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.
I admit there are lots of times I prefer a drink from an older & more-established producer, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any new folks making booze who I think are doing a great job. Suerte Tequila is a great example. They’re a very new company who just started distribution to NYC (& they’re owned by Americans who are new to the trade), but they are already one of my favorites. Especially their Reposado- I’m a huge fan. I’ll take mine neat, with some sparkling mineral water to sip alongside.
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.