves around negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a "free trade" agreement among 12 countries, including the U.S. that is currently negotiating a final agreement. However, the TPP and its negotiations have been plagued with controversy and there has been much opposition to it. A quick Google search leads to numerous negative articles concerning the TPP, and very few positive ones. After checking out a number of these various articles, I am very skeptical that the Sake tariff issue will get resolved anytime soon, if at all.

First, the TPP has been cloaked in secrecy, even from much of Congress, which has bothered both Democrats and Republicans. Though there have been bipartisan efforts to make TPP negotiations more transparent, they have met significant resistance by the current administration. Information about the TPP has only come to the forefront of attention recently because of some leaked documents which have angered people over proposed provisions which would give corporations greater powers.

There are also allegations that TPP is more about protectionism than free trade, that it will provide little direct economic benefit to the U.S., and more. All of this controversy could potentially prevent the completion of this agreement, or at least drastically alter its contents. As much of this controversy is recent, due to the leaked documents, the TTP will undergo even more scrutiny in the coming months, which is likely to delay and potentially derail negotiations.

However, there is a better way to accomplish Japan's goal, if they are truly serious, and Japan has already taken this path with another country. In 2007, Japan and Chile engaged in an Economic Partnership Agreement whereby Chile immediately eliminated their tariffs on Sake in exchange for Japan gradually eliminating their tariffs on Chilean wine. That end result led to increased Sake exports to Chile, as well as more Chilean wines being sent to Japan.

Why couldn't Japan do the same with the U.S., drafting a similar economic agreement? I am sure U.S. wineries would be excited if Japanese tariffs were lifted or reduced, allowing them to sell more wines in Japan. U.S. Sake lovers would benefit too by lower prices and greater diversity. All of the controversy of TPP could be avoided, and it would not take as long to iron out an agreement with just the U.S. as opposed to 12 countries trying to make an agreement.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Tipsy Sensei Author Signing: November 30

Seeking holiday gift ideas? Want a book set in Boston, a supernatural thriller involving Japanese legends? How about a signed book from a local author?

On Saturday, November 30, from 12pm-2pm, I will be signing my three Tipsy Sensei books at Bestsellers Cafe in Medford. Come on down, meet me and I'll answer your questions about my books, Sake or the Passionate Foodie. Pick up a copy or two of my books for yourself or get some as holiday gifts for the book lovers in your life.

Hand Fed Tigers, my newest Tipsy Sensei novel, has just been released as a paperback and this will be your first opportunity to obtain it locally, besides purchasing it online. I'll also have copies of the first two Tipsy Sensei books, including The Tipsy Sensei & Others (a book of short stories with 4 Tipsy Sensei tales) and Demons, Gods & Sake (a Tipsy Sensei novel). My books currently have 33 Amazon reviews, all 4 & 5 Stars. Those who have been reading the new Hand Fed Tigers have been very complimentary.

The Tipsy Sensei series centers on a Boston-based Sake expert, Nate Randall, who learns that the supernatural creatures from Japanese folklore are real. During the course of the series, he encounters a variety of strange creatures, from shojo to tanuki, as well as other dangerous individuals from Japan, including yakuza and ninjas. As the books are generally situated in Boston, you will find reference to numerous local restaurants and other locations. You will also learn a bit about Sake while immersed in Nate's adventures.

The newest novel, Hand Fed Tigers, deals with Zombies, Cats & Ninjas. It is also the largest Tipsy Sensei book to date, nearly 25% longer than the prior novel. You could purchase e-books of the Tipsy Sensei tales but a signed paperback makes for an even more special purchase. So please come down and see me on November 30 at Bestsellers Cafe.

Kanpai and happy holidays!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thirst Boston: Fortified Wines--Vermouth & Sherry

Beside spirits, wine occupied a small spot at Thirst Boston, including two seminars on fortified wine, discussing them both on their own as well as their use in cocktails. As I am a fan of both Vermouth and Sherry, I was drawn to both of these seminars and I wasn't disappointed. I am hoping that all of the interest shown in these two fascinating fortified wines will boost their popularity as they have much to offer people.

The seminar Rethinking Vermouth: The Renaissance of Fortified Wine was presented by three artisanal vermouth producers including Carl Sutton from Sutton Cellars (California), Neil Kopplin from Imbue (Oregon) and Adam Ford from Atsby (New York). Vermouth production is still a relatively new industry in the U.S. and there are only around 10 artisan producers. Prior to this seminar, I have tasted only a few American Vermouths. Back in January 2010, I tasted my first American vermouth, made by Carl Sutton, his Brown Label Vermouth and it even was one of my Top Ten Wines Over $15 of 2010. In October 2010, I tasted, and enjoyed, the Dry and Sweet Vermouths produced by Quady Winery. I was excited to try a few more Vermouths at this seminar.

Vermouth is a fortified and aromatized wine that has been flavored with a blend of botanicals. Though Antonio Benedetto Carpano, of Turin, Italy, in 1786, coined the term "vermouth" for a wine flavored with wormwood, such wines have ancient origins. (FYI: The German word "wermuth" means "wormwood.")  The ancient Chinese flavored wines with herbs and roots while the famous Greek physician, Hippocrates, is known for having infused wormwood into white wine, creating vinum absintianum. The Roman, Pliny the Elder, even wrote recipes detailing how to create such wines. Most of these ancient cultures sought to create medicinal elixirs, benefiting from the natural properties of botanicals.

The first Vermouths in the late 18th century were sweet, and generally red in color, and it wouldn't be until the early 19th century that a dry version, generally white in color, was created in France. Thus, red Vermouths are sometimes called Italian Vermouths and white Vermouths sometimes called French Vermouths, though both countries now make red and white Vermouths. In addition, not all red Vermouth is sweet, and not all white Vermouth is dry. So it is difficult to generalize.

European Vermouth must legally contain flavoring from wormwood however American law does not possess such a requirement. The Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) defines vermouth as “A product which is compounded from grape wine, with herbs and other natural ) merely states aromatic flavoring materials, and which possesses the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to vermouth.” Wormwood provides bitterness to vermouth, and there are number of other botanicals which can provide a similar bitter flavor. This means that American Vermouth can be a diverse product, created from a myriad of botanicals. And the three Vermouth producers at this seminar showcased that versatility and diversity.

In the U.S., Italian sweet vermouth became popular in the 1880s and was used in the Manhattan cocktail, while dry vermouth became popular several years after, and became used in the Martini. Older cocktail recipes called for larger portions of Vermouth than what are used today. For example, Julia Child preferred Reverse Martinis, which use 5 parts dry vermouth to one part gin. With modern Martinis, Vermouth often seems to get short shrift, with people wanting less and less of it in their cocktail.

The new American Vermouths though do not easily fall into the dry/sweet dichotomy, and choosing which cocktail to add them to takes a bit more thought. In addition, some of the new artisan spirits produced in the U.S., from Gin to Vodka, don't work as well with European Vermouth and may actually pair better with new American Vermouth. American Vermouth may sometimes be too powerful for a European gin but will work much better with some of the new styles of American gin.

Do you have a bottle of Vermouth in your liquor cabinet? If so, how long has it been there, and how long has it been opened? Most people probably don't store Vermouth properly. Carl Sutton made the important point that Vermouth, at its most basic, is a wine and should be stored as such. Would you open a bottle of Chardonnay, have a glass, and then store it for several months on a shelf somewhere next to your rum and tequila? Probably not. The freshness of Vermouth is important and you should check your liquor cabinet and toss out any old Vermouth.

When creating Vermouth, the main aromatic is the base wine, and each of the presenters have different ideas on the type of wine to use in their products. Sutton prefers a good, neutral wine, keeping secret the identity of the grapes. He feels that if the wine dominates, the botanicals end up in the background. Kopplin, steeped in the wines of Oregon, chose to use an Oregon Pinot Gris from a winery located close to them. He also has the Oregon distillery, Clear Creek, make their brandy. Ford choose to use a local wine as well, Chardonnay from Long Island, as well as local apple brandy from the Finger Lakes.

Ford stated that "Vermouth is a story of trade routes," indicating the importance of the botanicals, which are sourced from all around the world. Spice routes have played a significant role throughout history, and Vermouth is almost like a microcosm of that history. In the U.S., you can add any amount and type of botanical to your vermouth, including fruits, herbs, barks, roots, flowers and more. Sutton's Vermouth contains 17 botanicals, but he started with a palette of about 120 and experimented with combinations. Kopplin's Vermouths only have 9 botanicals while Ford's Vermouth have either 21 or 32 botanicals. Because of the time and effort invested into creating their botanical recipes, they generally choose to keep the exact composition secret.

Some of the botanicals that are used are rare items, that many people may have never been exposed to before. Botanical combinations can also create more unique and exotic tastes which the consumer cannot identify. That is likely to make you think about what you are drinking, seeking to identify those unknown flavors and aromas. Sutton states that is one of the things that makes American Vermouth great, that you "Stimulate your mind too, not just your palate." I agree with Sutton, and have encountered that same thing in wine, being intrigued by wine tastes which pleased me but which I couldn't identify.

Sutton's Brown Label Vermouth ($20) was first released in December 2009 in San Francisco, and you can read some of my prior thoughts on it here. I love his Vermouth with club soda on ice. As I mentioned, he uses 17 ingredients but will only mention a few, including dried orange peel, rosemary and chamomile. He sources from all over the world, except that he grows some rosemary, and forages a bit more. All of his botanicals, except for the rosemary, are dried. He macerates each botanical separately, and uses no heat at all. He stated that European Vermouth often focuses on the floral but he wanted to focus more on fruit. Sutton also wanted to create something drinkable on its own, and not just as a cocktail ingredient.

With great passion and energy, Sutton is a contagious advocate of Vermouth (and he makes some excellent wines as well). Currently, he makes some special Vermouth blends for a few bars in San Francisco, and in the future, he will produce both Sweet and Rose Vermouths.  I highly recommend his Brown Label Vermouth.

Ford owns Atsby Vermouth, which was established in 2012, and the name is an acronym for the Assembly Theaters of Broadway, some of the first saloons in New York City to serve cocktail. Ford states that he does not make sweet or dry Vermouth, simply making Vermouth and with the name of each Vermouth helping to describe its contents. He macerates all of the 21+ botanicals together, cold seeps them, and wants his Vermouth to be made as a base spirit and not just a mixing ingredient. Raw summer honey is also used as a sweetener. I tasted both of his Vermouths, the Amberthorn and the Armadillo Cake.

The Amberthorn ($47) derives its name from its amber color, as well as the "thorn" in the Vermouth, that cuts through the sweetness on your palate. It may a powerful anise aroma, and on the palate, is light, elegant with a complex blend of citrus and herbs, and hints of bitterness. The Armadillo Cake ($47) takes its name from a groom's cake, shaped like an armadillo, that is usually a red velvet cake. It was at a wedding that Ford's wife first got him to taste a Vermouth and he became enamored with it. This Vermouth uses 32 bontanicals, and most are different from those used for the Amberthorn. To sweeten it, he uses a caramel that was made from dark Indian Muscovado sugar. This complex and impressive Vermouth is more powerful than the Amberthorn, but still with plenty of restraint and balance. There is an enticing umami taste, with a great depth of flavor, and unknown tastes which intrigue the brain. It was my favorite of their two Vermouths.

Kopplin founded Imbue Cellars, in 2010, in Portland, Oregon. Kopplin was a bartender and intrigued by the question of why artisan Vermouth wasn't being produced in Oregon. He decided there was an opportunity there and plenty of local ingredients which would create an excellent Vermouth, and lend terroir to the final product. He chose to use Pinot Gris as the base wine, for its fruit flavors and acidity. He uses nine fresh, dried botanicals for both of his products, including orange peel, elderflower, chamomille and sage.

The Bittersweet Vermouth is supposed to live up to its name, presenting a balance of sweet and bitter flavors, and it succeeds on that level. There are plenty of orange notes with more subtle herbal aspects. It is intended to be drank on its own, or in a cocktail. Petal and Thorn Vermouth ramps up the bitterness level, using gentian root, and the bitterness on the palate is dominant. This Vermouth also contains 5% organic Syrah, organic beets and some cinnamon. It is supposed to be slightly feminine and slightly aggressive, and reminds me a bit of some Italian digestifs like Amaro or Averna.

As the producers pointed out, and which I agree, all of their products are unique so there is no real competition, and the market could easily handle plenty of other American Vermouth producers. With such a great number of botanicals available, and a near infinite series of combinations, the potential diversity is stunning. Stop treating Vermouth as an afterthought, that cheap bottle you buy as a mixer, and learn about the wonders of American vermouth on its own, and as the primary component of cocktails.

Because of my great love for Sherry, I knew I had to attend the seminar, Pirates, Partisans & Grandmothers: The Legacy & Use of Sherry. The two presenters were Derek Brown (writer, mixologist and owner of Washington, D.C. bars The Passenger, The Columbia Room, and sherry bar, Mockingbird Hill) and Jackson Cannon (owner of The Hawthorne). Derek said, a bit touch in cheek, that he wanted to name the seminar, "How To Unfuck Sherry" which actually might have garnered even a larger audience.

The purpose of the seminar was to explain about Sherry, from its history to production, as well as to destroy some of the myths about Sherry. Derek mentioned that Sherry is "a wine that belongs to an ancient past", extending back to the time of the Phoenicians. Derek and Jackson did an excellent job of simplifying Sherry, while still providing lots of valuable information. They discussed Sherry's history, it production process, the various types, its versatility with food and more. Personally, I learned little new, which I expected, but I was likely the exception and it was a great seminar for anyone with limited knowledge of Sherry. Derek and Jackson were passionate Sherry advocates, and I think some of that passion spread to the rest of the attendees. They also did a nice job of distilling the complexities of Sherry into an easily understandable summary.

It was cool that Derek began his talk discussing the common saying that Sherry is primarily a drink for grandmothers. In fact, many older people don't really drink Sherry anymore. Sherry popularity is still relatively low, but it may be slowly gaining, especially with its use by mixologists. You see more Sherry cocktails at local bars, which is good, but far more people need to start drinking Sherry on its own as well. The Hawthorne Bar is a Sherry advocate while Taberna de Haro still has the best and largest Sherry list in the local area, with over 40 choices.

Sherry cocktails have a lengthy history in the U.S., and the Sherry Cobbler was mentioned as early as 1809, just six years after the first documented mention of "cocktail." The Sherry Cobbler was made with crushed ice, Sherry, a little sugar, fruit and you used a drinking straw with it. We tasted an Adonis, kind of a Sherry Manhattan, which uses an Amontillado or Oloroso, sweet vermouth and orange bitters. It was an interesting Manhattan variation, one I would recommend. Derek mentioned that Sherry and Vermouth pair well together, and I am interested in seeing how some of the new American Vermouths might work with different Sherries.

They also mentioned that Pedro Ximinez (PX) and Moscatel Sherries can be used to add a bit of sweetness to a cocktail. As PX can often be overly sweet and viscous, I would recommend being judicious in its use. However, we tasted a PX Sweet Tea, which uses PX and black tea, and I was surprised at how good it was, without being overly sweet. I have a couple bottles of PX in my wine cellar so am going to make some Sweet Tea with it soon.

Expand your wine horizons and drink more Sherry, both alone and in cocktails.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thirst Boston: Terroir & Merroir

"Terroir," a sense of place, is a hot word in the wine world, however it applies elsewhere as well, such as food. Honey, cheese, mushrooms and more can possess a unique sense of place. We can even extend the concept to merroir, the effect of the ocean on seafood like oysters. Besides food and wine, you can even find some spirits which possess the potential for terroir, being reflective of a specific place. At Thirst Boston, one of their seminars dealt with some of these issues.

The seminar, Location, Location, Location: Terroir & Merroir, was held at the Island Creek Oyster Bar and led by Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli, the General Manager at Island Creek, and Misty Kalkofen, a noted mixologist and the Brand Ambassador for Del Maguey Mezcal. They led us through a discussion of terroir and merroir, as well as a tasting of wine, rhum agricole, mezcal, coffee, chocolate and oysters. Tom and Misty were informative and fun, the seminar was well attended,and the setting of the restaurant was a nice touch.

Terroir was said to include vintage, land, air, water, and temperature though there was a disagreement between the two presenters whether the human element should be considered part of terroir or not. Misty felt that it should though Tom had some doubts. For myself, I believe that it includes the human aspect, though that is probably too complicated and lengthy of a discussion for now. Tom and Misty also mentioned that "terroir is an opportunity," indicating that choices in the production of food or drink can obscure and eliminate terroir. Not all wines indicate terroir and that is largely due to the choices made during the wine making process, such as whether heavy intervention is conducted. So, though we may not agree that the human element is part of terroir, it is clear that human intervention can obscure terroir.

A limited number of spirits were said to have an opportunity for terroir, including Brandy, Cognac, Armagnac, Rhum Agricole, Scotch, Mezcal and Tequila. Personally, I would add that other spirits may have that potential as well, including even something like Vodka. For example, I believe that Karlson's Vodka, an unfiltered, Swedish vodka that is made from several different varieties of virgin potatoes, and grown in a specific area of Sweden, can show terroir. However, most other vodkas probably do not show terroir.

As for food, we enjoyed a couple Island Creek Oysters, from the waters off Duxbury, which possess a briny flavor that is indicative of the ocean where they are grown. The water's temperature, salinity, mineral components, and more all contribute to the taste of an oyster so that oysters grown in different parts of the ocean will possess unique tastes.

We also snacked on some Taza Chocolate Cacao Puro Chocolate Mexicano, which is made from a single origin Dominican cacao and organic raw sugarcane. An entire seminar could be devoted to the differences of cacao from various regions.  

There was even one nonalcoholic drink tossed into the mix, coffee from Jim's Organic Coffee. Tom mentioned that the lighter the roast, the more likely the coffee will possess terroir. The coffee that was provided was a Guatemalan Atitlan, an organic single origin coffee. Coffee is another beverage which may or not show terroir, dependent on numerous factors of how it is produced.

I've visited the Collio region of Italy, located in the northeast and bordering on Slovenia. At one point on my trip, I ascended a mountain on the border and as I traveled up the windy path, I passed in and out of Italy and Slovenia. I could even stand and have a foot in both countries. The land on both sides is similar and the estate of the Movia Winery actually occupies land in both Slovenia and Italy. As the winery is physically in Slovenia, the wines receive the appellation of Brda, and not Collio. The estate was purchased in 1820 by the Kirstancic family, and it is currently run by Ales Kirstancic. Ales produces "natural" wines, wines intended to reflect terroir, and you will find them very different from many other wines you are used to. I've had Movia wines before and I am a fan of their unique style. At the terroir seminar, we tasted two Movia wines, each intriguing and tasty.

The 2005 Movia "Puro" Rosé Sparkling Wine is made from 100% Pinot Noir, spending four years in large Slovenian oak barrels and two years in the bottle. Interestingly, the wine still contains the lees and you must disgorge the bottle on your own. Nearly every other sparkling wine in the world is already disgorged before the bottle is offered for sale. For Ales though, he feels that the wine is alive, and should continue to develop in the bottle until that last moment when you open it. It doesn't contain any preservatives, but the lees and natural yeast are supposed to give this wine longevity. In the picture above, you can see Tom disgorging the bottle. I have disgorged a sparkling wine before, and it is not that easy if you have never done it before but I appreciate and respect the intent behind this wine. The wine is delicious, with crisp acidity, a light effervescence, clean red fruit flavors and hints of a briny finish.

The 2008 Movia Sivi Pinot is made from 100% Pinot Gris, which has aged for 18 months in large French oak. It was an intriguing white wine, with crisp, clean flavors and touches of peach and citrus, minerality and a light smokiness. A richer wine with plenty of complexity and a lengthy finish. Would be a great wine for Thanksgiving.

We next moved onto Rhum Agricole, a type of rum from the French West Indies that is distilled from sugar cane juice rather than molasses. That makes it more similar to Cachaca rather than Rum. The island of Martinique has an AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée), the only one of its kind, and that tends to support that terroir is potentially involved.

In 1887, Homere Clement, a physician and mayor, purchased a 43 hectare sugar plantation, Domaine De L'Acajou, and transformed it into a Rhum producer, Clement Rhum. We tasted their Première Canne, which was fairly smooth with an interesting herbal taste and a bit of sweetness. It seemed a bit simple though.

On the other hand, Rhum J.M., which was founded in 1845 on Martinique, produced a more complex Rhum Agricole Blanc, with an intriguing and layered blend of herbal, tropical fruit and citrus flavors. I was also introduced to a new tasting term, hogo, which roughly means "high taste" and refers to a certain funky flavor of rum and Rhum that is reminiscent of roasted game meat or something fermented. I didn't think this Rhum possessed hogo, but others might find that flavor there.

From sugarcane to agave. I feel that Mezcal is under appreciated and that Tequila gets all of the positive press, despite the fact they both are agave products. Mezacl, derived from a Nahuatl word meaning "cooked agave," is produced from the pina, the heart of the agave plant. Unlike Tequila, Mezcal can be made from over 30 types of agave, though the most commonly used is the espadin. There are Mezcal distilleries in most of the states of Mexico, and it is often hand crafted by small producers, known as palenques. Known as the "slow food of distilled spirits" as agave takes so long to mature, the pinas are roasted in the earth and the type of wood, from mesquite to oak, used will impart flavor to the mezcal. Because of this roasting Mezcal also always possesses a smoky aspect.

Del Maguey, founded in 1995, produces 100% certified organic single village Mezcal using traditional methods and made by individual family producers. For Mezcal, apparently altitude of the agave leads to significant differences in taste. We began with the Chichicapa, from a low altitude, that had a mild, smoky taste with a little sweetness while the Tobala, from a higher altitude, was smokier and less sweet, with tropical fruit flavors on the finish. The Tobala also possessed more complexity and a greater depth of flavor. Drink more mezcal.

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 Sunday, November 24, from 6:30pm-10pm, JM Curley’s Revelry for Charity dinner series will continue, this time with Executive Chef Josh Lewin of Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro and Executive Chef Richard Kuo of New York City’s Pearl & Ash as well as a special appearance by Patrick Cappiello, Pearl and Ash’s wine director.

Revelry for Charity is an ongoing dinner series held at JM Curley one Sunday each month that features one local and one national chef working together to cook a multi-course feast paired with beverages. True to its name, each dinner raises funds for two charities of the featured chefs’ choice. This month Josh Lewin, executive chef of Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro will be donating his proceeds to the charity, Ground Operations, whose mission is to “strengthen the growing network of combat veterans transitioning into new careers in sustainable farming and ranching.” Ground operations helps these veterans create healthy new lives for themselves as well as create food security for many communities across America.

Pearl and Ash’s Richard Kuo and Patrick Cappiello, the national restaurant featured in this month’s series, will be donating their proceeds to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC). FHCRC’s mission is to eliminate cancer and related diseases and gives scientists the freedom to conduct creative research that has led to lifesaving discoveries and hundreds of thousands lives saves worldwide.

Join these celebrated chefs for a fun night full of food, fundraising and libations. Tickets are $125 per person and are available for purchase online. Following the dinner the revelry continues with an after party at Tavern Road in Fort Point beginning at 10:30PM (not included in ticket price).

Tickets are required and can be made by visiting this site.

2) Beat Hôtel, which fuses Parisian Avant-Garde with Harvard Square Jazz, just launched its new weekend brunch menu last Saturday.

Every Saturday and Sunday, from 10am-3pm, the brand new restaurant will serve weekend brunch accompanied by live jazz performances from local and internationally acclaimed performers. Beat Hôtel’s Executive Chef, Rebecca Newell, will serve a broad range of brunch fare ranging from more traditional items such as quiche made with spinach, kale, artichoke & feta served with frites & salad ($12), French toast with whipped cream and apple & pear compote ($12) and eggs benedict with choice of ham ($12) house smoked salmon ($13.50) or spinach ($12). Chef Newell will also be serving the eclectic takes that she’s become known such as Mexican tofu scramble, black beans, salsa, avocado and tortilla ($12.50).

For diners opt-ing for more lunch-like items Beat Hôtel will be serving a selection of sandwiches like the roast turkey sandwich with mayo, Swiss cheese, pickles, carrots, tomatoes on sunflower wheat ($13,50), tuna salad on wheat toast ($12.50) both served with slaw and frites. And it wouldn’t be Beat Hôtel with its already signature earth bowl, this time with two different offerings: the sun bowl: 5 whole grain pilaf, roasted & sautéed veggies with soy sauce and the guru bowl with autumn quinoa pilaf, cranberry, walnut, curry apple and lettuce. Customize them by adding poached eggs ($ 13.50), tofu scramble ($ 13.50), chopped sirloin ($15), grilled chicken ($15), wild salmon ($ 18.50), skirt steak* ($19), roasted tofu & seitan ($ 13.50)

Families are welcome, and children can munch on selections from Beat’s “Flower Children” menu including: kiddie scrambled eggs & toast ($7.50), grilled cheese ($7.50) and French toast ($7.50).

Guests are strongly encouraged to RSVP online or by calling Beat Hôtel at 617-499-0001.

3) Beginning this week, Nebo will be open for lunch, from Monday to Friday, 11:30am-2:00pm. The lunch menu includes spuckies, shareable antipasti, a few salads & sides, and piatti like the Bobby Flay Throwdown-winning zucchini lasagna and vitello Milanese, as well as salmone con fagioli, a light pan-seared salmon with white beans, parsley, evoo, and saba. With the addition of weekday lunch, Nebo is now open all day Monday-Friday, from 11:30am to close, with an abbreviated menu available at the bar between lunch & dinner service (2:00-4:30pm). This “in between” menu includes pizza, zucchini lasagna, and salads. On Saturdays, Nebo opens at 4:00pm.

The new Spuckies, inspired by the gourmet sandwiches served at rest stops along the Autostrada in Italy, are served on homemade ciabatta and include:
Autostrada – prosciutto de parma, mortadella, finocchiona salami, coppa, provolone, pepperonata
Roma – slow-roasted porchetta, fried egg, crispy onion rings, housemade tomato jam
Sicily – Italian tuna, egg wedge, cannellini beans, provolone, olive tapenade, aioli, tomato
Puglia – burratta, imported mortadella, tomato, saba, evoo
Teramo – meatballs in gravy, pecorino romano, asiago
Milano – crispy chicken Milanese, sautéed broccoli rabe, provolone, aioli
Lombardia – Peroni beer-battered Atlantic white fish, Italian slaw, sriracha aioli

4) The 2nd Annual Christmas in the City Kick-Off & Celebrity Holiday Tree Auction event will be Tuesday, December 3, from 6pm-8pm, at the Seaport Hotel. The evening will feature an auction of extraordinary Christmas trees lit and fully decorated by Mayor Thomas Menino and the Black and Gold’s left wing, #17 - Milan Lucic. 100% of money raised from this event will go to Christmas in the City, including ticket sales.

The Seaport Hotel will be providing tasty nibbles and a cash bar for guests to enjoy during the event; and the hotel will also be a toy drop off location for Christmas in the City. You can literally valet your toys, to make donating quick and easy!

Christmas in the City, a 100% volunteer organization, will hold its 25th Annual Holiday Party this year and is expecting to serve more children than last year when they hosted 4,000 children & Moms living in shelters or transitional housing at their celebration. The following day, they gave out 8,500 more gifts of toys and clothing to the families of boys and girls who have fallen on hard times and otherwise might find nothing under the tree.

Admission price is a donation of $20! Tickets are available at

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thirst Boston: Overall Impressions

Combine Kentucky Bourbon, Japanese Whisky, Spanish Sherry, California Vermouth, Massachusetts Cider, and Italian Fernet Branca. Mix in oysters, chocolate, jerk chicken, and miso pickles. Pour into a large rocks glass and garnish with an assortment of local mixologists, drink writers, brewers, distillers and cocktail enthusiasts. Call this concoction: Thirst Boston

Last week, I attended, as a media guest, the multi-day event, Thirst Boston, held at the Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square. The event was created and organized by a group of four locals, including Maureen Hautaniemi, Brandy Rand, Andrew Deitz, and TJ Connelly, though plenty of others contributed to the event's success, from presenters to volunteers. On their website, Thirst Boston's intent is to be "...a gathering of bartenders, industry icons and beverage connoisseurs from Boston and beyond. Our goal is to educate attendees on the science, craft, and taste of all things related to the art of drink. We want to celebrate our local talent (your favorite bartenders and baristas) and have a pretty kick-ass time hanging out together." I believe they successfully accomplished their objective.

The event started on Saturday night and ended on Tuesday morning, though the heart of the event took place on Sunday and Monday. There were an assortment of parties and lunch events, priced from $30-$75, and over 20 seminars, priced $20 each, with a number of complimentary events, such as after- parties and tasting rooms, which accompanied your purchase of any event or seminar ticket. You could also purchase a one or two day pass, for $135 or $295, which allowed you entry to three seminars each day, as well as the three daily special events. The two day pass also included a ticket to the Saturday evening party, The Thing. Even if your budget was tight, there was still plenty you could experience for just $20, the cost of a seminar.

There was a nice diversity of events, from the Saturday night opening party, The Thing, at the Harvard Club, to lunch events such as High Tea & Tipples with Drambuie and The Appleton Estate Jamaican Bartender's Brunch. There were other parties too, such as Blender Blender (a bartender competition of frozen drinks) to Stars, Stripes & Swing (a celebration of Armistice Day). You also found after parties hosted by brands from Fernet Branca to Bulleit Whiskey. There were over 20 seminars, a pop-up of The Boston Shaker, book signings, a few tasting areas, and more. There was something for everyone, and plenty of opportunities to taste some fine drinks.

As I attended last year's Boston Cocktail Summit, drawing comparisons between the two events seems appropriate. First, the Summit was primarily concentrated on spirits and cocktails, while Thirst, which was heavy on spirits and cocktails, expanded its offerings to include beer, wine, cider, and non-alcoholic drinks. Second, the audience at the Summit seemed to consist mostly of people in the trade, while the audience at Thirst included many more individuals who were just enthusiasts, and didn't work in the trade. In addition, Thirst seemed to have a higher overall attendance than the Summit. Third, the Summit ran twice as many seminars as Thirst, however the Thirst seminars garnered nearly full attendance while a number of Summit seminars had a much more skeletal attendance.  

Probably the most significant difference between the Summit and Thirst was logistical. I previously discussed the logistical problems with the Summit, primarily because they split their events between two hotels which were situated a fair distance from each other. That made it more difficult for attendees to attend events because of the often lengthy travel time that had to be considered. Thirst concentrated their events at a single location, the Hotel Commonwealth, making it far easier to get around and attend events. The evening parties were generally at different locations but that wasn't a significant concern. Thirst seemed to run very well, and was better organized than the Summit. Hopefully Thirst will return again next year and be even better.

The Thirst Lounge was a complimentary area for event/seminar ticket holders and included the Boston Shaker Pop-Up Shop, four different Hosted Cocktail Bars (2 on each day), and a couple tables promoting drink media and the On The Bar app. They even had some breakfast pastries each morning for the early risers, those who weren't too hungover from the evening parties.

The Boston Shaker Pop-Up presented a wide variety of cocktail related items for sales, from bitters to mixing kits, books to t-shirts. There were even author signings. For cocktail supplies, the Boston Shaker is certainly the local go-to spot and after getting excited at the various seminars, it was cool that attendees could pick up some of these items at Thirst.

On Sunday, I stopped by the Hosted Bar for the "Wake Up Breakfast Bar" with Galliano and had a cocktail, the Harvey Wallbanger, which I haven't had in many years. A Harvey Wallbanger is basically a Screwdriver with the addition of Galliano, and November 8 was even National Harvey Wallbanger Day. The origins of the cocktail are in dispute and it seemed to fade out of popularity, however it might be making a comeback. Galliano is a sweet & herbal Italian liqueur and in the Wallbanger, it adds a bit of sweetness as well as some herbal elements.

The basic recipe for the cocktail contains 1 1/2 oz. Vodka, 4 oz. Orange Juice and 1/2 oz. Galliano L’Autentico. Mix the vodka & orange juice in a highball glass filled with ice cubes and then pour atop a float of Galliano. Garnish with an orange wedge. I actually enjoyed this cocktail, kind of a retro thing, and with the orange juice, it was a nice morning drink.

On Monday, I stopped by the "Top o’ the Morning Bar" with KilbegganTyrconnell Irish Whisky. I've enjoyed Kilbeggan before but Tyrconnell ($72), an artisan distillery that was bought by Kilbeggan, was new to me. It is a Single Malt Irish Whiskey that was aged for ten years, including 8 months in a Port cask. The whisky is smooth and complex, with notes of vanilla, honey, citrus, red berries, spice and caramel. Everything is well balanced and the finish is lengthy and pleasing. A fine sipping whisky, and it would make a great gift for the holidays. Highly recommended.

Another complimentary area was the Hall of Liquids, which offered tasting samples of beer, cider, and some nonalcoholic beverages. For example, local beer brands and producers included Boulevard, Rising Tide, Ithaca Beer, Newburyport Brewing, Peak Organic, Notch, and Long Trail. Flat Black Coffee, which specializes in single origin coffees and is committed to ethics & sustainability, was very popular each morning.

Fever Tree makes a series of cocktail mixers, including Indian Tonic Water, Tonic Water, Mediterranean Tonic, Bitter Lemon, Club Soda, Ginger Beer, Naturally Light Ginger Beer, Ginger Ale, and Sparkling Lemon. The company launched in the UK in 2005 with their Premium Indian Tonic, which contained quinine. ‘Fever Tree’ is a colloquial name for the Cinchona Tree in which quinine is found. They use all natural ingredients and I have enjoyed their products before. I tasted their Sparkling Lemon, which I hadn't had before, and it was only mildly sweet with a strong lemon flavor and a refreshing effervescence.

They have an ad that states: "If 3/4 of a cocktail is the mixer, make sure you use the best." That is certainly an important issue in cocktail making, that the quality of your mixers matters a great deal. Using a high end spirit, but cheap ass mixers, defeats the purpose and lessens the cocktail. Top mixologists understand and it is something that home bartenders need to pay heed. Every ingredients matters.

Michele da Silva, one of the owners of Bantam Cider, showcased three of their ciders. I've raved about their ciders before, and got to taste one of their new products, the Bantam Rojo ($7.99/22 oz). It is made with sour cherries and black peppercorns, and it is a challenge to produce year round as fresh cherries aren't available all year. It is mostly dry, with a sour aspect up front, and a prominent cherry flavor throughout. There is a mild peppery note in the background. It was made for Thanksgiving and I think it would be a good choice for such. I think this is another winner from Bantam.

In the future, Bantam will be making more barrel aged ciders, and maybe using straight bourbon barrels.They are also working on a Smoked Saison, which will use smoked apples with a Saison yeast, and it could be available in January or February.

Thirst Boston held 22 different seminars, 11 each on Sunday and Monday, and they ran for 90 minutes. The seminars were broken down into 4 time periods, with 2-3 seminars in each period. The seminars covered a diversity of subjects and they were well attended, a number of them selling out. Each seminar seemed to have 25-30 or so attendees, and when the attendees were polled, it showed the variety of the audience, from bartenders to enthusiasts. The presenters did well, and there were tasting components to all of the seminars I attended. Next year, as the number of attendees will likely grow, the event might want to add one or two more seminars each period.

The seminar panels I attended included:
The Evolution of Bourbon
Whiskey Women
Pirates, Partisans & Grandmothers: The Legacy & Use of Sherry
Location, Location, Location: Terroir & Merroir
Rethinking Vermouth: The Renaissance of Fortified Wine
Japanese Whisky: Pride, Perfection, Passion.

I'll be posting more about these seminars in the near future.

Thirst Boston was an improvement over last year's Cocktail Summit, and hopefully it will return next year. I met lots of great people at the event, tasted some delicious beverages, learned more about spirits & cocktails, and had a fun-filled couple of days.

If you attended Thirst Boston, what were your thoughts?