Friday, December 21, 2018

2018: Favorite Spirits, Sake, Cocktails & Drink-Related Items

What were some of my favorite spirits and drink-related items of the past year?

Let me finish out the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2018. I've already posted my Top Wine lists, Favorite Wine-Related Items, Top Ten Restaurant Dishes, Favorite Restaurants & Food-Related Items and my Top 50 Restaurants. This post will now concentrate on some of my Favorite Spirits, Sake, Cocktails & Drink-Related Items. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of compelling and memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more spirits, Sake, cocktails and drink-related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Favorite Achievement in Spirits Writing: In The Rise Of Tequila In The 18th & 19th Centuries, I provided some historical background of how some Mezcal in Mexico eventually became known as Tequila. Much of the history deals with the 19th century, and includes quotes from numerous newspapers of that time period. There are plenty of intriguing tidbits about Tequila, from its pricing to how it was viewed in the U.S. And some of this information isn't found in any of the popular books about tequila.

Most Unusual Spirits Article: Alcohol is made from a wide variety of plants, from grape vines to grains, and various spices and herbs may be used in its creation as well. However, some people have also added animal parts to their alcohols, such as Mexico's famed Pechuga Mezcal. In my article, Animal Alcohol: Lamb Wine, Pigeon Blood Wine, Spirit of Goat & More, I discuss some of the more unique alcohols that used animals, mostly produced in Asia. I'm not sure how popular those spirits would be in the U.S. but I would be interested in at least sampling them.

Favorite Blended Scotch Whisky: Funded by a Kickstarter, the Sia Blended Scotch Whiskey has an intriguing nose, with touches of vanilla, spice, caramel and a tiny waft of smoke. On the palate, it is silky smooth, lacking the burn you find in some other Scotches. You'll find a melange of pleasing flavors, including caramel and vanilla, a strong spicy backbone, and more subtle hints of citrus, smoke, and toffee. It possesses a touch of sweetness and has a lengthy, satisfying finish. It accomplishes its goal of being approachable and accessible. And 1% of sales are donated to charities that help women start and grow their businesses.

Favorite U.S. Single Malt Whiskey: Created in Oregon, the Rogue Spirits Oregon Single Malt Whiskey is made from only three ingredients: Rogue Farms Risk™ Malt, Free-Range Coastal Water & Pacman Yeast, and it was aged for about five years in American oak. This light-colored whiskey possesses an alluring aroma, a complex blend of intriguing scents, which will make you simply sit and sniff your glass for a time, enjoying the aroma alone. On the palate, the complexity remains, with a fascinating melange of flavors, caramel to vanilla, baking spice to stone fruit, citrus to chocolate. Silky smooth, well-balanced and with a lengthy & satisfying finish. Absolutely delicious and it will please any whiskey lover.

Favorite Gin: Also from the Rogue Ale & Spits in Oregon, the Rogue Spirits Spruce Gin is the type of gin I prefer, presenting a delicious, intriguing and balanced mix of botanicals. The ingredient lists includes Spruce, Juniper Berries, Ginger, Fresh Cucumber, Orris Root, Orange Peel, Lemon Peel, Tangerine, Grains of Paradise, Angelica Root, Coriander & Free Range Coastal Water. On the nose, there is an intense smell of juniper, but beneath the dominant juniper are more subtle notes of the other botanicals, such as the spruce and citrus. On the palate, the botanicals balance out into a delicious and interesting combination, from fresh cucumber to herbal spruce, bright citrus and hints of spice. This could easily be drank on its own, with a little tonic, or make for an excellent component in a cocktail.

Favorite Brandy: I love Georgian wine, so it was inevitable that I would expand my samplings to include Georgian Chacha, a pomace brandy. The Askaneli Brothers Premium Chacha is matured in oak barrels for at least 12 months, and is filtered, which accounts for its colorless nature. With a 45% ABV, this chacha has an intriguing floral aroma and was surprising smooth and mild on the palate, with only a minor alcoholic bite. It possessed pleasant and more subtle flavors of hazelnut and citrus with floral accents. It was elegant, with a fairly long finish, and is definitely a very good value at its price. I definitely need to seek out more Chacha.

Favorite Spirits Book: John P. McEvoy published the second edition of his fascinating and informative guide to Mezcal, "Holy Smoke! It’s Mezcal!" The first edition was a comprehensive guide that I recommended often, and the second edition is even better. I should disclose as well that I'm mentioned in this new edition for my research into the origins of Pechuga Mezcal. The book is written in a fun and easy style, making it accessible for people of any knowledge level, and you'll enjoy some of the humorous bits scattered through the book. If you want to learn about Mezcal, this book will give you plenty of knowledge, recommendations and more.

Favorite Sherry BarTaberna de Haro wins this category hands-down, once again, as there is no other local restaurant which comes close. With over 60 Sherries, including some rarer bottlings, Chef/Owner Deborah Hansen has compiled an amazing Sherry list, offering a good number by the glass. The Sherries pair very well with her Spanish cuisine and I could easily sit at the bar all night sampling different Sherries, from a bone dry Fino to a sublime aged Palo Cortado. If you are ever in the area, you must stop here and try some Sherry.

Favorite Restaurant Cocktail: While sitting at the bar at La Bodega By Salts in Watertown, I perused their cocktail list and one item leaped out at me, and I knew I needed to try it. The Mangalitsa Old Fashioned is made with Amarena Wild Cherries, Angostura, and Mangalitsa Jamon Infused Bourbon. The Mangalitsa is a Hungarian heritage breed of pig, with a wooly coat, and its flesh is wonderfully delicious. The cocktail was excellent, very savory with a briny element to it, enhanced by hints of vanilla and cherry.

Runner-Up Favorite Restaurant Cocktails: Committee, the Greek restaurant in the Seaport, has a very good cocktail program, and two of their cocktails especially impressed me. The first is the Piscoteca, made with Pisco Barsol Verde, house-made tropical fassionola syrup, and lime. It was more dry, with intriguing tropical fruit flavors and a delightful vein of the Pisco. Very refreshing, it would also be a nice summer cocktail. Second is the Holy Smokes , made with Del Magüey Vida mezcal, Lillet Blanc, lemon, cinnamon, and tepache. The smoky agave spirit is prominent, enhanced by the spice and citrus, making it complex, refreshing and delicious. Another excellent choice for a summer cocktail.

Favorite Brunch Cocktail: At a killer brunch at Ledger in Salem, I enjoyed their 22 oz Bloody Mary, which is garnished with celery, an olive, a gherkin, and a hot pepper. It was a well made drink, with a pleasant spiciness and some other intriguing spices that were hard to identify, but which helped to make this cocktail different from many other Bloody Marys. And at only $14, it is a very good deal as well.

Favorite Beer: I dislike most beer, as I am very sensitive to the bitterness of hops and that taste turns me off. Every once in a while though, I find a beer that appeals to me. This year, I was impressed with the Backacre Beermaker Sour Golden Ale, produced by a brewery in Vermont. My friend Marc Hurwitz, the author of Boston's Hidden Restaurants, brought me a bottle of this beer, thinking that I might enjoy it, and he was certainly correct. This beer is inspired by the Gueuze, a Belgian lambic. With a nice golden color, I was impressed with its complex blend of flavors, with plenty of tartness, bright citrus notes, spice notes, and earthy hints. It certainly reminded me of certain, more natural ciders, and if blind tasted tested, many might not even realize this was a beer. Highly recommended!

Favorite Cider Paired Dinner: It is rare to find restaurants offering multi-course dinners paired with hard ciders. This year, Post 390 hosted a superb Farm to Post With Kimball Fruit Farm, with several heritage production, single-harvest ciders. The food was delicious, from Roast Pigeon to Heritage Porchetta, and the cider pairings worked so well. In addition, the ciders were intriguing, tasty, and tended to be more dry. Everyone near me at the dinner really enjoyed the food and ciders, and overall, it was an excellent experience. We need more cider-paired dinners!

Favorite Cider: From the Farm to Post With Kimball Fruit Farm, my favorite cider of the year was the Eden Specialty Ciders Ezekiel, a single varietal cider made from Kingston Black apples of the Windfall Orchard. This cider was also aged about about 12 months in an oak barrel. With an 8% ABV, this cider possessed an alluring aroma and on the palate it was a stunner. With a full body, it was elegant and crisp, complex and subtle, intriguing and delicious. It was dry, well-balanced and had a lengthy, satisfying finish, pairing very well with the porchetta. Frankly, it was one of the best ciders I've tasted in quite some time.

Favorite Daiginjo Sake: The Born Tokusen Junmai Daiginjo is produced from the highest quality Yamada Nishiki rice, polished down to 38%. What helps to make this Sake more unique is that it was aged for at least two years at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the freezing point of water.  The aroma of this Sake is alluring and seductive, with rich fruit smells, floral accents and hints of spice. And on the palate, the complexity of its taste thoroughly impresses. There is a rich mouthfeel, an intense depth of flavor including tastes of citrus, melon, grapefruit, pear, vanilla, and licorice. It is silky smooth and elegant, with a lengthy, pleasing finish. Every sip brings something new to my mouth and made me crave the next sip. Simply superb.

Favorite Restaurant For Sake: I've previously mentioned that Momi Nonmi is my Favorite Japanese Restaurant of the year, and part of the reasons for that is due to their Sake program. Their Sake sommelier, Stephen Connolly, has curated an intriguing and delicious list of Sake, and his knowledge and passion are quite evident as he helps diners with Sake pairings. It is a restaurant where Sake plays a dominant role, and isn't just an after thought. Go here for delicious food and Sake,  and gain a bit of a Sake education.

What were some of your favorite spirits, cocktails, Sake, and drink-related items this year?

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