NPR’s Planet Money blog explores the economics of boozing. Boozenomics?
Prior to the move, a PR rep for Zacapa rum contacted me, asking whether I’d like to receive a new tasting kit they were offering. I agreed, but the kit went out to my old address the very day we left. It bounced around Rhode Island and Massachusetts (appropriate for rum, perhaps), before finally reaching me here in Brooklyn.
The tasting kit was pretty simple: four mini-bottles of Zacapa, in various stages of aging. (I’d take pictures, but our cameras wound up in storage, somehow).
The first mini contains rum aged in American whiskey barrels. The second is from sherry barrels, and the third from barrels previously used for Pedro Ximenez wine. The fourth mini contains Zacapa 23.
But let me digress for a moment to discuss Zacapa’s aging process. Zacapa uses a solera system, in which new rum is blended with rum from older barrels. This process helps to ensure consistency from batch to batch. But the system is a bit more complicated than taking raw distillate and mixing it with old stuff.
Even so, the description I’m about to give is simplified; it’s not the full process that Zacapa employs. I’m extrapolating from a chart they sent, so any mistakes are mine, not theirs. If I can pick a nit here, I wish the materials that came with this kit were a little more thorough in describing the solera process.
The process starts with new-make rum, which ages for a certain amount of time in American whiskey barrels. The rum sample from these barrels tasted a little rough, woody, and raisiny, and it smelled a little smoky. The whiskey-barrel rum is then mixed, after aging, with a certain amount of older rum.
(When I say “certain amount,” take that as a cue that I have no idea what that amount is, and it’s one of the points at which I’m simplifying the process.)
That mixture of rum goes into charred barrels, which I presume (again: simplification) are new barrels and haven’t previously aged other spirits. It ages for however long it ages, and then gets mixed again with older rum.
That mixture goes into vats that previously held Oloroso sherry. The sherry-aged rum tastes a little smoother than the whiskey-aged. It should; it’s older. Even the newer stuff is older, and it’s been blended twice with older rum at this point, so everything in the sherry-barrel bottle is older than the whiskey-barrel bottle. The sherry-barrel bottle tastes of dried fruit and almonds.
Then, of course, it’s mixed again with older rum before aging in barrels previously used for Pedro Ximenez wine, from Spain. Here, it picks up notes of fig and coffee. Of the three, this bottle was by far the smoothest and roundest.
From here, the rum is blended once again with older rum, but then the solera process is largely over, at least for the 23. (Zacapa XO is altered once more, this time aged in cognac barrels.) After this step, the rum goes into the warehouse as is, for another certain amount of time before being diluted to 40% alcohol by volume and then bottled.
I might, as a novelty, sometimes drink the proto-Zacapa aged in whiskey barrels, perhaps if I wanted a rum old fashioned that reminded me somewhat of bourbon. But I wouldn’t sip it on its own. I would seldom ever turn to the sherry-aged proto-Z; drinking it is an interesting intellectual exercise, but not wholly pleasant on its own merits. The Jimenez is nicer because it tastes more like a well-aged rum; I could see myself enjoying this as a standalone bottling, although not in place of the Zacapa 23.
All this leads me to wonder whether the rum category has enough consumer interest to merit special bottlings of the sort that the Scotch market has grown so fond of. These days, you can buy Scotches aged in barrels made from wood scavenged from the remains of Noah’s ark. I could imagine Zacapa possibly releasing some of these, in limited-edition bottlings.
Disclaimer: As noted in the very first paragraph, this kit was sent to me for promotional purposes. I will add, though, that I enjoy Zacapa very much, have previously bought bottles of it with my own goddamn money, and am very likely to spend my own wages, such as they are, on it again.
The time has come for a few changes to the blog. For years, I’ve paid a web host to host ADOB and the never-updated michaeldietsch.com on my behalf. With a baby in the house, and what appears to be an intercity move pending, I just can’t justify the monthly expense.
I recently moved Mrs. Bitters’s various blogs over to WordPress.com, and those moves were successful. In a nutshell, WP.com is hosting the blogs for free. For 12 bucks a year per blog, WP is now providing name server wonkery for each blogs — in other words, Last Night’s Dinner lives at lastnightsdinner.net, where it always has, rather than at foo.wordpress.com.
So, that’s what I’ll be doing, paying WP $12 a year instead of another host $25 a month. Unlike LND, which is now largely a legacy site, I do plan to keep updating this blog, so I may drop a few extra shillings on some of the custom-design options that WP offers.
What this means is a redesign. About time… This current design dates to 2008. It also means some shuffling of content, a wider post area (so those damn ads can display in a larger format, for example), and maybe even some new types of material. I do hope to post more frequently, but I’ve made that promise before.
I’ll be working on it on and off, whenever the baby lets me. So I have no timeframe on the relaunch, unfortunately, but I hope to move things by the end of April, so I don’t pay another month’s hosting costs.
I regret to announce that after many weeks of working to help the Bolins open their dream restaurant, I was informed last Monday that my services would no longer be required. Needless to say, I was stunned, angered, and saddened by this news, and I wish that I would have had more time to prove myself. I am proud of what their team has accomplished, and I regret that I will no longer be part of it. I have nothing further to say publicly at this time.
People’ve been askin’ me, “Yo Dietsch! What’s up with Cook & Brown?” Well, I’ll tell ya, these are the unglamorous days of sweating, scrubbing, lifting, ripping, and swearing. The Bolins are taking these weeks to do some very important things, but none of them is what anyone would call “sexy.”
First, the place needs a thorough cleaning. Nemo, Jenny, and sous chef Adam Mir started in the basement, clearing out decades of detritus left by former owners. With that done, they power-washed the floor and when it was dry, they painted. A guy came in to rip out the soda system, gun and all (I wish I’d have seen it go), leaving Nemo the task of cleaning the syrupy muck left behind in the basement.
(Aside: Flat panel TV that hung in the bar? Gone. Soda gun? Gone. Limoncherry Pucker? Gone.)
With the basement emptied and cleaned, they could move stuff down from the kitchen and dining room. So, we sorted through the barware and dinnerware left behind so we could move downstairs the stuff we’re keeping and offload the stuff we don’t want. Fans of 16-ounce cocktails? You’re SOL; those glasses are on the Gone list. (On the To Do list: order coupe glasses and Irish-coffee mugs.)
We’re still in the process of cleaning the basement and moving things downstairs. Right now, the cleaning focus is on the walk-in fridge and the standalone freezers and fridges. I spent a good part of today removing metal shelving from the walk-in and scrubbing its walls and floor.
The Bolins are calling in reinforcements this week and weekend. The goal is to finish moving everything out of the dining room (and anything portable from the kitchen) so we can thoroughly clean the upstairs, and …
… so we can start ripping shit apart upstairs. That’s the next stage of this. The Bolins are renovating the restaurant. Major changes include rebuilding the bar and back bar, ripping out the wainscoting, repainting, chipping up the tile floor in the bar area (except for behind the bar), and redoing the drop-ceiling treatment. Minor work includes reupholstering chair cushions and refinishing table tops.
They’ve put out a call for volunteers to come in and help remake the restaurant. We’re doing the demo and painting work ourselves to save money, and then a team from Site Specific is coming in to rebuild the bar and back bar and do some other projects in the house.
While I was scrubbing out the walk-in, Chris Amirault (from eGullet) was upstairs, ripping out the butt-ugly back bar. Unfortunately, I have no “before” photos of the back bar, but here’s an “after”:
(I am very much looking forward to yanking up that shitty, shitty bar top. More on those plans as things progress.)
Meanwhile, we’ve been interviewing cooks, servers, and bartenders. In a classic case of burying the lede, I’m happy to announce that Chris will be joining us one night every week or two to sling drinks.
We’ve been working on our respective menus–Nemo and Adam on the food; Dietsch on cocktails. One fun thing about Cook & Brown is that we’ll have small plates, share plates, apps, and entrées, so we’ll have a range of choices. As we get closer, I’ll start talking in detail about the food, wine, and beer. As for the cocktail menu, we’re starting with a list of drinks based around warming, brown spirits–rum, whiskey, cognac–to befit our late-winter opening.
So, you want to know what’s going on? That’s what’s going on. It’s not pretty, and nor is it glamorous. But it’s crazy fun.
DISCLAIMER: I am no longer a part of Cook and Brown.
You might recall I was nominated for a Foodbuzz award for best cocktail/spirits blog, along with Jay Hepburn from Oh Gosh!, Marleigh and Dan Miller of Sloshed, and Jeffrey Morgenthaler. The winners were announced earlier tonight, and the honor goes to Marleigh and Dan at Sloshed. Congratulations to them, and thanks to everyone who voted, even those of you who traitorously voted against me.