While the focus of the project I’m working on for Mouth is definitely spirits, we are putting together a terrific small wine selection. And it’s been a great excuse for me to focus on American wineries that are pushing the envelope with techniques and flavors rather than playing it safe and making the kinds of wines that make me turn to the old world all too often.
Yountville Sémillon made by Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery is a perfect example. Sémillon is rarely grown in the US. And this one was fermented both on it’s skins for 2 weeks before splitting into a steel tank and into a mix of American and French oak casks, and without the skins in a “concrete egg”. The wines are blended just before bottling to produce a cloudy and bone-dry white wine with an earthy acidity. It’s crisp but fascinating and an amazing display of the kind of wine making going on in select pockets of California today.
While I am the first to admit that the conglomeration of brands into huge distilling corporations hasn’t been as disastrous as some people say, I still love when an independent distiller makes a name for itself in the middle of a traditional distilling hub that has all been bought out. For example Town Branch Bourbon from the folks at Kentucky Ales in Lexington, KY. They’re the only independent distillery on the famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail & their Bourbon is classically fantastic without being painfully expensive. A very neat trick to pull off in an era when whiskey is going extreme in both flavor & price. I have a feeling I’ll be recommending this bottle a lot once Mouth Spirits is fully-operational.
It’s only day 3 of my new job and I’ve already got to sample some very fun spirits. Today’s tasting featuring the Leatherbee Distillers line was a nice highlight. Especially their Malort: a craft version of Chicago’s infamously challenging dive bar cheap shot of choice. It’s spicy, herbal and generally odd good fun. I’d drink it as a digestivo but I could see folks trying it in a bunch of cocktails. And it will definitely be thrown down in shots at some of the decidedly non-divey bars which can their hands on some bottles.
I’ve accepted a position with Mouth.com to work in the spirits and wine division and the brick-and-mortar store they are opening. This is an amazing and exciting opportunity to help build something new while working with some really talented and passionate people. The bad news is this means I will not be able to take any new consulting work. However I will likely continue to teach the classes I have already booked at ICE and 92Y, and there might be more classes coming up as part of my work with Mouth.
As always, I will post up-to-date information here and I look forward to helping even more people connect with their perfect drink.
Just about everyone knows about cellering wine. Storing certain wines which will improve with age & knowing when to open them to get the best flavor is a well established practice. But despite there being some traditions similar with certain old-world beers, it’s only recently become part of the current beer boom. Last night while sampling some selections from Brooklyn Brewery’s cache generously poured by brewmaster Garrett Oliver & his team of brewers it was easy to taste the difference in a few years of age on their Black Chocolate Stout. And all the while I was regaled of tales of staggering prices paid for rare & old bottles sold from the collection of one of the craft beer industry’s earliest & staunchest supporters who was well ahead of the curve. I myself had held on to a bottle of Fuller’s Vintage Ale from 1998 that I opened last year & despite the label warning to drink it within 5 years it was spectacular after 15 years. I’m curious to see how many beer-centric bars & restaurants will start their own cellering programs, & what price people will be willing to pay for these older beers.
Winter is prime time for drinking all the richer & bolder beers that traditionally come out around the holidays. Some of the most fun are the line of Bad Elf beers made by Ridgeway Brewing in the UK. There’s Bad Elf, Very Bad Elf, Seriously Bad Elf, Criminally Bad Elf & Insanely Bad Elf. Each beer is a different style & as the elf gets badder, the beer gets stronger. It’s undoubtedly a little kitschy, but they are all very well-made beers & I try to drink one of each every winter.
My classes for the upcoming season at The Institute of Culinary Education are now available for sale through their website. You can find links to them on the Events page. It’s super exciting to be part of their team & I can’t wait for the sessions to start. I hope to see you there!
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.
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.