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.
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.
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.