Thanksgiving inspires more people to ask me questions about pairing than any other holiday. The classic dinner demands a drink that’s bold but versatile to stand up to the rich dishes with their seasonal spectrum of flavors, and it seems like it’s the one meal of the year for which people who normally wouldn’t think twice suddenly want the right drink rather than their standard choice. Old-school wine experts have traditionally recommended old Cabernet. A great choice if you have a serious cellar, but not so easy (or affordable) for most people. I’m a big fan of a sparkling drink to help scrub the palate between bites and I love to suggest the under-appreciated French farmhouse beer style called “Bière de Garde” or a drier Lambrusco for folks who think beer isn’t right for the occasion (poor souls). I’ve often made mulled cider to sip all day- seasoned with a little citrus, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, it’s delicious virgin but better with a splash or two of your favorite whiskey or rum.
But it’s after dinner that’s on my mind today. After stuffing myself I crave a digestif, and while some would demand an iconic American spirit like Bourbon or Rye to follow the iconic American meal, I find myself reaching for one of the excellent apple-based spirits from Normandie in France (France was instrumental in the US victory over England in the Revolutionary War so it’s quite fitting). A well-aged Calvados would certainly do the trick, but this year I’m bringing a bottle of “Pome”- a blend of Calvados and apple must similar to Pommeau but aged much longer (my bottle of 1998 Pome from Famille Dupont spent 7 years in old Calvados casks as opposed to the legal maximum of 30 months for Pommeau). In Normandie it’s the kind of thing one would drink as an apéritif, but I prefer it after a meal & I think it will be the perfect finish for a long day of feasting.
Whenever I travel anywhere, I always try to sample some local booze. Whether it’s beer, wine or spirits, I want to check out what’s going on nearby. So imagine my thrill this past weekend when I arrived at my friend’s house in the Berkshires to find a bottle of Berkshire Bourbon in his kitchen. It’s a fairly light and dry bourbon that I got familiar with while tending bar at Fette Sau, and it’s made with corn grown 2 miles from the distillery so it’s more local than most. It’s a great sipper to warm you up while you sit in front of the fire.
I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be teaching a range of beer classes at ICE in early 2014 as well as running a beer dinner & a whiskey dinner there with my friend & very talented chef/instructor Brendan McDermott. I’m doing a couple of introductory classes, a local beer & cheese pairing, beer for couples (sexy beer!) & a winter seasonal beer tasting. I’ll be updating the events page with dates, times & links to tickets once we hammer out the schedule. I’m super excited to have the opportunity to regularly teach there & I hope some of you can join me for boozy education!
In the current world of craft beer lovers, lagers (and especially classic German lagers) are often considered boring by experts & casual drinkers alike. But I really enjoy a beer that can be subtle while still having interesting textures and flavors. And there are quite a few smaller German breweries that produce amazing simple beers. I just had the “Mord und Totschlag” from Kyritzer & despite it’s fearsome name- it translates into English as “Murder & Manslaughter”- it’s a fairly classic black lager with fantastic roasty flavor & slight richness that reminds me a bit of good coffee ice cream splashed into an egg cream.
Thanks to the current spirits & cocktail craze, producers & importers have been unearthing ancient spirits that were nearly extinct. Sometimes they were extinct & have been brought back to life. And sometimes they have become terrible shadows of their original incarnations but are now being made in their more original glorious forms. I just tasted through a bunch of products from Tempus Fugit Spirits including some Fernet, Quinquinas & Crème de Menthe. Who new Crème de Menthe could be delicious? Apparently there is historic precedent for a fantastic mint liqueur & these guys have nailed it. It’s a strange new/old world…
When it comes to cocktails, sometimes I just crave a Perfect Manhattan like the one I drank last night. Not perfect as in made perfectly (although it was quite good) but Perfect in that it was made with both sweet & dry vermouths instead of the classic version with only sweet. It obviously dials down the sweetness a bit but it also adds a baseline of cool minerality that I find perks up the drink wonderfully. As the seasons change here & I start to sip more whiskey, it’s a drink I will go back to whenever I’m sipping cocktails.
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There are very few drinks that I identify with summer more than Gin & Tonic. I’ve always loved the juniper-mellow Plymouth Gin from England, and I’m a fan of the Dorothy Parker Gin made down the road from my house. But the state of tonic water in the American market is grim. So I’ve been making my own. Making a concentrated syrup fragranced with assorted botanicals plus the all-important bark from the Cinchona tree (from which we get quinine) is a satisfying exercise, & the concentrate stores quite well so a batch can last you a while. All you need is a splash of the concentrate mixed into club soda or seltzer & you have a tonic water that’s worthy of your favorite gin.
I love unusual riffs on classics, especially when the riff is actually a throw-back to the roots. For example, Camillo Donati Malvasia is a wine I love. Because it’s biodynamic, it is frizzante (mildly carbonated) & the funkiness of natural fermentation balances the sweetness often found in malvasia from this region.
So by making the wine the way it was made ages ago- before modern vinification techniques- it came out spectacular. I’m on my way out to drink some wine & I plan on starting with a bottle of this beauty.
Dave Herman is a Certified Specialist of Spirits who teaches classes on alcoholic beverages and the foods that pair well with them, and also consults for bars and restaurants.