Category Archives: Cocktail happenings

Weekend recap

I spent my weekend on the road, taking the Acela from Penn Station up to Boston on Saturday.

I stayed with friends Friday and Saturday. On Saturday afternoon, I demoed shrubmaking and signed books at the Boston Shaker in Somerville. The weather was nice, and so there was a good amount of foot traffic past the store. We served shrub cocktails using Privateer rum and moved a fair amount of books. Successful day.

I ended the day at The Hawthorne, attached to the Commonwealth Hotel near the Fenway, and owned by Jackson Cannon, formerly of the Commonwealth’s other bar, Eastern Standard. The Hawthorne is a lovely place, very calming and comfortable, and with a stellar list of cocktails, beers, and wines.

Sunday, I took the Amtrak to Providence. I made my way up to Stock about an hour before the demo was to begin, and I walked that stretch of Hope Street for a few minutes. I used to live in Stock’s neighborhood, and so it felt a little like Old Home Week. The weather, again, was conducive to foot traffic, and we had a lot of people stop by.

At both the Shaker and Stock, I was delighted to sell copies of the book to people who had never previously tasted shrubs. Talking to these folks and then signing books for them were quite fun, and it’s really gratifying to know that the book is reaching new audiences for shrubs.

Here’s a tip I probably shouldn’t share, regarding taking the Amtrak from Penn. At present, Amtrak does a really stupid thing to its riders at Penn and a few other stations. When a Northeast Regional or an Acela Express arrives at Penn, Amtrak announces the track number and then makes everyone line up to go down to the platform level to board the train. So what always happens is, Amtrak announces the track, and a giant knot of people surges toward the escalator down to the platform. I avoid this mess these days by asking for a red-cap, a porter who helps with baggage and gets passengers down to the platform level before the official announcement. So by the time the knot of people has surged down the escalator, I’m seated and ready to roll.

Sipping Scotch in Sophistication

Ever had a whisky older than you? Opportunities such as this don’t come along very often, especially as “you” get older and older and older. When I was in my 20s, for example, finding 30-year-old scotches was relatively easy and only relatively expensive. Now that I’m 45, though, finding a 50-year-old scotch is not just logistically difficult; it’s expensive by nearly anyone terms.

Case in point: the inaugural release of the Glenlivet Winchester Collection, barreled in 1964 and bottled for release this year. Want one? Sell your children; only 100 bottles are available worldwide, and each bottle will run you $25,000.

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But what a bottle. Each bottle is hand-blown glass, capped with a silver stopper, and accented with gold. The bottle sits in a cabinet with a lock and a hidden key, just in case you don’t sell the kids and one of them tries to sneak a sip.

I had a chance to sample one of the 100 bottles this past Wednesday, at a dinner at Le Bernadin. Along with about 30 other journalists, I had a fantastic multi-course meal with wine pairings, punctuated by samples from the Glenlivet range: the 18, XXV (25), and 50.

All three scotches are typical of the Glenlivet style–honeyed, lightly fruity, tasting of toffee and a hint of barley malt, and only the barest, lightest hint of smoke. The 1964 was barreled in used bourbon casks, and for the age it has on it, it didn’t taste woody at all. I found that, all told, it had lighter, more subtle flavors than the 18 or XXV, though I was enjoying it after rounds of seafood and wine, and so my palate may have been a bit dulled.

All in all, this is clearly a whisky for collectors. Scotch, after all, is a luxury good, and all luxury markets have to cater to the collector segment. Glenlivet has put together a beautiful package and a tasty dram. If only I had the $25,000. Anyone in the market for kids?

SHRUBS Update

The book still comes out October 6, and you can and should still preorder it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Powell’s.

I recently spoke with Kara Newman at Tasting Table about shrubs. You can and should read that here.

I also recently spoke with Paul Clarke at Imbibe magazine. Paul was doing a photo feature on shrubs, and the piece included a quote from me and a couple of my recipes. You can’t find it online, but here’s a supplemental piece on the website.

We’re currently firming up other media appearances, a radio appearance or two, and possibly some in-person events, if you want to see my mug live and up close. More to come.

A Visit to Wild Turkey

If you ever visit the Wild Turkey distillery, do yourself a favor and arrive from the east. As you approach the distillery, U.S. Route 62 descends a hill through lush green woods, passes over a quarry on the banks of the Kentucky River, and takes a sharp left before riding the Blackburn Bridge over the river. As you approach the bridge, you can see buildings on a ridge in the near distance. These are warehouses and distillery buildings at Wild Turkey. Just beyond the highway bridge stands the remains of a railroad bridge, 283 feet above the river. The rail bridge is now out of service, but it formerly carried freight and passengers on what became the Norfolk Southern Railway, connecting all the Southern states. Passenger traffic ended in the 1930s, and freight stopped traversing the bridge about 50 years later, but for a time, the bridge carried grain into the Wild Turkey plant and finished bourbon back out.

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View of the two bridges, from the visitors’ center at Wild Turkey. (All images are clickable. Make ‘em big!)

I visited a couple of weeks ago. The purpose was twofold. Wild Turkey is opening a beautiful new visitors’ center, with stunning views of the river and its bluffs. The center itself is made of wood and glass, as you’d probably expect from a bourbon distillery. I failed to get a good exterior shot of the building, but it’s described as a cathedral to bourbon, and as you view the soaring ceilings, you’d probably agree.

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Ramp to upper level of the Wild Turkey visitors center.
Soaring ceiling
Soaring ceiling

In the tasting room is a large copper still that spans both floors of the visitors center, pulled out of production when the old distillery was torn down.

Copper still
Copper still
Low quality image of a rectifying plate within the still.
Low quality image of a rectifying plate within the still.

As impressive as all that is, though, the other reason for the visit is even better. 2014 marks master distiller Jimmy Russell’s 60th year at Wild Turkey. Can you imagine spending 60 years in one place? Jimmy can, and even after 60, he has no plans to retire.

Salt of the earth. Jimmy Russell.
Salt of the earth. Jimmy Russell.

Our visit ended with a cocktail reception, to launch the visitors center and pay homage to Jimmy. Among the VIPs were Kentucky governor Steve Beshear and brand reps and master distillers from other bourbon plants, including Four Roses, Heaven Hill, and Woodford. The bourbon industry is pretty tight, and less personally competitive than you’d expect, so a guy like Jimmy has fans at rival distilleries. Jimmy’s family were there. His son Eddie is his right hand at Wild Turkey, even though Eddie only has 33 years tenure there and is still a relative novice compared to Dad. Jimmy’s other offspring were there, along with his grandkids and a few great-grandkids.

I felt honored being among his family and friends on such a great occasion. I’ve always loved Wild Turkey 101; it might be my favorite American whiskey. Being there for this celebration was a real treat.

We took a lengthy tour of the distillery. Those notes and photos will follow in another post.

Kickstarter Watch: Neat Ice Kit

Here’s a … neat idea: the Neat Ice Kit, by a couple of guys out of New York City. For those who care about the clarity of ice they use in cocktails, here’s a way to make perfectly clear ice at home, without wasting any of the cloudy stuff.

See, ice normally freezes from the outside in, which forces gas into the center of the ice. That gas clouds up as it freezes. There’s not normally any way around this, unless you insulate the ice tray in some fashion. (Camper English has done A LOT on this topic, if you want to know more.)

What this kit does is insulate the sides and bottom of a brick-shaped ice mold. The ice freezes top down, forcing the gasses to the bottom, where they freeze cloudy. The top freezes clear. So you lop off the top, use it for cocktail presentation, and use the cloudy bottom for crushed ice or for shaking drinks or whatever.

(Don’t touch my cloudy bottom, though. Mrs. Bitters will have words.)

The kit, if the Kickstarter pans out, will include the mold, an ice chisel, a mallet/muddler, and a bag in which to hammer ice into crushed form.

I’m not normally all that bothered by cloudy ice at home, but even I think this is a nifty project.

By the way, these guys have a track record of successful Kickstarter products, if that matters to you. The Glif iPhone holder/tripod looks really cool to me.

MCC: Where to find me

Oh yeah, there’s a blog here.

Anyway, I’ll be at Manhattan Cocktail Classic this weekend, and an ancillary event or two. I’m not going out for everything possible because I have a kid and a pregnant wife and not a lot of money for childcare and ticketed events. As it is, Jen’s taking off Tuesday afternoon so I can do the Expo, which means I’m skipping Monday’s events and hopefully submitting a writeup of the weekend to Serious Eats.

Schedule

Tonight, 6pm – 10pmSpeed Rack Finals, Element Nightclub, 225 E. Houston.

Tomorrow, 9pm – 1am, MCC Gala, NYPL.

Saturday, 11:00am – 7:30pm, Industry Invitational, Andaz Hotel, 485 5th Ave

Sunday, 11:00am – 7:30pm, Industry Invitational, Andaz Hotel, 485 5th Ave

Tuesday, 3:30 – 5:00, Indie Spirits Expo, Penn Club, 30 W. 44th St.

Grand Centennial

Friday, Grand Central Terminal marks its 100th-anniversary with a grand celebration, and with that fête comes a bit of cocktail news.

First, some of the station’s vendors are offering 1913 pricing on some items. For example, a nickel will buy you a shoe shine, or six pennies will earn you a loaf of rye bread. But Michael Jordan’s Steak House in the main concourse is offering a 75¢ Adirondack cocktail, from its transit-themed cocktail menu.

Meanwhile, DNAinfo reports that for the 2013 price of $15, The Campbell Apartment offers a glass of Centennial Punch, a mix of papaya, pomegranate and lemon juices, plus Hendrick’s Gin, Sandeman Founder’s Reserve port, and champagne.

I’ll probably be at GCT tomorrow to enjoy some of the festivities, but I’ll have a baby strapped to my chest, so I don’t think I’ll partake in a libation.

Appleton Remixology

I don’t really know what’s up with these faux holidays. Today, for example, is National Rum Day. I have no idea why, who declared it such, or why we don’t have a day off work for it, but such it is.

One night last week, I found myself at Sons of Essex bar, on Essex Street on the Lower East Side. The event was Appleton Estate’s Remixology competition, meant to coincide with Jamaican Independence Day. The concept was simple: five bartenders were invited to choose a song they really liked and devise a cocktail to accompany the song.

Sons of Essex had bartending stations set up around the bar, with the five cocktails in various forms of premix. (So, for example, a cocktail might be premixed up to the point at which the bartender would top it with something that needed to be fresh, such as champagne or ginger beer.)

The winner was a cocktail I found a little odd, a blend of Appleton Estate, lime juice, falernum, and black bean soup.

Yes. Bean soup. Probably one of the strangest ingredients I’ve had in a cocktail.

It didn’t have the texture of bean soup, so I have to assume it was pureed or strained. I generally liked the flavor it added to the drink, I have to say. I just thought it skewed the drink farther into savory territory than I normally like in a cocktail.

(Although I have to say, that alone made it a pleasant surprise; some of the drinks that night were far too sweet for my tastes.)

The winner was Lubens Besse from Mister H and Imperial No 9 in the Mondrian Soho. He moves on to a finals round on September 10, versus winning bartenders from similar events in San Francisco, Boston, and Miami.