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The Yale Cocktail
We have shamelessly borrowed this cocktail from the Yale Alumni Magazine, September-October 2012. For those wanting a simpler, muscular cocktail, try the Yale or the Yale Fence from Embury's The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. The recipe here is an update of the 1906 original, so be on guard. "Originally a mix of gin, bitters, and seltzer, the Yale cocktail evolved into a violet-colored drink in the 1890s with the addition of the French cordial Crème Yvette.
The (Nouveau) Yale Cocktail
2 oz. dry gin
¾ oz. Crème Yvette
¼ oz. Luxardo
¼ oz. dry vermouth
Dash of orange bitters
In glass half filled with ice, stir all ingredients for 20 seconds. Strain into cocktail glass and garnish with a sliver of lemon peel."
Cocktails for Gout
It is much more fun to read Britain's premier medical journal—Lancet- than the New England Journal of Medicine or our other medical publishing outlets. For instance, we have just been through a delightful historical tale that traces the birth of cocktails to an effort to rein in gout. The goutiest chap we ever have met had his delightful downfall many nights of the week at one of New York's fun steakhouses. They had the lobster and the booze waiting, both of which did him wrong.
Of course, he should have picked up his Lancet where he could have perused "Bitter Medicine: Gout and the Birth of the Cocktail:"
"Sydenhams Treatise on the Gout, published in 1683, argued that gout was the result of ease, voluptuousness, high living, and too free an use of wine and other spirituous liquors. Bleeding and purging could, he thought, be counterproductive, driving
peccant humours further into the extremities. Instead he recommended a light diet, plenty of fluid, and regular doses of a digestive remedy he called bittersdistilled
alcohol infused with watercress, horseradish, wormwood, and angelica root.
Sydenhams bitters became a popular remedy for gout not least because they gave sufferers an excuse to take nips of strong spirit during attacks and other
practitioners sought to emulate their success."
"And in 1783 Nicholas Husson, an officer in the French army, began to sell bitters that included an extract of meadow saffron, Colchicum autumnaleone component of which, colchicine, is now known to block the metabolic pathways that cause gout."
"By the late 19th century, however, the most popular bitters were not home-brewed, but made by two companies: Peychaud and Angostura" (08/22/12)
Patriotic Punch—Fish House
Back in 2006 we told you all you ever needed to know about Fish House Punch. Finally, the Wall Street Journal (March 21-22, 2009, P. W8) and other publications have caught up with this concoction, which, we can attest, will truly put you under the table. A couple of fellows took a fall at one party we gave. The WSJ also notes that the club that is home to this drink has also been variously called the Schuylkill Fishing Company and the State in Schuylkill. The WSJ goes through some of the permutations the drink has taken. Its recipe for the drink is slightly sissified, so we suggest you take ours to heart. And, to be sure, it’s a drink for summer, around some American holiday or another. (11-11-09)
We frankly did not know a lot about the Jura until we happened to start sipping vin jaune, as individual a wine taste as you are likely to encounter. It harbors a taste of sherry, and like sherry it is matured in a barrel under a film of yeast, but it is not fortified. To learn more about the wine and the region, we’d suggest a lovely article “Jura the Obscure,” Gourmet, March 2008, pp.102-109. “If vin jaune tastes like no other wine, it is simply because it is like no other.” The best come into their own after 20 years, and the wine is said to hold up for as much as 60. “Though politically divided between France and Switzerland, gastronomically the High Jura is one.” The region produces remarkable cheeses. “A little over a century ago, absinthe was the major industry of the High Jura town of Pontarlier.” “The cheese known variously as Vacherin du Haut-Doubs, Vacherin Mont D’Or, or, more simply, Mont D’Or, is in some ways the most distinctive product to have emerged from these mountains.” Surely anyone who wanted to visit the gods of cheeses would go up Mont D’Or, bringing back to us the holy confections. One time to visit the Jura is during the The Percée du Vin Jaune, “A Festival to Celebrate A Fabled Wine,” New York Times, January 20, 2008, a good way to shake off the rigors of winter. (11-11-09)
We have drunk their reds, whites, and everything else we can get our hands on. This is a very reliable very high quality wine producer on Etna, and one can trust everything they produce.Azienda Vinicola Benanti (www.vinicolabenanti.it) is one of the Etna producers to which one must pay attention. Giuseppe Benanti, as we remember, made his money in pharmaceuticals and has been able to hold steady, relentlessly producing high quality, tapping into the best onologist talent, learning a great deal from small producers whose families have produced wine around Etna for generations. www.vinicolabenanti.it/en. Via Garibaldi, 475. 95029 Viagrande. Catania Italy. +39 095 789 3399 or 78998878 (05-23-13)
Palari Faro 2005
We had a 2005, first in a restaurant near the Pantheon. Then we went over to Trimani in Rome (a wine merchant dating back to 1821) and got a bottle the size of a magnum. This wine seems to be a winner every year. Deep pleasure. The Faro region is very small and only has a few makers, bit Salvatore Geraci of Palari and Giovanni Scarfone of Bonavita do exceptional wines, full but not overwhelming. The Palari has won endless awards, and we over-consumed a 2005.
Jancis Robinson calls Geraci the saviour of the Faro region. (05-23-13)
The Best of the Wine Writers
We like Jancis Robinson because she is not a listmaker. She will sort out
the good wines for you and tell you why they make the grade. But she writes
literately about the whole world of wine, always spinning a good yarn, in
the Financial Times. We run across her in FT Weekend, a fun
section anyway, where the editors are occasionally smart enough to put her
on the front page. You can also find columns and such at
www.jancisrobinson.com. We have just read
“Bordeaux 2006—How the Weather Screwed It All Up.” One would think such
a tale of woe would be boring, but she makes this melodrama fun.
However, our favorite of late was “The Wine World’s
Tangled Web,” FT Weekend, March 17-18, 2007. The intrigue is deep,
and we like it that a wine buccaneer turns out to serve really top wines.
“The counterfeiters of old labels have become increasingly skilled.” There
are a lot of fakes about. Particularly at question were Bordeauxs
ostensibly from Thomas Jefferson’s collection that William Koch, the
American billionaire, bought from the assemblage of Munich’s Hardy
Rodenstock. Fake or not, Rodenstock’s tastings impress Robinson. “It is
thanks to Hardy Rodenstock … that I have had some of the most extraordinary
tasting experiences of my life. I have no idea whether the bottle of Yquem
1811, the famous year of the comet, served in Munich was genuine, but I can
assure you it was one of the most delicious liquids I have ever tasted….”
Robinson studied philosophy and mathematics at Oxford, worked for a travel
magazine, and was made an Officer of the British Empire in 2003. She is
married to food writer Nick Lander. There are also some other classic
writers who are very readable, but she is the best of the current herd.
“The prevailing style of Napa cabernet today emphasizes power, weight and extravagance, but Frog’s Leap is one of a small but significant number of cabernet producers that form a kind of alternate Napa universe. They are making wines of balance and restraint that are a direct link to Napa’s past, when wines like the Inglenook forged the region’s reputation as a source of great cabernet sauvignon wines.” See New York Times, August 19, 2008. “You don’t hear much about these sorts of wines today. Critics and consumer publications largely ignore them while reserving their highest scores for the sweet and plush set.” Eric Asimov claims that the following vineyards are pursuing a more restrained, balance course: Chateau Montelena, Clark-Claudon Vineyards, Clos du Val, Continuum, Corison Winery, Dominus Estate, Dyer, Forman Vineyard, Frog’s Leap, Grgich Hills, HdV Vineyards, Heitz Cellar, J. Davies, Joseph Carr, Konnsgaard, Mayacamas Vineyards, M. by Michael Mondavi, Rubicon Estate, Seps Estate, Smith-Madrone, Spottswood Estate, Tom Eddy Wines, Trefethen Family Vineyards, Truchard Vinyards, and White Rock Vineyards. (11/19/08)
Harris' Wine Vintage Chart
Most wine charts don't work, especially the ones in major publications
which have simplistic 1-10 grading scales. Who would have thought that
a charming Canadian oil consultant would have the right stuff, but he does.
In fact, we've used Mr. J. Richard Harris' chart for at least 10 years.
He's at #820, 717 7th Avenue S.W., Calgary, Alberta, Canada, T2P OZ3.
Wine at UC
As far as we knew, UC Davis was the school that pretty girls went to in
order to become veterinarians, but then they would leave, go to fancier
schools, and become much less useful as anthropologists. Only late in life
did we learn that this was the centre of learning for California wines, such
as they are. We have always been pleased that the UC wine grading system
uses a 20 point, rather than 10 point, scale, which very much helps separate
the best from the rotgut. For better and worse, as you can see in the
following, Davis has had a huge effect on both the California and the global
wine business. (See www.bath.ac.uk/~su3ws/wine-faq/ucdavis.html
and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_California,_Davis). Curiously enough, UC Davis lists
Nobel prize winners and other distinguished scholars on its website, but we
don’t see Maynard A. Amerine or any of the other wine greats there.
Tucked in the northwest corner of Spain, Galicia is one of the more
obscure and underdeveloped parts of Iberia. It is home to one industrial
powerhouse, Inditex, owner of the popular Zara brand of casual apparel. The
province’s Albarino wines, which go down beautifully in hot summer climes,
are another growing export.
Albarinos, Spain’s best whites, come from Rias Baixas,
a cool, damp, Atlantic maritime region of Galicia just north of Portugal’s
Vinho Verde country. These dry white wines have complex floral, fruity
aromas; a minerally, fragrant, delicately acidic taste; and a lingering
finish. Flavors on the crisp palate range from mint and citrus to pineapple
and peach. Legend has it that Albarino descends from Riesling grapes
brought to Spain centuries ago by German monks. Albarinos do resemble dry
German Rieslings, but the dry white grape also conjures up the scented,
aromatic Condrieu wines of France’s Rhone Valley.
These refreshing, firmly acidic wines go beautifully
with—surprise, surprise—the shellfish for which Galicia is also famous. The
2001 vintage was stronger than 2002’s. The International Wine Cellar
(published by this author’s brother), consistently gives high ratings to
these six producers: Bodegas de Vilarino Cambados, Pazo de Senorans, Adegas
Morgadio, Lusco do Mino, Bodegas del Palacio de Fefinanes, Lagar de Cervera.
(Editor’s Note: Andrew Tanzer contributed this entry.)
Our colleague Andrew Tanzer has been working his way through New
Zealand sauvignons blancs lately to good effect. Here is his report:
“Summer is upon us: it’s time to adjust our wine
drinking. New Zealand’s pungent, unoaked sauvignon blancs go down
beautifully during the hot, sticky months. Outside of France’s Loire
Valley, New Zealand is producing the finest sauvignon blanc wines in the
world these days. Wines from Antipodean regions such as Marlborough and
Hawkes Bay may lack the minerality of the best Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume
wines; but they have their own character, typically marked by flavors of
gooseberry, herbs, tropical and citrus fruits. These vibrant, refreshing,
food-friendly wines match well with seafood dishes such as grilled fish and
sushi. The bracing acidity cuts nicely through fish oils.
Bay, the famous name in New Zealand whites, produces consistently
excellent, but overpriced, sauvignon blancs. More affordable, consistent
sauvignon blanc vintners include Isabel Estate, Te Mata Estate Woodthorpe,
Seresin Estate and Sileni Estate. The 2002 vintage was relatively weak;
2003, on the shelves now, was stronger.”
Vergelegen in South Africa has a long and interesting history which
is detailed on its website at
www.vergelegen.co.za. Andrew Tanzer of Hong Kong discusses the comic
turn of events that keeps its bottles out of our hands in the U.S., a
restriction that’s about as silly as the restrictive laws that allow
protectionist states to stem the flow of wines from California, Oregon, and
Washington, bolstering local distribution monopolies. And we’re also still
protecting Americans from Cuban cigars. For a few more details on
www.wineanorak.com/vergelegen.htm. Here’s Mr. Tanzer:
“The South African boycott is over—or so we thought.
The U.S. government continues to bar the importation of wines from
Vergelegen, since it deems the owner of this splendid Cape winery, mining
giant Anglo American, a monopoly. You can purchase Vergelegen wines in
Canada, Europe, Japan, Hong Kong—just about anywhere except America. What
a pity: Vergelegen is producing some of the finest wines in the Southern
The range of Vergelegen is quite astonishing. This
early 18th-Century Cape estate produces superb Merlots,
Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux-style blends; a potent Shiraz; South
Africa’s best Sauvignon Blanc and exquisite Chardonnays. In other words,
in one region Vergelegen is fermenting outstanding examples of varietals
from Bordeaux, the Rhone and Loire valleys, and Burgundy. The
International Wine Cellar (published by Steve Tanzer, this author’s
brother) awarded 91 points to the 2002 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve
Stellenbosch, a 90 to the 2000 Chardonnay Reserve Stellenbosch, 91 points
to the 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Stellenbosch and 92 to the 2000 Estate Red
Wine Stellenbosch (a Bordeaux blend). Steve, who visited Vergelegen,
reports that winemaker Andre van Rensburg has a world-class ego—and
produces wines that back up his claims.”
that van Rensburg is quite a handful. More on South African wine at
Out of Africa
long wanted to get into South African wines, but still have not mastered
them, since they are temperamental if sometimes rewarding. A note from Asia
the other day sent us out for Goat-Roti 2001, which is a pleasing mix of
reds. As importantly, it is a wine with a sense of humor. On the label you
will find: “The council of Billy goats convened—bearded and wise elders
grumbled. Their position has been challenged by the popularity of Goats do
Roam, the exuberant wines created by the youthful and frisky members of this
flock….” On this label Fairview Estates is taking a dig at the French wine
barons who have gotten more than a little angry at all the spoofing. Its
ratings are good, and the price is bearable. For more on Fairview, see
A Screw Loose
Frank Prial, wine writer for the New
York Times, pens sensible enough stuff about bubbly, but he goes off the
deep end when advocating what the wine industry should do next. A year or
so ago, he campaigned a bit for the end of corks, enthusiastically endorsing
plastic substitutes as a way to keep some freshness in the bottle. Since,
we learn, there’s been a raft of problems with the plastique falsettos. Now
he is looking to put more screwtops on wine bottles, the screwtop mini-trend
having taken hold for a small percentage of the wine bottled in America.
For more on his thoughts, see “Popping Corks. A Sound Bound for Oblivion?,”
New York Times, May 14, 2003. Let us be clear here. We hated the
plastic and we hate the metal screwtops, and we think that anybody
advocating them has popped his or her cork. The feel is all wrong when you
are decanting. Part of the joy of every bottle sampled is the feel of the
cork, even if it crumbles a bit upon opening. Standardized winemaking—to
include too early picking, some additives, the wrong vats, and sundry other
new manufacturing practices—is producing wine that lacks a fineness.
What’s the saying … the good is always the enemy of the best. We will never
get a best from a wine that lacks a real cork from the Iberian countries.
Best Red in France
I've tasted a few, but I think that Chateau Margaux, even with its ups and downs,
runs away with the medal. About 30 years ago, a distant French uncle who was a
Bordeaux wine merchant took me out there, and we tried a bit from the barrels. Later
I went to wine country in California: I could have saved myself several stops.
Dessert Locale in Tampa
Bern's Steak House is not a restaurant. It's an institution. We were
put on to it by a detective friend. Only days later Frank Prial wrote about its
wines for the New York Times (April 4, 2001,
B2 and B11).
We all agreed that the climax of our evening came in
the Harry Waugh Dessert Room, completed in 1985. Located upstairs, there are
forty-eight private rooms where you can finally get a touch of quiet, an after-dinner
drink, pleasant lighting, perhaps an Italian vineyard mural, and paneled comfort to keep
your brandy, cigar, and dessert company. And you can dial up some pleasant music--we
chose light jazz.
Founded in 1956 by Gert and Bern Laxer, the
restaurant is now headed by son David, and may crank out upwards of a 1,000 meals a night.
So have a steak your way plus some of the vegetables from Berns' own farm.
The restaurant reminds you of several eateries in
America that combine mass with a touch of class. There are good spirits, and very
loyal, motivated help all take pride in the institution. We're reminded of Snuffy's
in Scotch Plains, New Jersey and of several other spots where you can have the pleasure of
eating too much.
After the dessert room, the second remarkable thing
about Bern's is the wine. It's list is now only a couple of hundred pages, though we
have heard it once covered two thousand. At any rate, we know of no restaurant with
a larger inventory. We enjoyed a very serviceable pick of Ken Collura, head
sommelier. This was followed by a tour of the wine cellar with Eric, our
waiter. In fact, we wish the wine tour were longer, but things downstairs were much
too busy. To start your introduction, look at www.bernssteakhouse.com or call
813-251-2421. Bern's is located at 1208 S. Howard Ave. Tampa, FL 33606.
Incidentally, there are a host of other restaurants on South Howard, a few of which the
locals will vouch for. And we are told that SideBern's, a nearby sister restaurant,
is worth a visit.
Last of the Best Wine Cultivars
Bernard Ginestet, wine merchant and chateau owner, has just passed away of a
heart attack, all too early at 65. Of a great wine family, he was more than his
business, which was started by his grandfather Fernand in 1899. Novelist, artist,
occasional local mayor, and author of books on wines from Margaux and other communes, he
brought dash to the trade, proving you really can't cultivate greatness in wine unless you
are cultivated. We first had Chateau Margaux on a visit there in 1969, and it still
is the best wine we have ever tasted. A recent bottle in San Francisco revived, if
not totally recaptured, the memories. See The New York Times, October 10,
2001, p. E10. During a downturn in the wine markets a few years after our visit,
Genestet lost his properties but none of his qualité. The wine trade, even with
fits of prosperity, has lost some of its essence.
Best Tea in the United States
Most of the teas offered in gourmet shops and fine hotels are neither fresh nor
fine. Certainly all the English imports have suffered on the journey to these shores.
Every morning we drink Winey Keemun, but the other varieties are standouts as well.
Grace Tea Company Ltd., 50 West 17th, New York, New York 10011, TEL: 212-255-2935.
We are used to hot mate, but we are well instructed by a gentleman from Paraguay that mate may be better cold. For our initial thoughts on mate, see “Sobre El Mate.” But then consider Mr. Francesco Christ’s beloved “Terrere,” the cold variety from his homeland:
Terere is an infusion of yerba mate (in Spanish), similar to mate but prepared with cold water rather than with hot, and in a slightly larger vessel. It is originally from Paraguay and is found also in northeastern Argentina and southern and western Brazil. When hot (mate), the Guarani people call this infusion ka'ay, where ka'a means Herb and y means water. The scientific name of yerba mate is Ilex paraguariensis.
The vast majority of people in Paraguay take their terer with water-infused herbs such as mint "menta-i" or lemongrass. When not prepared with plain cold water, citrus fruit juices are usually used, although this practice varies depending on the region. While mixing fruit juices with terer is common in northeastern Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, Lime and orange juices are used in Argentina and Paraguay; lime and pineapple juice are more common in Brazil. Terer taken with juice is commonly called "terer ruso" (i.e., Russian Terer) because this practice is more common with Slavic immigrants in the southeast of Paraguay and northeast of Argentina, than with Spanish- and Guaran-speaking Paraguayan people.
In some parts of Argentina, terer is seen as a lesser form of mate, and its drinking hardly ever follows the traditional drinking mate ritual. In Paraguay, by contrast, terer is considered preferable to mate on a hot day.
First invented by the Guarani natives who lived in Paraguay and western Brazil (Mato Grosso do Sul) territory that used to belong to Paraguay before the war of the Triple Alliance Triple, Terer was spread by the dwellers of that region, and for centuries was a social beverage. People usually prepare one jar of natural water and a "guampa" (Spanish) with a "bombilla" (Spanish) which is shared among the group of people. Since Paraguay and Mato Grosso do Sul have a very hot climate, this drink is excellent to refresh the body and can be considered a very low-calorie, non-alcoholic beverage. Additionally, it is an important ritual signifying trust and communion.
Guampas are gourds that can be made from animal horns, usually made from ox horns. Bombillas are metal straws with a filter at the end. (7-10-13)
Fun Green Tea Site
We talked about Green Tea in
“The Price of Tea in China,” and we’re much taken with the cleverness
and imagination many of the purveyors put into their websites. But the
Xianju Rain Forest Green Tea Plantation takes the cake (until we find one
that’s even better). See
www.worldconsortium.com/xianju.htm. It includes quotes on the virtues
of tea, everything you always wanted to know about brewing the green, a
listing of the components in Xianju that promise to make you healthier than
you ever have been in your previous lives, a bunch of tea quotes we intend
to borrow, and a mysterious introduction to the World Consortium of
Companies in Los Angeles, the orchestrator of this green tea bonanza. Even
if Mr. Haines, the impresario, now merely deals in tea, he promises that his
organization will practically remake the world in the years to come.
most of the site date back to 2004, with one change occurring in February
2005. In other words, we are not exactly sure things are hopping at the
World Consortium. But then we think you should take it slow in the world of
green tea. (6/15/05)
Most Stylish Glass Teapots
The herb garden is brimming with English mint and lemon balm, both of
which brew the most refreshing summer teas. The pellucid glass teapots made
by Jenaer Glas are a stylish way to
keep the green leaves in view as they steep. The award-winning Wagenfeld,
designed in 1931 by Bauhaus pioneer Wilhelm Wagenfeld, resembles an oval
bubble with an elegantly elongated spout. The Asian-inspired Senso shrinks
the spout until it is nearly flush with the body of the teapot. Both are
made of thin, transparent glass that looks deceptively fragile. In fact,
the tempered glass is tough and heat resistant. (Jenaer is a division of
the German company Schott, which
manufactures all manner of technologically advanced glass products, from
optical components for telescopes to rear view mirrors.) Either teapot
would look right at home in a minimalist room by Calvin Klein. We like our
Senso on a Moroccan table beneath the red-streaked Maurelii bananas whose
leaves are unfurling madly in the early summer monsoons. Contact:
(888) 365-6983. Or call Roden International at (954) 929-1900 for
Best Book About Tea
an unexpected twist led to a delightful conversation with James Norwood
Pratt, America’s foremost authority on tea. A native of Winston Salem,
North Carolina and resident of San Francisco, Pratt is the author of The
Tea Lover’s Treasury, a classic reference guide for nearly any lover of
the leaf. (Currently, that would include the 30 percent of all
Americans who drink tea everyday; annual adult per capita consumption is
about seven gallons. Such brisk consumption,
Pierce Hollingsworth writes in Food Technology, makes tea a $4.75
billion industry that has grown a spritely 125 percent over the last
Since The Tea Lover’s Treasury was first published in 1982, we have
consulted it often, dipping into its pages as much for Pratt’s engaging
tales of the origins of the brew as for his vivid observations of different
types of teas. His writing is witty, occasionally poetic, always acute.
Here he is on Gyokuro Green Tea: “If you imagine that a pale Green Tea has
to be weak and flavorless, Gyokuro will surprise you. It’s mouthfilling and
rich, with a very complex herbaceous quality.... If the Chinese lean toward
flavors somehow reminiscent of root vegetables in Green Tea, the Japanese
just as surely prefer theirs to suggest brewed yard grass. It’s a cleaner
taste, you might say, but a thinner one, sometimes evanescent almost.” The
book is filled with many irresistible gems of information, such as the
German ritual of parachuting in an early consignment of first flush, high
grown Darjeeling tea, “a gesture that rather dwarfs the annual French
enthusiasm for the Beajolais nouveau.”
Inexplicably, this valuable resource appears to be out of print, but a few
copies of both the first and second editions can be found at
www.abe.com. In June, Pratt’s latest endeavor will make its appearance:
Tea Room Guide and Digest, a magazine that will embrace the entire
world of tea, ranging from history and industry trends to antique teapot
collecting, tea room reviews and tea travel tales. With Pratt at the helm,
it is likely to be a most pleasurable read. Website:
www.tearoomguide.com. Telephone: 800/578-0591.
Sake It to Me
Trends in Japan,
23 May 2006 shows Japanese sake production to up 8% in 2005, with the dollar
value up 18% to $48 billion, a record for the 5th year in a row. All the
growth is from exports, which are up 50% over the past five years. “The
United States is the top importer of Japanese sake, accounting for 31% of
the exports.” “After the United State, the biggest import markets for
Japanese sake are Taiwan and Hong Kong. There is also growing interest in
China, particularly in major cities.” (6/20/06)
Best Website for High Quality Tea
For exceptional handpicked teas from India, China and points east, lovers of the leaf may
wish to investigate www.inpursuitoftea.com. The site not only offers a wealth of information
about different types of tea, the regions in which they are grown, and health benefits,
but it also has beautiful close-up color photos of the leaves of each individual variety.
(And the variety is staggering.) Proprietors
Alexander Scott and Sebastian Beckwith journey to Asia several times a year, selecting
most teas from small family farms in remote mountain areas; some are winners of regional
competions; few, if any, are ordinarily available in this country.
names of the teas are poetry. It was hard to
resist Drum Mountain Cloud & Mist, or Snow Dragon, but at length we settled on two new
offerings: Oriental Beauty Charcoal Roast
Oolong ($40 for 1/4 lb) and Jade Spring Green Tea ($15 for 1/4 lb). We ordered by phone (though you can order online)
on a Wednesday afternoon and had the tea in hand on Monday.
Each of the two varieties came vacuum-packed in sleek black envelopes with
clear brewing instructions on the back -- important, since the ideal water temperature varies with the type of tea. Oriental Beauty produced a delicate pale gold
brew, with hints of cinammon; Jade Spring a lovely fresh aroma. This is a site that will please the tea connoisseur.
Purveyor of Tea in New York's Chinatown
Dr. Andrew Weil often extols the antioxidant, cholesterol-lowering
properties of green tea. Among the bewildering array of purveyors of tea, we often
find ourselves returning to the Ten Ren Tea Company on Mott Street in New York, which
sells choice green and black teas grown in Taiwan. Although much has been made of
the shop's hospitality and willingness to educate the novice, we find that the staff is
usually more brusque than welcoming. On our last visit they were more interested in
the woman who was purchasing a counterfull of one-pound packages of tea (paid for with a
stack of well-worn $100 bills, we couldn't help but notice), than in our own paltry order
of a pound or two of osmanthus oolong.
Still, the loose tea scooped from the large black canisters behind
the counter has never failed to please. The first grade osmanthus oolong is among
the most costly ($125 per pound), but it produces an exquisitely delicate, pale gold brew
with a hint of citrus. The first grade jasmine ($100 per pound) is a lovely tea,
fragrant with the scent of the flower. A good opening strategy is to try one-quarter
pound lots of two or three teas in different grades and determine which you prefer.
Then you can decide if you must have the Ginseng Oolong King's Tea at $144 per pound, or
whether the fourth grade version at $48 will do. Be sure to pick up a brewing
instruction sheet which provides information about water temperature and steeping
times. Ten Ren Tea Company, 75 Mott Street, New York, New York 10013.
212-349-2180. Toll Free: 800-292-2049.
Inexpensive Tea House in Washington D.C.
No, they don't read tea leaves here. If they did, platoons of
politicians and pundits would throng the aisles. But this tiny chain of serene
self-serve tea houses does offer fine teas and tasty Asian-accented foods at low prices in
East-West-chic surroundings. Menus vary at the three locations, but one might try a
breakfast eye-opener of cilantro scrambled eggs with naan and raita, or
a hearty lunch of ochazuke, a "soup" of seasoned brown rice and green
tea. Even standard dishes have an Asian twist: a Black pepper Ham and Jarisberg
sandwich comes with eggplant chutney, while a rich chocolate torte is accompanied by green
tea ice cream. In hot weather, limeade spiked with fresh ginger juice is refreshing.
The perfectly brewed teas range from the house favorite--Golden Needle, a
"smooth, elegant" black tea--to rare green teas such as the "intensely rich
and vegetative" Japanese Gyokuro. We noted, but didn't try, Pu-Erh Camel
Breath, described as a "hearty, musty, aged Chinese tea reputed to have digestive
properties." Sounds like a brew for the campaign trail. Contact: Teaism,
2009 R Street NW, Washington, D.C. Telephone: 202-667-3827. (There are two
other locations.) Website: www.teaism.com.
Best New (Esoteric)
Book About Tea
rare exceptions, most books about tea are really about the scones, the clotted cream and a
nostalgic longing for a leisurely afternoon ritual that no longer pertains to modern life,
even in England. (James Norwood Pratts A Tea Lover's
Treasury is a notable exception.) This is one reason why discovering The Time of Tea
was such a pleasure. First published in Paris, the book is actually a pair of
volumes: one of photographs of the tea ritual in Japan, China, Sikkim, France,
amongst the Tuaregs in the Sahara, and yes, in England; and the other of short,
provocative thoughts about the true nature of tea and the places it comes
authors Bruno Suet and Dominique Pasqualini see it, the story of tea in the West is
inextricably bound up with colonialism and the exploitation of the East. (The black
China teas we drink are said to have been invented by a merchant who smoked rotting leaves
to sell to foreigners.) This political interpretation may not go down well with your
Earl Grey, but the book can be read simply for its wealth of information about this
ancient beverage. For instance, there is the tale of the legendary Wulong tea,
'Red Robe'," the product of a few centenarian tea plants
grown in a secret mountain location in China. In 1998 in Fujian province, one kilo
was auctioned for $900,000. We always knew we werent getting the best.
To order the book, contact www.inpursuitoftea.com,
which also sells superb teas. (See Best of Class #58.)
Atmospheric Tea Room in China Town--San Francisco
fell for Imperial Tea Court the moment we stepped across the threshold. This mellow
tea house, adorned with birdcages and polished rosewood tables and chairs, was created
less than ten years ago by visiting Chinese artisans, but feels as though it had been in
place for a century. As tea-inspired music plays softly in the background,
helpful ladies show the visitor how to brew and drink tea in the classic gaiwan, or
lidded cup. Dozens of premium teas may be purchased by the ounce or the pound, from rare
teas such as Bai Ji Guan (made from white tea leaves which resemble the comb on a
roosters head) to western-style, lavender-infused Earl Grey. Here one can also find an enormous array of elegant
Yixing clay teapots, prized for the porosity of the clay from which they are made.
Tea Court was created by Roy Fong, a Hong Kong native, ordained Daoist priest, and
impassioned lover of fine teas. Every year Fong visits small tea gardens in China
and Taiwan to personally supervise the production process; carefully nurtured
relationships with other growers have made it possible for him to obtain rare teas
unavailable elsewhere in the West. His website is exceptional, with a vivid
description and photograph of each tea, a map showing its origin, and specific brewing
instructions. Click on Classroom
to learn gong fu and gaiwan tea preparation, or Tea Tour for a
tantalizing itinerary of a China trip planned for 2002. Imperial Tea Court, 1411
Powell Street, San Francisco, CA 94133. Telephone: (415) 788-6080. Fax: (415)
788-6079. Website: www.imperialtea.com.
Cancer-Fighting Tea: Black, Green or ... White?
white teas were the most highly prized of all the teas in China. Grown in
the misty hills of Fujian province, this elegant brew is made from new
leaves, still covered with downy silver hairs, which are plucked before the
buds have emerged. Instead of being rolled like black and green teas, the
tender leaves are simply fired or steamed. Minimal processing may account
for the findings of a 2000 study at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon
State University in Corvallis:
After feeding rats white tea and carcinogens for 8 weeks, researchers noted
that rats who drank white tea had fewer pre-cancerous colon lesions. Since
white tea has higher amounts of antioxidant polyphenols than other teas,
scientists tentatively concluded that such teas may help to inhibit “mutagencity,”
an early stage in cancer formation — although the benefits may also be tied
to caffeine levels. (There appears to be some confusion about caffeine, as
the study cites higher levels of caffeine in white tea; most tea experts
note that the caffeine level is lower in white tea than in others.)
scientific findings may be a bit murky, it is very clear that white teas are
the most delicately flavored of all teas. They are best consumed not after
a heavy meal, but perhaps during a quiet moment in the early morning or late
afternoon. We sampled a variety of white teas from
www.inpursuitoftea.com, which specializes in rare teas produced by
small farmers dedicated to traditional production methods. Those who are
fond of stronger brews will probably be drawn to White Peony, a fuller
bodied tea with a pronounced sweet, slightly aromatic flavor. Drum Mountain
White Cloud is mellower with fresh, almost grassy undertones. Yinzhen Silver
Needle, considered the finest of white teas, consists “solely of early
spring-picked buds.... [T]he needle-shaped, white, downy buds turn into
shiny green spears when steeped.” We found Silver Needle to be the most
balanced of the three, yet curiously, the most difficult to describe: It
produces a pale golden liquid with a light fragrance and mild sweetness that
lingers on the palate.
philosopher of tea famously said, “Goodness is for the mouth to describe.”
Whichever white tea you select, be sure to brew with water heated only to
170 degrees, or until the steam just begins to emerge from the kettle —
anything hotter will cook the tea and, undoubtedly, kill off those
Kona Rich Coffee
tastebuds that have been coddled by too many milky lattes, the flavor of real Kona coffee
can be a stunner: rich, full-bodied and slightly acid, it packs a wallop. Virtually
every shop that sells coffee beans has a high-priced jar labeled Kona. The dirty little secret is that many roasters blend a few Kona beans with less
expensive varieties and pass it off as the real thing. A University of Hawaii study
revealed that while only 2 million pounds of Kona coffee beans are produced annually,
retailers sell upwards of 20 million pounds. Chances are that if youve been buying
Kona from your corner purveyor, you havent been drinking the genuine article.
get pure Kona coffee, grown in the volcanic soil and heavy rainfall on the slopes of Mauna
Loa, one must locate the handful of dedicated Big Island growers who painstakingly
cultivate, hand pick, sun dry and roast the beans in small quantities. One of the
best (were still sampling) is John Langenstein, a refugee from the harsh winters of
upstate New York, who grows coffee on an 8-acre estate and ages his beans anywhere from
two months to a year in order to mellow them. Langenstein Farms coffee has
been praised by The New York Times (From
the Volcano, the Rarest Brew by R.W. Apple), Food and Wine Magazine and The
Wine Spectator. We personally like the dark French roast; medium and Vienna
roast are also available. Contact: Langenstein Farms, P.O. Box 615, Honaunau,
HI. Telephone: 800-621-5365. Fax: 800-328-9891. Website: www.kona-coffee.com.
Most Scientific Expresso
Dr. Ernesto Illy of Trieste, chairman of Illycafe, sells scientific perfection in the form
of ultra-controlled expresso coffee. "Every step of the manufacturing process
is monitored by computers, and there 114 quality-control checks...."
"Quality is a consequence of control, control and more control," according to
Dr. Illy. Some do swear by Illy's beans. See "Discovering La Dolce Vita
in a Cup," New York Times, October 24, 2001, p. E13.
Three Coffee Houses
We can remember a time when there were few expresso cafes but all were good. Now there are thousands, and only a few have decent coffee. Even fewer perhaps, have an ambience that will gladden the heart. Our favorite West Coast detective David Fecheimer has staked his reputation on three. In New York, for him, it is Via Quadronno. But, of course, it turns out to be a chain—in Tokyo, Coral Gables, and Hong Kong. And it is more than coffee. Via Quadronno 25 East 73d Street off Madison, New York, NY 10021. Telephone: 212-650-9880.
In San Francisco: The Blue Bottle Café looks to be fun but be aware that the hours are short. Blue Bottle Café. 66 Mint, St San Francisco, CA 94103. Telephone: 415-495-3394. You can read about all this in the Examiner.
Pretend capitalists pretending to be rebels can hang out at Ritual Coffee Roasters, which is a nicely uncomfortable place to light up your laptop. The New York Times tried to capture the studied ennui in “Café Capitalism, San Francisco Style,” April 4, 2008, p. C4. Ritual Coffee Roasters. 1026 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110. Telephone: 415-641-1024. (6/18/08)
Belgium: The Best Beer?
We've had an uneasy relationship with the beers of Belgium for years. Sometimes we will strike a great one. And then a disastrous one the next day. The Economist talks about how Belgium turns out the best and, at the same time, "How a small, unremarkable country came to dominate the world of beer making" in "Brewed Force." There's a bit of a muddle here since the biggest in anything is usually not the best. And, in fact, with Anheuser Busch under its roof, InBev is the big boy on the block and the Belgiques have achieved a world dominance, just as at one time they were the kings of uranium, which came out of their king's infamous possession – the Congo. We have tasted the beers of most nations, including the awesomely bad craft beers of the U.S, and we find that we cast our vote for the Germans—their beers are just more interesting than those from Belgium. So Belgium is to be admired for its scope and volume, but not necessarily for its quality.
Geography and water helped Belgium become a beer giant. But lots of other factors helped it. Duties kept out French wines. Temperance movements suppressed the spirits trade. "This lack of alternatives guaranteed brewers a large and thirsty market. In 1900 Belgians drank 200 litres per head, roughly double what Britons and Germans were putting away. Today thirsts have dried up a little: a typical Belgian now quaffs just 84 litres a year." Protectionism, we think, made Belgium beer supreme in the world.
The Economist waxes long and strong about Westvleteren 12. We warn you away from the Duvel even if it is well slaked with alcohol. These days we have been putting away La Chouffe, but then shift to Dutch gins which knowledgeable Belgians secretly pine for. It is terribly ironic, of course, that the Dutch produce the good gin, but that the Belgians house a national gin museum on their own soil. Secretly, we are sure, they would rather be gin kings than beer barons. (3-21-12)
One Hundred and Twenty Dollar Beer
We are not sure this is the best of anything but at least the producers have gall. Schorschbrau Schorsch Bock 43 sells for a whole lot, perhaps because it has such a long name. Georg Tscheuschner scoffs at weak brews. “Schorschbräu Schorschbock 43 is a liver-melting 43 percent alcohol by volume (as potentas whisky). Traditional fermentation can convert only so much sugar to alcohol, and using heat would ruin the carbonation. So the lager is stored at a temperature low enough for the watery parts to freeze, but high enough to keep the alcoholic goodness liquid. A 15-step filtering process reduces 350 litres to a super-concentrated 35 litres -- enough to fill 100 0.33-litre bottles (¤99 each -- try bierpost.com). Tasters say it’s “fruity and malty” with “a hot alcohol finish that burns your mouth.
Sadly for Tscheuschner, as Wired went to press, his Schorschbock 43 was beaten by a Scottish beer with an alcohol content of 55 per cent. Its name? The End of History. Though, clearly, the very-strong-beer arms race has only just begun.” Wired, August, 2010, p.66. This concoction sells for $120 a bottle. (5-11-11)
Best Beer of the Bahamas
One recent visitor recommended Kalik to us, while
another said it is mighty expensive ($12 for a 6-pack), so he sticks to
scotch instead. With $30 million of Heineken money and Heineken
brewing expertise, it has achieved more than a 50% market share since its
founding in 1984. We understand "kalik" is the sound made by cowbells,
a key musical element in Nassau's famous Junkanoo festival.
(Incidentally, this annual festival is a must-see, our webmaster swears.
But its after-midnight starting time means that you may have to make coffee
your drink of choice on wild Junkanoo nights during the Christmas season.)
So why was the beer named “33” in the first place? “Without being certain (because who can ever tell what any Frenchman thinks) here are some interesting guesses: Average consumption of beer is about 33 gallons per person per year (based on persons over 18 years of age). The 21st Amendment abolished Prohibition in the USA on 5 December 1933. The French Brewmaster had 33 mistresses. Beer tastes best at 33 degrees. The beer is brewed at 33 degrees. 33rd Degree is the highest level status attained by Freemasons. 33 is a lucky number in the Chinese I-Ching philosophy.” Rest assured that 33 has many other important connotations you should know about. “‘Ba Moui Ba’ is Vietnamese for ’33.’” (10/8/08)
We are not sure from whence we stole the following text, but we can vouch for its conclusions. We have long drunk 33 with our Vietnamese pho and find it mild and pleasant, offsetting the extra spices we throw in our soup. Moreover, we always have wanted to see Danang, a war town, where it was once made. Just accept that this material was cribbed from somebody authoritative: “This Danang-brewed golden lager was produced by France's Brasseries et Glacieres Internationales, until the plant was nationalized after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975. After nationalization, Vietnamese-made beer was excluded from most major export markets other than Japan for years, and the French continued to produce 33 outside Vietnam under worldwide license. The Vietnamese beer became known as 333 (or “ba ba ba”), and the 33 vs. 333 dispute plagued Vietnamese brewing for decades. Heineken's Saigon Brewery Co. now produces “33”.
Best of Bavaria
We owe this discovery to Herr Braumeister Peter Gardiner, a Scot who
is an Associate Member of the Institute of Brewing and a graduate of Heriot-Watt
University in Edinburgh (see
www.bio.hw.ac.uk/icbd/icbd.htm). Apparently that’s one of two places in
Europe where you will go to learn how to do beer and ale the right way.
remark on Bavaria’s beer or singing. But you should pay attention to its
1516 Beer Purity Law—the Reinheitsgebot. It is thought to be the world’s
oldest consumer protection legislation. Originally it only permitted water,
hops, and barley in beer (yeast was later allowed in the mix). Cheaper
cereals and additives were strictly verboten. Which is all to say that you
need local, enforceable standards if you are to have great products and
services. In Bavaria you used to know what you were drinking, and this led
the Germans to be the highest per capita beer consumers in the world.
Top Beers, Ales, and All That Stuff
http://www.netcomuk.co.uk/~wshield/alehouse.htm. This site lists
the top-100 ales. But you are warned to take only his top 10 very
seriously. In any event, we just sampled his top pick, Fullers ESB,
with a grilled salmon cooked perfectly in Boston, and we can say it merits your
attention. Somehow we are reminded of the U.K.'s CAMRA (campaign for
Real Ale), the sceptered isle's most successful consumer movement, which
flourished a couple of decades ago. The moral here is that if you are
going to get fat, at least drink the good stuff.
Sundy Other Spirits
El Dorado Rum
You will probably find 12 year old El Dorado in your liquor store and that it just fine. But even smoother is the 15 year old if you can find it. It hails from Guyana. Here is a blog that will give you quite a rundown on the Dorados. (07-23-14)
We read that sake is slipping into the mainstream, such that we may see finer varieties on our menus and in our retailers. Eric Asimov of The Times, for instance, comments on Sakaya in New York’s East Village. There is a curious combination of interesting Japanese culture as one works one’s way east from Astor Place. A good grocery. For a while, a very fine meat and sushi restaurant which served good sakes and other fine Japanese potions.
“Rick Smith, who owns the shop with his wife, Hiroko Furukawa, once knew as little about sake as most Americans.” “That was until what he calls “the proverbial aha moment,” a dinner at Jewel Bako, the exquisite sushi restaurant in the East Village, where he first experienced the beauty of good sake in its natural milieu.” “He discovered a shop, True Sake, dedicated exclusively to sake. Unfortunately, it was in San Francisco.”
“You can find in-depth descriptions of sake terminology on the Web sites of Sakaya, sakayanyc.com, and True Sake, truesake.com, as well as in useful guides like “The Sake Handbook,” by John Gauntner, who also has an excellent Web site at sake-world.com”
Sakaya. 324 East 9th Street. New York, NY 10003. 212.505.7253. http://www.sakayanyc.com/. For more illumination about sake, see our sake entry . We would further advise that those interested in sake also investigate some of the rarer Japanese beers and also look into Sh?ch? which is now commonly served at some Japanese restaurants in the U.S.. (08-18-10)
Top Gins and
It used to be
so simple. There were maybe 2 vodkas to buy and one gin. And we had mostly
given up drinking gin anyway, except when we were deep enough into the South
to find a fully shaken Ramos Gin Fizz made by somebody who actually knew the
ingredients. Raymond Sokolov to the rescue. He is one of the five or six
knowledgeable writers at the Wall Street Journal, and he even suffers
from a little panache. He’s pushing Hendrick’s, Tanqueray No. Ten, and
Juniper Green Organic, if you are in the gin crowd, and Grey Goose, Olifant,
and Jewel of Russia should you be a vodkatarian. See the Wall Street
Journal, August 29, 2003, p. W4. He as much as admits that this tasting
is an uncertain science. Hendrick’s seems to win because of its clear
flavor, and Grey Goose for its smooth texture. If you a glutton for vodka
punishment, however, go to
www.vodka.com, which lists 500 varieties from every conceivable
location, according to Sokolov, though we can only find a much shorter list.
Eugene Bem has given us his quick vodka ratings, and you will notice
that he even tastes musical strains in his Bison Grass. We doubt him, even
Eric Felton, current writer on cocktails and booze at the Wall Street
Journal, claims that we are really splitting ends when we make claims
for one vodka over another. He tells us that the occasional slight
differences between concoctions results from the character of the water.
Probably Bem has the best of the argument for those of us who drink vodka:
some taste like they have heaps of poison in them, and the others simply
taste clear and cool. Felton is a very amusing writer, but probably does
not have a clear palate. Here’s Bem’s last sampling:
Belvedere – This has been my
standby for Vodka martinis. It is made of high-quality polish rye and seems
to be distilled quite well which gives it a very clear, crisp and clean,
full-bodied texture although somewhat creamy. I like the use of a cork and
how it evokes a quality experience.
All that said,
we have it on the clear authority of our spirits expert Peter Pohly that
Tito’s Handmade Vodka of Austin, Texas puts all the rest to shame. It
seems as if Burt Butler Beveridge II, in San Antonio has put together such a
winner that it won the 2001 Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirit
Competition and Spirit Journal gave it, and only it, four stars. Pohly
tells us it is distilled 6 times, apparently in small batches in a pot
still. We have a smuggler bringing it in from Texas, and will give it a
try. We are impressed, by the way, that some tequilas are now coming out of
Absolut – Never liked the vodka straight because it has an antiseptic
quality, but it is fine for mixing.
Grey Goose – It is ok, but it is also vaguely medicinal; it is fine for
Ketel One – Only recently tried in a martini and straight-up. I found it
creamy and exceptionally smooth, almost too smooth.
Bison Grass – very interesting flavor profile for it tastes a bit like pinot
grigio wine. The author
W. Somerset Maugham, who extols Zubrowka’s/Bison Grass’s virtues, claims
that “it smells of freshly mown hay \ and spring flowers, of thyme and
lavender and it’s so soft on the palate and so comfortable, it’s like
listening to music by moonlight.”
Rye Whiskey Is Back
Rye whiskey suffered a body blow with Prohibition, and it has never
recovered, the American whiskey palate having gone somewhat bland. It once
enjoyed occasional dominance, particularly in the Northeast.
The Scotch-Irish immigrant
distillers had some exposure to using rye in whiskey production, but for
their German immigrant neighbors rye had been the primary grain used in the
production of Schnapps and Vodka back in northern Europe. They continued
this distilling practice, particularly in Pennsylvania and Maryland, where
Rye whiskey, with its distinctive hard-edged, grainy palate, remained the
dominant whiskey type well into the 20th century.
Rye whiskey was even more
adversely [a]ffected by National Prohibition than Bourbon. A generation of
consumers weaned on light-bodied and relatively delicate white spirits
turned away from the uncompromising, pungent, full-bodied straight Rye
whiskies. Production of Rye whiskies had vanished altogether from its
Mid-Atlantic homeland by the 1980s. A handful of modern Rye whiskies are
currently being made by Bourbon distilleries in Kentucky and Indiana.
America’s first indigenous whiskey style is today only barely surviving in
the marketplace. Its primary use is for blending to give other whiskies
more character and backbone, although a small but vocal group of Rye whisky
enthusiasts continue to champion.” (From
Tastings, an online, highly readable publication of the Beverage Tasting
Institute. Look specifically for North American Whiskey.)
Incidentally, Tastings recommends an
18-year old Sazerac or Buffalo Trace Rye which we heartily endorse.
Both the 6 year and 18 year will give you satisfaction and make you think
you are finding your way back to the sources of the Republic. The
Buffalo Trace website is a hoot.
Since the 90s,
fortunately, there has been a slow, halting resurgence in rye with an
outbreak of new brands, a development we expect to strengthen. Dennis
McCarthy has captured their names, even if his list misses an entry or two.
Dennis’ Whiskey Corner. We just had a discussion about rye at a Mardi
Gras party, an one New Orleans native held out for Old Overholt, which we
must try someday. (3/15/06)
WSJ on Rye
Wall Street Journal
(October 28-29, 2006, p. P11) belatedly discovered that rye is in favor
again, and adds some charming detail about its history, though little about
the varieties you should be sampling. It favors “Van Winkle Family Reserve”
and includes a few others such as Wild Turkey Rye, Old Potrero Straight Rye,
and Hirsch 21-Year-Old Single-Barrel Rye.” George Washington apparently
produced 11,000 gallons of rye at Mount Vernon in the year before his
death. Tex Ritter made a song out of it called
“Rye Whiskey.” (11/29/06)
Times on Rye
Invariably our national media copy one another, winding up writing about the
same topics without imagination. So chasing others, the New York Times
(November 29, 2006, pp. D1 and D12), very belatedly has done its own “All
but Lost, Rye Is Revived as the Next Boutique Find.” We are sorry to inform
it and the other late-with-too-little publications that rye has been back
for several years. As is the custom these days, the Times formed a
panel to pick the best ryes (those that it could find), but it’s not a list
we are pushing. The author is Eric Asimov, who is a reasonably good writer,
so he should know better. He got together with Florence Fabricant, David
Wondrich (columnist for Esquire), and Lew Bryson of Malt Advocate.
The problem is that they’re hardly two fisted drinkers or experienced
tasters. Their recommendations: Black Maple Hill Single Barrel 18 years,
Old Potrero Straight Single Malt, Sazerac Straight 6 years (Best Value),
Michter’s Straight 10years, Van Winkle Family Reserve 13 years, The Classic
Cask Kentucky Straight, Hirsch Selection 21 years, Rittenhouse Single Barrel
21 years, Rittenhouse Straight 100 proof, and Wild Turkey 101 Proof. We say
buyer beware. And, eventually, drink enough, so that you can comb out the
durable from the new arrivals. Also watch out for the god-awful cocktails
that have been now dreamed up to blunt the taste of rye. (1/10/07)
Update: Knockoff Sazerac
We don’t know whether we will get the sazarak a try, since it looks to be a
gussied up Sazerac. We think the drinks promoters are laying it on a bit
thick. It has arak and Kummel liqueur in it, and we do not see any
specifications for the rye which is still at the heart of the drink. Robin
Lewis, a cocktail consultant, put this thing together for
a restaurant in SoHo which, fittingly, has an overly complex name. We will
be writing the folks at the Sazerac Company to see what they think of the
whole thing. The recipe ran in “Taste of Colonialism,” New York
Times, July 1, 2007. (10/3/07)
Magellan is our current favorite, we consider the dispute as to which is the
supreme gin to be far from settled. Apparently gin originated in Holland,
and we have met passionate advocates for some of their bottlings. Jim
Clarke has done a nice little essay about them called
“Dutch Gin: The Traditional and the Modern.” One fanatic associated
with the Harvard Business Review has a jenever (Dutch gin)
permanently sitting on ice. We like to think there’s nothing else in his
refrigerator. At some point we will trundle off to the National Gin Museum
in Hasselt, Belgium (aka Musée national du genièvre) with the hope of
getting at the truth in gin. (3/22/06)
We’re in the early stages of planning a celebration for Fall 2006.
Cole Porter is going to play a part. And martinis are on the docket. We
have not advanced much yet on the food. But there’s some hope as to what we
do about the gin (although we know we will
vodka alternative for those who want our Gibsons instead). BarMedia
has a mildly outdated listing of premium gins but it is far from
authoritative. We have settled on
Magellan, which is imported by Crillon. There’s some worthwhile
RateItAll, including some reader comments that indicate that the
importer is already tinkering with the brand, so stock up. “A French gin,
named after the explorer. Triple distilled to 44% alc. by vol., a natural
sky blue colour from the iris root, made with 11 ingredients: Juniper
Berries, Cloves, Nutmeg, Cradamom, Grains of Paradise, Licorice, Cinnamon,
Coriander, Orange Peel, Cassia and Iris.” The bottle, with floral
decoration and all, is unique and adds to the allure. We should warn you
that some fetishists are annoyed at the modifications to the formula and are
switching out to Plymouth and sundry other old standbys.
Best American Absinthe
But it’s made in France. Produced abroad, it beats anti-absinthe
laws through a loophole that permits it to sell over the Internet. It is
Ted Breaux, an environmental chemist from Louisiana, that has gotten all
sorts of attention for working methodically at Combier to provide close
facsimiles of absinthes from back when. His handiwork can be found at
Absinthe Online, though there are other online absinthe options we know
little about. We had a taste of Breaux absinthe at a Mardi Gras party, and
it made it worth going out on a dark night when the tempting home fire was
burning brightly. Breaux is getting all sorts of press in all sorts of
places, but we most recommend a very educational piece by Jack Turner called
“Green Gold” that just ran in The New Yorker, March 13, 2006,
“Near the entrance stood an immense plastic tub of
wormwood, absinthe’s distinctive and contentious constituent, which, since
the late nineteenth century, was held to cause insanity.” “The invention of
absinthe is traditionally credited to Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, a French
Huguenot who fled France for the Val-de-Travers…in the Swiss Jura.” He sold
a tonic made of wormwood, fennel, and green anise—the central ingredients
today. “David Nathan-Maister, a British-based absinthe historian and
collector who sells bottles to a tiny community of enthusiasts…” These
collector items can run into the thousands.
“The current revival of interest can be dated to 1994,
when Radomil Hill, a seventy-five-year-old Czech, began to market a drink
called Hill’s Absinth Liquer.”
Questions about the poisonous aspects of absinthe
center around thujone, which comprises about 60 percent of wormwood oil.
But tests by Breaux reveal that pre-ban absinthes and even his own have
hardly any of the toxic thujone. In reality, the regulations that ban or
control absinthe distribution are based on a false premise.
The Internet is
replete with interesting articles about absinthe including
Wired Magazine, etc. (4/5/06)
The Lore of Absinthe
Barnaby Conrad III provides good anecdotes, and average wisdom, about
absinthe in “The Absinthe-Minded Professor,” Forbes Life, October
2006, pp.88-90. But it’s at the very end where he gives us some value in
his “Absinthe Online.” There he gives numerous absinthe sites, showing you
where you can purchase your varietal. The Virtual Absinthe Museum can be
www.oxygenee.com. In passing, he mentions the interesting Ted Breux
whose five absinthes can be found at
www.vintageabsinthe.com. Spanish offerings are found at
www.spiritscorner.com. Other French, Austrian, and Swiss brands can be
www.alandia.de. Conrad says online ordering is illegal, but that nobody
is watching. We have been led to believe, however, that there is some hole
in the regulations in respect to online individual imports. (2/14/07)
On February 27, the Times of London wrote about a
whiskey so powerful that it could knock your socks off. And that’s what
happened to the Times. Although this news item was one of the day’s
top stories, the concoction was so powerful that it knocked the Times
Online computers for a loop, and you will find an error message when
you try to dial into the story. In fact, official at the Times and
elsewhere in the Murdoch empire have still not been able to find the story.
It had a great headline: “Try the 92 per cent weapons-grade whisky that
will take your breath away. Literally.” Fortunately we have been able to
recapture David Lister’s masterpiece elsewhere:
A single drop of the ancient
drink of ‘usquebaugh-baul’ was described by the travel writer Martin Martin
in 1695 as powerful enough to affect “all members of the body.” He added:
“Two spoonfuls of this last liquor is a sufficient dose; if any man should
exceed this, it would presently stop his breath, and endanger his life.”
Twelve barrels of the world’s most alcoholic whisky, or enough to wipe out a
medium-size army, will be produced when the Bruichladdich distillery revives
the ancient tradition of quadruple-distilling today. With an alcohol
content of 92 per cent, the drink may not be the most delicate single malt
ever produced but it is by far and away the world’s strongest. Malt whisky
usually has an alcohol content of between 40 per cent and 63.5 per cent.”
Jim McEwan, Bruichladdich’s
master distiller, said that the quadruple-distilled whisky would be very
similar to the spirit sampled by Martin on Islay in 1695, which he later
A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, published in 1703.
Most whisky is distilled just twice.
We have tried
to be in touch with Bruichladdich about their quadruple, but the distillers
have been singularly unresponsive. We presume they have been drinking their
own brew, which is equivalent to believing one’s own propaganda. We hope
both the Bruich people and the staff at the Times will soon be
resuscitated. But newspapermen no longer hold their drink very well: they
mostly like to talk about it. See
“The Whiskey with 92% Alcohol,” which even has an Islay map in case you
choose to rush off to the distillery. (4/26/06)
He said: “It will be very floral, but most importantly it will take your
breath away.” “Bruichladdich has a reputation among Scotland’s distilleries
for being one of the more eccentric and outspoken. After the American
drinks maker Jim Beam halted production in 1994, the distillery was bought
for £6.5 million in 2000 by a group led by Mr Reynier. It is seeking to
establish itself as one of a small number of privately run distilleries.”
Rum at Its Best
be discussing rum in much greater detail, since summer is upon us, and we
expect you to put a bit down to ward off the dog days of August and the
hurricanes that will soon follow. In the years that followed Castro,
Bacardi offshore became the juggernaut of the rum racket, and even the few
other brands that dot the liquor store shelves are not the pick of the
litter. One rum friend has always told us that Barbancourt, out of Haiti,
is the rum to drink. An Englishman vouches for Zacapa. You will find it and
several other choice rums on the lists supplied by
Forbes or by slightly downmarket
Cigar Afficianado and others. Like every other heavy alcohol, rum gets
right if it comes from a house that stirs in the correct ingredients and
allows it to get a little age and concentration. But more about that
Dr. Don Beinfang is keeping an eye out for us and advises that his
cocktail research proves that you have to get the ingredients just right:
I have been working hard (very
hard and with diligence) on the cocktail question and have made an
observation about Manhattans. It turns out the sweet vermouth makes a big
difference. Surprisingly there is a cheaper brand that makes a better
cocktail—it is called Capri. The fancier brands of sweet vermouth add a
bitter taste that spoils the drink. The makers of Capri know this and
proudly advertise on the label that it makes a better Manhattan; they are
Nothing fancy about the
formula, but as they say, “The devil is in the details.” Whisky (I like
Makers Mark), 4 parts; sweet vermouth (as I mentioned I
like Capri brand), 1 part; two cherries (one for my wife), always served
straight up, though the formula is of course mixed over ice. One will not
find it easy to locate Capri brand. My source has been D & L Liquors in
While I am at it, I might as
well tell you that I make the best Old-Fashioned on the planet. The secret
to an Old -Fashioned is: (1) simple syrup—never a package of sugar crystals;
and (2) bottled soda water—never carbonated from a tap. The rest of the
fruits and bourbon are less important, though high-quality and fresh are
always a plus.
I have the original recipe for
a Ward 8 written by the guy who made the drink up
at Loch-Ober’s, but it is of historic interest only since it isn’t a very
drink after all.
No, the good
doctor is not a mixologist. But then, that is something he can look
forward to in the next life. For the history of the Ward 8, which is
probably more than you want to know about it
go here and also see the Wall Street Journal's
"This Cocktail Gets Our Vote." (11/15/06)
Michel Couvreur—The Best Single Single
We have probably sampled 40 to 50 single malts over the years, and have many favorites. But Michel Couvreur’s Single Single stands out above all. Just the other night we were sipping a 1969. Sure it is a scotch, but it might as well be a brandy or a burgundy. His outpourings are so special that ladies who are repelled by scotches will nicely sing his praises. How appropriate that Courvreur is not in Scotland but is, in fact, in Burgundy. We attach here an essay of his doing that will nicely take you through the seminal ideas beyond a malt of quality. Michel Couvreur Whiskies. Place du Monument 21200 Bouze-lès-Beaune. Burundy, Cote D’Or France Phone France = 0033 + (0)380.26.01.46 Fax France = 0033 + (0)380.26.02.70 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. (2/13/08)
St. Clair Newbern of Fort Worth, inveterate traveler and keen observer, swears that the Cubans get it right. The Mojito, that is. We notice that most of the mojitos offered at bars tend to the mediocre, and we expect we will be adding more notes here on how to get the drink right. But, for now, you can enjoy his observations below:
"The photo is of the muddling of the mint and the sugar, to release the oils from the mint to flavor the sugar.... I noticed that the best Mojitos seemed be produced by extra care being taken in this first of what is a pretty simple process after that of just adding liquids.... The bar tender would muddle a bit usually with a stick with a round end, smell it to see if the right amount of oil had infused the sugar and, when satisfied add the rum and soda.
Made correctly, they are made one at a time and take at least a minute." (3/2/08)
Martini Onions Canadian
A fellow in good standing and a smilin’chum, who chases back martinis with some regularity and is ever in search of greater perfection, swears by Sable and Rosenfeld’s Vermouth ‘Spiked’ Tipsy Onions. We have even had them without a martini, and they do summon up memories of onions past. Onion headquarters is in Toronto, so Guy Lombardo is not the only pleasure to have come out of the North. But you might put his record on the Victrola (“The Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven”) when you are partaking. Canada: Sable & Rosenfeld 131 Avenue Road, Suite 200 Toronto, Ontario M5R 2H7, Tel: 416-929-4214, fax: 416-929-6727, e-mail: email@example.com. United States: Contact: Mary O'Neill, tel: 843-815-6278, fax: 843-815-2473, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. (4/30/08)
We’ve been drinking sake for 40 years, and know nothing about it. In our dotage, we will begin to learn. A good place to begin is Nipponia. “The techniques used to make sake are unique in the world. Rice is milled to a fine white grain and steamed, and then two simultaneous processes are made to occur—the rice is broken down into sugar through the action of koji microorganisms, and at the same time the sugar is fermented into alcohol through the action of a natural yeast.” “The Japanese brewers used cold pasteurization to kill harmful bacteria, following a technique just like the one developed independently by the bacteriologist Louis Pasteur (1822-1895). What Western scientists found especially striking was that this method had been in use in Japan for more than 300 years before Pasteur.” “Sake has the highest alcohol content. You might argue that whisky, brandy, Japanese shochu and Chinese maotai have a far higher alcohol content, but technically you would be wrong! It is true that the alcohol by volume in these liquors is two or three times higher than sake, but that is because the alcohol content has been artificially concentrated through distillation. Before the distillation process, whisky mash has an alcohol content of only 6%, the fruit mash for brandy measures 10%, and the base for maotai, about 5%. Sake mash has an alcohol content of up to 22%, by far the highest of any naturally fermented beverage.” “The second reason why sake is distinct from other alcohols of the world is its wily use of three major types of microorganisms found in the natural environment: fungi, bacteria and yeast. Every other popular alcohol, whether beer, whisky, brandy, vodka, gin, tequila or rum, uses only one type of microorganism—yeast—in the alcohol making process. Sake brewers use three: koji spores to make the koji mold, lactic acid bacteria to stabilize the mash, and yeast to ferment the mash into alcohol.” Each region of Japan has its own distinctive sake, and it is incumbent on the beginner to investigate which produces a variety closest to his taste. (10/22/08)