It’s always been a thrill for me to “discover” a new drink that blows my mind. Especially when it’s in a category that isn’t already super saturated with choices. So I have a couple of new obsessions I’m giddy over:
1) Don Ciccio & Figli Finocchietto- Francesco Amodeo (who grew up on the Amalfi Coast of Italy but makes his liqueurs in Washington, DC) makes an entire line of traditional liqueurs. His family made these same liqueurs for well over 100 years and he has the old recipe book (which he couldn’t get until the family considered him serious enough). I’m specifically crazy about the Finocchietto, neutral spirits infused with hand-picked wild fennel, fennel seeds, aniseeds, and dill with just enough sugar to raise the viscosity. It has an amazing fennel flavor, closer to the grassy fresh bulbs than the more licorice-like seeds. But fans of anything on the anise scale should love this.
2) Lost Spirits Distillery Navy Strength Rum- Bryan Alexander Davis and Joanne Haruta made some spectacular tiny run whiskeys until a mishap caused them to bulldoze their outdoor still and start over from scratch. Now their focus is rum and this one is a stunner. 68% alcohol by volume and hugely flavorful, but so tasty you can (almost) sip it straight. He takes a page out of ancient rum distilling and uses dunder to start fermentation which creates serious esters that add unusual depth of flavor. I’ll sip mine on the rocks but it’s a fantastic option for any cocktail calling for dark rum.
Yes I’m selling them at Mouth, but this isn’t a sales pitch. It’s a nod to a couple of the inspiring new spirits that are suddenly propagating all over the country. Getting to be among the first in New York to taste spirits like these makes me realize how lucky I am to do what I do.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted here thanks to the amount of work I’ve put into my new job. So it’s with great excitement that I announce that the Mouth Indie Spirits + Wine Gallery is open at 192 Water Street in the DUMBO neighborhood in Brooklyn, and you can find our selection of spirits & wine on our website at Mouth.com. We have a terrific range of spirits from small American craft distilleries, plus a small but fun group of wines featuring some amazing natural winemakers and a couple of great versions of more standard wines. I think you’ll see that the world of independent production in the United States has reached a point where the quality & flavors are fantastic, while the inventiveness of some of the more maverick producers will entertain as well as delight. And all signs point to more and better things to come.
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!
Dave Herman is a Certified Specialist of Spirits and the General Manager of Spirits & Wine at Mouth.com. He also teaches classes on alcoholic beverages and the foods that pair well with them, and has consulted on beverage programs for bars and restaurants.