Friday, April 29, 2011

How to Build Your Cocktail Bar, Part 7: Vermouth & Bitters

This week, we're looking at two small parts of your drink that make a big difference: vermouth and bitters. Vermouth is a fortified and flavored wine available in three standard categories: French (dry white), Italian (sweet red) and, less commonly, sweet white. These bottlings are flavored with differing proportions of botanicals, creating different results with very different cocktail applications.

Firstly, you'll want to be prepared to make Martinis. And even if you like yours on the dry side, the right French vermouth can totally change the character of your drink. Winston Churchill may disagree - he famously claimed to only pass a bottle of vermouth over his glass while looking toward France - but for a more balanced concoction, I generally enjoy mixing somewhere between 6:1 and 8:1 parts gin to dry vermouth. One of our favorites is Dolin Dry Vermouth, though it's worth trying out different brands based on your taste and budget to find what works for you. Next, you'll need to buy a bottle of Italian vermouth for drinks like Manhattans. Red vermouth - interestingly, made with white wine and not red - is sweet, very slightly bitter, and assertive in a drink. Take a look at Punt e Mes for a delicious and affordable option. For a truly remarkable Manhattan made with your favorite rye, however, Carpano "Antica Formula" Red Vermouth, while a bit pricey for the category, will absolutely stun you with its complexity. Should you choose to splurge a bit with the bottles you buy, keep in mind: good vermouth can also be delicious straight.

Bitters have largely only been rediscovered in the cocktail revival of the last few years - I had to hunt for a simple bottle of Angostura years back - but producers have since developed wonderful, clever, and strange concoctions that make for some very interesting drinks. These infusions of botanicals in a base spirit are potent enough to only require a few drops, and are called for in many classic recipes. While there's a wide range now on the market, including delightful oddballs like chocolate and celery, there are a few types you'll want to have on hand for standard mixing. Most importantly, you'll want to own a bottle of basic aromatic bitters. This is the category into which the familiar Angostura brand falls - you'll see it referenced by name in some recipes - but DrinkUpNY carries and recommends The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters as an excellent alternative. Secondly, orange bitters are a must-have. Lending a distinctive citrus character to your drink, they’re called for in a number of recipes like the Blackthorn. If you're fond of Sazerac cocktails, then New Orleans-style bitters should also find a home in your bar. Peychaud's is the most recognizable brand name for this subcategory, but again, The Bitter Truth makes their own interpretation with Creole Bitters. Beyond this, experiment! Bitters offer an opportunity for play within classic cocktail recipes, so try different formulations to suit your tastes and mood.

Happy mixing from DrinkUpNY!

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Rise of Rosé

       There's a wine joke that goes something like… "The first duty of a fine wine is to be red." This type of humor won't necessarily go a long way in scoring you a spot on Last Comic Standing, but it does indicate that most wine drinkers possess a color bias. It appears that the hierarchy favors reds followed by whites with rosés falling somewhere near the bottom of the heap. Such a categorization is nonsense as a wine should be judged solely on its color no more than a book by its cover. To write off all rosés would be to miss out on some of the most stunning values in the world of wine, not to mention tons of sipping pleasure.

       Historically, rosés tended to be dry and delicate (as opposed to something sweet like a White Zinfandel). A wine like Chateau Penin Bordeaux Rosé exemplifies a style once very common in France. In fact, the British term "claret," essentially a synonym for Bordeaux, grew out of the root "clairet" which meant rosé.

       Wikipedia summarizes the historical evolution of rosés as such: "After the Second World War, there was a fashion for medium-sweet rosés for mass-market consumption, the classic examples being Mateus Rosé and the American 'blush' wines of the 1970's. The pendulum now seems to be swinging back towards a drier, 'bigger' style. These wines are made from Rhone grapes like Syrah, Grenache and Carignan in hotter regions such as Provence, the Languedoc and Australia." Nowadays, there seems to be a proliferation of rosés made from unique, indigenous varieties such as Nerello Mascalese or Marzemino.

       Rosés tend to be made in one of three ways: skin contact, saignée or blending. Skin contact simply means letting the unfermented grape juice, or must, of black-skinned grapes remain in contact with the grape skins for a short period (anywhere from eight hours to two or three days). With few exceptions the juice of most grapes is clear, or white. Extended skin contact during the winemaking process results in a red wine, while a short period of skin contact will yield a rosé. With skin contact, the skins are removed once the desired color has been obtained.
       The saignée method works using the same principle though in a different way. Sometimes referred to as “bleeding,” the saignée method is a way of crafting a rosé as a by-product of red wine. It works as follows: A winemaker will go about producing his or her red by allowing the grape juice to come in contact with the grape skins so as to exact color and tannin. In order to increase the ratio of skins to juice (and thus end up with a more concentrated red), the winemaker will “bleed” off some rosé from the vat. Skin contact and the saignée method are the most common way making rosés.
       The third and least common way of making rosé is simply to blend white and red wines together. Perhaps, surprisingly, this method isn't all that common, though every now and then one can locate a wine that's been produced this way like the rosé blend of Agiorgitiko and Moschofilero from Domaine Skouras. Regardless of how your rosé has been made, it is a category of wine well worth exploring.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How to Build Your Cocktail Bar, Part 6: Liqueurs and Absinthe

Last week we looked at whiskey in building your home bar, and this week we turn our attention to the wonderfully varied categories of liqueurs and absinthe. Though the two are certainly distinct - a good absinthe should never come with sugar included, for one - liqueurs and absinthe serve a similar purpose in cocktail-making. Densely flavored, a small portion goes a long way in either case.

While absinthe is traditionally enjoyed with just a few parts cold water, it also creates a unique profile in even the smallest quantities. The Sazerac - a New Orleans classic and one of the most popular cocktails that includes absinthe - utilizes only a thin rinse of the glass, but the anise underpinning to the whiskey base is unmistakable. Though the world of absinthe is varied and nuanced, we'd suggest selecting a high-quality verte for your go-to for your bar; you'll go through it slowly when mixing, so it's worth picking one that will shine. One of our favorites is Emile Pernot's "Vieux Pontarlier" Absinthe Superieure, but Devoille "La Charlotte" offers great value for an extremely low price.

Whereas absinthe is generally reliant on a similar set of botanicals, liqueur as a category is extremely broad and highly varied. Requiring a particular sugar content minimum, cocktail-friendly liqueurs span from the rich and creamy to bright and refreshing. While you could fill your collection with an almost infinite variety, there are a few that we believe a cocktail enthusiast will want to keep on hand: triple sec (and/or curacao), cassis, Campari, and green Chartreuse. Triple sec is the go-to orange liqueur for Margaritas, Sidecars, and any number of other classics. Though triple sec can substitute in a pinch, if you're particularly into tropical drinks, curacao is a (subtly different) must. Made from the skins of a particular species of bitter orange, it has a distinctive citrus taste that's important in cocktails like the Mai Tai. Cassis, a blackcurrant liqueur, is used for the easy and festive Kir Royale cocktail. Campari, one of the classic bitter liqueurs, is important for classic drinks like the Negroni. And in our mixing, we've found Chartreuse to be a fun, versatile ingredient to keep on hand.

Depending on the time of year, particularly when there's snow on the ground, Amaretto and Irish Cream liqueurs can be a valuable staple in keeping guests happy through the cold. And for golden age cocktail geeks, your bar earns bonus points for containing these more-obscure, yet historically important staples: damson gin, a hard-to-find liqueur made from a particular species of plum; sloe gin, a bold and vaguely cranberry-like liqueur used for drinks like the Sloe Gin Fizz; Benedictine, an herbal liqueur called for in many a recipe; and creme de violette, an enchantingly floral spirit required to make a proper Aviation. Beyond this, explore based on your tastes. Do you like herbal profiles? Floral? Or are you drawn to fruitier fare? Find cocktails that appeal to you and mix accordingly. The world of liqueurs is vast and varied, and your drink making is limited only by your curiosity.

The Sazerac
3 oz. rye whiskey (we suggest McKenzie Rye)
.75 oz. simple syrup
.25 oz absinthe verte, or enough to rinse the inside of the glass
3 dashes The Bitter Truth Creole Bitters

Rinse the inside of a chilled cocktail glass with the absinthe. Stir other ingredients with ice and strain into the glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Happy mixing from DrinkUpNY!

Friday, April 15, 2011

In Search of Fine Kosher Wine

So ubiquitous is Manischewitz that people often think of it as synonymous with Kosher wine. This sickly sweet wine from Naples, New York is made from Concord grapes (the same variety used to make Welch's, and so it's no surprise that most don't take it or Kosher wine all that seriously. However, lest one want to miss out on some stellar values, the world of Kosher wine is well worth exploring.

There are many myths and misnomers regarding Kosher wine. A common one regards geography; it is important to know that Kosher wine can come from anywhere. Just because a wine is from Israel, doesn't mean it is necessarily Kosher; inversely, Kosher wines can hail from many unexpected places like France, Spain or Australia. For example, Terra Vega Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile's Central Valley is Kosher.

So what makes a wine Kosher? There are many rules governing Kosher wine production which stem from Jewish dietary laws known as kashrut. Wikipedia succinctly puts it, "While none of the ingredients that make up wine are considered non-Kosher, the kashrut laws involving wine are concerned more with who handles the wine and what they use to make it. To be considered Kosher, a Sabbath-observant Jew must be involved in the entire winemaking process from the harvesting of the grapes, through fermentation to bottling. Any ingredients used must be Kosher. This requirement can exclude certain fining agents, such as casein (which is derived from dairy products), gelatin (which is derived from non-kosher animals) and isinglass (which comes from non-kosher fish)."

Furthermore, because of wine's role in many non-Jewish religions, kashrut specifies that a wine cannot kosher if it has been used for idolatry (which can mean produced or poured by a non-Jew). One way around this is to "cook" or "boil" the wine which makes it unfit for idolatry and thus permits it to retain its Kosher status regardless of how it's been handled; this is called mevushal and will be marked on the bottle's label.

The process of making a wine mevushal is essentially that of having it undergo flash pasteurization, that is say raise its temperature very high, but for a short time (generally 71.5 °C (160 °F) to 74 °C (165 °F), for about 15 to 30 seconds). Flash pasteurization does little in terms of effecting the wine's flavor, and has long been used for the production of beer and fruit juices. Whether or not a wine is mevushal is up to the producer; wines from the Israeli producer Tishbi are, while the Gamla line from Golan Heights Winery is not.

Finally, wine that is described as "Kosher for Passover" must be kept free from contact with grain, bread and dough. As most wine never comes in contact with these products in the normal course of its manufacture, most Kosher wines are Kosher for Passover. So come this Passover, pass over the tired Manischewitz and on to fine Kosher wine; it's time to drink well.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Premium Tequila of Casa Dragones

Casa Dragones Tequila Joven, known as one of the best tequilas on the market, is meant to be sipped, savored and thoroughly enjoyed. Expertly handcrafted in small batches, this exceptional spirit boasts a fresh, inviting nose with delicate aromas of sweet roasted agave, complemented by subtle floral and citrus notes. The smooth, refined palate offers soft, elegant flavors of earthy agave with hints of vanilla, pear and spice which leads to a clean, warm finish.

The Casa Dragones estate is located 1200 meters above sea level within the Eje Volcanico Transversal (Trans-Mexican Volcanic belt) in Jalisco, where the combination of soil, climate and altitude provide the ideal conditions for growing the finest agave. The fertile soil is abundant with minerals such as potassium and silica, which produces the sweet, savory Blue Agaves that are necessary for the signature taste of Casa Dragones. After the plants reach maturity, they are carefully chosen by the Maestro Tequilero, who selects each plant based on the level of ripeness and sweetness in the heart of the piña.

After the piñas are processed and fermented, the tequila is distilled multiple times with pure spring water through an advanced column process that removes any natural impurities. The process is completed by the Maestro Tequilero, who adds in the perfect amount of extra añejo tequila to balance the taste. This final touch results in 100% Blue Agave Joven Tequila, one of the five official classifications of tequila, defined by this elegant blend of platinum and extra anejo.

This exceptional blend is then housed in a gorgeous, limited edition bottle that has been handcrafted in Mexico City from pure, lead-free crystal. Skilled artisans place the crystal in molds until the shape takes hold, and then sculpt, bathe and polish the bottle until it is deemed worthy of Casa Dragones Tequila.

Casa Dragones Tequila Joven is a must-have for any serious collector, and is an excellent choice for tequila enthusiasts who want to indulge in a premium tequila that is soft, smooth and undeniably unique.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spotlight on Conterno: One of Piedmont's Finest

Concerning wine, Italy is an incredibly diverse place with twenty regions and over 500 indigenous grape varieties. Despite this diversity, it is widely recognized that two regions reign supreme over all others: Tuscany and Piedmont. In Tuscany, Sangiovese is the grape of choice and is the predominant variety in wines such as Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montepulciano. Nebbiolo is the most important grape variety in Piedmont where makes wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco.

One finest producers of Nebbiolo is Conterno, and his "Cerretta" Langhe Nebbiolo 2008 is fantastic introduction to both the grape and the winery. Originally established in 1908 as a wine bar by Giovanni Conterno, the business also crafted wines from select purchased grapes. It was probably in 1920 that the flagship Riserva Barolo, Monfortino, was bottled and sold and with it the legend of Conterno was born.

As described by the importer of its Barolos, "The Conterno style of Barolo is ultra-traditional, with a long maceration followed by extended aging in large, old oak casks for anywhere from four to ten years prior to bottling."  It is this careful handling of the grapes and reverence for the fruit that allows for such the wines to display purity and elegance.

In 1934 Giovanni Conterno passed away and his son Giacomo (the winery's namesake) took over the property.  Giacomo had two sons, another Giovanni and Aldo, and they were given control of the business in 1961. The brothers fought and went their own ways (in what seems to be an Italian tradition) in 1969 with Giovianni retaining a portion of the estate, while his younger brother Aldo went on to make a name for himself crafting more modern style Barolos.

The winery is currently run by Giovanni's grandson, Roberto (after Giovanni's passing in 2003). In 2008 he purchased land in Serralunga's prized Cerretta vineyard, and this Nebbiolo is one of the first Conterno wines to be produced from this vineyard. In time, it will almost certainly be used to produce Barolo, but for the time being it is turning out some of the best Langhe Nebbiolo Piedmont has to offer.

Giacomo Conterno has long been recognized by the world's wine authorities, like Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker as a flag-bearer for Nebbiolo and Piedmont, but that still leaves the questions: what is the wine like? In a profile of Conterno, New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov said that, "The Barolos of Giacomo Conterno are among the most beautiful wines in the world: gorgeously pure and packed with flavors that feel almost three-dimensional. Despite the intensity, the texture is sheer, almost delicate, like silken threads that can suspend bridges. And yet, with wines like this, the flavors and aromas are really only the start…" The "Cerretta" Langhe Nebbiolo 2008 is a wine that taps such incredible style, depth and grace at about half of the price of one of Conterno's Barolos.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Monday, April 4, 2011

How to Build Your Cocktail Bar, Part 5: Whisk(e)y

A return to whiskey has been one of the hallmarks of the classic drinks revival of recent years. Either neat or mixed, and in the forms of Bourbon, rye, Scotch, or any other number of iterations, this category has gone from historical relic to modern favorite. And as whiskey serves as the base spirit for a sprawling number of classic cocktails, its popularity has only increased accordingly.

Whereas 20 years ago rye was collecting dust on the few shelves that stocked it, it’s now almost impossible for distillers to make enough. With its peppery, assertive profile, rye makes for an incredible mixing spirit that lends depth and satisfying bite to the drinks that include it. So, in assembling your home bar, at least a basic rye whiskey is an absolute must-have. While you may have gotten comfortable with Manhattans made with Bourbon--perhaps bartenders’ concession to rye’s total lack of popularity years back--I’d urge you to make your next one with a rye; while bourbon’s brown sugary flavors can compete with the already-sweet red vermouth, rye’s dry, snappy character melds harmoniously.

Bourbon, America’s trademark whiskey, is another staple in classic mixology. Made from a mash bill of at least 51% corn and aged in new charred barrels, this is a spirit that’s unabashedly bold. This loud personality left it with a bit of a reputation problem as well for many years, but it too has been recently rediscovered as a spirit that can be utterly refined. You’ll want to make sure to stock at least one; in the summer months, there are few cocktails more satisfying than a cold Mint Julep, and with fresh lemon juice rather than a mix, you’ll want to rediscover the Whiskey Sour.

While Scotch whisky may most often be served straight, it is still an indispensable component in mixology. You’ll most often see blended Scotch used in cocktails--a single malt would be a bit assertive and rather pricey to mix into a Rusty Nail--but a bold malt from Islay fits the bill for drinks like a Smoky Martini.


1 3/4 oz. Rye Whiskey
3/4 oz. Red Vermouth
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 splash of maraschino cherry juice (optional)

Stir with ice in a mixing glass and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Happy Mixing from DrinkUpNY!