Category Archives: Ingredients

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Coming down from Mexico

A few highlights and personal notes from my press trip to Mexico to see Olmeca Altos tequila being distilled.

Monday, March 24:

Got up at 5:30am to meet a car outside the apartment at 6:15 to head to LaGuardia. After getting through security, I grabbed breakfast and settled in to wait for boarding. After I ate, I checked in with Jen. She told me the boy missed me, so I talked to him via FaceTime. It was my first trip away from the kids, so it was hard.

Landed at Houston Intercontinental. Named for a painter who was a third-rate despot, or maybe for his father. Not sure. Had a long layover here, so I wound up at Third Bar, in Terminal B. Decent fried-oyster po-boy. Microbrew from some local place, pretty good. Outlets underneath the bar for recharging phones and laptops? Brilliant. Good work, Third Bar. Have no idea when I’ll ever fly through Houston again, but I’ll look you up. I got yer digits.

Guadalajara. Flew in over mountains, lush valleys, massive lakes. Could tell just from the air that it was going to be a geographically stunning place. The airport is Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla International Airport, named for a leader of the Mexican War for Independence. Seems they know how to name an airport. We had an airport named for a leader of the American War for Independence. We renamed it for an actor who was a third-rate despot. So much for patriotism.

Nicely modern airport, more so than, ohhhhhhhhhh, LaGuardia. Customs and Immigration was smooth, quick, and friendly. Swapped dollars for pesos, grabbed my luggage, and met my group. We took a van ride to Arandas, home to the Pernod facility that makes Olmec Altos tequila, checked into the hotel, got cleaned up, had a couple of drinks, and went to dinner.

Tuesday, March 25:

Breakfast, and then van ride to distillery. I had seen something in a very early email from the trip organizers, mentioning something about a quad-bike trip to the agave fields. I assumed we’d bike a short distance to a nearby field. Nope. We took a two-hour scenic trip through Jalisco, across paved roads, gravel, cobblestone, dirt, dust, and mud. At one point, the convoy slowed because two guys up front nearly hit a cow who crossed the road. Dogs, most of them friendly, chased us a few times. We biked past a couple of fires burning in the brush right alongside the road. I took a turn without enough caution and nearly crashed into a tree. The worst, though, was near the end, when the wind kicked up hard enough to drive white dust into our eyes, blinding us even though we all wore safety goggles.

Lunch in the agave fields: tacos, grilled meats and cactus, chicarones, enchiladas. And Palomas, lots of Palomas. All done up in the Mexican way. In America, you ask for a Paloma and you get tequila, grapefruit juice (squeezed in front of you!), lime, sugar, a hint of salt, club soda. In Mexico, they use Squirt, tequila, a splash of lime, and pinch of salt. I like that version better, and not just because grapefruit fucks up my statins.

Back to distillery, and then to hotel for a long shower to scrub off the road dust. Then dinner. Place is called Taqueria Don Chepe. Inside two garage bays, nondescript, full of local families sharing platters of food. Amazing tacos, just stunning.

Wednesday, March 26:

Distillery tour. I’ve already written it up here. Lunch out, and then depart Arandas to return to Guadalajara. Long afternoon of resting, and then dinner and drinks.

Thursday, March 27:

Walking tour of Tlaquepaque, with a chill, charming open-air shopping plaza full of antique stores, boutiques, and galleries. The area is known for pottery and blown glass, but I got Jen a beautiful silver necklace, and for Mirabelle I bought a lovely hand-sewn shirt and skirt. (Julian got a toy-airplane set from the airport.)

We also toured a farmer’s market inside an old parking garage, where Altos’s brand ambassador, Daniel Warrilow, bought produce for a cocktail seminar later that afternoon. We left Tlaquepaque and went to a separate hotel, where the organizers had rented out the pool bar for the afternoon, so we could learn to make cocktails. I’ll have more on those cocktails in a later post.

Our last dinner in Mexico was at a place called i Latina Restaurante, serving Thai-Mexican fusion. Good lord. I mean, you might think that fusion is played out, and I might think that fusion is played out, but there’s nothing about i Latina that’s played out. The food was phenomenal, possibly the best of the trip. I had a Tuna and Scallop Tartare that was just amazing. On a very meat-heavy trip, to have such delicate seafood was a treat.

Friday, March 28:

Homeward. Bittersweet.

Behind the Scenes: Making Olmeca Altos Tequila in Jalisco, Mexico

I’ll have a longer post up later, with some personal reflections on what was a very delightful trip. But for now, highlights from my trip to Mexico are up at Serious Eats.

Please read it and click through the slideshow!

Note from the Author: On a recent press trip hosted by Olmeca Altos Tequila, I toured the Destileria Colonial de Jalisco to see firsthand how tequila is made.

The Los Altos highlands of Jalisco are known for their iron-rich red soil and high altitude: we’re talking about 7,000 feet above sea level. (Take that, Mile High City!) This is where Olmeca Altos tequila is produced, in Arandas, about two hours east of Guadalajara. The distillery, Destileria Colonial de Jalisco, is fairly modern, having opened in 1997 to handle production of Patron, which, thanks to a business dispute, was only briefly produced at this plant.

Best Budget Irish Whiskeys

With St. Patrick’s Day coming, I thought this would be a great time to look at a few good value brands of Irish whiskey. These bottles have character but won’t set you back more than $25.

Irish whiskey is one of the fastest-growing liquor categories in the United States right now, especially among younger people who are looking to develop a taste for whiskies. It’s easy to see why: Irish whiskey is smooth and sweet, but still tastes like a rich brown spirit. It’s a good transitional drink for people who are beginning to explore the world beyond vodka-sodas and tequila shots.

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Passport Hell

In early January, my editor at Serious Eats contacted me about a press trip to Jalisco, to visit a tequila distillery. She had been invited, but the timing wasn’t going to work for her, so she wanted to pass along the opportunity to me.

Only problem was, the last time I was able to travel internationally was in December 2001, and I had let my passport expire since that trip. Oh, and I’ve lost it somewhere along the way, too. Well, that’s understandable. Since December 2001, I’ve moved — hm, let’s see — six times. You lose shit when you move.

Jen had a day off, and so I went to the Brooklyn Public Library’s passport office. This alone turned into a comedy of stupid because I forgot my checkbook. So I had to go to a bank to withdraw some cash and then to a pharmacy to buy two money orders, and then go back to the passport office.

I had to fill out the form twice, unfortunately. I was having the packaged addressed to my wife at work because mail delivery at our place is unreliable, and an active passport is not a thing you want to lose. But because I had Jen’s name listed as the c/o, and her firm’s name and floor number in the address, everything on the address lines got way complicated, and the workers in the passport office needed everything spelled out exactly in a certain way.

In the midst of all this hustle and shuffle, though, I managed to fill in the wrong address on the passport form. Not that I realized that, in that moment. So thinking everything was hunky AND dory, I came home.

And waited.

The passport office sent me an update at the end of January, telling me that my passport application had been processed. Then I got another email with a tracking number, telling me it was en route. It reached New York, NY, on February 8, and then nothing.

Went out for delivery on the following Saturday, and then it disappeared. No new tracking information on the website. After a week of no updates, I called USPS customer service. This was how I learned the passport had been misaddressed. It should have gone through the FDR Post Office on Third Avenue, but because the street address was incorrect (a 4 in place of a 6), it went to the Grand Central Terminal Post Office instead.

We had phone numbers for people at both post offices. One person called Jen to tell her FDR didn’t have it. No one ever contacted us from GCT.

Then the morning of February 26, I got a call from Charlotte, South Carolina. A woman left a voicemail saying she was from the passport office and my birth certificate had been returned to them, because it was also misaddressed. (That pesky 4, again.)

So the birth certificate went out after the passport but was returned to sender before the passport was. When I called back, she was very helpful. She readdressed the birth certificate, which I received a week later.

Then she said, okay, you still have five weeks before travel. That’s plenty of time for us to cancel the old passport and issue a new one, if we need to. So just wait a few days to see if it finally reaches you.

I called the main line for the passport office on Friday, February 28. I spoke to a different person who said, try going to the post offices to ask for a trace on the package.

I spent the better part of a Saturday morning bouncing between post offices while Jen stayed home with the kids. No luck.

The following Monday was March 3, one week ago. I called the passport office again, told them I had had no luck with USPS. The woman said, “Okay, wait a few days and then fill out a Statement of Non-Receipt of Passport and mail it to this address.”

Not even an hour later, a woman called from Charlotte again, asking for the latest on my passport. When I told her, she laughed and said, “Don’t worry about USPS or going to our site to download the form. I’ll email it to you, and you can email it back, or fax it. That’ll be much faster.”

Wednesday, I sent the form back to her via email, fax, belt, and suspenders. She called a couple of hours later to say, “We’re issuing you a new passport. It’ll go Express Mail. You should have it Friday or Monday.”

Passport arrived today, at Jen’s office, at the correct address. (Fuck you, 4.)

Oh, and someone apparently eventually found the old one at GCT, because it finally got returned to the passport office. Yesterday. Who knows how long it will take to get there?

How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Bitter Drinks

This one was fun, one of the times when the words started flowing and didn’t stop until I was finished writing.

Following up on last week’s discussion of the Negroni, I thought I’d take a bit of time and explore the world of bitter liqueurs. As I said then, “You hate Campari until that one moment when you love it, and then when you love it you never want your bottle to run dry.” But how does one go about learning to love Campari and, for that matter, other bitter liqueurs?

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The Best Gin for Negronis

I am on the prowl now to find the best version of a Negroni that I can devise at home. I’m going to start by examining the gin. As we know, gin is a blend of neutral spirit and a mix of juniper and other aromatic herbs and spices. Some gin distillers push the juniper to the front, whereas others craft a spirit that’s more floral or citrusy. Which style of gin works best for a Negroni? I wanted to find out.

Read more, at Serious Eats.

6 Best Budget Ryes

Bad rye whiskey? Sadly, there is such a thing as bad rye; usually, the juice is so young, it has no nuance or subtlety, and all you get is fire and unpleasant fruity flavors. But enough about the not-so-good stuff. Let’s talk instead of the stars of the budget-rye universe.

Good rye should be spicy, somewhat fruity, and a little more rugged than bourbon. A common analogy is to compare rye bread to corn bread, and use that comparison to point out the differences between rye and bourbon. (The analogy is imperfect, but it’s a reasonable starting point.)

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