Monday, March 31, 2014

Exploring Brennivin - The Icelandic Aquavit

By Catherine L Luke
“Necessity is the mother of invention.” -Plato

The country of Iceland is inhabited by about 325,000 people.  People who have historically known that if they want something done, they’ve got to find a way to do it themselves.  If Icelanders’ necessity were a drink, the invention was Brennivin, a clear aquavit-like spirit flavored with one of the few things that grows on the island, caraway.

Stories of Iceland can be found in a bottle of Brennivin, with its roots in Iceland’s strong Christian presence.  This presence spurred a long and thriving temperance movement, with a period of different levels of alcohol prohibition lasting from 1915 until 1989.  In 1935 the prohibition ban was partially lifted allowing government-controlled production and sale of spirits.  Brennivin was one of the spirits that was made and sold by the government. 

Brennivin’s label was created by Icelandic government.  Its design was simple- green bottle, black label, white font.  The black of the label (or the content of the bottle?) are said to have inspired the spirit’s nickname, “Black Death”.  The intention behind such a stark label was to create an unappealing visual to dissuade Icelanders from consuming alcohol.  It didn’t work.  Brennivin’s label has become as synonymous with Icelandic branding as the country’s sweaters and Opal candy wrappers.

Brennivin’s distillery, named Ölgerðin Egill Skallagrimsson (Egills for short), is located not far from Reykjavik in the town of Bogarnes.  Environmental practices in Iceland are incredibly clean.  Hydropower and geothermal energy are the main sources of energy.  Thanks to this, Iceland’s water comes out of the ground with a naturally high pH level, lending it a deliciously sweet taste and soft finish.  It is naturally beautiful water with little need for filtration.  This extraordinarily pure water is used in Brennivin’s distillation process.

Had you heard of Brennivin before now?  The spirit has experienced a bit of fame in pop culture- the Foo Fighters sing about it in “Skin and Bones”, and Bourdain as well as Kill Bill’s Budd drink it down on screen.  Even so, until very recently, it was not to be found outside of Iceland. 

Lucky for us, Brennivin is, as of very recently, available in the U.S. market.  This is the work of Brennivin America, founded by Joe Spiegel. Spiegel slowly and surely fell in love with Brennivin during layovers in Iceland during business travel.  Spiegel’s layovers grew from hours to days as he fell for Iceland’s schnappy specialty and the place it calls home.  After continually bringing bottles back to the states for friends who were similarly intrigued, he realized that it was time to start importing the Nordic treat.  Spiegel is an inspiring representative of his new import, as he may be just as enchanted with Iceland’s culture of creation as he is with Brennivin itself.

From its home base in Jackson Hole, WY, Brennivin America is working on letting Brennivin create a path
throughout the U.S. market in its own style.  The company is following along with the more holistic Icelandic methods of marketing.  Advertisement of alcohol is banned by Icelandic law.  Though this sort of constraint is something unusual for Americans, Spiegel makes a poignant point about the purity of Icelandic culture being void of energy-draining commercialism and consumption.

Before approval for entry into the U.S. market, Brennivin’s label had to be altered a bit.  The re-design was done by a very talented designer, a U.S.-based Iceland native named Hjalti Karlsson.  Eventually, Brennivin America plans to introduce two slightly more complex styles of Brennivin to the market- Oðalsbrennivin which spends 6 months of aging, and Gamalt Brennivin which undergoes 2 years of aging.  These styles are being made in the hopes of keeping some of the old traditions of Brennivin production alive.

As far as pairing possibilities go, typical Icelandic food such as fermented shark meat marries well with Brennivin.  Salmon and herring are sometimes cured in Brennivin, and Austrian and German fare have been found to be complimented by Brennivin’s caraway flavor. 

Though it is completely delicious on its own (“drink ice cold” is the slogan), Brennivin’s unique taste is pretty fun to experiment with in cocktails.  Though it has not yet landed in his town, Jeff Grdinich of Jackson Hole’s The Rose and the documentary Tales of the Cocktail has had the chance to sip a bit of Brennivin from Spiegel’s stash and says, “It's a fantastic pick-me-up to sip on after some cold runs down the slopes here.  Its flavors and texture make for an intriguing cocktail ingredient.”  The possibilities of this aquavit are only just beginning!

Here, Spiegel shares some playful showcases for the spirit:
Northern Lights:
1 part Brennivin
1/2 part Amaretto
1 part grapefruit juice
splash of soda water
garnish with an orange slice

1 part Brennivin
1/2 part Kahlua or other coffee liquor
squeeze of lemon
soda water

B & T:
Use Brennivin as in a gin & tonic but garnish with lime wedge and dill sprig

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Catherine lives in Brooklyn, and has worked in the wine industry in Napa Valley and NYC. She is certified by the WSET, as well as the school of "wine in real life".  Understanding the patchwork of little-known Italian regional wines, dishes, and customs excites her most of all. She (sometimes) muses on her blog GrapesofCath.

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Conversation with Martin Price, the owner and creator of SW4 London Dry Gin

By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer

I love receiving products to review. There is something very intriguing about tasting liquors (and wines) that I may not be able to secure easily. Most liquor is available in the New York Metro area. If you live away from New York City and the idea of driving into Manhattan just to buy a special bottle of liquor frightens you, have no fear.

DrinkupNY does a fantastic job sourcing hard to find expressions from craft spirits distilleries that you probably won’t see in your town.  I consider DrinkupNY to be my one stop shop for this kind of liquid exotica that most liquor stores have never heard of, much less considered.

A gleaming bottle of SW4 Gin arrived on my doorstep recently from SW4’s PR, just about the time I was pondering what gin means to me.  The context of well-distilled gin becomes more than a metaphor for good taste.  I’m intrigued by gin, perhaps because I understand very little about it.  One thing for certain is my love of the flavor balance.  Another thing that I like about gin is that there are many different styles of gin.  Each style is categorically different from the next.  Then there may be London Dry styles that are sweet in character, just as there may be Botanical styles that are spicy and dry on the finish.  There are the Genever styles of gin that rely on aging techniques and ingredients and then there are the Old Tom styles that pick up the sensual flavors of the aging cask. 

I’m fond of them all.  Imagine my surprise and pleasure when I tasted the SW4 (evidently the London Zip code) and I loved the bursts of citrus and wet stones.   Generally I’m quite fond of the style named London Gin.  As you may know by reading my work, I’m passionate about small producers and craft spirits.   When I starting reading up on the SW4 gin, I became more and more intrigued.

And very thirsty. 

Here is what I’m thirsty for!

One Night in Balfour Fizz
2 oz. SW4 Gin
½ oz. each freshly squeezed juices:
1 oz. Royal Rose Simple Syrup of Three Chilies
3 drops Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters 
Dash of freshly drawn seltzer
Fleur du sel

To a Boston Shaker- fill ¾ with ice and pour over the liquid ingredients
Cover and Shake
Pour into a Coupe
Dash a bit of seltzer over the top
Dot with Angostura Bitters
Sprinkle a bit of fleur du sel on top

I was recently given the opportunity to interview Martin Price, the owner and creator of SW4 London Dry Gin.  Enjoy!

Why London Gin?  Why not Botanical Gin?
1. All gins are made with botanicals or botanical flavourings, even if it is only one - juniper. Therefore, all gins are "botanical" gins. As you know SW4 is made with 12 botanicals.

SW4 is a "London" Gin, because it has been made in accordance with the European Union law governing the production of gin, which lays down specific guidance on production methods, use of flavourings, sweeteners, colouring and other additives, and levels of methanol which may be present in the finished product. The following wikipedia extract covers the key points quite well:

"Although several different styles of gin have evolved, it is legally differentiated into four categories in the European Union, which are described as follows:[1]

Juniper-flavoured spirit drinks - This includes the earliest class of gin, which is produced by pot distilling a fermented grain mash to moderate strength (e.g. 68% ABV), and then redistilling it with botanicals to extract the aromatic compounds. It must be bottled at a minimum of 30% ABV. Juniper-Flavoured Spirit Drinks may also be sold under the names Wacholder or Genebra.

Gin - This is a juniper flavoured spirit made not via the redistillation of botanicals, but by simply adding approved natural flavouring substances to a neutral spirit of agricultural origin. The predominant flavour must be juniper.

Distilled gin - Distilled gin is produced exclusively by redistilling ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin with an initial strength of 96% ABV (the azeotrope of water and ethanol) in stills traditionally used for gin, in the presence of juniper berries and of other natural botanicals, provided that the juniper taste is predominant. Gin obtained simply by adding essences or flavourings to ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin is not distilled gin. [MP - the "distilled gin" definition accommodates gins which have flavourings and colourings added after the main distillation has occurred; hence Hendricks is a distilled gin, not a "London Gin"]

London gin - London gin is obtained exclusively from ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin with a maximum methanol content of 5 grams per hectolitre of 100% ABV equivalent, whose flavour is introduced exclusively through the re-distillation in traditional stills of ethyl alcohol in the presence of all the natural plant materials used, the resultant distillate of which is at least 70% ABV. London gin may not contain added sweetening exceeding 0.1 gram of sugars per litre of the final product, nor colorants, nor any added ingredients other than water. The term London gin may be supplemented by the term "dry".

In the EU, the minimum bottled alcoholic strength for gin, distilled gin, and London gin is 37.5% ABV.

In the United States, gin is defined as an alcoholic beverage of no less than 40% ABV (80 proof) that possesses the characteristic flavour of juniper berries. Gin produced only through distillation or redistillation of aromatics with an alcoholic wash can be further distinguished and marketed as "distilled gin".[2]

Some legal classifications define gin as only originating from specific geographical areas without any further restrictions (e.g. Plymouth gin, Ostfriesischer Korngenever, Slovenská borovička, Kraški Brinjevec, etc.), while other common descriptors refer to classic styles that are culturally recognized, but not legally defined (e.g., sloe gin, Wacholder and Old Tom gin)."

Where do your ingredients come from?  The water source?
2.Water - SW4 London Dry Gin is made with London mains water, which has been double reverse osmosis filtered (de-ionized) for exceptional purity.

Our neutral grain spirit is all UK sourced and is derived mainly from wheat, but also some barley (roughly 80/20).

The two most important components of the botanical recipe for most gins are juniper and coriander; together they make up to 90% by volume of the botanicals used in a gin.

Juniper - The EU defines that only one type of juniper berry - from the juniperis communis variant, may be used in the production of gin. We source ours from Macedonia and northern Italy, but juniper grows all over the northern hemisphere, often best in upland alpine type regions where the plants are somewhat stressed by the growing conditions, but are not troubled by shade, to which they are intolerant.

Coriander is the second most important botanical. Coriander is seen as the second most important botanical and is used both as a herb (leaf) and a spice (seed). Key growing areas are South and East Europe, South-west Asia, India and North Africa. We source our coriander from Russia and Bulgaria. In 2013, the best coriander came from Bulgaria. The reason? Bulbarian coriander has a higher content of essential oils.

Angelica - There are 60 types, but Angelica Archangelica is the type used in gin production. It thrives in damp conditions and is harvested after its second year, once it has flowered and then died back. The seed provides fragrance, whereas the root has some juniper and earthy flavours and aromas. Angelica is imported from Russia, Korea and North America for processing and use in distilling.

Native to the Eastern Mediterranean region, they are now cultivated in Northern India, North Africa, and Southern Europe.Read more at

Orris - made from the root of the Iris Germanica and the Iris Pallida these plants were native to the Eastern Mediterranean region, but they are now cultivated in Northern India, North Africa, and Southern Europe.

Cinnamon - True Cinnamon is grown in Sri Lanka.

Cassia - Closely related to True Cinnamon, cassia ia the bark of the Cassia tree, which is grown commercially all over Indonesia and SE Asia.

Savory - is an old English herb.

Licorice - is grown commercially in central Asia, mainly in China, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Turkey.

Orange peel - we use sweet orange peel from Europe, mainly Spain and Italy.

Lemon - We use lemon peel from Turkey, Spain and Italy.

Nutmeg - from Indonesia

Almonds - from Spain

Do you like to pare gin with food?  What kind of foods goes well with your gin?
3. Food Matching:

Asian Cuisine
Gin and tonic sharpens and refreshes your palate, making it the perfect drink to enjoy with Thai food and other Asian cuisine. The spicy, dry flavors found in many of these dishes are the perfect complement to the spicy, dry flavors in an SW4 G&T.

Smoked Salmon
The next time you prepare or order a smoked salmon dish, try adding an SW4 Gin Martini with a lemon twist to the occasion. It's a food/drink pair that's like a marriage made in heaven. The citrus and spice notes found in SW4 Gin complement the aromatic smoke flavours of the salmon perfectly.

SW4 Gin with Game Terrine
If you are already a game fan, try a strong pate such as hare, or if you are new to game, may be a lighter one such as guinea fowl and pheasant. Since juniper is often used as a culinary ingredient with game (especially in Scandinavian cuisine), so pairing with a traditional juniper-led London dry gin such as SW4 is best. Contemporary style gins often favour other botanicals, and this does not work so well. A game/SW4 pairing works best when the gin is served cold in a martini or as a frozen shot. You could try the same pairing with a cold game pie, or any venison dish - the possibilities are endless!

SW4 Gin Bramble cocktail with Goats Cheese
The tart blackberry and citrus sweetness in an SW4 Bramble is the perfect match for French Chevre cheese. French for "goat," chevre is a pure white goat's milk cheese with a delightfully tang and tart flavor that easily distinguishes it from other cheeses. Some of the better-known chevres include BANON, BOUCHERON and MONTRACHET. "Pur chevre" on the label ensures that the cheese is made entirely from goat's milk; others may have the addition of cow's milk. Chevres can range in texture from moist and creamy to dry and semi firm - choose the former varieties for gin matching!

How do you feel about tonic water?  Should it be made with corn syrup or cane sugar?  Editor’s note: Well said- to include both!
4. Tonics
My favourite tonics are Fevertree and Schweppes - I believe that one uses corn syrup and one does not!

Social Media brought us together?  What would be a good way to follow the success of your company?  Facebook?  Twitter?
5. Social Media  Facebook  Twitter

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Article by Warren Bobrow, a nationally published food and spirits columnist who writes for Williams-Sonoma, Foodista and the Beekman Boys.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Arvero Limoncello: A star of Southern Italy

By Antonia Fattizzi

When the glasses of limoncello come out to finish a delightfully long Italian supper, discerning drinksters may quaff with some reticence. Most varieties offered in the states can be cloyingly sweet and difficult to enjoy. Your Italian friends will undoubtedly tell you “It’s just hard to get a good limoncello here.”  Until now.  Even if you don’t know that one of the many prides of Southern Italy is the lemon tree particular to the Gulf of Naples and Sorrentine Peninsula, you can likely imagine what a limoncello could be:  a refreshingly lemony citrus digestif.  Following traditional recipes and utilizing natural and organic ingredients will yield a “proper” limoncello – bright, fresh, and nicely balanced.

Enter Diego Rodino di Miglione.  Diego grew up in Naples, about an hour from Massa Lubrense, one of the prominent towns that harvest the femminiello ovale sorrentino, a giant lemon grown on the Sorrento Peninsula.  His mother has such affection for the lemon scent wafting about the area that roughly three decades ago she purchased a few acres of land on which to plant a lemon garden.  Like her neighbors, she began making homemade limoncello as gifts for friends and family.  And thus the story begins.

Diego, you grew up in Naples, studied in London and then moved to the US, working first in a bank and now in commercial real estate.  What inspired you to start producing and importing Árvero Limoncello?
My family and I have many happy memories from the time spent at our home in Massa Lubrense, and one of the finest is of making limoncello together from the lemons that grew in our backyard.  Without question, the key to authentic limoncello is using the right lemons from the right region of Italy.  We were fortunate enough to have these special lemons become a part of our family’s story and therefore want to pay homage to authentic limoncello.  After a great deal of research,  my sisters and I found that many varieties currently offered tend to be overly sweet and not at all balanced, so we decided to create our Árvero Limoncello to help “correct” the common perception of this beautiful spirit.  

Give us some insight on Limoncello: when was it first created, how is it made and what should people look for when selecting a Limoncello?
Limoncello was first produced back in the early 1900’s and invented near the Peninsula of Sorrento.  The trees have a life span of about 80 years, and the lemons they yield have tough, thick skins, are very mild and low in acid, making them far less sour than a normal lemon.  The lemons are picked twice a year at around 6:00a.m. when it’s most humid, and must be washed and peeled by 9:00a.m. so the greatest quantity of natural oils and aromas are still present.  In order to preserve this essence, we bring them down the street to the factory (Distillere Nastro D’oro), which is known for the excellence of its premium products.  There, our partners Eduardo Fiorillo and Lorenzo Farinaro along with their skilled team, combine the lemon zests with ethyl alcohol (distilled from molasses) for five days.  The infusion gets filtered 4-5 times, slowly lowering the alcohol and adding water and sugar which brings it down to about 32% ABV. 

Our lemons are organically farmed, and because Árvero contains no additives or preservatives, there will (and should be) a separation of oils which you can see in the neck of the bottle.  The oil at the top of the liquid indicates freshness, as does the pale yellow color, as opposed to a neon yellow frequently seen.  These natural oils should, of course, be swirled back together with the spirit before pouring.

Limoncello is most frequently consumed neat and cold at the end of a meal.  Are there are any other uses for it that you’d like to share with us?
Absolutely!  Limoncello can be used for cocktails, baking, or even drizzled over ice cream.

1/3 oz. Árvero Limoncello
2/3 oz. Tonic Water
Fresh Mint Leaves

Served: Highball Glass or batched in pitcher

There are several options for baking which include utilizing it in lemon cake and desserts such as tiramisu al limone’, profiteroles, limoncello cookies, lemon muffins..the list goes on!

Árvero means “tree” in Neapolitan dialect, but what else does it mean to you?
A true árvero has its roots in the Peninsula bordering the Gulf of Naples, so it’s incredibly important to our family that every ounce of Árvero Limoncello highlights its origin.  More than anything, I wanted our limoncello to have a simple, understandable message: that the right tree will give us lemons with which we can make a “true” limoncello.  We strive to ensure that the brands’ heritage remains intact while we present it in a sophisticated, contemporary manner to match the environment of refined restaurants that are serving it.  This will offer our customers the chance to appreciate the painstaking production process that is needed in order to create a well-balanced limoncello.

Tasting Notes:
Color:      Lemon yellow
Bouquet:  Fresh nose of Sorrento lemon
Flavor:     Pleasant sweetness with vibrant lemon notes
Serving Suggestions: This versatile liqueur can be served chilled on its own, used as a cocktail ingredient or used as an ingredient in desserts

Serving Temperature: Best served chilled

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Since 2003, Antonia Fattizzi has managed, marketed and sold boutique wines and spirits in the US market. Her passion for artisinal products propelled her to found Cork and Tin, which serves as a voice and a strategic partner for small and emerging brands. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sexy Southern Italian Grapes

By Liza B Zimmerman

I just got back from a great trip to Puglia, the heel of the Italian boot; Basilicata; the mountainous region next to it; and Campania; which stretches from the hilly hinterlands to the splendid coast that spreads out south of Naples.

Traveling in Italy, particularly in the South, means immersing yourself in hundreds and sometimes thousands of the peninsula’s local grapes. Whereas New World wine growing areas, according to Alessandro Pepe, wine director at Rome’s swank Roscioli wine bar, are primarily made from four principal grape varieties, almost every Italian region has its own unique grape varietals. Many of these don’t even overlap from region to region.

Puglia is home to big, luscious reds such as Primitivo, thought to be the predecessor of Zinfandel, and other fruity reds such as Negroamaro. The whites from this region are rarely seen outside the country and that is a shame because they are beautiful, Torrevento’s Pezzapiano, a blend of Bombino Bianco and Pampanuto grapes is beautiful, refreshing and aromatic.

Heading into the hilly and isolated Basilicata, to the north of Puglia, Aglianico is the big red of choice. It’s young, tannic and intense reds and tends to run pretty high-alcohol for an Italian wine, often hitting 13 percent abv or more. It is a wine that really needs food, ideally big meats, spicy sausage or stewed vegetables, which we had so often in this area of Italy. Cantine del Notaio even makes a sparkling Aglianico, which was lovely, off-dry and food friendly. It is the first sparkler I have seen made from the grape and was fantastic with a wide range of foods.

Off the Beaten Path
Basilicata, interestingly enough, is one of the few Italian regions that have lots of ungrafted vines because of
the soil conditions. The few other places I know of like this are parts of Chile, Australia and Colares in Portugal. We weren’t able to taste any wines made from ungrafted vines, but ironically the winemaker at Cantine del Notaio said that he preferred wines made from grafted rootstock. He said that being able to use a variety of different rootstocks gave him greater control over the flavors of the final product.

It was an incredibly interesting observation and I actually one that I concur with based on my only opportunity to taste wines made from grafted versus ungrafted vines. We had an incredible tasting in the Casablanca region of Chile of the same varietal and honestly the ungrafted one tasted a little funky. It was not what any of the group of visiting journalists expected.

In Campania—an area noted for its incredible production of elegant whites, made from local varietals such as Falanghina, Greco di Tufo and Fiano—we encountered a cooperative playing with non-sulphites added wines. These have long been trendy in the States, and I have always been concerned about how stable they are in the bottle, particularly for the export market. Pepe from Roscioli called the trend, somewhat critically, one of the biggest fads of the 1990s.

However you look at the wines, La Guardiense is producing a great, no-sultphites-added Falanghina del Sannio. It is also bottled under screw cap, which is also pretty unusual for Italy.

If you get a chance to visit Rome—which Pepe calls the best wine market in Italy, and I tend to agree that it is on par with New York in terms of its wide-reaching offerings—here are a couple of great places to try a wide variety of wines:

La Zanzara: a new, sleek wine bar by the Vatican, in the Prati neighborhood, offers an interesting assortment of wines by the glass in a super-modern setting.

Sorpasso: a funky spot in the same neighborhood with great by-the-glass offerings and innovative food, such as stuffed mini-sandwich pockets with fillings such as ox-tail stew.

Il Goccetto: a traditional spot in the center of Rome with an impressive wine line-up.

Roscioli: a meat and cheese emporium with 25 rotating wines by the glass.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Review: SW4 London Dry Gin

By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer

It’s taken me some time to truly appreciate gin. Gin has come a long way since the first words on my lips were something like Tanqueray and Tonic. There is nothing more oblique to my memory than the flavor of the classic Tanqueray mixed with sugary syrupy tonic water.   A good friend of mine from college’s father worked for a large soda company.  His dad told me that tonic water has something like three times the corn syrup based sugar of regular soda.  I suppose it didn’t sink in, because that experience, over at the former American Stanhope Hotel across from the Met in NYC, well, let’s just say that I’ll never forget.  I can remember the first time I drank a gin and tonic AND the last time during that era of my life.  It took me thirty years to appreciate gin again. 

Fast forward to today.  I have sitting in front of me a marvelous London Dry Style of gin.  Made by SW4, this gin is truly good enough to drink without mixers.  Produced in small batches in the London Dry style, as apposed to the Botanical style, SW4 is sumptuous in mouth-feel.  There is citrus, the ever-present juniper berries that gives gin that signature taste, some cinnamon and maybe a bit of nutmeg for spices.  If it acts like a Botanical gin and tastes like a Botanical gin, then maybe it is a Botanical gin?  I’m not sure why the lable says London Dry.  It certainly does not taste like Beefeater, nor does it taste like Gordon’s or even some of the new-wave London Dry gins that are coming out of the United States.  Gin is getting confusing and I am supposedly a professional.

Imagine my pleasure when I received the bottle of SW4.  Sure they call it London Dry.  And I suppose it is for good reason that they do.  Why confuse the consumer?  The lable reads Hand-Made in Small Batches in Clapham, North London SW4 (is the name their zip code?) Using only the Finest Botanicals.  Hmmmm.  Now I am confused.  Is it a Botanical gin, or is it London Dry Gin?   What?

Well, that is possibly another story for another day, my friends.  This one here is about as exciting as waiting for the sun to shine.  Someday it will again. 

Tasting Notes for the SW4 London Dry Gin:
Lemon curd on the tongue gives way to salt water tinged wet stones.  There is some freshly cut sage in there along with a lingering finish of freshly crushed pine needles.  If you were thirsty for a tonic and gin, I’d say try the SW4 with a tonic that you make yourself.  Jack Rudy down in Charleston, South Carolina makes darned good tonic syrup, as does Tom Richter in my home state of New Jersey.  These tonic syrups take the corn syrup tonic water that clogs your supermarket shelves and gives them the veritable heave ho!

Why should you take excellent gin, either London Dry or Botanical and DESTORY it with corn syrup based tonic water?  Beats me!  That’s not how I like to drink it.

Digressing a bit, the first time I had a tonic and gin was in the Ivory Coast of Africa.  It was around 1976 and it was still somewhat safe to be in Abidjan.  I remember visiting the French Expat’s tennis club.  You only go out at night; it’s horribly hot and humid during the day so no one really leaves their air-conditioning for too long.  At night it is pleasurable to take in the soft breezes and drink perfectly prepared tonic and gin cocktails by the affable barman.  Just outside, beyond the broad porches overlooking the hand manicured grass and hand rolled clay tennis courts, guards stood their sentinels, each carrying not a gun, but a bow and arrow.  The arrow dipped in poison to make sure the intruder only jumped over the fence once. 

Gin and poisoned arrows?  What would my young mind conjure up next, fever dreams?  I mean, that’s why I was drinking tonic with gin in the first place.  Malaria isn’t something we worry about in the USA, but in Africa, you drink tonic for its CURRATIVE qualities! 

The gin makes the tonic taste better! 

A tonic and gin – reinvented from the memory of my 1976 trip to the Ivory Coast in Africa. 

3 oz. SW4 London Dry Gin
1 oz. Tonic Syrup of your choice
3 oz. Seltzer  (I used Polar Seltzer)
Hand Cut ice from double boiled distilled water or Glace Luxury Ice (your choice)
.10 Absinthe to help you dream
Bitter Truth Lemon Bitters
Lime pinwheel

(The night prior, double boil distilled water and pour into a silicone ice tray, freeze over night)
Add several cubes of your ice to a Collins Glass
Pour the SW4 Gin over
Add the Tonic Syrup
Pour over the seltzer
Add the Absinthe over the top
Garnish with the lime pinwheel

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Article by Warren Bobrow, a nationally published food and spirits columnist who writes for Williams-Sonoma, Foodista and the Beekman Boys.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Irish Wines for San Patrick’s Day

By Liza B. Zimmerman

While Ireland may not be the finest terroir for producing wine, many families of Irish background have long been involved in the wine industry all over the world. More than a baker’s dozen wineries in Bordeaux have been named after Irish families, including the well-known Lynch-Bages, which was founded by a French-born descendant of the Lynches of Galway.

The Irish community has long-lived roots in Bordeaux and elsewhere. The Irish helped launch the wine industry in America—and reportedly the oldest commercial winery in California prior to Prohibition, the San Jose winery, built by the Santa Barbara Mission in the early nineteenth century—was owned by Irishman James McCaffrey in the late 1800s. Towns such as Murphys in the Gold Country of California were also built by Irish immigrants and wineries like the Irish Vineyards—which produces Blarney white and red blends—still welcomes guests there today. Other California producers with Irish background include Concannon Vineyard, which started producing wines in the Livermore Valley in the 1880s. O’Shaughnessy, in Napa, produces some vibrant Cabernet Sauvignons, such as their Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.

The list of current California producers of Irish heritage is long: Carmody Night in Paso Robles; Chateau Montelena (thanks to the Barretts); Gary Farrell in the Russian River Valley; the legendary Kathryn Kennedy in Saratoga, just south of San Francisco; Kenwood Vineyards in Sonoma; Thomas Fogarty in Woodside and Twomey Cellars in Calistoga

The Irish in Other Appellations
The Pacific Northwest has also been a hotbed of Irish-American influence. Standouts such as Shea in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and McCrea in Washington have Irish roots. The Irish have also have grafted rootstocks as far afield as Callaghan Vineyards outside Tucson, Arizona and Delaney Vineyards in the aptly named Grapevine, Texas.

Australia also has a long tradition of Irish immigration and Irish-owned wineries. A handful of the—too numerous to name estates—include Jim Barry Winey in the Clare Valley, Southern Australia; Leeuwin Estate, in Margaret River, Western Australia; McManus Wines in Murrumbridge, New South Wales (NSW); McWilliams Hanwood Winery, in Hanwood, NSW; and Penfolds in the Barossa Valley, in Southern Australia.
The Clear Creek Distillery in Portland Oregon also has Irish roots and produces lovely eaux de vie and grappas. And Today San Patricio Fino is among the lineup of dry Sherry brands.

A Green of a different Color
If your tastes veer to a lighter-bodied wine, that works well with seafood and may well have less tannins and structure, the Portuguese Vinho Verde is also in keeping with the green theme of the the holiday season. These quote unquote “green wines” have a bit of a pale green sheen and are incredibly affordable and pair well with so many lighter foods.

The bulk of them hail from the far northern part of Portugal, hard on the Spanish border. They tend to be light, slightly fizzy (not in a bad way) and pale in color. They are called green for their fresh and clean, “young wine” flavors. Gazela and Adega de Moncao are two of my favorites.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Pairing Choucroute with Wine & Gin

By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer

Even with a fire in the woodstove, I can’t seem to get warm enough.  This winter reminds me of the winters on the farm growing up.  It always seemed to be colder then.  There certainly was more snow than there is now.  I may have been smaller in stature, but there was a reason for having snow fencing at the top of the hill where I grew up.  Some of most poignant memories of this time centered on a bowl of soup… It was what I demanded to eat.  I didn’t want anything else.  We did a lot of traveling.  A fine education for a young person to have-made for great memories.  My palate was weaned on true “continental” cooking.  From Taverna style Moussaka in rural Greece, to REAL Neapolitan Pizza in Naples, to omelets in Mont St. Michel, to vast platters of Choucroute (hearty and filling pork dish) from Alsace. There were times in Europe where all I craved were vast platters of Choucroute.  At this time of year, when the sauerkraut is just coming into its own, the sausages-plump from the smokehouse, streaky, (“green” or raw) bacon and dug right out of the field potatoes, pools of duck fat and baby pork ribs… this is the food that my body craves to stay warm. 

During the many wars over the ages between Germany and France, the region known as Alsace has worn many hats.  Wines are made from similar grape varieties, but taste nothing alike.  A Riesling from Alsace may have no resemblance to one grown just 1000 yards away in Germany.  The foods they eat, however are amalgamations of the years of this 1000 yards being German, this year, and the next 1000 yards are from France and so on. Foods are hearty and filling on a frigid night.

This is farmer’s cooking for a family gathering, not food for a white table cloth restaurant. It is made without pretention.  People would sit down to a steamy bowl of Choucroute with beers, wines or gins from the region; usually crisp Pilsners, bottles of dry Riesling or snifters of the aromatic and potent; local gin.  These foods surrounding the use of sausages, sauerkraut, bacon and pork ribletts call out for highly acidic wines and spirits to cut the powerful flavors of rendered sausages. 

Every time I taste Choucroute, I am comparing it to the times I enjoyed it in France…and it cannot compare.  There is something about the raw materials that make this dish nearly impossible to duplicate here in New Jersey.  I can, however use some excellent local ingredients. Choucroute can be made to suit your tastes, using the raw materials at your disposal.

Nearly all ingredients recommended are produced within 100 miles from my home.  I must recommend going to a craft butcher for your sausages.  There aren’t too many of these around any more.  It would be nice if you were to find a German butcher.  You would honor his heritage and passion by buying from him, instead of going to the supermarket.  You should use a mild beef sausage, and also some veal sausages.  Pork sausages are ok too, but don’t use spicy sausage, as it will make the entire dish spicy, as this is traditionally not a spicy dish.  If you must have spices, pick hot German mustard.  Please do not use Chorizo or a hot Italian sausage.  The dish will be ruined. 

 If you know a German butcher, he will have prepared sauerkraut at this time of the year.  He uses this sauerkraut in numerous dishes during the cold winter months, so you shouldn’t surprise him by asking for it.  If don’t have a local butcher, move someplace that does.  Support local farms and buy their products.  It’s good for you and good for the farmer.

Choucroute Garnis
1.    1/3-cup kosher salt, plus more for seasoning (you will brine the pork ribs, worry not, it’s easy!)
2.    2 tablespoons brown sugar
3.    3 pounds pork back ribs cut “Chinese-style” across the bone to make ribletts
4.    6 pounds sauerkraut local is far preferable to the bottled stuff…never use that!
5.    1/4-cup duck fat.  Try D’Artagnan foods for duck fat on the Internet. 
6.    4 large garlic cloves, freshly chopped-you must never use garlic in a bottle.  If you have some of these foul ingredients in a bottle, throw them out this very minute.
7.    1 cup of Barr Hill Gin from Caledonia Spirits in Vermont
8.    3 large bay leaves wrap in a cheese-cloth with caraway seeds and peppercorns
9.    1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds wrap in the above cheese-cloth
10.    1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
11.    3 cups home-made chicken stock
12.    1 1/2 cups very dry Riesling (Trocken is what the label should read, DO NOT USE A SWEET WINE or the dish will taste like candy!)
13.    2 pounds German-style beef kielbasa, skinned and cut into 2-inch pieces from your German butcher
14.    10 natural casing hot dogs (beef)
15.    One 2-pound piece of a “cottage ham” or Boston pork butt, deeply smoked. Call your local German butcher; he’ll explain what it is. (No German butcher?  Move!)
16.    2 pounds medium all-purpose boiling potatoes (about 10), peeled
17.    German Mustard

In a non-reactive pot cover the ribs with water.  Add kosher salt and sugar.  Brine overnight in the refrigerator.  Next day, remove ribs; discard brine except for ½ cup of liquid. On stovetop place a large cast iron Dutch oven.  Add duck fat to the pot.  Sautee the garlic cloves in duck fat, add pork ribletts, then the sausages, let them brown, add Boston Butt, add German Kielbasa and hot dogs to the pot. Add the wine and deglaze.  Add the spice packet, cover with chicken stock and the ½ cup of brine. Top with the Sauerkraut. Slice potatoes over the top.  Cover and simmer over low heat for at least 2 hours, more if you are able to cook in a slow oven for about 3-4 hours on 250.

Serve with a Trocken (bone dry) Riesling or a large glass of the raw honey and grain- distilled, Barr Hill Gin.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Article by Warren Bobrow, a nationally published food and spirits columnist who writes for Williams-Sonoma, Foodista and the Beekman Boys.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Finding Great Values in California

By Liza B. Zimmerman

It can often be a catch 22 as some of the best, and most affordable, wines are made by large-scale producers. They can also be overly commercial, mass produced and consumers often end up funding their promotional budgets. Sundial Chardonnay was a legend in the 1970s both because it was so consistently good and a marketing legend.

So how do you ferret out the best and most affordable small producers? Look for lesser-known wine regions, such as Amador or Lodi. There may well be great producers there such as Sobon, whose wines we used constantly when I was an educator at the now-defunct Copia wine museum and school in the town of Napa. The producer’s Hillside Estate Zinfandel is fantastically rich, somewhat dusty and costs less than $20. It is an amazing palate pleaser and works so well with a wide range of foods, particularly smoked and roasted meats.

There are many other intense reds to be found in both of those, sometimes other frequently, hot climate, areas. Many producers are starting to focus more on Italian varietals, such as Barbera, that seem to turn out beautifully, although they are incredibly distinct from their Italian brethren.

Seeking Value South of Napa?
Paso Robles is an amazing, and often underappreciated, wine region that lies midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Its diversity is exemplified in its ability to produce Bordeaux blends, Rhône blends and even some Pinot Noirs and Cabernet Sauvignons. The whites from the region are also pretty divine as well. A host of different climatic conditions contribute to this amazing region’s ability to bust out with so many wine styles: coastal, inland and mountains. These producers have it all. J. Lohr was one of the first, solid high-production houses and many others have followed in their footsteps. The Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon from them also represents a great value.

Don’t be afraid to investigate new or smaller wineries. The town of Carmel, about three hours south of San
Francisco, is full of great multi-producer tasting rooms. Many of them are right in the center of down-town. One of my favorites is Scheid. Reach out to the local Chamber of Commerce to help you map out your visit or share insight about local wine festivals. Many of these coastal towns, from Monterey to Pebble Beach, put on some amazing wine shows with great wine pairing dinners.

Don’t be afraid to try unusual varietals. Can’t pronounce Tinta Roiz, will you might want to try it from the Pierce Ranch producers, wines such as their Cosechero because many consumers can be shy about hard-to-pronounce grapes. They are likely to be just as beautiful as your better-known players, but may be on the market at more accessible price points as they develop a following. This includes the constantly better-known, and rightfully more appreciated, California wines based on Tuscany’s Sangiovese and Piedmont’s Barbera.

Avoid the big names. Anything with the appellation “Napa” attached to it, or that is primarily Cabernet Sauvginon based, is going to cost more. And it won’t necessarily taste better. Merlot was much maligned because of “that movie,” but it still makes great wines. Divest from the herd and follow your heart. There are so many great grapes out there. Even if you love the tannins of classic Napa Cabernets, Petite Sirahs and Zins can give you some of that taste profile, often with a lighter weight for your wallet.

Trust your palate and explore! Don’t ever doubt yourself and go to as many fantastic tastings as you can at your local retailers and restaurants. Talk to the owners, sommeliers and clerks. You never know when they will be able to introduce you to a new, great and affordable California wine.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Getting to know American history through the spirits they once imbibed!

By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer

The area where George Washington spent his winter campaign in 1779 through 1780 is known as Jockey Hollow, here in New Jersey.

Just about the only things that weren’t burned for heat during these appallingly cold winters were apple trees and ramshackle buildings which housed the Continental army.Apple trees represented two things to the poorly treated soldiers, food and liquor.Apples offered fermentation and intoxication to the soldiers because many of the early soldiers came from European countries where apple distillation was part of the social thread. Why is this important? It is because if you enjoy Apple Brandy or Apple Jack, you are drinking American History.The soldiers of this region in conjunction with local apple mills were able to eek out a modest amount of the highly intoxicating substance, helpful when the temperature is hovering around zero.  While the officers were sipping fine brandy and Port at the Jacob Ford’s Mansion in nearby Morristown, it must be assumed that applejack and perhaps rye whiskey were acting like a foil against the brutally cold, winter weather. 

Rye whiskey and applejack may have also enable the starving soldiers to ignore the boredom of servitude
and the ever-present cold while serving in the Continental Army.Rye Whiskey came down from the Northern European settlers of Pennsylvania and northern New York State.  Rye is a highly sturdy grain.  Tough enough to grow in poor soil conditions and easily transported.  A field of rye can fit in your pockets.  A field of corn may take several sacks of seed, making it more difficult to propagate.

Rye is a rough drink that draws its character from the grain itself.  When cooked, as is the procedure for making bread or beer, the hard shell splits open and reveals magic!  This magic doesn’t appeal to everyone though, just as not everyone likes rye bread for a sandwich.  When rye is allowed to ferment in the wrong way, which is with too much moisture and temperature, it becomes something called ergot.  Ask the history books about Salem, Massachusetts and their batch of electric rye bread and the burning of the witches. 

Rye is full-bodied, cinnamon and dry, dry, dry in the mouth. It can be highly alcoholic!  It doesn’t usually appeal to every drinker, far from.   Rye is certainly a acquired taste!  But please, don’t despair; Rye when mixed with Applejack or Apple Brandy is a very beguiling drink.  It’s a drink that will put you, at least historically – back into the 1700’s.  And for those of us who love history and especially the liquors of the early America, with rye, you can drink history. 

How would you drink history?  DrinkupNY is well versed in many historically correct spirits.  Madeira, the drink of the landed English gentry is sold, as is Port, Sherry and Cider.  Rum is sold at DrinkupNY, a favorite of sailors and pirates of this era. There are also all types and varieties of eau de vie and Cognac.  Brandy would have certainly been on the table if you just came across the long pond on a ship from England to fight a determined foe. 

The history of distilling is rife with combinations that pre-date our nation’s history.  Isn’t it comforting to know that these ingredients would go on to enjoy a bright future?  That future is the drink within your glass.  And with fresh ice cut from a hand harvested block in the winter, (yes, it can be from your local ice-house, or perhaps one of those ‘perfect’ cubes from glace luxury ice) you will experience history, sip by sip.

I’m very fond of Laird’s Apple Brandy.  It’s the oldest distillery in our country and for good reason.  The love of the apple permeates all portions of our diet.  Apples are easily grown and when fermented offers a real mule kick of a buzz.  I’m a firm believer in the power of Laird’s “Bottled in Bond” 100 Proof, Apple Brandy.  It’s made of up apple varieties that are just too tart for normal eating, but when crushed and fermented, the fun all right there.  Oak barrels cradle the apple brandy for a period of time and when it is deemed ready to drink, the brandy is bottled for your table.  Apple Brandy, for those who don’t know is akin to the apple brandies are produced in the European countries.  Apple Brandy is potent stuff that has warmed the stomachs of thirsty drinkers for generations.  Vanilla and baking spice give way to notes of brown butter and caramel.  There are the warmer flavors of freshly toasted bread tucked in there as well.  Laird’s Bottled in Bond is a gorgeous slurp of pre-Colonial history in every sip.  Which leads me to the rye component of this piece. 

I’ve found that Dad’s Hat Rye is every bit as delicious as some of the more expensive, boutique ryes on the market.  It’s certainly assertive in the glass when sipped straight and but as always, how you enjoy your whiskey is strictly up to you.  May I suggest trying something slightly sweet and aromatic, like Laird’s Bottled in Bond Apple Brandy to mix with your Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey?   Sure you could use any of the Laird’s sumptuous products, they all become a thing of excitement when mixed with Dad’s Hat. 

Apple Brandy just calls out for rye whiskey!  Don’t argue so much!  Sip!

Babbling Purgatorial Fizzy

2 oz. Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey
¾ oz. Laird’s Bottled in Bond 100 Proof Apple Brandy- or whatever Laird’s you own
¾ oz. Doc’s Draft Hard Pear Cider (the fizzy kind) or hard sparkling natural apple cider should you not be able to find pear cider
½ oz. Pear Nectar- all natural preferred
5 drops Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters
either hand made ice or Glace Luxury ice cubes – ice should be crystal clear!

You can make crystal clear ice by boiling distilled water twice and using a silicone tray to freeze to your specified size. 

To a Cocktail Mixing vessel, fill ¾ with ice
Add the liquid ingredients except for the bitters…
Stir 30 times
Pour into a Collins Glass with your hand made ice and dot with the Aromatic Bitters

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Article by Warren Bobrow, a nationally published food and spirits columnist who writes for Williams-Sonoma, Foodista and the Beekman Boys.