Archive for the ‘brandy’Category

Sonoma Cider stands out in heart of wine country

The 20 or so downtown wine-tasting rooms in Healdsburg are almost an embarrassment of riches. Sometimes there’s just too much of a good thing. That’s what the folks at Sonoma Cider thought when they opened Taproom (44F Mill Street, Healdsburg, 707-723-7018, sonomacider.com) in a former warehouse about a block south of the plaza last October.

There’s a no-nonsense air to the building that houses several 3,000-gallon and 6,000-gallon fermentation tanks, a bar with a giant screen TV, and a casual restaurant. Father/son duo David and Robert Cordtz launched Sonoma Cider in 2013. They take their cider seriously, but Taproom is free of pretense.

Cider on tap at Sonoma Cider Taproom“This is less upscale than wine-tasting,” says Taproom manager Kole Christen. “People can try something crisp and fresh. This is a place where people can cut loose. And,” he adds with a smile, “we’re open later than wine-tasting rooms.”

Many customers opt for a six-cider flight (shown at top of post) from the multitude of choices. Sonoma Cider’s basic hard cider starts with a blend of five apples grown organically in Washington State. Simply fermented, it’s called The Hatchet. It’s clean, refreshing, and apple-y. The same juice is blended with bourbon flavoring and fermented in bourbon barrels to produce The Anvil. It can also be sweetened with eucalyptus honey and fermented in whiskey barrels for six months to produce The Imperial. (At 10.3 percent alcohol, The Imperial could be classified as apple wine or apple mead.) The cider makers also blend the fermented juice with selected flavors (like blackberry juice) to create flavored ciders.

Delving into nuances


Cider glass at Sonoma Cider taproomHard cider is traditionally made from a blend of apples, but the folks at Sonoma Cider have been exploring the possibilities of single-varietal ciders. Their Gravenstein is tart and fresh, their Winter Banana light and spicy, and their Dry Golden Delicious bone dry and a little tart. With such distinct characters, they offer real potential for food pairings.

The single varietals are often made with Sonoma County apples. One of our favorites of this group was an old-fashioned orchard blend called Westcider. The orchard sits on Westside Road, southwest of Healdsburg. Fermented from a mix of Pink Permain, Winter Banana, Macintosh, Mystery, Crispin, and Baldwin Striped Gentlemen, Westcider has a balance of sweetness, fruitiness, and slightly ashen bitterness characteristic of good French ciders.

In addition to the taps of standard ciders, reserve ciders, and micro-releases, Taproom also crafts cocktails, many of them using Sonoma Cidery Apple Brandy. This 85 proof barrel-aged spirit is distilled from the same base blend of apples used in The Hatchet. Since the production facility had just received a fresh batch of juice, we did a taste test of juice, hard cider, and brandy—sort of vertical tasting of rising alcohol levels. The flavor is remarkably consistent in all three. It makes a good base spirit for cocktails, but it’s also smooth enough to drink neat or on ice. Unlike “applejack,” it has no added neutral spirit so the apple flavor is very pronounced.

Cider with food


Chef Josh Schauert at Sonoma Cider TaproomExecutive chef Josh Schauert has devised a menu to complement the ciders. “When I’m designing dishes, I keep the ciders in mind,” he says. “But this is not your typical bar food.”

He points out that pairing cider with meals is new territory in the restaurant industry, but relishes the challenge. Compared to wine, he says, “cider has a broader flavor structure.” That opens the door for more pairing options beyond the usual “red meat calls for red wine” mindset. Moreover, there are fewer preconceptions about what might be appropriate.

Schauert also finds lots of opportunity to cook with cider. “Cider has a very similar flavor profile to vinaigrette,” he says. “That makes it easier to cook with.”

His menu during our visit was Exhibit A. The seafood ceviche of shrimp, octopus, and salmon was marinated in Crowbar cider, which is flavored with habañero peppers and organic limes. The green beans accompanying baby back ribs are sauteed in garlic butter and deglazed with Apple Cider Brandy.

The brandy is also a key component in Schauert’s take on French Onion Soup. He caramelizes the onions in butter, then deglazes the pan with brandy before adding a housemade bone-broth beef stock. The sweetness of the onions and the fruity richness of the brandy make this winter warmer an surprisingly elegant soup for a casual tavern. By substituting large croutons for the conventional toasted baguette slice on top, he makes the soup much easier to eat. Schauert generously shared the recipe.

SONOMA CIDER FRENCH ONION SOUP


Makes 1 gallon
Prep and cooking time 1 hour

Ingredients


1/4 cup butter
3 lb yellow onions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled/chopped
2 bay leaves
1 quart Sonoma Cider Apple Brandy
1 bunch fresh thyme
2 teaspoons dried oregano
3 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
2 quarts fresh beef stock
2 quarts water
salt/pepper to taste
croutons, toasted light brown in 425°F oven
2 cups mixed shredded Gruyère, cheddar, and jack cheese

Directions


Melt butter in stock pot. Add sliced onions and cook down to caramelize (about 15 minutes). Add garlic and bay leaf, cook until aromatic.

Deglaze pot with Sonoma Cider Apple Brandy, scraping fond (black bits) off of bottom of pot. Add herbs and cook until aromatic. Add Worcestershire sauce, beef stock, and water. Bring to low boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes until reduced about 20 percent.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with toasted croutons topped with mixed cheeses. Enjoy!

10

12 2017

Copper & Kings bucks bourbon trend

distiller Joe Heron of Copper & Kings

Joe Heron may be the most colorful distiller in all of Kentucky—which is saying a lot in a region that prides itself on colorful characters. In 2014, Heron and his wife Lesley launched Copper & Kings (1121 East Washington St., Louisville, 502-561-0267, copperandkings.com) in the Butchertown neighborhood of Louisville, one of the oldest parts of town. It’s now one of the hottest, and Copper & Kings is part of the happening vibe.

Although bourbon is basking in a renaissance, Heron hasn’t jumped on the artisanal bourbon bandwagon. “We would never do bourbon. There are too many good bourbon producers,” he told us as he led us through the distillery, which is surrounded by a huge butterfly garden. Instead, Heron said, “we want to make definitive American brandy.” He quickly clarified that he didn’t mean cognac in the French style. “We’re about fruit intensity to reflect the American taste and palate.”

Copper & Kings distills grapes from central California and apples from Michigan. Heron himself is a South African who relocated from Minnesota. “We wanted to be anchored in the heart of American distilling in Kentucky,” he said, as if there was no other choice. “We wanted to carve out an identity in the land of bourbon.”

Brandies at Copper & Kings

Named stills and sonic aging


A walk through the facility is a peek into Heron’s approach—and the workings of his mind. “Brandy is the one spirit where the philosophy revolves around concentration and retention,” he mused. “The pot still is a tool of intensity.” Heron has named his three stills Isis, Magdalena, and Sara after women in Bob Dylan songs. “You can’t be a real distiller until you’ve named your stills,” he told us with a practiced shrug. He double distills to clarify the spirit, keeping some fermentation flavors and culling out others.

As fond as Heron is of his stills, he contends that “maturation is as important is distillation.” As he pointed out, “Brandy is promiscuous. It takes on flavor very quickly.” To instill a distinctly American character to the finished product, he ages most of the brandy in Kentucky bourbon barrels. Heron also uses American white oak barrels for the grape brandy and Spanish sherry casks for the apple brandy. Cr&ftwerk series brandy is aged in craft beer barrels.

“You muscle bourbon into shape,” he said. “But you stroke brandy into shape.”

Don’t expect hushed aging cellars at Copper & Kings. Heron has embraced “sonic aging.” Music is pumped into the cellars so that giant sub-woofer speakers can “pound a bass pulse into the spirit by increasing the contact between the spirit and the barrel through sound waves,” he said. He changes the Spotify playlist daily. “The principle has existed for a while. We are the distillery that has embraced it.”

Liquors and liqueurs


It probably goes without saying that Heron and his team like to experiment. The distillery has already launched more than 30 products, including several varieties of absinthe and gin, Orange Curaçao, and Mistelle—a muscat brandy liqueur infused with honey. For the Brewskey line, Copper & Kings distills craft beer and ages the result. “It tastes like whiskey with the flavor of beer,” Heron explained.

bartender Eron Plevon at Copper & KingsAfter passing through the art gallery, we reached the top level tasting room with a roofdeck and city skyline views. When we finally got to taste, we were glad that the products seem to justify Heron’s enthusiasm. We sampled the lavender absinthe, which had a marvelous swirl of anise and lavender botanicals, in a glass of Death in the Afternoon. (Just add champagne.) And we sampled the flagship spirit of Copper & Kings, the American Brandy. Tasted neat, it had sparkling fruit on the tongue and a long, smooth finish. It was brighter and sweeter than cognac—more like a Spanish brandy made from Pedro Ximenez grapes.

Wisconsin Brandy Old FashionedIt was showcased well in the trendy Wisconsin Brandy Old Fashioned. Bartender Eron Plevan mixed a jigger of brandy, a few dashes of bitters, a sugar cube, orange slices, maraschino cherries, and a splash of soda. (Copper & Kings made the bitters-infused soda, too.)

“It has all the authenticity of Pabst Blue Ribbon,” Heron said with a grin.

07

11 2017

Summit cocktail gives Cognac real sass

Yoann Saillard mixes Cognac Summit cocktails I was surprised to learn at the Camus Cognac House that the French are rather tepid Cognac drinkers. Sales in France account for only a paltry 3 percent of the brand’s market. (America, by the way, is the leader, followed by Russia and Asia.)

Perhaps that Gallic lack of enthusiasm spurred the Cognac trade association to assemble mixologists to devise new cognac cocktails that might give the storied brandy a modern edge. One such concoction, the Cognac Summit, appears to have caught on and a great place to try it is at the Bar Louise at the Hôtel François Premier Cognac Centre. It occupies a gorgeous, newly renovated old building right in the heart of town.

Young mixologist Yoann Saillard (above) hails from Normandy and knows that region’s signature Calvados apple brandy well. But he has become a big fan of Cognac. “It’s a most interesting spirit,” he said. “It has all the complexity of wine. Lots of people drink it on its own.” Saillard, however, is a showman at heart and mixing cocktails is his thing. For the Cognac Summit he prefers VSOP, which has at least four years of aging. “This cocktail respects the Cognac,” he told me as he sliced ginger and limes and muddled them with the spirit in a chilled water glass. “All the flavors are equal.”

The resulting drink is refreshing and bright, with a peppery sass from the ginger, a fruity tartness from the lime, and bubbly effervescence from the soda. Here is Saillard’s version of the simple, soon-to-be classic Cognac Summit. He uses Fever-Tree Sparkling Lemon but Sprite makes a good substitute here in the U.S.

Cognac Summit cocktailCOGNAC SUMMIT

Makes one serving

Ingredients

3-4 large slices of fresh ginger
slice of lime
1 shot (40 ml) Cognac
sparkling lemon soda
cucumber peel for garnish.

Directions

Muddle the lime, ginger, and Cognac in a chilled water glass.

Add ice to fill.

Top with lemon drink.

Garnish with cucumber peel and serve with a straw.

03

11 2014