Booze-y Blog Post! Sampling Unique Wine, Spirits, Beer and Books
Booze-y beverages are blossoming! In the late 1970’s the Feds changed the laws and taxes surrounding the production and sale of alcoholic beverages and ever since, styles, types and sources of beverage products have taken off.
The first category was wine, with new vintners popping up throughout the country, and more and more different types and varietals of wine being imported from a greater number of countries.
Next, the beer industry took off, so much so that today there are about 3,500 brewers in America, and while probably close to 3,000 of those are single site brew-pubs and tap rooms, the variety of beers available throughout America took off over the past two decades.
Finally, mainly over the past 5 or so years, there has been a renaissance in distilled spirits, with major brands seeing a myriad of line extensions, and new distillers and rectifiers entering the market every day.
Over the past month both in private reviews and at events, the Advice Sisters have had an opportunity to sample a range of new beverage products from a wide variety of sources both domestic and imported. If you are used to drinking just one type of wine or spirit, or you always reach for the same brand of beer, you’re missing out on a lot of unique things to add to your enjoyment, and for your back bar or wine cellar.
We begin with one of the many new bourbon offerings coming out of Kentucky; in this case Louisville, home of two famous sluggers – the wooden baseball bat, and Mohammad Ali! Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey comes in a beautiful bottle engraved with a gorgeous set of angel wings. It’s probably one reason that my local package store always recommends this spirit for a house gift, or present for someone who knows good whiskey. The product that we sampled was finished in port wine barrels, a finishing process that lasts between three to six months depending on taste. The company uses 60-gallon ruby port barrels made from French oak and imported directly from Portugal. The final product is a dark coppery color, with a nose featuring vanilla and maple notes. On the palate, the bourbon opens with a lot of wood, but quickly moves to a maple syrup taste with a finish of apricot and a hint of mocha. The company that rectifies Angels Envy was recently acquired by Bacardi, and is in the process of building its own distillery in Louisville. Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey sells for about $47.00 per 750 ml bottle.
We also recently sampled two rums from Papas Pilar, which was the name of Ernest Hemingway’s boat. The rums are appropriately finished in Spanish Sherry casks, which imparts an intense vanilla flavor to both the Blonde and Dark rum products. The rum is sanctioned by the Hemingway Estate, and is presented in a way to conjure the adventure of the writer. This starts with the glass. Even the sample bottles that we had were designed to resemble a canteen harkening back to Hemingway’s service in both World War I and the Spanish Civil War. Like Angel’s Envy, this is a product of a rectifier who purchases rum from a variety of sources and then ages and blends it to make Papa’s Pilar.
The dark rum is blended across barrels so that rum from the most recent barrel is mixed with that from an older barrel, aged, then missed with the next oldest and so on. In this case, some of the rum in a bottle of Papa’s Pilar dark is as much as 24-years old. This produces a rum that is quite distinctive with a light cola color, and a nose distinct with molasses and some forest notes. The palate is complex. Molasses opens the taste profile but this quickly gives way to a woody mid-palate. The finish is rich with caramel making this both an excellent sipping rum but one that would blend wonderfully in a cream based cocktail like a Deep Dark Secret or a Landed Gentry. Papa’s Pilar Dark rum is priced at about $45 for a 750 ml bottle, the rum is not inexpensive, but it is unique enough to add to a solid backbar.
Papa’s Pilar also produces a light rum that it calls a Blonde rum. It is golden in color with a nose strong in vanilla and molasses. The rum struck the front of my palate like a birthday cake – sweet and strong with vanilla. The mid palate with ripe with citrus notes and the finish was back to molasses and vanilla. We would call this a vanilla rum rather than a blonde rum and would love it in drinks that need vanilla like egg nog or a rum toddy. The Papa’s Pilar Blonde rum sells for around $30 a 750 ml bottle.
The Scottish were distilling “craft” whiskey long before anyone else, with literally hundreds of local distilleries across the kingdom producing different single malt whiskeys. The larger scotch whiskey distillers also have created a number of blended products that are now some of the largest brands on the market. One of the older blended whiskies is still distilling in small batches. Usquaebach’s blend dates back to the 1800s, making it one of the most enduring brands in the Scotch whisky market. Recently relaunched in the US market, we were provided with a bottle of Usquaebach Reserve Premium Blended Scotch which retails for about $40.00 and features over 50% quality single malts each aged between 16 to 18 years and blended with the finest grain whisky. The scotch was light golden in color when served on the rocks, with a grassy nose featuring vanilla and lavender notes. The scotch was reasonably smooth with a light peaty-ness across the palate. It was not particularly oaky, with more of a citrus and pear to the taste. It finished with spicy, peppery notes. While there was some brine, the citrus notes really opened up as the ice melted, particularly on the finish. This is a nice blended scotch and we would love to see what the Usquaebach “Old Rare” Blended Scotch Whisky (which sells for upwards of $120 per 750 ml) tastes like. Meanwhile we think you might like this cocktail which you can make with any scotch, but we suggest Usquaebach, of course:
We run into interesting beverages in all sorts of places. Last week we attended an event at the Greek special culinary event that will take place at the Greek Consulate of New York that was a promotional event for Agrino Bistro Rice Series from northern Greece featuring celebrity chef/author Diane Kochillas, one of the foremost authorities on Greek cuisine in the world. While the rice dishes were wonderful, they are not currently widely available in the United States, so we headed over to the wine table, which featured wines from Macedonia. The wines were all based on the Xinomavro grape, the main red wine varietal in Macedonia. Xinomavro wines are dark rich and tannic and age well. They feature red fruits and spicy notes and make an excellent addition to a well-stocked cellar. We tried four at the event: Vaeni, Naoussa Red (100 percent xinomavro), Emeros Red (50 percent xinomavro and 50 percent syrah), Naoussa Damascenos Fume Red (100 percent xinomavro) and Naoussa Grand Reserve Red (100 percent xinomavro). All of these wines are priced at under $30 per bottle in New York.
One of the great things about regional foods is the fun of getting there, and no place is more fun to get to (particularly during the long northeastern winter) than the Caribbean, We also had a chance to meet with Chef Babette de Rozières from the island (or islands there are actually 5) of Guadeloupe, where we enjoyed a Caribbean specialty, Planters Punch. Chef Rozieres was helping to announce the launch of daily non-stop service from New York, Boston and Baltimore/Washington International to Guadeloupe by interestingly Norwegian Airlines. While this may seem strange, Norwegian is now the largest foreign flag carrier operating out of JFK airport with non-stop services not only to the Caribbean, but also to London, and four destinations in Scandinavia. We look forward to trying Norwegian, which was named Europe’s Best Low-Cost Airline for three years straight once this new Caribbean service begins.
*Editor’s Note: if you are interested in craft spirits, you might be interested in a new book called Discovering the New York Craft Spirits Boom by Heather D. Dolland Waldorf Publishing; 1st edition (July, 2015). To be a “craft distillery” you have to be independently owned, the spirit must have been run through a still be a certified craft distiller, and the company can’t produce more than 100,000 gallons of whatever it is they’re creating, each year. The book has fabulous color photos to inspire you along with recipes chronicling the lives of 30 different craft Distillers from Brooklyn to the Finger Lakes. Also, there are links to online stores and addresses, should you want to go out and see some of these places for yourself. This is a fun read and a surprise to discover all these creative products that are “made in New York.””