Friday, December 23, 2011

Punch Up Your Holiday Party

You've untangled your lights, hung some tinsel, and put together one heck of a playlist. But once the finger foods come out, what will your guests be drinking?

While you will certainly want to have some sparkling wine on hand for those holiday get-togethers, there are few libations as festive as punch. And unlike those garnished neon concoctions at the awkward dances of your past, nobody needs to secretly spike them. These boozy parties in a bowl predate the cocktail, and warm or cold, spicy or sour, there's delicious variety to be found in an array of tasty recipes. They're also just about the easiest way to keep your guests happy while giving your cocktail shaker a rest. Look at a few basic ingredients, and you can build something delicious around each.

Just make sure to follow the same basic practices you would for a single cocktail: follow the recipe in order, and make sure to use simple syrup rather than sugar unless the recipe specifies the method for dissolving granulated sugar. If you're making a warm punch recipe, make sure to use a bowl that can take the heat - namely, a metal one - or prepare the bowl with some warm-to-hot water before serving. Nothing ruins a swinging party like shards of glass in your drink.

On to the drinks!
Swedish Punsch
There are several delicious classics that you can make with a bottle or three of Batavia Arrack van Oosten, a delightful rum-like spirit that's also made with fermented rice. This stuff only became available in the United States again a few years ago, and we're rediscovering some delicious drinks. Swedish Punsch is one drink that just couldn't be made properly with a substitute, and it's a crowd-pleasing way to celebrate.

180ml Batavia Arrack
100 ml brewed tea (strong)
135g sugar (bakers)
¾ tsp natural vanilla extract
Lemon peel, fresh cardamom

Or, if you'd like to try something a little bit brighter, try out this more citrusy version from Jerry P. Thomas.

Imperial Arrack Punch
1 quart Batavia Arrack
6 lemons, cut into thin slices
1 lb sugar
1 quart water (boiling)
Allow lemons to soak in arrack for 6 hours, dissolve sugar in boiling water, mix.

Fish House Punch
Originating in an ultra-exclusive fishing club in Pennsylvania (that claimed the father of our nation as a member), the real recipe for this drink is shrouded in mystery. You'll see a ton of variants of this one, and heated debate regarding the inclusion of ingredients like green tea. Here's the recipe presented in The Bon-Vivant's Companion, credited to a Charles G. Leland, Esq.

Take 1/3 pint of lemon juice
¾ pound of white sugar dissolved in sufficient water
½ pint of Cognac brandy
¼ pint of peach brandy
¼ pint of Jamaica rum
2 ½ pints of cold water

Planter's Punch
The first reference to Planter's Punch appeared in a 1908 issue of the New York Times, provided as follows:

"This recipe I give to thee,
Dear brother in the heat.
Take two of sour (lime let it be)
To one and a half of sweet,
Of Old Jamaica pour three strong,
And add four parts of weak.
Then mix and drink. I do no wrong--
I know whereof I speak."

As it implies, this stuff is great in warm weather, but it's also a delicious year-round crowd pleaser. A basic proportion to follow is one part simple syrup, two parts lime juice, three parts Jamaica rum. You'll also find variants that use an array of tropical juices and other sweeteners. Try making individual-sized drinks to test out the version you like best.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Make Your Perfect Hot Toddy

As the season cools down and rainy weather inevitably turns to snow, there are few things more satisfying than a warm, strong drink. And whether you're feeling a little down with a cough or cold, or just want to warm up your cold fingers and nose, one of the best ways to ward off the chill is with a Hot Toddy.

There are a number of stories as to where this delicious drink originated - from the Indian term for a fermented palm tree sap drink, to Edinburgh's water source of Tod's Well - but regardless of the origin, it's delicious in most of its iterations. Their combination of warmth, slight sweetness, and citrus brightness is just what's called for while waiting for spring.

We've seen these available more and more in Brooklyn bars and restaurants during the fall and winter months, but it's an incredibly easy drink to enjoy at home after a cold day with some very simple mixing. If you have a fireplace to sip by, all the better.

Grab a spoon, some hot water, and your favorite mug. We'll take it from there.

The Classic Scottish Recipe
This original version of the Hot Toddy is simple, straightforward, and tasty. This is a boozier recipe, best suited to those who like to taste their whisk(e)y. All you'll need is about a teaspoon of Demerara sugar, a lemon peel, 2 ounces of the Scotch whisky of your choice (we'd like a generously-peated Islay malt, but it's hard to go wrong here), and boiling water. Combine in your mug, and sip away. 

The Classic English Recipe
Throw some black tea leaves in that boiling water for a few minutes before combining it with the other ingredients. Cheerio, you've discovered the other basic version. 

The Variations
From those simple beginnings has come a whole host of interpretations of this popular tipple, and while we’re generally biased toward classic cocktails, we've sipped some delicious, creative versions of this drink that will warm you down to your toes. A few easy swaps: try using honey, maple syrup or agave syrup instead of sugar, or add homemade flavored syrups created with ginger or quince. Throw in some of your favorite sweet spices like whole cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg, orange peel and allspice. If you like the English original, try swapping in different types of flavored and herbal teas. And though it might seem blasphemous to purists, some love these warm drinks made with Bourbon, brandy, or even rum. With lots of cold days ahead, you can mix to your heart's content.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Behind the Scenes: Greenall's Original London Dry Gin

G&J Greenall has been creating fine spirits for over 250 years and is the oldest continuous producer of London Dry Gin in the world. We recently spoke with Caroline Whitfield, Greenall's Director of Marketing to learn more about this historic brand.

1. G&J Greenall has been producing fine spirits for over 250 years - what is the history behind the brand, and how did it all begin?

The story begins in 1760, when Thomas Dakin built his distillery on Bridge Street in Warrington, north-western England.  Dakin's first distilling was delayed until 1761 because the grain harvests of the preceding few years had been so poor that the government prohibited gin manufacture in order to maintain the grain supply for bread making.  Once Dakin began, in 1761, "Dakin's Warrington Gin" proved a great success and eventually Thomas's son Edward Dakin took over the business.

Practically 100 years later, in 1860, following Edward Dakin's death, fellow entrepreneur Edward Greenall leased Dakin's Bridge Street distillery and, then in 1870, purchased the enterprise outright.  Edward, with his brothers William and Peter, had been operating a prosperous brewery a mere twenty miles away, which had been established by their father Thomas Greenall in 1762.

Incidentally, the 'G' & 'J' of the now familiar G&J Greenall comes from the Greenall's younger brothers, Gilbert and John, and in 1894 "G&J Greenall" became an incorporated company. Dakin's Warrington Gin was renamed Greenall's and continued to be made according to Dakin's original 1761 recipe.  The same botanical blend Dakin used in 1761 is used today.

2. Greenall's Original London Dry Gin has a wide array of distinctive aromas and flavors - which botanicals were selected for Greenall's and why?

Greenall's Original London Dry Gin uses eight different botanicals - juniper berries, coriander, lemon peel, angelica, orris, liquorice, cassia bark and bitter almonds. These are macerated in wheat neutral spirit and purified water in a pot still for at least 24 hours prior to distillation. This allows the dried botanicals to rehydrate and infuse their aromas into the spirit.

The original botanicals selected reflect the trading route of herbs and spices going through the UK, and build upon the core of juniper. They created a balanced taste profile in 1761 and they still do 250 years later in 2011!  Drinking Greenall's Original London Dry Gin is truly a step back in time.

Also, as a 'London Dry Gin', as opposed to gin without this, the highest quality designation in existence for gin, the botanicals are placed into our traditional copper pot stills and allowed to rest with spirit and water, prior to being distilled together. Ingredients are given time to fully diffuse, awakening and releasing flavours to create the refreshingly smooth and complex taste sensation. In a gin without the 'London Dry' designation, artificial flavourings can be added, and colours and flavours can also be added after the distillation is completed.  Crafting a true 'London Dry Gin' is a far more involved process.

3. What other elements set Greenall's apart from the competition?

Greenalls is the oldest continuously operating distillery in the UK so we have an unmatched depth of understanding of how to create consistently excellent gin.  After 250 years we also believe that we have a unique pedigree in the global marketplace.  There are not many companies or brands that can legitimately claim to be older than the United States itself.  We also are extremely proud to have the world's only female master gin distiller.

In 2011, we updated our packaging with what we feel is a 21st century sleek, contemporary look and we hope that this will encourage more people to try Greenall's.  Greenall's Original London Dry Gin is as much a spirit of today as it was a spirit of 1761.

As for the taste of Greenall's:  The gin has a clean nose of coriander, juniper and citrus, leading to a palate in which these three flavours dominate followed by hints of liquorice, parma violets and cracked black pepper. While very dry on the palate, Greenall's has a slightly creamy mouth feel, and a peppery, minty freshness lasts through the long dry finish.

4. What's next for the company? Are you currently working on any new projects or planning any for the future?

We are currently focused on making Greenall's a success in the USA. After 250 years of selling gin to the rest of the world, our first priority is to win the hearts and mouths of American consumers!

5. What is your favorite way to enjoy Greenall's Original London Dry Gin?

In an ageless classic, the Greenall's Gin Fizz:

2 oz gin
dash of lemon or lime juice
1/2 tsp superfine sugar or homemade sugar syrup
soda water
mint for garnish

Preparation:  Pour the gin, juice, sugar into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.  Shake vigorously and serve.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Compass Box Whisky - Hedonism & Peat Monster

John Glaser
Compass Box Whisky was established by John Glaser, an American winemaker with a passion for Scotch whisky. After working for many years in the wine industry he changed careers and ended up as the marketing director for Johnnie Walker in London. Over time, he developed a unique perspective on both the creation and the marketing of Scotch whisky, and in 2000 created the Compass Box Whisky Company. From the beginning, his vision has been to create one of Scotland's finest and most exciting whisky companies, re-establishing the standards for quality and style in the industry. As he says: "Our role at Compass Box is to nurture the roots of tradition in order to grow the possibilities." Today, John Glaser is considered one of the most respected whiskymakers of his generation and his company is a four-time winner of Whisky Magazine's Innovator of the Year award.

In this two-part series, we will explore the highly acclaimed Compass Box whiskies and give you a closer look at what makes them so unique. We'll start off with two of our favorites:

Compass Box "Hedonism" Blended Grain Scotch Whisky

"Hedonism" is an limited edition bottling of grain whiskies - a rare find in the Scotch whisky world. About 100 years ago, grain whisky brands were more common, but their production dwindled as blended Scotch became more popular. Today, most grain whisky gets blended into the big brand names, typically at young ages. However, Compass Box has sourced very old casks of Scotch grain whisky from Cameron Bridge, Carsebridge and Cambus which have been matured in first-fill American oak barrels or rejuvenated American oak Hogsheads for fourteen to twenty-nine years. They have been carefully blended together to create a rich, textured whisky with with intriguing flavors of vanilla, toasted coconut, pecan and toffee on the nose and palate.

Compass Box "Peat Monster" Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
94 Points - Malt Advocate

Compass Box "Peat Monster" is an award-winning malt whisky blended from Islay single malts from the village of Port Askaig, an Islay south shore malt, a smoky malt from the Isle of Mull and a medium-peated Speyside malt. The blend is then matured in a mix of first-fill and refill American oak for several months to fully integrate the flavors and enhance the complexity and soft mouthfeel of the final product. Big, bold and intense, "Peat Monster" boasts pronounced notes of peat smoke accented by hints of dried fruit and spice.

Visit us next week to find out more about "Asyla", "Oak Cross" and "Great King St. Artist's Blend"!

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Behind the Scenes with Boyd & Blair

We're pleased to announce that DrinkUpNY now carries Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka, an incredibly smooth, high quality spirit that has been ranked the top vodka in the world by F. Paul Pacult! We have also added Boyd & Blair "Professional Proof" 151 Vodka to our selection, which is the perfect base for creating bitters, liqueurs, aperitifs, classic punches and more. We recently spoke with Barry Young, one of the producers of this premium brand, to give you a behind the scenes look at what it takes to create a truly exceptional spirit.

How did Boyd & Blair begin? What inspired the creation of this brand?

Boyd & Blair began over seven years ago when my business partner, Prentiss Orr, posed the question as to why there were a lot of micro-breweries but not micro-distilleries. This idea led us to our desire to create a classic vodka using locally grown produce that was not flashy, but rather entirely taste focused. We both preferred potato vodka over grain and started to talk to local potato farmers.

What sets Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka apart from the competition?

As a member of a small group of American Distillers who make their own mash, we all look at the international brands as our competition. Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka in comparison to these brands has character and flavor rather than a "sterile" taste found in many vodkas. I always wanted my vodka to have character and for the consumer to know without a doubt that what they were served was Boyd & Blair.  Potato vodka is rare (most vodkas are made of grain), and it has a natural sweetness and viscosity. Since it is distilled in batches in a pot still I have total control of making the cuts of alcohol very precise so that only the hearts of the run are ever bottled.

When distilling there are three segments of the run. The first is called the heads which smells like model airplane glue and contains methanol. No one uses this, or at least should not. The next segment is called the hearts which is the sweet part of the run. Lastly come the tails which smell like an old dish rag that has been sitting too long by the sink. Once I taste the tails starting to come out of the still I immediately turn it off and discontinue collecting the alcohol.  Most distilleries keep some of tails in their final product which causes the aftertaste associated with drinking some brands of straight vodka. This is what distinguishes Boyd & Blair.  Boyd & Blair does not have the aftertaste or "bite" but rather an extreme smoothness because we never use any of the tails. Large distilleries who mass produce and do not use a pot still and instead use automated continuous stills, introduce tails into the final product.

The cutting on the fly while the still is running is one example of how craft distilleries truly distinguish themselves.

You have also released Boyd & Blair at "Professional Proof". Tell us more about this.

Boyd & Blair has been embraced by the mixologist community in many cities around the country and I have been asked to create a bitters line by many. The issue I had with creating bitters is that I am a distiller not a mixologist. Mixologists and bartenders create such inventive cocktails and by creating a bitters line I would be dictating flavors. One day I was sitting in a cocktail lounge in South Beach and marveled at all of the bitters that were house-made and I asked the bartender what he used for a base.  He said mainly 151 rum, but that it was not the best base to use since it was not clean enough.  Previously I had infused plenty of Boyd & Blair and the results were fantastic, so I knew that if I created a 151 version of our same recipe it would infuse incredibly with whatever ingredients one could dream up. At this moment I decided that I could provide these mixologists with what they sought after, a perfectly clean base for bitters and liqueurs.

Our Professional Proof 151 is very versatile and can be used for crafting bitters, liqueurs, and infusions to be used as a base of other cocktails. To date I have made limoncello, crème de menthe, clemencello, orange bitters, cigar bitters, a roasted pumpkin infusion, an allspice infusion and a vanilla bean infusion that was further infused with American Oak. I have also aged the 151 in a 2 liter barrel for 5 weeks giving it a whiskey type of taste.

What's next for Boyd & Blair? Are you currently working on any new projects or planning any for the future?

I am always working on something but our next official release will be called Gelvaldig! which is a Kosher for Passover version of Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka.

What is your favorite way to enjoy Boyd & Blair?

When I am traveling I love tasting the Boyd & Blair creations of mixologists around the country, but when I am at home I drink it on the rocks.

Try the "Roasted Pumpkin Infusion" recipe with either of the Boyd & Blair vodkas to get a taste of Autumn!

Roasted Pumpkin Infusion

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 baking pumpkin
1 750-milliliter bottle of Boyd & Blair
Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

-Mix the cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon with olive oil and set aside.

-Carefully cut the top off the pumpkin and quarter the pumpkin and place it on a cookie sheet.

-Spread the seasoning oil over the pieces and roast in the oven until the pumpkin is fork tender. Allow the pumpkin to cool.

-Place the pumpkin in an infusion jar and cover with Boyd & Blair and let sit for 3 to 4 days.

-Strain the vodka through a coffee filter and mesh strainer.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Charles Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky

Our story begins in 1907, when famous explorer Ernest Shackleton contacted the Glen Mhor Distillery to request twenty-five cases of their Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt - a ten year old whisky which was recognized as one of the classic Highland malts of its day. The distillery was happy to oblige and even created a commemorative label to honor the event, which read "Specially prepared for the British Antarctic Expedition 1907 - Ship Endurance". You see, at that time Shackleton was planning to change the name of his ship from "Nimrod" to "Endurance", but he eventually lost interest in the idea. However, time was a factor so in August 1907, Shackleton departed from London on the Nimrod, with the mislabeled "Endurance" whisky safely stored beneath the decks.

The Nimrod arrived in Antarctica's McMurdo Sound on January 29th, 1908. Landing at Cape Royds, the team battled difficult conditions for days as they struggled to build shelter and bring their equipment and supplies to shore. When they were finally established at their base camp, the team began their scientific work and started planning their long journey to both the South Pole and the Magnetic South Pole. Shackleton and three team members departed in November 1908 and began the difficult march south - a journey which brought the men to the edge of starvation. They ultimately fall short of their goal by less than 100 miles. However, the legendary leadership skills of Shackleton ensured that all four men returned safely and were back on board the Nimrod by early March 1909. As the winter sea ice began to form and the blizzards returned, the expedition hurriedly sailed for home, leaving behind many of their belongings - including several crates of the Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt.

Members of the original expedition.
Now fast forward to February 2007, when two crates of whisky were discovered in Antarctica by a team from the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust - a group dedicated to preserving the history of the region. Although the discovery sparked the interest of numerous world organizations, the crates could not be removed from Antarctica due to international protocols. So the crates remained encased in ice until early 2010, when the Antarctic Heritage Trust was granted permission to remove one of the cases. It was quickly rushed to the Canterbury Museum where it took two weeks to fully defrost and stabilize the whisky. After completing a detailed analysis of the package, it was deemed that the whisky was the very same Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt that was distilled in 1897 and bottled in 1907 exclusively for Ernest Shackletons' Nimrod expedition to Antarctica.
One of the original crates of Mackinlay's Rare Old Whisky
In January 2011, three bottles of this rare whisky were returned to Whyte & Mackay, the owners of the Mackinlay brand. It was transferred by private jet to the Whyte & Mackay's Invergordon Spirit Laboratory, where Master Blender Richard Paterson, and his expert team spent several weeks in the laboratory nosing, tasting and deconstructing the whisky to reveal its true heritage. Aside from identifying the various aromas and flavors, this rigorous analysis proved that the whisky was 47.3% alcohol, was aged in American white oak sherry casks, and the peat used for the malting originated in the Orkney Islands.

Inspired by their analysis, the team embarked on the challenge of recreating this rare whisky, and the result is exceptional. This painstaking reproduction of the original is an intricate blend of Speyside (Longmorn, Benriach, Glenfarclas, Mannochmore, Tamnavulin and Glenrothes), Highland (Balblair and Pulteney) and Jura malts which have been carefully selected for their specific flavor profiles. This masterful combination is composed of malts varying in age from eight to thirty years old, which have been married in the finest sherry butts. The resulting spirit is complex, aromatic and refined, offering delicate notes of crushed apple, pear and fresh pineapple complemented by smoke, vanilla, caramel, nutmeg and oak. The bottle and packaging have also been recreated down to the last detail - bubbles in the glass make each bottle unique, while the labels incorporate hand-lettering and labeling techniques from the early 20th century. Only 50,000 bottles were produced, so add this remarkable spirit to your collection today.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sake 101: Other Techniques

Last time in Sake 101, we explored the main classifications of sake and the flavor profiles created by different brewing methods. This week, we'll explain a few other production techniques that greatly influence the finished product:

1. Namazake

Almost all sake on the market has been pasteurized twice - once just after brewing, and once again before shipping. This is done by either running the sake through a pipe submerged in hot water, or by submerging the sake after it has already been bottled. Pasteurization permanently deactivates left over enzymes which can become active again if the sake is stored in slightly higher temperatures - a process that could possibly ruin the flavor.

However, namazake is sake that has not been pasteurized. It must be refrigerated since it is less stable than other varieties, and will develop rather unusual flavors if not stored properly. When namazake spoils it is known as hi-ochi - a condition that can usually be spotted rather easily because a thick, white liquid will condense and float unattractively in the bottle. 

When stored properly, namazake is smooth, easy-drinking and highly enjoyable. While the aromas are rather subtle, it has a rich, textured palate as well as a fresh, lively and elegant flavor. All classifications of sake can be pasteurized (or not), and it doesn't have any effect on the overall quality of the sake.

Ohyama Tokubetsu Junmai Nigori
2. Nigori

Nigori is sake that has not been filtered, and some of the fermented rice has deliberately been left in the bottle. This produces a white, cloudy and somewhat opaque sake (not to be confused with spoiled namazake!) that offers a full body, a smooth, creamy texture, and mildly sweet flavors. Although it lacks the subtlety and refinement of a premium sake, nigori is an excellent accompaniment to a variety of light dishes, especially seafood.

3. Yamahai

If you expect your sake to be fruity, floral and delicate, do not order anything with "yamahai" on the label. While these sakes can be bold, complex and delicious, they can definitely catch you by surprise with their gamey, earthy notes of mushroom, mineral and herbs. This is caused by a slow acting yeast starter that allows for more bacteria and wild yeasts to be incorporated into the brew. These sakes pair well with heartier entrees such as grilled meat or rich pasta dishes.

Dewatsuru Kimoto Junmai
4. Kimoto

Put simply, kimoto is the traditional method of creating the yeast starter - until 1920 all sake was made by mixing rice, koji and water into a puree in order to help the yeast cells reproduce faster. The brewers had to stand around a small tub of this mixture and constantly stir in a rhythmic motion which helped to speed up the production of lactic acid in the moto. The lactic acid protects the moto from unwanted bacteria that may cause unusual flavors, or even spoil the sake. While this tiring, tedious method is no longer common, a few breweries still produce sake this way. The flavor profile is quite similar to sake produced with the yamahai method, offering rich, pronounced notes of earth and mineral.

Of course since we're talking about sake, the brewing variations are endless, but these are the most common terms you will come across. We hope our Sake 101 series has given you further insight into this traditional beverage, and helps you to understand the sake you are tasting or buying.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sake 101: Main Classifications

To continue our Sake 101 series, here are several sake classifications that will help you understand what kind of sake you are tasting or buying. Although there are many different types of sake, the four basic classifications you will often see are Junmai, Honjonzo, Ginjo and Daiginjo. Unlike wine or spirits, these names refer to the brewing method - not the region, age or varietal.
Ohyama "Big Mountain" Junmai
1. Junmai

Junmai is the most basic form of sake - only rice, water and koji are used in its production. The rice has been polished so that at least 30% of the outer shell of each grain has been removed, resulting in a heavier, full bodied sake with a subtle nose, a bold palate and high acidity. Junmai does not have any specific flavor characteristics, and can range from earthy flavors such as herbs and minerals to refined notes of fruit and fresh flowers. While the flavors are certainly distinctive, they are not particularly complex, which is why junmai is typically paired with food.

2. Honjozo

Honjozo is produced similarly to junmai, but is a significantly lighter style. The rice has also been polished so that at least 30% of the outer shell of each grain has been removed, but a small amount of distilled alcohol (called brewers alcohol) is added to the fermenting sake during the final stages of production. This makes the sake lighter, smoother and usually more fragrant. Honjozo sake tends to be off-dry and low in acidity with complex, earthy flavors and a long finish.

3. Ginjo

Ginjo sake is produced with rice that has been polished so that at least 40% of the outer shell has been ground away, which removes components such as fats and proteins that can impede fermentation and cause unwanted flavors. It is fermented at colder temperatures for a longer period of time and a small amount of brewers alcohol has been added, which results in a sweeter, lighter sake with soft acidity. Ginjo sake is highly aromatic and usually offers delicate fruit and floral notes.

4. Daiginjo

Daigingo is produced very similarly to ginjo sake, except the rice is polished so at least 50% of the grain remains - some brands go even further and remove 65% of the grain, with only 35% remaining. The resulting sake is off-dry and light-bodied with soft acidity, and offers intense aromas and complex flavors of fresh fruit and flowers.

Now that you know the four main types of sake, it's time to mix things up a bit.

Junmai Ginjo combines both brewing methods - the rice is polished so 40% of the grain has been removed, then fermented at colder temperatures for a long period of time (ginjo), however no brewers alcohol has been added so it is considered junmai (only rice, water and koji are used in its production). Junmai Ginjo is considered to be of higher quality than junmai and offers a lighter body, lower acidity and more refined flavors.

Junmai Daiginjo again combines both brewing methods - at least 50% of the outer shell of the rice must be removed, and the remainder is fermented at colder temperatures for a long period of time (daiginjo). No brewers alcohol is added, so the sake is still considered jumai. Light, aromatic and complex, this type of sake is considered to be of incredibly high quality and truly showcases the skill of the brewer.

Dewatsuru Hihaku Junmai Daiginjo
Believe it or not, there are still other types of sake - but we'll leave them for next time.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Marsala: Mmm, Mmm Good!

When most hear the word Marsala their thoughts turn to chicken recipes rather than quality fortified wine. And why not? When was the last time you or anyone you knew purchased a real bottle of Marsala to enjoy as an aperitif, a before-dinner drink? Cheap supermarket rip-offs and American generic brands have sullied the reputation of this once well-regarded wine. Its popularity has followed a trajectory similar to that of Sherry, with a recent resurgence in interest after a long period of obscurity.

Vintage bottles of Intorcia Marsala.
All true Marsala hails from the island of Sicily where it was first popularized by English merchant John Woodhouse (it is unclear the relationship he had, if any, to the Port producer Smith Woodhouse) in the late 18th Century. Eponymously named after the port city, the grapes that produce the wine must come from a delimited area on the Western end of the island. Marsala made from white varieties such as Grillo, Inzolia and Catarratto is referred to as Oro or Ambra, while Marsala made from red grapes like Calabrese and Nerello Mascalese is called Rubino.

There are many different types of Marsala, from dry to sweet, light to dark, but common to all its styles is the method by which the wine is matured. The aging regiment is called "in perpetuum" and bears a resemblance to the Solera system used in Andalucía for Sherry. This system ensures consistency, stability and the aromatic complexity that Marsala is known for. The oxidative maturation afforded by this system yields nutty, dried fruit and toffee aromas in the final wine.

The Marsala DOC became an official Italian wine appellation in 1969, with the rules governing production further refined in 1984. Written into law are the aging requirements and their accompanying descriptors:

Fine (Dry or Sweet): Aged a minimum of 12 months
Superiore (Dry or Sweet): Aged a minimum of 24 months
Superiore Riserva (Dry or Sweet): Aged a minimum of 4 years
Vergine/Solera (Dry or Sweet): Aged a minimum of 5 years
Vergine/Solera Stravecchio or Riserva (Dry): Aged a minimum of 10 years

If your interest is piqued, the good news is that Marsala is affordable. Because it isn't as fashionable or popular as other fortified wines like Port, Marsala enjoys the economic advantage of being in relatively low demand. This translates to the fact that one can find Superiore Riservas like Vito Curatolo Arini's for under $25. And better yet, a basic Marsala like Intorcia Dry costs less than $15 a bottle.

Marsalas should be served with a slight chill. Drier version can best be enjoyed on their on their own before a meal, while sweeter versions like Vito Curatolo Arini Sweet Marsala Superiore can be enjoyed after dinner or with a cheese plate. Of course, these are brilliant wines to cook with and numerous recipes call for the use of Marsala, best known is the aforementioned Chicken Marsala. Ever versatile, it also makes a great, though often-ignored, cocktail ingredient in drinks like flips or as a substitute for Amontillado Sherry. So next time you need a Marsala for sipping or simmering, skip the supermarket imitator, try the real stuff, and taste the difference.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bols Barrel Aged Genever

Established in 1575, Lucas Bols is one of the world's oldest distilled spirits brands, and the first registered company in Holland. The Bols family first began distilling liqueurs in an Amsterdam workshop called "t Lootsje", meaning "The Shed". The business greatly expanded during the Golden Age because Lucas Bols, the head of the company at that time, had a majority stake in the Dutch East India Trading Company. This gave him access to wide variety of exotic herbs and spices returning from the colonies in Indonesia, South American and the Caribbean. Using these ingredients, Bols was able to create 300 different liqueur recipes in the 18th century alone.

In 1664, Lucas Bols began distilling genever - a triple distillate of rye, wheat and corn (what the Dutch call malt wine), which is then blended with a botanical and juniper berry distillate, resulting in a balanced, full flavored spirit. The original Bols Genever recipe was an immediate success and was quickly transported throughout the world by the sailors of the Dutch East India Trading Company. However in 1820, Bols introduced a revolutionary new genever recipe with a better balance of malt wine, neutral grain alcohol and botanicals. It resulted in a smoother, more subtle spirit which gained immense popularity during the rising cocktail craze in the US. By 1875, the import of genever into the US is six times larger than that of gin. In recent years there has been a renewed interest in cocktail culture, and Bols Genever's authentic 1820 recipe allows bartenders to recreate the true classics as they were meant to taste, as well as invent new, interesting combinations.

The 1820 Bols Genever recipe.

However, Master Distiller Piet Van Leijenhorst, is always looking for new ways to enhance the genever experience. Bols has recently announced the release of the new Bols Barrel Aged Genever, a new expression of the spirit designed with bourbon connoisseurs in mind. Bols Barrel Aged Genever is produced according to an authentic recipe created by the company in the 19th Century - different from the recipe used for Bols Genever 1820. This recipe is aged in French Limousin oak barrels for at least 18 months, lending the spirit a pale golden color and adding complex notes of wood and spice to the herbaceous, juniper flavors of the original Bols Genever.

For centuries, Bols Genever has been bottled and shipped around the world in brown clay jugs that can still be found in old shipwrecks or during archaeological digs. In honor of this tradition, Bols Barrel Aged Genever is bottled in grey earthenware jugs from the German Westerwald region.

Antique bottles of Bols Genever.
Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rhum Barbancourt: The Spirit of Haiti

When Christopher Columbus landed in the New World in 1492, he arrived on the sandy shores of Môle Saint Nicolas in present day Haiti. He named the island Hispaniola, and for the next 200 years, the entire island remained under Spanish rule. During this time, the Spanish settlers introduced a variety of plants and animals to the region, but the one newly imported species that had the most influence was sugar cane. It was cultivated to produce sugar for the wealthy, and as the demand for this commodity grew, the European settlers throughout the region fought for control of the islands. In 1640, the French conquered the nearby island of Tortuga, and from there, waged war on Hispaniola. By 1695 the Spanish were defeated and conceded the western half of the island to the French in the Treaty of Ryswick.

When settlers originally traveled to the region, they brought with them the knowledge of distillation. This technology spread rapidly throughout the Caribbean islands, and by the time the French acquired their newest colony from the Spanish, the distilled sugar cane spirit they called "rhum" was in high demand. On their new colony, which they named Saint-Domingue, the French built large sugar cane plantations to create both sugar and rhum. However, the demand for these products kept growing and they needed more and more field workers to achieve the results they desired. The island natives were forced to work on these plantations, along with Africans that had been "purchased" with European goods and transported across the Atlantic Ocean. This slavery continued until the Haitian Revolution of 1791 - the only successful slave revolt in world history and the defining moment of the abolition of slavery. Born from this revolt was the free and independent state of Haiti.

At this time, many of the mid and lower class French settlers who had not owned plantations or slaves remained in the country and lived in relative harmony with the liberated Haitian people. One of these colonists was Dupré Barbancourt, a native of the Charente region in France. In 1862, he decided to experiment and subjected the fermented sugar cane to the double distillation method usually reserved for the finest cognacs. The rhum produced was of exceptional quality, and although it was created in very limited quantities, it gained immense popularity in the Caribbean, as well as France. 

The Barbancourt Charentaise Still
Over the years, Rhum Barbancourt has been passed down through the generations, but it was Dupré Barbancourt's great nephew, Jean Gardère who truly modernized the business. In 1949, he relocated the distillery from Port au Prince to the heart of the sugar cane fields of Domaine Barbancourt. By 1952, the distillery began to produce rhum exclusively from sugar cane grown on their own land, which allowed the brand to grow from a small cottage industry to an international exporter. By the mid-1960s, Barbancourt had greatly expanded and was able to release their finest product - the 15 year old Reserve du Domaine.

La Société du Rhum Barbancourt is one of the oldest Haitian companies, and still produces their rhum in accordance with the original recipe by Dupré Barbancourt. Although the company has several releases, two of the finest rhums produced are the "Réserve Spéciale" and the "Estate Reserve". 

"Réserve Spéciale"
Rhum Barbancourt "Réserve Spéciale" has been aged in Limousin oak for 8 years, lending a lovely golden hue and enticing aromas of vanilla and pepper. The palate is powerful, smooth and well balanced, with complex flavors of cooked fruit, citrus fruit and exotic spice. The limited edition Rhum Barbancourt "Estate Reserve" has been aged for 15 years and is of even higher quality. The nose offers lively aromas of candied citrus fruit and spice, while the palate displays intense flavors of cooked pear, citrus fruit, cinnamon and pepper. The devastating earthquake Haiti endured in 2010 damaged the distillery and ruined a large amount of the aging rhum, but the newest release of the "Estate Reserve" has recently arrived at DrinkUpNY, so order today to reserve a bottle of this exceptional spirit.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sake 101: History & Production

First produced in Japan roughly 2,500 years ago, sake has an extensive history, is produced in a variety of different styles, offers a wide range of aromas and flavor characteristics, and frankly, can be rather confusing. Do you want Junmai? Daiginjo? Junmai Daiginjo? In this series, we aim to clear up any questions you may have about sake, and give you a more thorough understanding of this traditional beverage which has made such an impact on Japanese society throughout history.

We'll start off by providing you with some background information:

Sake actually originated in China about 4,500 years ago, and the Chinese developed many of the most important techniques for sake production. However, when wet-rice cultivation was introduced to Japan, this knowledge was transferred as well, and early rice farmers were among the first to introduce sake into Japanese culture.

In ancient Japan, sake production involved an entire village - each person would chew on a mixture of rice and nuts, and then spit it into a large tub. The saliva added the enzyme necessary for fermentation, and sake produced in this manner was called "kuchikami no sake", which is loosely translated to mean "chewing the mouth sake". This process was also part of a Shinto religious ceremony, however it was discontinued when it was later discovered that koji mold and yeast could produce the same results.

Adding Koji mold to the rice at the Dewatsuru Brewery
At first, sake was produced in relatively small quantities and was consumed by individual families or villages. However, over time the rice became a large scale agricultural product, the production process evolved, and sake was created in much larger quantities. It became an important component in many Japanese customs - sake was used as an offering to the Gods, to purify the temple, consumed in wedding ceremonies, and also became popular among the upper class. By the 1300's, breweries were being built, the production process became more modern, and sake was being mass produced. In the 19th Century, Japan experienced their Industrial Revolution, and breweries began to incorporate machinery into the production process, making sake widely available to the public.

Tending the steamed rice at the Manabito Brewery
The basic process of sake production has not changed much throughout history, although the technology is of course, much more modern. The first step involves "polishing", or milling the rice kernels to remove the outer layer of the grain. The rice is then washed to remove any unwanted excess particles (called "nuka"), soaked for a period of time to add moisture, and then steamed - a process which allows the starch molecules to emerge. The rice is then cooled and periodically sprinkled with koji mold to convert the starch into sugar. A yeast starter, known as "shubo" or "moto", is added to the mixture to promote fermentation which will then last for 18 - 32 days. It is during this time that the skilled brewer adjusts the temperature and varying other factors to create the desired flavor characteristics. After fermentation, the mixture is "pressed" which removes the unfermented rice, or "kasu", and only the sake remains.

After the sake is created, there are a variety of different processes that may be implemented. The sake can be filtered, pasteurized and aged - or not. These final steps, along with variations of the brewing process, greatly affect the finished product... but we'll get to that topic next week.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Viva la Vinho Verde!

Summer is the time when most of us put down the bottles of wintry red wines and opt for something light, cool and refreshing. One wine that has recently gained immense popularity is Vinho Verde, or "green wine" - a name alluding to its youth, not color. While Vinho Verde can technically be red, white or rose, the most noted wines to emerge from the region have been lightly carbonated, food-friendly whites that are perfect for summer gatherings. Lower alcohol, crisp acidity and underlying minerality allow these wines to pair incredibly well not only with lighter food such as salad and seafood, but also with bold, spicy fare such as Mexican, Indian or Thai.

The Demarcated Region of Vinho Verde is located in northwestern Portugal, bordered by the Minho River in the North, mountainous areas in the East and South, and the Atlantic Ocean on the west. The mild climate, maritime winds and high yearly rain level provides the ideal growing conditions for a variety of indigenous grapes, such as Loureiro, Trajadura and Arinto, just to name a few. Don't be deterred by these relatively unknown varietals - they have been expertly crafted into delicious wines for centuries.

One brand that certainly stands out is Vera Vinho Verde.  In 2010, long-time friends Rui Abecassis and Bruce Scheider scoured the northern Portugal countryside with the intent of creating an exceptional Vinho Verde. Their search led them to select blocks of Casa do Valle's main estate vineyard, where the vines are between 10 and 15 years old and grow on granitic sandy loam at an average elevation of 300 meters. They were greatly impressed by the terroir and the quality of the grapes, so they enlisted Luis Duarte, one of Portugal's most respected producers, to create their ideal vision of Vinho Verde. Composed of 60% Arinto, 30% Azal and 10% Loureiro, Vera offers bright, refreshing notes of lemon, lime and grapefruit, with a strong mineral backbone.
Broadbent's Vinho Verde Estate

The reputable Broadbent Selections has also produced an excellent Vinho Verde which is shipped in refrigerated containers throughout the world to preserve the characteristic fizz of the wine. Composed of 50% Loureiro, 40% Trajadura and 10% Pederná (also known as Arinto), Broadbent Vinho Verde is light and refreshing with crisp notes of lime and tart apple.

Last but certainly not least, we recommend Adega de Monção’s "Fuzelo" Vinho Verde. Established in 1958, this winery has received numerous awards throughout the years and was named "Cooperative of the Year" in 2007 by noted Portuguese wine magazine Revista de Vinhos. "Fuzelo" is blended from Loureiro, Arinto, Trajadura, Avesso and Azal, and offers notes of ripe melon, grapefruit and peach, complemented by a subtle minerality.

So open a bottle of Vinho Verde at your next summer picnic or backyard barbeque, but don't forget to stock up – your guests will definitely want a second glass.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Montanya Distillers' Colorado Rum

Established in 2008 by longtime rum enthusiasts Karen and Brice Hoskin, Montanya Distillers produces high quality rum in Colorado's Rocky Mountains. Although most people associate rum with the Caribbean, throughout history the spirit has also been produced in the mountainous regions of Central America. The Hoskins have embraced this tradition and decided to honor the custom by naming their rum "Montanya". Although the word is usually spelled "Montaña", the Hoskins decided to Americanize the spelling mainly because they didn't want consumers to see their rum and think of Montana, the state north of Wyoming. Montanya Rum is a Colorado product through and through!

While the Rocky Mountains may seem like an odd place for rum production, it actually makes perfect sense. The main ingredient in rum is water - comprising 85% of the fermented wash and 60% of the final bottled product. Rum is distilled to about 140 proof and then has to be blended with water before it is bottled at 80 proof. Pure, natural water is very scarce in the Caribbean, but in Colorado the distillery is able to source crisp, clean snowmelt straight out of the pristine Boulder Creek.

Another benefit of Montanya's location is their altitude. The finest rums in the world are aged at altitude, including Ron Zacapa in the mountains of Guatemala. The temperature fluctuates from day to night, which forces more rum in and out of the barrel's oak pores. This results in a smoother, more flavorful spirit. Also, in warmer climates, rum fermentation attracts fruit flies and bats, but the Colorado Rockies doesn't have any of these pests due to their cooler temperatures and high elevation.

The freshness of the oak barrels also has an impact on the rum - Caribbean and Central American producers import their American Oak barrels from whiskey distilleries in the US. Montanya Distillers is closer to the source, so the barrels reach them fresh from the producer, who in this case, happens to be Stranahan's Distillery, another excellent Colorado-based company.

Both releases from Montanya Distillers are created from pure, high molasses content sugarcane that is American-grown and harvested by members of the Sugar Worker's Union. After distillation, both the Montanya Platino and Montanya Oro are aged in those fresh oak barrels from Stranhan's, imparting smooth, distinctive notes of vanilla, honey and spice. The Platino is then filtered using a coconut-husk charcoal plate filtering process which leaves the spirit clear and perfect for mixing.

Montanya Platino opens with soft, sweet aromas of vanilla and coconut which carry through to a full flavored, medium bodied palate. Complex notes of honey, coffee, baking spice and caramel are balanced by hints of spicy oak, with subtle flavors of toasted almond lingering through the finish.

The Montanya Oro retains its lively golden hue and is a rich, full bodied sipping rum with layered notes of toffee, honey, mocha, vanilla and espresso on both the nose and palate. A bold note of roasted coffee appears on the slightly smoky finish.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Martin Miller's Gin

Born of love, obsession and some degree of madness, Martin Miller's Gin is an exceptional spirit that embodies the history, romance and adventure of a modern classic. Determined to rescue cocktail menus from the sub-par gin and tonic, Martin Miller embarked on the journey of a lifetime - to create a traditional, yet seductive, high quality gin that's as "sharp as a Savile Row suit, yet as smooth and refined as a classic Bentley".

The Martin Miller's distillery is located in the heart of England's Black Country, home to the industrial revolution. Distillation takes place in a single, three stories high, balloon-bellied, Samovarish pot still - fondly referred to as Angela - which was created back in 1904 by John Dore & Sons, and is universally accepted as the "Rolls Royce" of spirit still production. The gin is distilled in small batches from high quality grain then steeped and macerated with a wide array of berries, herbs, roots and spices including coriander, liquorice, Florentine iris, cinnamon, cassia, nutmeg, angelica and orris root, orange and lemon peel, and of course, Juniper, which has been harvested from the hills of Tuscany, India or Macedonia. The dried peels of the citrus fruits are distilled separately from the more grounded, earthy botanicals, creating a more balanced gin with brighter citrus notes.

Once distillation is complete, the spirit must be blended with water to reach bottling strength. Martin Miller's insists on using the purest, softest water on earth and therefore transports the gin 1,500 miles to Iceland, where the glacial waters are up to ten times purer than most of the bottled waters on sale today. The spring lies in the town of Borganes, where the water rises from the depths of the Basalt mountains - the place where it has rested for almost 800 years. Martin Miller's blends this clean, unpolluted, ice cold water with their gin, which not only showcases the botanical flavors already present in the spirit, but adds a soft, almost sweet mouthfeel to the finished product.

Since 2003, Martin Miller's Gin has received consistent recognition by being awarded multiple gold medals by the International Spirits Challenge and numerous double gold medals by the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Wine Enthusiast has awarded Martin Miller's Gin 93 Points and has described it as "one of the most aromatic and least junipery gins, with aromas of cucumber, white pepper and lemon zest. On the tongue, look for a brief sweetness and floral taste, which rolls into invigorating, pleasingly bitter flavors of orange pith and pine." Martin Miller's Westbourne Gin, bottled at 45.2% ABV, has received 92 Points from Wine Enthusiast and was described as having "a soft feel and English-garden aroma reminiscent of cucumber and fresh-cut flowers. On the tongue, look for cucumber and juniper, and a sweet and slightly floral finish."

Martin Miller - the man behind the brand.

Martin Miller's can be enjoyed neat or in a variety of classic and contemporary cocktails. Martin Miller himself recommends a classic Gin & Tonic, using a Spanish-style large-stemmed balloon glass to hold in the bubbles - much like a champagne flute does for champagne. He then adds a long twist of lime peel and is careful not to include any pulp from the lime as this again reduces the effervescence. He then pours the tonic down a mixing spoon, allowing the tonic to find its own way around the ice, the gin and the lime. Don't be tempted to use the spoon to mix the ingredients - stirring and mixing take the life out.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Myths and Realities of Absinthe

In order to continue our installments of Absinthe education for DrinkUpNY, this week, we bring you some of the popular myths surrounding our favorite beverage and provide you with the truth surrounding those myths.  So, without further ado, here are some of the most popular myths:

MYTH 1: Absinthe that you can buy in the U.S. isn't "the real deal".
This is one of the most popular misinformation campaigns out there today, propagated by several specific disreputable brands.  Yes, U.S. absinthes are REAL.  They contain the same species of wormwood and more-or-less resemble pre-ban absinthes in style and flavor (there is a wide variety of flavors, even within the traditional absinthe segment, though they all share the same common characteristics). Scientific analysis of pre-ban absinthe has shown that Belle Epoque brands contained only a small trace of thujone, the compound blamed for absinthe's alleged harmful effects. Still, there are no legal guidelines as to what may be called "absinthe", so buyer discretion is advised; be well-informed.  There are some brands out there that are no more absinthe than tequila is rum.  As much as possible, refer to the Wormwood Society's Review Section to do further brand research before you buy.

MYTH 2: Absinthe is a drug.
It won't make you "trip", hallucinate, cut your ear off, or do anything else you wouldn't ordinarily do when intoxicated with liquor. The terrifying hallucinations reported to be suffered by early, hospitalized absinthe abusers were most likely due to the withdrawal symptoms of acute alcoholism: alcoholic hallucinosis, or, the DTs. There are no psychedelic or psychotropic ingredients in authentic absinthe.

A Night with Absinthe, by Leif Rogers

MYTH 3: Thujone is a hallucinogen or is related to THC.
Thujone, the primary volatile oil in wormwood, is present in only in trace amounts in absinthe due to its resistance to distillation, and is subtle in its effects at these levels. The current "100mg thujone" and "extra strong" hype on many sites is a "legal high" marketing gimmick aimed at the gullible. The role of thujone in the so-called "secondary effect" is greatly exaggerated, as is the effect itself.  Read through the articles in our Absinthe Science section for more information. The similarity in effect to THC was an un-tested conjecture from the mid-1970s and was proven incorrect by later studies. Thujone is NOT a hallucinogen or a psychedelic and has no reasonable recreational potential.

MYTH 4: You can make real, traditional absinthe at home.
Not any easier than you can make real whisky or gin at home. Authentic absinthe must be distilled, just as whisky, gin, etc., and in most countries, including the US, home-distilling is illegal. Soaking wormwood and other herbs in vodka or grain neutral spirits will not make absinthe or anything like it. Absinthe must be distilled.

MYTH 5: Flaming absinthe is an authentic absinthe tradition.
Not in France, the Czech Republic or anywhere else prior to the late 1990's. There are a number of time-honored classic drinks which are flamed, but absinthe isn't one of them. Burnt sugar does no more than introduce a charred marshmallow taste, obscuring the delicate balance of botanicals. This preparation was invented as another marketing gimmick to sell low-quality product to club-goers.

MYTH 6: Authentic absinthe is horribly bitter.
The primary flavor of absinthe is anise - what most people call the "black licorice" flavor - but well-made absinthes have an herbal complexity that makes them taste like more than just licorice candy. People who have had bad experiences with extremely bitter, unpalatable beverages (many times in Prague or other Eastern European cities), were not drinking authentic absinthe. They had unfortunately fallen into a tourist trap.

MYTH 7:  Pastis is "absinthe without the wormwood".
Pernod Anis, Henri Bardouin and Herbsaint are substantially different from absinthe and are pre-sweetened; they are absinthe substitutes. They'll generally work in cocktails calling for absinthe, but as drinks on their own they're not very similar to it. You can't make absinthe by simply adding wormwood or wormwood extract to these products. It will taste vile.

Contributed by Brian Robinson, Review Editor, Wormwood Society

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal

The agave nursery in San Luis del Rio
In 1970, Ron Cooper, renowned artist and founder of Del Maguey, embarked on a road trip to discover the full Pan-American Highway. He stopped in the Oaxaca region of Southwest Mexico, and immersed himself in the history and traditions of the Zapotec and Miztec people who inhabit the area. Their fascinating culture greatly influenced Cooper's artwork, and he incorporated many of their ancient folklore into his creations. In 1990, he returned to Oaxaca to research a new project he was working on - creating a series of 50 hand-blown glass bottles to depict the infinite forms of intoxication and ecstasy of the Aztec god Ometotchli. Each one of these bottles was to be filled with mezcal, a traditional spirit distilled from the region's sacred agave plant. He continued traveling through the remote villages of the region, and discovered that each village in Oaxaca produces mezcal traditionally, but each one has a distinctive flavor profile. This is due to the varying topography of the land, which produces endless microclimates and numerous species of agave that greatly influence the characteristics of the finished mezcal. Determined to share these unique spirits with the world, Cooper created an importing company based from his home in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, as well as a cooperative of the best mezcal producers of Oaxaca.

Mezcal is such an important part of Zapotec culture that every member of the village contributes to its production. Each person plants their own agave plants in their small gardens and diligently cares for the plant until it is about two years old. The plant is then uprooted and transferred to the hills, where it matures for another four to ten years until it is ready to be harvested. After the agave is harvested, the hearts, or "piñas" are placed over hot rocks in an eight foot pit and covered with moist fiber from the plant, followed by woven palm-fiber mats and a layer of earth. They bake this way for three to five days, absorbing flavors from the earth and wood smoke and oils on the rocks. Each producer leaves the roasted hearts buried for different lengths of time - the producer of Del Maguey Tobala leaves them buried for a month! 
The mill at Chichicapa
The piñas are then removed and covered by palm mats in the shade for a week where they begin to ferment naturally with airborne microbes, then placed on the ground inside a ring of stone. In the center is a vertical post connecting an axle to a huge vertical, circular millstone. This stone wheel is pulled around the circle by a horse to crush the maguey. The only exception is Del Maguey Minero, where the maguey is ground in a stone trough by men wielding oak bats.

The crushed maguey is then placed in wooden vats that hold about three hundred gallons, and village water is added. The mash is covered with palm-fiber mats and ferments naturally with its own yeasts and microbes for four to thirty days. The mash is then transferred to a seventy-five gallon copper still (introduced by the Spanish settlers), or a thirty gallon ceramic still, which was introduced by Chinese visitors to the area (long before the Spanish conquest era). A copper "sombrero" is placed on the top and the mix is slowly heated by wood fire for twenty four hours, which allows it to vaporize and condense without "burning" the flavor. The fiber is cleared out of the still and the alcohol from the first distillation is placed back into the still and the distillation process is repeated. The resulting mezcal is unlike any spirit you have experienced before. Every Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal is created in extremely small quantities following these traditional production methods which were developed in the 16th century, allowing the mezcals to be certified organic by COMERCAM - The Mexican Regulatory Council For The Quality Of Mezcal.

The still at Santa Catarina Minas
Aside from working directly with the producers of their fine mezcal, Del Maguey also work with two villages of weavers. Every bottle of Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal is encased in its own unique handwoven palm fiber basket. The women of Oaxaca has been weaving these baskets for thousands of years and each of their designs are of Zapotec or Mixtec origin. It takes one woman half a day to weave each cover for a bottle of Del Maguey Mezcal, and the result is a true expression of their culture, art and dedication.

Del Maguey currently has eight releases from the villages of Chichicapa, San Luis Del Rio, Santa Catarina Minas and Santo Domingo Albarradas. They are currently working on a few new projects, although they are highly allocated. Created by the same distiller who produces Tobala, the Espadín Especial is an exceptional mezcal created from the Espadín agave. It is currently only available on-premise, but we hope to see it imported to the United States in the near future. Del Maguey is experimenting with barrel-aged products as well, which will be released in limited quantities when they have earned the distillers approval!

Santo Domingo Albarradas
Whether you prefer your mezcal neat, on the rocks, or in cocktails, raise your glass and proclaim "Stigibeau!" (pronounced stee-gee-bay-oo), the Zapotec toast to the life and health of each other and the earth.

Stigibeau from DrinkUpNY!