Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Quinine, a bitter substance derived from the bark of the cinchona tree, has a long history in both South American and European herbalism. Also known as "Peruvian Bark" or "Jesuit's Bark", it made the work of missionaries much simpler and the dubious efforts of colonialists safer while it eased the illness of many others. You may already know the medicinal origin of the Gin and Tonic: quinine was discovered to treat and prevent malaria, and the British in Africa would quaff this bitter cocktail to keep the deleterious effects of the disease at bay. These Brits eventually developed quite a taste for this curative, and drink lists have never been the same.

Though the medicinal substance can now be synthesized, quinine has found a comfortable place in cocktails as many have grown to appreciate its distinctive flavor. Yes, the quantity of quinine in modern tonic water wouldn't make a mosquito sneeze - the original stuff must have been overwhelming - but here and in other drinks, it's enough to impart a pleasant mouthwatering quality to an aperitif.

Infused and flavored aperitif wines often use this ingredient to add a bitter kick on the finish. Like many drinks - soda included - vermouth also once was used as a medicinal product; you'll often see (and taste) cinchona bark in vermouth, where along with wormwood, it adds a pleasant balance to the sweetness of the red variety. It also would have once lent an air of credibility to various medicinal claims. Though many vermouth brands keep their botanical list a secret, you'll detect a pleasantly bitter kick in red vermouths such as the moscato-based Casa Martletti Dal 1700 Vermouth Classico and Cocchi Vermouth di Torino.

Bonal Gentiane-Quina, a hyper-specialized, flavored Mistelle wine that also integrates the gentian root - an ingredient rarely seen outside of France and Austria - is a delightful drink that used to be nicknamed "ouvre l'appetit" (the key to the appetite). France has developed an apparent love for cinchona bark, integrating it into a number of specialty drinks. Quinquina is a uniquely french incarnation of this flavor, describing a class of bitter aperitif wines containing this ingredient. These libations, making a delicious drink before meals and a versatile cocktail ingredient, are usually extremely (if satisfyingly) assertive. If you've had the opportunity to sample Cocchi Americano, or happen to remember the profile of Lillet prior to its '80s reformulation, then you've been properly introduced.

Though the Gin and Tonic is an easy standby, we suggest experimenting with some of these other delightfully bitter, quinine-containing drinks. Though you may not cure anything, they're sure to raise your spirits.

Corpse Reviver No. 2
The Corpse Reviver series of cocktails - so named for their purported ability to bring back the hungover "dead", are experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Here's our favorite.

3/4 oz Cocchi Americano
3/4 oz Gin
3/4 oz Combier (or, in a pinch, triple sec)
3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
2 drops Absinthe

Add everything to a mixing glass filled with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled coupe glass.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Distilleries of New York: The Finger Lakes & Westchester

New York State is experiencing a glorious resurgence in distillation, and we're celebrating. The Finger Lakes is New York's most prolific wine producing region, and is particularly appreciated for Rieslings and other whites; the climactic effects of the lakes make the area particularly hospitable to viticulture, and the chillier temperatures keep acidity lively. But off this same cluster of oddly-shaped lakes, inspired by the region's bacchanalian pedigree, two distilleries have set up shop to shift the area's production to something a bit harder.
Thomas Earl McKenzie & Brian McKenzie of FLD

The appropriately named Finger Lakes Distilling Company is a young upstart with serious ambition. It was founded by Brian McKenzie and Thomas Earl McKenzie - no relation - who met at a distiller's conference back in 2007. Brian had a background in finance, and Thomas had held a broad range of experience with wine, beer, and spirits making. They set up shop along the Seneca Wine Trail, amongst the 40 plus wineries around the lake. They've been producing for a relatively short time, but they've already created a diverse portfolio of spirits with McKenzie Bourbon and Rye Whiskies, Seneca Drums Gin, Glen Thunder Corn Whiskey, and a range of grappas and liqueurs.

Over at Cayuga lake, Hidden Marsh Distillery was the first Finger Lakes microdistillery. An offshoot from Montezuma winery, this is a slick project from a more traditional wine, mead, and fruit wine maker. Their flagship product, Bee Vodka, is thrice-batch distilled from New York State honey, resulting in a flavorful and satisfying spirit that has tons more personality than most vodkas. Additionally, their master distiller makes a range of brandies and liqueurs. Located along the Cayuga Lake Trail just across from the Montezuma Wildlife Preserve, this distillery would be a great one to visit on a winery tour.

Heading southeast several hours to Westchester, this area's one robust distilling industry went dry after Prohibition. In some accounts, the town of Elmsford is even credited with the invention of the cocktail at a local watering hole, but it was only when a Port Chester bond trader lost his job to the recession that the area started making spirits again. StilltheOne Distillery is named for founder Ed Tiedge's long-lasting marriage to his wife Laura, rather than the song, and the two teamed up during the downturn to start making spirits from honey. Though he didn't have a background in distillation, Ed studied in Cognac to learn the trade, and relied on his wife's help to get the project off the ground. Since they started distilling in 2010, however, they've already made incredible progress. As of today, they’ve crafted several spirits: Comb Vodka, Comb9 Gin, and a spirit that shows Ed’s experience with Cognac, Comb Brandy.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Avoiding White Before Memorial Day: Exploring Sparkling Reds

With the warm weather upon us, there's a lot to celebrate. And when it comes to celebration, minds naturally turn to Champagne and other sparkling whites. For value and a taste of true distinctiveness, we urge you to explore the world of sparkling reds. Like their white counterparts, they range in style from very dry to almost dessert-like in sweetness. They are also produced in all manner of ways from the traditional method (the same way that Champagne is crafted with the second fermentation occurring in the bottle) to the Charmat method (the way Prosecco is made with the second fermentation and bottling occurring under pressure). Sparkling reds tend to be comparatively fruity and less tannic than their non-sparkling versions.

The spiritual home of sparkling red wine is the region of Emilia-Romagna in North-central Italy; this is because the original sparkling red, Lambrusco, hails from this area. Lambrusco is both the name of a family of grapes as well as a red wine.  Lambrusco’s popularity is in great part due to Riunite, a brand that dually brought the appellation public recognition and pigeon-holed its style in the minds of consumers as being overly sweet. Not all Lambrusco is created equal though, and one brand, in particular, has caught my eye and captured my palate.  I am referring to Lini, a producer that is equally concerned with quality and image (their "Bacchus" label remains a perennial favorite with customers). Their entry-level Lini "Labrusca" Lambrusco Rosso NV is the perfect introduction to quality Lambrusco - dry, yet fruity, crisp and refreshing. Lini also produces a wine they call Scuro which includes a healthy splash of a grape called Ancellotta for structure, richness and a deeper color. Last, but not least, Lini produces a sparkling red made in the same way Champagne is, that is via Metodo Classico; it is truly something unique.

If it's something sweeter you prefer, you might want to try a Brachetto d'Acqui.  From the Northeastern area of Italy known as Piedmont, this sparkling red is very aromatic (in smells like perfume and roses) and has a bit of residual sugar making it the perfect complement for dessert. Brachetto is the grape and Acqui is the name of the commune where the vast majority of it is grown. DrinkUpNY carries Giacomo Bologna "Braida" Brachetto d'Acqui which one might describe as frizzante meaning that its slightly sparkling as opposed to spumante, or fully sparkling (which is what most Proseccos and Champagnes are).

    Of course, not all sparkling reds come from Italy (or Europe, for that matter). Sparkling Malbec from Argentina has become quite popular, though is sometimes vinifed pink as in the case Reginato "Celestina" Sparkling Rosé of Malbec. The non-European sparkling red that has enjoyed the most acclaim as of recent has been sparkling Shiraz. Often softer and easier-drinking than its high alcohol, high octane, still counterpart, sparkling Shiraz offers an immediacy of fruit and flavor similar to that of Lambrusco. Bleasdale's "The Red Brute" is the perfect accompaniment to a range of dishes from spicy Asian cuisine to backyard BBQ. So get out there and get to tasting because once Memorial Day comes it'll be socially acceptable to get your whites out.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Distilleries of New York: Brooklyn

New York City has long enjoyed the creations of its native Brooklyn Brewery, and many hobbyists here experiment with making wine, beer and mead at home. But once you get into higher proof fare, things get more complicated. While making non-distilled beverages is legal and relatively easy for even the home hobbyist, distillation is mired in bureaucratic red tape and the problem of major equipment costs; licences are a pain to come by, and it's no small expense to buy a proper copper pot still from Europe. But in spite of the difficulties associated with making harder libations in smaller quantities, in the last few years, a few enterprising New Yorkers have successfully established incredible microdistilleries. These guys are creating some fascinating local products, and we couldn't be prouder of our borough's native spirits.

Breuckelen Distilling Company - Breuckelen Gin

This distillery is our nearby neighbor, located on an unpretentious block of 19th Street in South Slope. The distillery is set up in a space that looks like a car showroom, tricked out with big glass doors that make the alchemy inside visible from the street. This was a project born, oddly, of the recession and in-flight magazines; back in 2008, founder Brad Estabrooke had lost his finance job, and happened upon an article on micro-distilling while in the air. Though he had no background in distilling, he did have an interest in fine food and drink. Though half-expecting to encounter roadblocks at every turn, he was nonetheless inspired to dramatically change careers and found a rather risky business.

If nothing else positive came from the last few years' financial woes, at the very least, we got one of our favorite gins. Everything Estabrooke creates here is made from scratch, starting with New York State wheat that's ground into flour right before use and fermented into a mash. After fermentation, it is pot-distilled into a stunningly delicious base spirit - if you stop by the distillery, he might just let you try it - then re-distilled with botanicals to create the final product. He's working on a few other products, including a whiskey, so keep an eye out for even more exciting stuff soon.

Kings County Distillery - Kings County Moonshine

Boasting that it's "New York's Oldest Whiskey Distillery", Kings County Distillery was founded in 2010 and is the first whiskey producer here since Prohibition. This Williamsburg-based producer is set up in a single room on an industrial block near McCarren Park, and fittingly for such a truly micro-distillery, they only offer their products in speakeasy-friendly small bottles. Each comes labeled with a simple strip of white paper printed in a distressed typewriter font, reminding that this is indeed a small handmade product. Both founders feel an affinity for moonshiners - Colin Spoelman coming from a dry county in Kentucky and David Haskell having basement bourbon-making great grandfather - and indeed, this operation supposedly started as a clandestine hobby.

Starting with a bold moonshine, they've started making Brooklyn's very own bourbon that should be available in the next several months.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Distilleries of New York: The Hudson Valley

Though the state was once home to hundreds of distillers, since Prohibition, New York's alcohol production had been mostly limited to wine and small amounts of fruit brandy. In the past several years, however, New York State has experienced a tremendous growth in craft distilling thanks in part to a 2002 change in licensing laws. It used to be that only tiny quantities of those fruit brandies could be made without an industrial-class license; today, small distillers are able to produce a wide range of artisinal spirits, limited only by volume. The Hudson Valley, with its fertile soil and abundance of small farms, is home to several young microdistilleries at the forefront of this regional movement.

Tuthilltown Spirits

Tuthilltown Spirits was New York's first whiskey distillery since Prohibition. In addition to their iconic whiskies like Baby Bourbon and Manhattan Rye, they also produce delicious Hudson Valley apple-based vodkas and an aged rum.

The still at Tuthilltown Spirits
For more than two centuries, the hydropowered Tuthilltown Gristmill had been grinding local grains to flour. Ralph Erenzo and Vicki Morgan acquired the Gardiner, NY property on which it is located in 2001. With the help of partner Brian Lee, they acquired a German pot still and converted one of the granaries into a distillery. Though Erenzo didn't have any prior experience with distilling, they took classes, learned quickly, and released their first apple vodka - made with scraps from a local apple processing plant - a mere two years later. In addition to their masterfully-crafted products, Tuthilltown also offers other small brands the opportunity to produce without their own equipment; many other new and small-batch brands making products like brandy, absinthe, eau-de-vie and liqueurs come to Gardiner to produce their spirits. The core of the operation is still essentially local: their apple vodka is made from fruit grown less than five miles away, and their whiskeys, from farms less than ten miles away.

Harvest Spirits

Based out of a New York apple farm, Harvest Spirits also started with an apple-based vodka. Founded as a collaboration in 2007 between brewer Tom Crowell and farmer-turned-web-designer-turned-distiller Derek Grout, Harvest Spirits was created in part to use excess fruit at Golden Harvest Farms. They start with this fruit, press it into apple cider, let it ferment, and then distill it three times to make Core Vodka.

We had the opportunity to try this spirit as distiller Derek Grout was experimenting with the proportions of apple subspecies; as their still can only produce 100 gallons at a time, he had the opportunity to experiment from batch to batch. Revealing the character of the local fruit, each batch we tasted had distinctive aromas and flavors unique to apples like Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, and Fuji. This distillery has since produced a wonderfully aromatic pear eau-de-vie (called, simply, “Pear”) and the refined Cornelius Applejack, both displaying the same care and craftsmanship as their original spirit.

Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery

Started in 1989, Warwick began life as an apple orchard. Like at Golden Harvest almost a decade later, an overabundance of fruit inspired experiments with fermentation. As the laws dictating alcohol production in New York were different at the time, they were, for many years, exclusively a licensed winery and hard cider producer starting in 1993.

They found success with Doc's Draft Hard Cider, and in 2001, received a grant to become the Hudson Valleys first microdistillery. They imported a German pot still, and in 2002, began producing their first spirits. Their line of fruit brandies and liqueurs, American Fruits, capture the vibrant aromas and flavors of Hudson Valley fruit at perfect ripeness. They're also responsible for the recently introduced Brooklyn Gin, reviving a long-retired brand from the early 1900s.

Honeymoon Cocktail

Also sometimes known as the "Farmer’s Daughter," this cocktail was first introduced in 1917 in Recipes for Mixed Drinks by Hugo R. Ennslin and was popularized at Hollywood's Brown Derby in the 1930s.

1 part orange curacao & Benedictine (half and half)
2 parts freshly squeezed lemon juice
8 parts Harvest Spirits “Cornelius” Applejack

Shake with cracked ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Spotlight on Chateau Pajzos: The Essence of Hungary

Hungary is home to many storied wines. One fable relates the etymology of the country's most famous red Egri Bikaver or "Bull's Blood of Eger". During the 16th Century Ottoman Wars in Europe, a siege befell the castle in Eger. The invading Turks believed the resistance of the small number of soldiers was the result of their having mixed bull's blood into their red wine. How else could they explain the strength and courage of defending troops? After 39 days of bloody, brutal and intense fighting the Ottoman Army withdrew, beaten and humiliated.

This is all good and well, but one Hungarian wine is a legend in its own right and that wine is Tokaji, a sweet dessert wine that is unlike any other in the world. Hailing from the northeastern Hungarian region of Tokaj-Hegyalja, Tokaji is a made from grapes afflicted with Noble Rot (the same fungus responsible for the creation of Sauternes). The wine is usually amber-colored, unctuous and rich; with age, it can gain levels of complexity rarely found in other dessert wines. So important was Tokaji in times past that it holds the distinction of being one of the world's first demarcated wine appellations (other contenders include Chianti and the Douro Valley) as noted in a royal decree from 1757. If that weren't enough to cement its reputation, Tokaji is even mentioned in Hungary's national anthem!

One of the most famed Tokaji producers is Chateau Pajzos. Pajzos led the Renaissance of Tokaji that followed the fall of Communism in Hungary. In 1991, the estate was privatized after years of neglect by the state; today it is owned by the Laborde family (who also owns Chateau Clinet in Pomerol, France). In addition to its many sweet wines, the estate also makes a dry Furmint, which is the same grape variety used in the dessert-style Tokaji. This dry Furmint is made from hand-harvested fruit and slowly fermented in stainless steel tanks.

The Chateau Pajzos Estate
The stars of the show are, of course, Chateau Pajzos' sweet wines. These Tokaji's are sometimes referred to as Aszú (which means "dried" in Hungarian); this is reference to the fact that the grapes that have undergone Noble Rot look shriveled. It is not uncommon to see a label on bottle of sweet Tokaji state that the wine is Tokaji Aszú. Additionally, the levels of sweetness in Aszú wines varies from 3 puttonyos (a puttony is a bucket of Aszú grapes traditionally added to the wine to increase sweetness) to 6 puttonyos, with a further category called Aszú-Eszencia representing wines above 6 puttonyos.

Chateau Pajzos Tokaji Esszencia 1993  is their flagship wine. This is a wine so unique and rare that it's sold in 100 milliliter bottles. One of the world's finest and rarest dessert wines, Chateau Pajzos Tokaji Esszencia is produced from the free-run juice of Aszú grapes - in fact, one 100ml bottle is the result of an entire hectare. Both the nose and palate are incredibly sweet but display perfectly balanced notes of lime, peach, pineapple and honey. Wine critic Robert Parker described Chateau Pajzos Tokaji Esszencia 1993 as "virtually perfect." Considering one can try it for less than a $100, it is definitely a wine worth seeking out and trying at least once; the experience is legendary.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How to Host an American Whiskey Tasting

While most whiskey enthusiasts have their go-to set of a few brands and occasionally try something new, it's rare that you'll get to try more than a few side by side. However, these sorts of tasting comparisons can lead to some surprising realizations: a new favorite, a better sense of what distinguishes one from another, and a clearer sense of a whiskey's aromas and flavors. With a few friends, a whiskey tasting party can be fun, informative, and delicious, and it can be provided by the host or held potluck-style. American whiskey offers a relatively affordable starting point, and plenty of options for price points and personalities. While this can be heavy on Bourbon should you so choose, you'll also be able to introduce your guests to some of the wonderful variety available.

First, you'll want to make sure you're set for glassware. While small, odorless plastic cups can suffice in a pinch, you'll ideally want to use whiskey glasses - snifter-like glasses with a bulbous bottom and flared lip - or, if your kitchen is already well-stocked with them, wine glasses.

When it comes to the actual tasting process, you can keep things casual with friends flitting from bottle to bottle with their glasses, but if you want a more formal blind tasting experience, you'll want to set up flights for your guests. One way to do this is to set out paper place mats with a bottle of water and a glass for each whiskey you'll be tasting, and with a pen, number each glass. In case your guests would like to spit as they taste, which is standard for professional tastings, put an opaque plastic cup next to each setting. Offer your guests a pen and paper to take notes. Put each whiskey in a paper bag with a corresponding number written on it to keep guests from knowing what each is as they taste it, and serve small, approximately 1 oz. pours of each. Encourage your guests to take notes on their impressions of each whiskey, and to try each one with and without a splash of water. After everyone has finished tasting, reveal what each whiskey was; there are sure to be a few surprises!

Though there are tons of great options for the whiskies you'll want to try, and you could host a tasting with as few as three - we'd keep it to under 12, though - here are a few suggestions. You may want to consider having:

● A big-name Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, such as Maker's Mark or Wild Turkey
● A lesser-known Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, such as Pogue or Willet
● A Bourbon from outside of Kentucky, such as Tuthilltown Baby Bourbon Whiskey from New York State
● A Tennessee Whiskey, such as George Dickel or Jack Daniels Gentleman Jack
● A rye whiskey, such as Templeton or High West Rendezvous
● An oddball or two, such as Clear Creek "McCarthy's" or Ransom Spirits “Whipper Snapper”
● A white dog (moonshine) or two, such as Finger Lakes Distilling “Glen Thunder”
● A wheat whiskey, such as Bernheim's

You can change the lineup based on your tastes. New whiskies and bottlings are introduced with exciting regularity, particularly white dogs and ryes, so you could easily host more specialized American whiskey tastings. Do a little research on each beforehand so that you can give your guests some interesting tidbits; learning what makes them different is half the fun!

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!