Thursday, February 26, 2015

Pairings for a Typically New York Treat

By Liza B. Zimmerman


While I wasn't as lucky to grow up at The Plaza like Eloise, I did get to spend a nice, long snowy weekend at the Waldorf Astoria this month for an Italian wine tasting. As a matter of fact, the legendary salad is still on the menu there and a great way to start off a meal. The hotel even serves mini versions at brunch!

The salad's sweet, tart and fruity notes when mixed together can pose a challenge when choosing a wine. So I spoke to the Bull & Bear steakhouse's sommelier Jessica Fusco to come up with some suggestions. She said that, "The best wines to complement these flavors would be ones with a balance between fruit and acidity. An off-dry Riesling or a Vouvray Sec would be two very strong contenders. Both have bright acidity, fruit-forward flavors and just enough residual sugar to complement the fruit components in the salad."

Uniting Many Ingredients
A well-chosen wine pairing will also help to unite the many ingredients and flavors and to help bring them together with the wine. "Naturally, the larger the quantity of ingredients, the more difficult if is to identify the dominant flavor/s. With the Waldorf Salad, there is one component that shines through despite its complexity. Acidity! As long as you select a wine with prominent acidity, you cannot go wrong."

Sauvignon Blancs from as close as California and as far afield as France and Chile would also work well with this salad because of their acid structure.

The many fruits and vegetables--such as the raisins, apples and celery--in the salad, can be very hard to pair with certain types of wines because of their green flavors. Fusco suggests focusing on one dominant flavor to guide you to select the wine, which for me would be the sweetness of the apples and dusty crunch of the walnuts. 

Extreme Flavors
If this not so simple salad didn't have enough going on with its basic ingredients, it also has a touch of lemon, yogurt and mayonnaise in the mix. "One must be careful when pairing with these ingredients. For example, a full-bodied wine with oak treatment would create sour flavors on the palate. On the other hand, a light-bodied wine with acidity and a degree of residual sugar on the finish would compliment the tartness of the lemon and the richness of the yogurt," said Fusco. My suggestions might be a slightly off-dry Riesling or a white Rhône, such as a Viognier, with a hint of sugar.

Fusco says that both the Old and New World offer many great pouring options for this salad. "As long as one is selecting a light bodied, fresh and fruit forward white, the options are vast. A Vouvray Sec from the Loire Valley or an off-dry Riesling from the Finger Lakes region of New York would both work well and create the untimely enjoyable culinary experience."

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.
Photo credit: Waldorf Astoria NY

Monday, February 23, 2015

Cocktail: The New Visionaries

By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer

There’s a lot of great small-producer, craft bourbon on the market and I have my favorites.  Four Roses does some pretty amazing stuff with their single barrel offerings, Hudson Spirits was my first love in the rye category (as well as their bourbon) and I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for FEW SPIRITS, as well along with Catoctin Creek, Stranahan’s and Koval- just to name just a very small number of what I love to drink.  

I’ve written about each one and feel very strongly for their flavors and the people behind the brands. 

One in particular stands out as unique because each expression of the whiskey changes, completely!  Each batch is different and I think that’s what makes it truly authentic. 

Barrell Whiskey #001 is the whiskey that is not the same old thing from batch to batch.  Please don’t get too comfortable with each new release because they are constantly changing with each organic turn of the tides.  And with limited production, this sometimes creates certain disappointment if you cannot get what you desire.  So order up now before they are all gone. 

I’ve been playing around with Barrell Whiskey in my own way.  I’m not afraid of mixing it, nor should you be afraid of diluting it a bit.  You really cannot mess it up because I’m going to try to make things really simple for you to follow along. 

Barrell Whiskey has all the stuffing at 122.5 Proof. 

I think that bartenders and even home aficionados are experimenting more with whiskey cocktails.  They just know that whiskey, especially a fine-EXTREMELY mixable (hint, hint) whiskey like Barrell, just calls out for experimentation. 

But as in all good things in life there will be that one customer who will just dribble a touch of branch-water over the top of his Barrell Whiskey and call it a day.  For this person I commend you.  That’s how I like to drink my whiskey.  Sure I enjoy “mixing it up” and that’s a good thing because it’s all about the balance in these drinks.  Plus, I’m attracted to flavor and clarity.  If you use too many ingredients it becomes like a Long Island Iced Tea.  After two, I’d never be able to taste the top shelf ingredients.  Not that this is a bad cocktail, far from.  I just wouldn’t make one with Barrell Whiskey! (Unless you want to of course!)

They’d be like a lost sailor who’s been too long at sea.  Why? Because I don't have to explain why... you will just know.

Barrell Bourbon sits well with my experimentation and I hope you enjoy my art. 

I’m also really fond of a gorgeous, USDA Certified Organic product from another liquid driven visionary in the field of liquor crafting.  This Renaissance man reminds me in many ways of the fine folks who bring Barrell Whiskey to the market.  He is attracted to the loud, the profane, the explosive and the brilliant. 

I know that he can appreciate the value of time to discover the future, and his spirits show this commitment to quality, I know he has great dreams for creativity, just like the folks at Barrell Whiskey. 

The first thing I tasted from this man is named Root.  It’s brilliant and historic.  I’m a huge fan of root beer and while I gush on about just how mixable Root is, please allow me the honor of attempting for just a moment to discover how perfectly Root mixes with Barrell Whiskey.  Root rolls in at 80 Proof, and the Barrell Whiskey comes in at 122.5.  Take heed, they taste like much less mixed into my cocktails.

This unique spirit (Root) is the basis of what I’m trying to achieve with Barrell Whiskey.  Root and Barrell, they just work well together.  And a bit of the Bitter Truth Chocolate Bitters, melds them together along with the finish of a pinch of brightly aromatic, orange peel.  This citrus driven foundation makes the careful drinker seek his or her own vision of the future.  Each sip is enlightenment because the energy of these passionate blends shine through.  

You’re lucky.  This drink has never been tasted outside my lab.  Yet.  Enjoy and tell your friends. Or better yet, make them a drink. 

The New Visionaries
Ingredients: (for two thirsty explorers of the perimeter- where there are no stars…)
2 oz. Barrell Whiskey #001
1 oz. Root (USDA Certified Organic Root Tea)
4 oz. Plain seltzer (between the two glasses, roughly 2 oz. apiece)
2-4 shakes of Bitter Truth Chocolate Bitters
Hand cut orange zest, no peeler!

Preparation:
In a mixing glass, fill ¾ with ice
Add the Barrell Whiskey
Add the Root tea
Mix together until nicely chilled
Pour with a Hawthorne Strainer over one 2x2 rock of ice in two Old Fashioned glasses
Top with the seltzer
Garnish with a paring knife cut orange zest. 

Pinch the zest over the top and rub it on the lip of the glass
Dot with the Chocolate Bitters and serve, start another set, as they go down really easily. 

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

About Warren Bobrow
Author of: Apothecary Cocktails-Restorative Drinks from Yesterday and Today- Fair Winds Press- Beverly, Massachusetts. Apothecary Cocktails was nominated for a Spirited Award, 2014 Tales of the Cocktail.  His forthcoming book, Whiskey Cocktails will be released October 14.  Bitters and Shrub Syrup Cocktails follow with publication in spring ’15.  Warren is a master mixologist for several craft liquor companies.

Warren consults about mixology and spirits, travel, organic wine and food.  He’s written for web-blogs and magazines like: Williams-Sonoma, Whole Foods: Dark Rye, Distiller, Total Food Service Magazine, Beverage Media Group, DrinkUpNY, Edible Publications, Foodista, Serious Eats, Mechanics of Style and Beekman1802.  He was in the Saveur-100 in 2010.

Warren is a former, mostly self, trained cook from the pot sink on up.  J&W and ACF were thrown in for good luck.  Warren was the former owner/co-founder of Olde Charleston Pasta in South Carolina: *Dissolved his business after Hurricane Hugo in 1989* - to a career in private banking, (nearly 20 years; “a very grand mistake”) to this reinvention in 2009 as the Warren he's finally become.

Warren is available to do highly personalized, interactive mixology events, local, national and international.
PS: Warren's second book, Whiskey Cocktails is on the market now!
Contact: jockeyhollow@gmail.com

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Wines with which to Camp Out in the Sleet and Snow

By Liza B. Zimmerman


If you have been spending any time on the East Coast you might have thought that it was over. However we might be in for even more snow. Every time I have come back to visit my home town this time of year there is always a good snow storm. This year we have had two or three.

When it is cold outside there is nothing I want more than piles of festive bubbles, cured pork products and earthy red wines. I am spending this week at an Italian wine tasting in New York, so I have had some great Proseccos. They tend to be light, well balanced and have refreshing acidity. There are a lovely way to open a meal.

They pair nicely with vegetable-driven appetizers and can take on those green, vegetal notes superbly. If you are opening the meal with some great smoked meats from prosciutto to bresaola and even cured pastrami, a little Lambrusco is always divine. I tend to like the drier versions with food and then the very sweet ones to wrap up a meal. Cantina di Sorbara is a fruit-driven brand worth trying.

Reds to Warm You Up
Lush, opulent reds with good acidity make me want to sit at home in front of the fireplace (I wish I had one). If you having food with your wine--throwing that steak on the Barbie or making a stew of slow-cooked pork--I would go with lean, northern reds. I would be hard pressed to think of what pairs better with a huge range of meats than Piedmontese reds: from the simplest Barbera to the most ephemeral Nebbiolo. Barolos and Barbarecsos are divine, but don't overlook adjacent areas that may not be that prestigious but can make fantastic wine for the price-quality ratio.

If you want some pure sipping pleasure a rich California or Oregon  Pinot Noir can do the trick. French versions may have too much acidity for an after-dinner quaff. A rich earthiness that echoes the silence, even in New York City, of nature outside when it snows is indigent to enjoy in a snow storm. Central Coast and some Northern California Pinot Noirs have some zippy, intense fruit flavors that are almost like dessert on their own. The Roar Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands is a feast on its own.

A Little Nightcap
A dry Port, like a vintage or a Tawny, is always a great way to end a toasty night in. Serve them slightly chilled to warm yourself up. An uncuious dessert wine, such as Sauternes or a caramel-flavored Muscat from Italy or Portugal will also satisfy that craving.

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.
Photo Credit: www.openkitchen-dcmetro.com

Monday, February 16, 2015

Björk and Birkir: Spirits of Iceland

By Catherine L Luke

Iceland is a country of pure natural beauty with a cultural foundation of strong heritage.  From environmental awareness, to folklore, to unusual cuisine, Iceland is unmistakably one-of-a-kind. 

Despite the country’s leaning toward tradition, there is always room for innovation.  DrinkUpNY would like to introduce Foss Distillery, a company that has created two unique Icelandic spirits.  They are Björk and Birkir- Björk is a liqueur, and Birkir a snaps- new spirits, rooted in Iceland’s old forests. 

I had the opportunity to learn more about the story of Björk and Birkir from Foss Distillery’s Sales and Marketing Manager, Eva Sæland.

Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind Birkir and Björk?
The birch liqueur, Björk, and the birch snaps, Birkir, are the results of experiments with the qualities and possibilities of the Icelandic birch. The explorations were led by sommelier Ólafur Örn Ólafsson and Gunnar Karl Gíslason, head chef of a new Nordic restaurant in Reykjavík called Dill, and captain of the Icelandic culinary team.

The ambition is to bring the flavor of Icelandic nature to the sphere of international drinking culture. As Ólafsson describes, “I wanted to capture the sensation of the bright Icelandic summer night at the moment when the rain shower clears and the morning dew sets on the birch-clad hill. I think I came pretty close.”

That’s such a lovely image, and I believe the idea was successfully manifested.  Where does Foss Distillery source its ingredients from?
Björk and Birkir are two of many Icelandic names drawn from birch.  Birch (Betula pubescens), the signature tree of Iceland, has numerous wholesome qualities.  The Foss distillery team chose it for its unique and fantastic flavor.  The birch is sourced from the unspoiled Icelandic wilderness.  Particularly, the forests of Hallormsstaðaskógur in the east of Iceland.

The idea of an Icelandic birch-based spirit seems very exotic.  Are these born from any existing idea of traditional Icelandic liqueur or snaps styles?
Birch has never before been made into a commercial snaps or liqueur in Iceland.  We are making history.

What is the process of production like?
For both products the birch sap, which is not sweet, is collected from the trees in the spring and made into a syrup that conveys a fresh and memorable savour. The high quality corn spirit used as a base for both Björk and Birkir is sweetened with the syrup- for Birkir a little, and Björk, being a liqueur, a lot more.  The birch sprigs in each bottle of both Björk and Birkir are individually hand-culled and add a special touch to the appearance of the product.

Considering the distinct styles of Björk and Birkir, is the ambition for them to be served simply, or played around with in cocktail combinations?
These are niche products and very suitable for the cocktail market.  They are also great for personal use, and fantastic gifts as the packaging and concept is beautiful.

Favorite Birkir Cocktail:
BIRKI DROPI
Creator: Leó Ólafsson
Ingredients:
3cl Birkir snaps
3cl Cointreau
3cl Lemon juice
3cl Birch syrup
Egg white
Method: Dry shake all ingredients without ice for a few seconds, add ice to shaker and shake vigorously and strain over fresh ice into a double rocks glass. Garnish with slice of lemon and a birch twig.

Favorite Björk cocktail:
BIRKI
Creator: Bruno Falcao
Ingredients:
3cl Björk liqueur
3cl Ginger syrup
3cl Fresh lime juice
3cl Sour Apple De Kuyper
Method: Pour all ingredients into a shaker and shake well with ice. Fine strain into a double old fashioned glass. Garnish with a birch leaf and a slice of apple.

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.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Massimo d’Azeglio Fizz: A light cocktail for the afternoon

By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer

Vermouth is a most maligned cocktail ingredient.  Most of the stuff that goes into a cocktail is sour from age because most people don’t know that Vermouth has a pretty short shelf life.  What does that mean? 

Well, it’s simple.  If you don’t refrigerate your Vermouth it’s probably gone sour or worse, it may have something growing in it and not the growth that you want to drink!

I’ve always maintained that Vermouth needs to be refrigerated to remain usable for preparing your fine cocktails!

Just like a bottle of wine, a bottle of Vermouth can go bad!  If you have a bottle lurking on top of your fridge and it’s been there for a few months in the heat, or if you snagged one from your grandparents home, THROW IT OUT NOW.

Vermouth 101…
The original use for Vermouth involved certain core-medicinal properties of the ingredients.  Vermouth contains as the active ingredient- wormwood, which is the also found in the much-maligned intoxicant known as Absinthe.  Wormwood is very effective (like Absinthe) for ridding the body of internal parasites and for the treatment of most minor stomach maladies. 

Vermouth, like many of our modern day aperitifs and their denser Amaro cousins were not originally stirred into a mixed drink to taste.  They were dispensed by apothecaries as medicinals.  Vermouth was also used as a curative against head lice.  Think about that the next time you have a scalp itch.  Just pour a few ounces of Vermouth over your scalp and massage away!  Head lice gone! 

That’s the healing power of wormwood for ye!

In our modern era, a person might take an antacid tablet when they have a bellyache from eating a spicy meal.  In the 1800’s they might have a glass of Vermouth or a glass of Amaro for their curative. 

I much prefer a few glasses of Carpano Antica Vermouth instead of chemically produced stomach tablets. 

Artemisia absinthium (from the Carpano Antica website)
Although the origin of this name is not certain, it probably derives from “Wermuth” the German word for “absinthe” (Arthemisia absinthium). The old spellings of the name were Vermouth, Wermouth or Wermuth. We know that this type of wine was prepared by the ancient Romans and given the name Absinthiatum (o Absinthianum) vinum. The first Italian writer to make mention of this wine was C. Villifranchi in his Tuscan Oenology (1773). It owes its fame, however, to Antonio Benedetto Carpano, the first person to replicate the recipe with the same characteristics and taste in his wine shop starting in 1786.

EEC regulation no. 1601 of 10 June 1991 lays down general rules on definition, description and presentation of aromatized wines, aromatized wine-based drinks and aromatized wine products.

According to this regulation, an aromatized wine (or wine-based aperitif) is defined as a drink obtained from one or more wines with the addition of alcohol, aromatized using natural substances and/or preparations with the addition of aromatic herbs and/or spices and/or flavoring foodstuffs.  

The regulation also provides a definition for Vermouth (or Vermout) as an “aromatized wine which has been prepared from wine, the characteristic taste of which is obtained by the use of appropriate derived substances, in particular of the Artemisia species, which must always be used; this drink may be sweetened only by means of caramelized sugar, sucrose, grape must, rectified concentrated grape must and concentrated grape must”.

COMPOSITION
In order to be classed as a vermouth, it must be composed of at least 75% of wine, have a minimum alcoholic strength by volume of 14.5% or more and a maximum alcoholic strength by volume of less than 22% and must contain Artemisias, which are its characterizing elements.

Carpano Antica Dry Vermouth…  Hold your horses!  Is Carpano now making Dry Vermouth? 
The short answer is yes, and it’s very, very good in a cocktail or alone in a snifter.  Carpano Antica Dry can even used to deglaze a pan of caramelized shallots and olive oil- after sautéing your crispy veal scaloppini. 

Dry, as in crisp against my tongue and thoughtfully aromatic are my first impressions.  Think of that familiar-signature sweet taste of Carpano Antica with most of the sugar removed from your first sip.  Carpano Antica Dry is the personification of elegance and substance.  Each sip thrusts scents of ancient Middle Eastern herbs, essences of bitter orange and green apple peels deeply into your memory, as if to say, drink me, and then drink me again, deeply and then remember my spark (the fizz) forever. 

Massimo d’Azeglio Fizz  (a light cocktail for the afternoon)
Ingredients:
½ oz. Carpano Antica Dry Vermouth
½ oz. Maraska Maraschino Liqueur
21 oz. Pellegrino Lemon Soda
Bitter Truth Grapefruit Bitters
2 slices (about ½ inch each) Smoked Blood Oranges

Preparation:
(Smoke your thick slices of Blood Orange on a grill or in a pinch, inside a ceramic bowl- you light the shards of wood first, then with tongs, hold the orange slices over smoldering apple wood chips or your choice of wood chips.
 Do this for at least a few minutes on each side to infuse the sweet wood smoke deeply into the spicy blood orange rounds)

In a cocktail mixing vessel, muddle some of the smoked Blood Orange slices to reveal their aromatics and precious juices, add some ice to fill the mixing vessel ½ way

Add the Vermouth
Add the Marachino liqueur
Stir to chill, but not dilute
Strain with a Hawthorne Strainer into an Old Fashioned glass where one 2x2 ice cube is patiently resting
Top with the Pellegrino Lemon Soda
Dot with the Bitter Truth Grapefruit Bitters
Garnish with a pinwheel of smoked orange

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

About Warren Bobrow
Author of: Apothecary Cocktails-Restorative Drinks from Yesterday and Today- Fair Winds Press- Beverly, Massachusetts. Apothecary Cocktails was nominated for a Spirited Award, 2014 Tales of the Cocktail.  His forthcoming book, Whiskey Cocktails will be released October 14.  Bitters and Shrub Syrup Cocktails follow with publication in spring ’15.  Warren is a master mixologist for several craft liquor companies.

Warren consults about mixology and spirits, travel, organic wine and food.  He’s written for web-blogs and magazines like: Williams-Sonoma, Whole Foods: Dark Rye, Distiller, Total Food Service Magazine, Beverage Media Group, DrinkUpNY, Edible Publications, Foodista, Serious Eats, Mechanics of Style and Beekman1802.  He was in the Saveur-100 in 2010.

Warren is a former, mostly self, trained cook from the pot sink on up.  J&W and ACF were thrown in for good luck.  Warren was the former owner/co-founder of Olde Charleston Pasta in South Carolina: *Dissolved his business after Hurricane Hugo in 1989* - to a career in private banking, (nearly 20 years; “a very grand mistake”) to this reinvention in 2009 as the Warren he's finally become.

Warren is available to do highly personalized, interactive mixology events, local, national and international.
PS: Warren's second book, Whiskey Cocktails is on the market now!
Contact: jockeyhollow@gmail.com

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Surprising Wines for Valentine's Day

By Liza B. Zimmerman


Several of my friends have said they are over the bubbles on Valentine's Day. As much as they love them, the icy coldness of the bottle and the wine can be off putting in colder climes. Or perhaps--lucky them--they had too many great bottles on New Year's Eve. So here's a completely unorthodox suggestion of red, white and sweet pairings that will work with whatever you eat (or don't) for the upcoming festivities.

Open Your Palate with the First Course
A little chilled, but not freezing, Loire Valley white such as a Pouilly Fumé or a Sancerre is great way to start off an indulgent  meal. I can't think of anything that pairs better with oysters (except perhaps some very simple White Bordeaux). Chateaux La Mouliniere Blanc is a treat and a very well-priced one at that if you head south to Bordeaux for your match.

The acidity and minerality in these wines will also play well with a salad of raw scallops or an intensely vegetal soup (but spare the cream). Some of the grassy flavors in these wines will also tame and interact well with intense, bitter flavors like those of fennel and spinach, which are often used in winter soups.

Indulge with the Second Course
We missed foie gras so much when it was banned in California that I can't get enough of it. A delicious slice of this ultimate treat deserves some great off-dry wine. The classic pairing would be French Sauternes, which isn't always in everyone's price point. Slightly sweet Austrian, German and Canadian wines can also do the trick. A Hungarian Tokaji would be lovely as well. Reds are much harder to pair with the intensity of duck liver as they rarely have the richness to stand up to its complex flavors and their tannins can overpower the dish.

Pull out all the Stops with a Big Meat Course
I just had a pretty divine, perfectly cooked Porterhouse steak when I was in New York last week. The earthy, funkiness of Old World Wines are often ideal for marbled cuts of meat. Southern Italian big boys like Aglianico can be incredibly tannic on their own, but work their magic with meat. Other favorites would be anything from the Rhône, including the region's simplest wines, a rowdy red from Portugal and potentially a nice Syrah or Syrah blend from Washington State.

If you are not a fan of steak any kind a long-stewed meat can hit the same high notes with these wines. A pork stew or leg or lamb would be among my favorites. A good cut of veal, when you can find it always great, and if all else fails just wrap almost anything in bacon. Even figs or more austere seafood take on a meaty intensity with just a little bit of it in the mix.

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.

Photo Credit: www.urbanrabbits.eu

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Steven Soderbergh & Singani 63 (Part 2 of a 3-part series)

By Antonia Fattizzi, Founder/President, Cork and Tin

In Part 2 of this 3-part series, we discuss the challenges that new importer Steven Soderbergh faces with his Bolivian spirit, Singani 63.

To say that introducing a new wine or spirit in the USA is not for the faint of heart is putting it lightly. The decision to import and distribute in a market as competitive as the USA is usually based on the unflagging belief that one has something so special, so unique, that it will succeed in whatever saturated category it is that they are trying to enter.
==================

What, Me Worry?
Like anyone importing a spirit that’s over 500 years old, Steven has his concerns.

“My fear of bringing a new product into the market is that you find out in 5 years it makes you grow hair on your forehead. I remember at one point I literally had a dream that there was this side effect of Singani that turned out to be a huge problem. I woke up and was like ‘oh no, no no, no’ - it’s been around for 500 years! If it caused a problem, you would know it by now.  A billion Bolivians drink this. In the dream it had totally caught on where people were like, ‘this is amazing’ and then someone told tell me: ‘you grow tumors’. It gave me an idea for a campaign we’re working on which is “tested on humans for 500 years”.

Unlike everyone, Steven might have a bit more of an active imagination.

So the real question becomes, ‘what’s the effect of Singani 63 on humans?’ “We live in the world of metrics and data and that’s why I would be willing to spend the money to do some real research on what is it and why does it have this effect – like why not? Why not do that? We have the technology, let’s find out what the active ingredient is and what it does to your brain. We don’t know a lot about what alcohol does and why to you. It’s still a huge area of exploration – why it affects us the way it does, exactly.”

Most of us don’t want hair growing from our forehead. We know that the body has evolved to the point that processing alcohol has been a thing for thousands of years. Paraphrasing the book ‘Proof’, Steven goes on to state, “fermentation is a naturally occurring process in the world and would happen whether we were here or not is a key component of a lot of alcohol.. and then you have distillation, which IS a man-made process and which is fascinating when you read the history of it - you’re like ‘wow’, people sat around and somebody thought this up and started this process of distillation. The whole idea of distillation and what it means is really interesting to me because the principal behind it is, the further you reduce something down to its essence, the better it is. And that’s always been my approach to art. The more distinct something is, the more it just is what it is and you feel the individual behind it really burrowing into something and being super super specific and filtering out everything that’s unnecessary and uninteresting – the better I respond. So it was interesting to read this book and go, ‘oh, so that’s like a chemical description of how I work’.”

Like anything, too much of something is never a good thing. Thus, the conversation takes a slight turn to the example of overly distilled spirits, (spirits distilled more than necessary).  Steven’s response, fittingly: “well the analogy I would use is, in a piece of art, something that has been distilled so much that nobody knows what the fuck is going on.”

Fair enough.

Creating a New Category
Singani 63 looks like vodka, plays like an eau de vie but is categorized as a brandy according to the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives).  It’s a spirit that needs its own definition. “One of the things we are in the process of is filing a petition with the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) to get an “asterisk” of some sort because we’ve been put into a category without an explanation so that is confusing. I don’t know what the result of that will be. They’ve established categories with pisco and cachaca. I think we made a pretty good case.  Apart from that is the chemical fact that when you age something in wood you literally alter it on a molecular level. This product never touches wood and is not aged the way that brandy is. I told the TTB an anecdote - we just finished shooting Magic Mike and of course I was trying to find an artful way to have a bottle here and there appear.  At one point I was looking over at this table where it was arranged with other bottles and I noticed that it was half-filled with brown liquid. I went over to the assistant prop guy and I said “this should be clear, not brown” and he said, “oh well it said ‘brandy’ on the label” and I said to them (TTB) ‘that’s my problem. I spend more time explaining what it isn’t than what it is.’ So we’ll see what they say.”

Steven’s unwavering passion of Singani 63 is apparent. “I told another story and my consultant, Steve Raye of Brand Action Team, was giving me the ‘stop’ sign. When we brought it into the USA, I was pulling cases out of the importer’s warehouse for myself to drink and give out to friends.  This went on for a while and we got a call asking ‘what is going on, why are these cases moving but they’re not being sold anywhere?’  We had to explain that I was drinking it!”

“The whole reason I brought it over is that I got hooked on it and was very naïve about what would be involved to get it here.  I wasn’t in a hurry to import, so the fact that it took like 6 years to get it to New Jersey didn’t faze me because I had other stuff going on. When we went to the TTB to deliver our petition there were 17 people representing 4 different agencies within the government. They were all super nice, and I was really glad that they were there because no one had to tell anyone else how the meeting went since they all took the time to show up.  I think they appreciated (forgetting about me doing what it is that I do) that the individual bringing Singani 63 here and making this request is in the room. I think it would have been a very different meeting without me there.  But I got a real sense of how these things work. There’s a lot of discussion, it’s a very regulated industry and it should be. I appreciate what the TTB is doing. I don’t feel like they have ever been an obstacle to us.”

Reality Check:

Getting the government to approve a product is just one piece of the puzzle. Once those hurdles are cleared, there’s the challenge of sales and marketing. “After I had brought in my initial wave of product (250 cases), I sat down with Steve Raye to find out how the industry works. For over 2 hours he gave me his take on the beverage alcohol business. I swear to you, if I hadn’t had those cases sitting in a warehouse in New Jersey, I would have thought twice about what I was getting into. I had thought, ‘well it’s here! So why don’t we just start calling people? I have friends (who would want it)’.  No pun intended, it sobered me up fast. He walked me through what happens when you cold call an account and explained how a distributor salesperson works when they are pitching your product. This is what they say; this is what gets said back to them. “

Distribution Concerns:
One of the first questions producers have to ask themself when launching a brand is what they want as an end result. They need to think about whether they are trying to sell their brand in a certain amount of time or if they want to hold on and build it over the long haul.

“That’s one of the questions that Steve asked in the first meeting: “so is your 5 year plan to be bought out by somebody?” And I said no. It’s not.  Because that’ll mean a loss of control that I’m not willing to give up in terms of how it’s sold and the content that’s created. That’s not my goal. That’s not why I got into this.”

In choosing a distributor, there are a limitless amount of pros and cons in each but Steven’s thought process is correct in that there’s typically a wide gap between priorities and goals of producer and distributor.  “When we enter this new period of potential growth, my concern about literally everyone that’s out there representing US is that they have to be one of US – or we’re failing.  And that’s why I’m trying to imagine or conjure an event or a sequence of events that will allow those two things to become closer together.  It would be what I call an ‘inciting incident’ in storytelling terms – one that would help my mind kick off into ‘Act 2’.  Something has to happen that pushes us into the next round of expansion and I don’t know what it is yet.  We haven’t made any mistakes yet, and everything’s gone great. We are still in the process of talking to bars/distributors and that is really terrifying.”

At the time of this interview, Singani 63 is self-distributed. This means that they are dealing with retail and restaurant buyers on every level and are 100% in charge of their own penetration of the market, as opposed to relying on a distributor sales force to broaden their base. Many new brands start out in this manner and then move into a distributor.  For an emerging product, trying to find the right fit in a distributor house full of wines, beers and spirits brands of all sizes is a process that requires extensive research, many discussions and real soul-searching.

Steven is very frank about his emotions concerning the move to a distributor. “It’s so personal right now, so intimate, there’s some part of me that’s getting the shakes when I think of the first time that somebody goes out and represents Singani and it’s not someone I’ve been able to brainwash and they’ve got the wrong vibe, the wrong chat..we’ve been talking internally how we keep this indie vibe, so we’re talking to small distributors. We’re in a really interesting phase.”

If we talk in a year – if I’m still here – I’ll either be going “oh shit, it worked” or “that was an interesting chapter in my memoir about the time I tried to import liquor”. 

Money Matters
“I need equity, I need somebody to come in, I cannot keep financing this.  And so we’re in that stage where we’ve now, through some contacts that all of us have made are setting up a series of meetings to talk to people about coming in and describing to them ‘look, this is what we’ve done so far, this is what we’ve spent, this is what we’re thinking that the next 6 months are going to look like and this is what the next 2 years are going to look like. And here’s our master world domination plan and here are the numbers we’re talking about.”

“It’s funny, in making films a lot of people talk about the setup, and a lot of people talk about Act 3 and I’ve always found that actually the 2nd act is the secret repository for a lot problems that people don’t see because they’re so obsessed with the setup and the payoff, and I’ve been involved in a couple of things that ultimately I was frustrated with my own result and when I went back later and looked at it, I was like “these are all second act problems”. Like the middle – I didn’t figure the MIDDLE of this out.”

To most people, what Steven considers to be the middle is not the “sexy” part, if you will. It’s the building blocks. Because the creation is sexy and the payoff is sexy, but the building blocks are just granular details.  “Well yeah it’s like you said, it’s not the sexy part in the sense, it’s just the engine kind of running. In the beginning you’re building the engine and that’s fun and in the end you’re blowing it up or it’s flying to the moon, but in the middle it’s just kind of the engine. And it’s the place where things stall or it gets like quicksand where you take a character in the wrong direction and you never recover. That’s why recently I’ve latched onto this analogy with the team and have said that we need to be very, very careful about what happens next. Because we’ve been very smart so far and lucky – we’ve had good timing, everything has gone right, let’s not make a misstep here. The next 12 months are going to be critical. If we talk in a year – if I’m still here – I’ll either be going “oh shit, it worked” or “that was an interesting chapter in my memoir about the time I tried to import liquor”. 

Singani For The People:
As the “national drink of Bolivia”, people consume Singani at festivals, sporting events, weddings. ”It’s important to me that there HAS to be a “2” in front of the price. This is a product that, in Bolivia, is something that everybody drinks and can afford to drink.  It has to be accessible to people.” (DrinkUpNY.com: $26.99!)  My attitude is, well if you’re somebody who at home, likes to have a sort of staple set of products available for when people come over, I want to be the addition to that. I want it to be a thing where people want to have Singani. Especially if we end up with our little asterisk. Then you definitely gotta have it.  But my whole thing is that it’s not like anything else in your bar. Its flavor profile is not like pisco, it’s not like other brandies, it’s not vodka, and it’s not gin.  It’s got a totally unique flavor profile. So my hope is that we become the whatever, the 9th thing that you’ve gotta have represented.”

Steven Soderbergh today proved he is not beneath staging that most American of oddities: A CONTEST. How you enter and what prizes you might win will be revealed in the thrilling conclusion to this three-part interview. The answer of WHY you would enter such a contest will, like the allure of the unicycle, remain a mystery forever.”

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. 

Check out: Steven Soderbergh & Singani 63 - PART I

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Milliner’s Punch Cocktail

By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer

My first trip to Spain was at the tender age of 7.  My grandfather had business interests in this country and my father, who headed the tax division of the family business needed to visit often.  As was my upbringing, European travel was 90% cultural/10% actual work.  It was an extended vacation- these European trips for a month or more an education that you cannot read in books.  My parents always had wine on the table while I was growing up so it made perfectly good sense to visit the Bodegas where they turned indigenous grapes into the authentic wine we all know as Sherry.  My first tangible memories of wine surround the Sandeman Bodega where they make extremely expressive liquids.  The salty aromas stung my young palate and their verdant flavors buried themselves deeply inside my time-hazed tasting notes.  The crisp aromatics of salt spray and the haunting quality of old wood reared their potent memories against my long lost childhood. 

I have to fully disclose that I have another bottle of rum, the intriguing side-project from the venerable whisky creator Murray McDavid.  This historic, column distilled rum from Guyana is first aged in used Tennessee whiskey casks, then rested for a time after a sea voyage from the islands to Scotland in used wine casks- and then finally rested in either a whisky cask or another used wine cask- surrounded by still more casks containing whisky.  What comes out in the end is remarkable and it reminds me of this gorgeous bottle in my hand. 

I have a passion for rum that began on a sailing trip back in 1982 in the British Virgin Islands.  The rum quality was in always in question, but the fact that water was four dollars a liter and rum was a buck or so per liter, well the point being- drinking tap water was poisonous so you drank rum.  Rum came in many styles- refreshing was the best way, to quench your thirst before, during and after a rousing sail. 

Fast forward to today.  My palate requires something much more than clear rum from an uncertain provenance served on ice with cola as I did when younger. I like the very best and in this business I’ve made it my point to only review and discuss what I consider to be the very best for their genre.  Always, it is in my opinion and never scored either numerical or letter or stars.  It’s my tasting notes, not someone else’s marketing that influences me.  If I like something great, if not- well you know that answer.  I’d rather say something constructive because there is so much good stuff on the market and only so much time to write about them!

Imagine my delight when my friend Nicholas Palazzi sent me a sample bottle of his opulent rum named simply Ron Navazos –Palazzi.   This marvelous bottling is truly revolutionary.  The creativity to build flavor upon flavor is what initially caught my eye.  And the use of Antilles distilled rum to fill used Spanish Sherry/Oloroso casks?  I was determined to try a mouthful and find out what an incredible experience it really is.  Because of my historic connection with the Oloroso style Sherry: mouthfuls of salted, crushed stones, the Spanish leather, the minced Connecticut leaf tobacco… I knew immediately this was something rare and special.  I also knew that 90% of Americans would not get it.  This rum is at the very least, a challenging slurp.  Perhaps the strength of the sip is the first determinate.  Rolling in at 51.5% this is not your production line, million cases per month operation.  Bottled at cask strength, this rum rested in at the distillery for a period of five years before being shipped off to Scotland with the cold and damp that runs right through you.  If you cannot feel the dampness of the cellar, go outside in wet clothes on a frigid night.  There are dried figs in each sip, layer upon layer of raw honey and the acidity runs rampant across the top of my mouth.  Cigar tobacco comes into view revealing layers of sweet corn pudding drizzled with cane sugar syrup.  Toasty hazelnuts and walnuts become clearer along with bursts of sea salt and caramelized brown butter with a touch of extra old balsamic vinegar to finish. 

The Ron Navazos is sophisticated and it calls out for a large snifter, preferably enjoyed from the deck of your handcrafted- Little Harbor yacht, moored languidly in a mosquito free cove somewhere in the British Virgin Islands. 

This is rum of the very highest quality and it certainly deserves your muster.  I know it’s not your everyday rum and cola slurp and many will be turned away from it because it is so esoteric.
This is one of the finest rums from my memory.  Is it the Oloroso Sherry cask?  Is it the rum?  Is it the salty humidity?  Or is it a combination of them all?

I’m not sure, but one thing is for certain- this is assertive, bold and not for everyone. 
May this be all the more reason to acquire a bottle, because you desire the very, very best.   

Yes you can mix it.  Just keep it simple.  Like this.

I filled an atomizer with Bitter Truth Orange Bitters and one with the Bitter Truth Lemon Bitters. 

I also made large ice cubes from coconut water.

The Milliner’s Punch
Ingredients:
3 oz. Ron Navazos Rum
1 large Coconut Water ice cube
Splash of freshly squeezed blood orange juice
Bitter Truth Orange Bitters
Bitter Truth Lemon Bitters

Preparation:
To a large “Old Fashioned” glass add the coconut water ice cube
Pour the Rum over the top
Splash the blood orange juice over the rum
Puff the bitters over the top… one puff of each one…

Done!

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

About Warren Bobrow
Author of: Apothecary Cocktails-Restorative Drinks from Yesterday and Today- Fair Winds Press- Beverly, Massachusetts. Apothecary Cocktails was nominated for a Spirited Award, 2014 Tales of the Cocktail.  His forthcoming book, Whiskey Cocktails will be released October 14.  Bitters and Shrub Syrup Cocktails follow with publication in spring ’15.  Warren is a master mixologist for several craft liquor companies.

Warren consults about mixology and spirits, travel, organic wine and food.  He’s written for web-blogs and magazines like: Williams-Sonoma, Whole Foods: Dark Rye, Distiller, Total Food Service Magazine, Beverage Media Group, DrinkUpNY, Edible Publications, Foodista, Serious Eats, Mechanics of Style and Beekman1802.  He was in the Saveur-100 in 2010.

Warren is a former, mostly self, trained cook from the pot sink on up.  J&W and ACF were thrown in for good luck.  Warren was the former owner/co-founder of Olde Charleston Pasta in South Carolina: *Dissolved his business after Hurricane Hugo in 1989* - to a career in private banking, (nearly 20 years; “a very grand mistake”) to this reinvention in 2009 as the Warren he's finally become.

Warren is available to do highly personalized, interactive mixology events, local, national and international.
PS: Warren's second book, Whiskey Cocktails is on the market now!
Contact: jockeyhollow@gmail.com