Archive for the ‘Spirits’Category

Doyle shows Irish hospitality, sip by sip in London

The Bloomsbury Club Bar in a Doyle hotel in London
Nothing says “welcome” like a good hotel bar. I certainly found that to be the case at the three Doyle hotels (www.doylecollection.com) in London. (That’s the Bloomsbury Club Bar above.) The family-owned collection launched in Dublin in 1964 and made its first foray into the British capital twenty years later.

The Marylebone


The Marylebone (47 Welbeck Street, +44 20 7486 6600) was the first Doyle property in London, but a recent renovation has given it the most contemporary design of the three hotels. The clean lines and bright, warm colors strike a perfect balance between modern style and good old-fashioned comfort. The Marylebone’s 108 Bar has an entrance right off the sidewalk. It’s just a short walk from Marylebone High Street, the main shopping drag of this stylish urban village. With a long, curving bar, lots of comfortable seating, big windows, 108 Bar feels like a rather fancy version of a proper Irish local.

Mixologist Engji Shana at the 108 Bar in The Marylebone, a Doyle hotel in London

This being London, however, the mixologists are immersed in the city’s cocktail culture. Engji Shana (above) mixed me The Marylebone, the hotel’s signature champagne cocktail. It’s a very modern twist in the Chambord Kir Royale.

THE MARYLEBONE


20ml vodka infused with elderflower
90ml champagne
10ml Chambord
raspberries
flower

Pour vodka into champagne flute. Float champagne on top by drizzling down the twists of a bar spoon. Add Chambord. Garnish with raspberries and a flower.

The Bloomsbury


By contrast, the lower level Bloomsbury Club Bar at the Bloomsbury Hotel (16-22 Great Russell Street, +44 20 7347 1000) is dark and seductive. It’s a far cry from the building’s early beginnings as the YWCA Central Club, with 86 bedrooms for young ladies, a concert hall, library, two restaurants, and a gymnasium.

The Central Club was formally opened in 1932 by the Duchess of York, the late Queen Elizabeth (the current queen’s mother). Described as the Club’s Patron, she returned to celebrate the Golden Jubilee in 1982. The naming of the bar recalls the building’s early years. Mixologist Brian Calleja (below) has a soft spot for the old fashioned Gin and Milk Punch, which he told me was the favorite of the Queen Mother. It is a traditional restorative dating back to the 18th century. The double straining is important because it removes the curds from the milk. Some mixologists also add lemon juice.

Mixologist Brian Calleja of the Bloomsbury Club Bar at the Bloomsbury, a Doyle property in London

GIN AND MILK PUNCH


50ml Haymans Old Tom Gin
10 ml sugar syrup
50 ml full fat milk

Put ice in a cocktail shaker. Add ingredients and shake well. Double strain. Pour into a saucer cocktail glass. Garnish with grated nutmeg.

The Kensington


Classic Victorian townhouse architecture gives The Kensington hotel (109-113 Queen’s Gate, +44 20 7589 6300) a traditional, clubby feel. It’s just right after a day sampling the royal trappings of the neighborhood—from Kensington Gardens and Kensington Palace (home of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge) to the Victoria & Albert Museum and Royal Albert Hall.

The K Bar nestles between the drawing rooms where breakfast and afternoon tea are served and the Town House restaurant. The space sets itself apart with wood-paneled walls, low lighting, and a smoky blue glass ceiling. It’s a place to settle in a for a drink and good conversation. Like The Marylebone, The Kensington has its own signature champagne cocktail. Mixologist Mantas Ignatavicius (below) served it to me.

Mixologist Mantas Ignatavicius of the K Bra in The Kensington, a Doyle hotel in London

THE KENSINGTON CHAMPAGNE COCKTAIL

sugar cube
rhubarb bitters
10 ml Calvados
Perrier Jouët Grand Brut

Place napkin over a champagne flute. Set sugar cube on napkin and drip bitters onto it until saturated. Drop cube onto bottom of glass and add Calvados. Top off with Perrier Jouët Grand Brut.

Jawbox Gin embodies the spirit of Belfast

Gerry White and his Jawbox Gin
Gerry White has spent his career in the bar trade and has been manager of the John Hewitt (thejohnhewitt.com) for the last 12 years. He has pulled many a pint of Guinness and poured countless shots of Black Bush. “But the only spirit I’ve ever enjoyed,” he says, “is gin.”

He is, in fact, passionate about gin—and about his native city of Belfast. For several years he had been mulling over a project to create his own gin. He even had the taste profile he was seeking in his head. “Two and a half years ago, I told myself I’ll kick myself if I didn’t try,” he recalls, taking a seat at our table at the John Hewitt to relate the story.

“Belfast is a big industrial city. I wanted a gin with a big blast of juniper,” he says, “followed by the heat of pepper and then a clean lemon flavor.” He joined forces with Echlinville Distillery (echlinville.com) in Newtownards. Launched in 2013, Echlinville was the first new licensed distillery in Northern Ireland in more than 125 years. Moreover, the founders shared White’s passion for quality products that would reflect their place of origin.

Spirit, show thyself!

Jawbox Gin bottleOn the 15th try, the distillers finally realized the flavors White had been carrying in his head. Jawbox Gin was born. It’s distilled from malted barley grown on land owned by the distillers and other family members. Among the botanicals White added was Belfast heather, which produces an earthy, herbaceous note. White chose the stubby, rounded bottle because it reminds him of Victorian medicine bottles. The label is likewise styled to emulate a heritage marque.

He had a little fun with the name. “A communal wash area with a big sink used to be called a jawbox,” he explains. “People would stand around it and tell stories while they washed up. That’s also what people do in pubs. They meet and tell stories.”

Mixing it up

03-jawbox-and-ginger-ale Jawbox launched in February 2016 and has been well received in a fairly crowded field. It’s smooth enough to enjoy as a sipping gin. The heat and spiciness also pair well with ginger ale, a product that White says was invented in Belfast. He combines a shot of Jawbox with Fever Tree ginger ale to taste and adds a squeeze of lime. The sparks of ginger hit the palate first, followed by the complex herbal notes of the gin. The flavor finishes with a pucker of lime.

Other bartenders have been more creative. Muriel’s (see previous post) adds a small piece of molasses honeycomb candy to a glass of gin and ginger ale. Hargadons (www.hargadons.com) in Sligo goes them one better by adding a small piece of natural bee’s honeycomb. “It’s stunning,” says White.

Chefs are also putting the product to good use. Michael Deane (www.michaeldeane.co.uk) has featured citrus and gin cured trout on his various menus. Niall McKenna of James Street South (jamesstreetsouth.co.uk) has used it to cure salmon.

White hopes to find U.S. and E.U. distributors for Jawbox, but for now you will have to pick it up in Northern Ireland. It’s for sale in Belfast at all three Marks & Spencer locations (marksandspencer.com) and most good liquor shops.

14

12 2016

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

Learning to blend Cognac at Camus

Cognac grape vines “You cannot make a mistake,” Frederic Dezauzier assured my small group as we filed into a blending workshop at the Camus Cognac house. We must have looked intimidated by the sparkling clean room and the array of beakers and flasks waiting for us on an orderly workbench. I pushed memories of high school chemistry class out of my mind and concentrated on the four small glasses of amber liquid at each work station. “The best cognac is the cognac you prefer,” the former cellar master and global brand ambassador told us with a smile.

Founded in 1863, Camus is the largest Cognac house still in family hands. On a quick tour en route to the blending room, I learned that Ugni-Blanc, Colombard, and Folle Blanche are the three white grapes (above) most commonly used in making Cognac and that they grow in the abundantly sunny rolling hills surrounding the town of Cognac here in the Poitou-Charentes region of southwestern France. cognac copper alembics at Camus To intensify the grape flavor, wine from the grapes is double distilled in traditional red copper alembics (right). Each distillation concentrates the flavors into only one-third of the original volume of liquid.

Although it’s often said that wine is made in the vineyard, Cognac is truly a product of the blending room. Each bottle has a mix of different grapes and different vintages artfully combined by a cellar master with a refined sense of smell and taste and years of experience. Nothing to be intimidated about here.

Frederic Dezauzier in blending room at Camus For our workshop, Dezauzier (left) had selected four XO Cognacs from grapes grown in four of the six zones strictly delimited for Cognac production. Together they make up the Cognac AOC, which stands for appelation d’orgine contrôlée, or “controlled area of origin.” Each distillate had been aged from 6 to 18 years and I felt a little more confident knowing that we had such good spirits to start with.

Dezauzier instructed us to first sniff and then sip each of our choices and to compare them to each other as we made our way down the line of glasses. Each was surprisingly different and Dezauzier described them with unpretentious good humor. The slightly salty yet sweet Fins Bois, he said, “was like a teenager, very enthusiastic and with a good body.” The delicate Borderies had a feminine quality and a floral hint of violets. More acid than the first two, Petite Champagne required longer aging to smooth out its masculine cedar aroma, which Dezauzier likened to a cigar box. Dezauzier was careful to be impartial, but I sensed that his heart belonged to the spicy Grande Champagne, which had been aged the longest and was redolent of cinnamon, dried fruit, and toasted almond.

labeling my own cognac blendIn the end I decided on a little gender blending. I took my beaker to the large barrels in one corner of the room and released the spigot to mix 200 ml of Petite Champagne with 300 ml of Borderies. Using a funnel, I poured my blend into my bottle. Each formula was duly noted in the Camus record book. I’ve yet to taste my bottle (which fortunately survived the flight home in my checked luggage), but I may have to amend Dezauzier’s pronouncement: The best cognac may be the one you make yourself.

For information on tours, tastings, and the Master Blender Workshop see www.camus.fr.

31

10 2014

Chocolate around the clock in Madrid

late-night chocolate in Madrid
Chocolate seems to have its “day” several times a year, with October 28 being named as National Chocolate Day, courtesy of the National Confectioners Association (“Making Life Sweeter Since 1884”).

Pouring chocolate in MadridTruthfully, we think chocolate is worthy of international celebration. Our favorite place for hot chocolate, especially during what Spaniards call the “madrugada” (between midnight and dawn) is Madrid’s Chocolatería San Ginés (Pasadizo San Ginés 5; tel 91-365-6546; www.chocolateriasangines.com). Here’s what we have to say about it in our new edition of Frommer’s Spain:

“At some point, all of Madrid comes into Chocolatería San Ginés for a cup of the almost fudgy hot chocolate and the fried dough sticks known as churros. When the music stops in the wee hours of the morning, disco queens from Joy Eslava next door pop in for a cup [see above], and later on, before they head to the office, bankers in three-piece suits order breakfast. There’s sugar spilled everywhere on the tables, yet the marble counters are an impeccable tableau of cups lined up with the handles all facing at the same angle and a tiny spoon on each saucer. Dipping the sugar-dusted churros into the hot chocolate is de rigeur, and, yes, it’s OK to have the snack in the afternoon.”

FYI, Chocolatería San Ginés closes briefly in the early morning for cleaning. Cash only.

28

10 2014

A fine homegrown single malt whiskey

Westland American Single Malt whiskey As a lover of good whiskey — whatever its Gaelic or hillbilly pedigree — I was pleasantly surprised to find a whole new category that’s just become available in the Northeast. Based on a tasting of Westland Distillery’s American Single Malt, the folks behind this Seattle distillery are visionaries. The Pacific Northwest has been, arguably, the source of some of the most exciting craft beer making in the last 15 years. Part of that is due to the great barley-growing areas of Washington State and Idaho, and the localized skill in creating specialty malts.

To my taste buds, though, it’s a big jump from craft beer to a sipping whiskey, and I’m pleased with the fruity, not-too-sweet Westland house style. I’m typically a bourbon drinker, and this single malt barley whiskey is frankly less assertive and less sweet than high-end corn-bred bourbons. But it’s a very civilized sip that picks up a lot of subtlety from the complex grain bill (Washington select pale malt, Munich malt, “extra-special” malt, pale chocolate malt, and brown malt). The mouth heat I’d normally associate with 92 proof is tamed by aggressive aging in new American oak for at least 24 months (with some mellowing in sherry casks and port pipes). The flavor starts as an assertive graham cracker sweetness, quickly mellows to caramel crystal (like crème brûlée), and gives an aftertaste full of white chocolate and toasted spice.

This is Westland’s first release in New England, and will be followed soon by a peated single malt with strong smoky phenolics. I’ll be happy to see how both styles fare with a little more time in the barrel before bottling, but to borrow from the film Casablanca, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Next time I’m in Seattle, I definitely plan to visit the distillery for a $10 tasting and tour (offered Wed.-Sat. at 11 a.m,, and 2, 4, and 6 p.m). The distillery is at 2931 First Avenue South, Suite B, Seattle (206-767-7250, westlanddistillery.com). Suggested retail for Westland American Single Malt is $79.

30

09 2014

Casablanca puts a deft twist on tortilla española

Casablanca tortillaIn 2005, Tomás and Antonio Casablanca opened Bodeguita Casablanca on a busy little corner near the Puerta de Jerez in Sevilla, Spain. Their creativity with traditional dishes has made them the darling of chefs all over Spain. We first encountered their tortilla al whisky at Dani García’s La Manzanilla tapas bar in Málaga, where he acknowledges Casablanca right on his menu. So our first order of business on getting to Sevilla was to eat lunch at Bodeguita Casablanca. And the first thing we ordered was a tapa of Tortilla al Whisky, shown above. The sauce is made fresh, and carefully cooked so it retains some of the alcohol from the Scotch. And the roasted cloves of garlic on top are both pungent and sweet. This is a dish we hope to replicate, once we’re past the deadlines for the new Frommer’s Spain books. Meantime, you can find Bodeguita Casablanca at Calle Adolfo Rodríguez Jurado, 12, in Sevilla. The phone is 95-422-4114. Check out the new (2016) website at http://bodeguitacasablanca.com/.

27

02 2014

What to buy in a Cajun grocery store

grocery2 Usually Pat and I write about buying specialty foods in overseas grocery stores, but Cajun cooking stands so far apart from most other American regional food that the grocers have developed lines of goods we can rarely find anywhere else.

The pickled tabasco peppers, gumbo file powder, and various hot pepper sauces shown above are cases in point. In fact, I was once told by a northern grocer that file powder was illegal. (Not true, but it is allegedly mildly carcinogenic. If you eat three pounds at a time, you might develop a tumor in 20 years.) Needless to say, file powder can be hard to find up here in the chilly north.

grocery1 The ingredients immediately above are even more local. Dried shrimp might be a worldwide commodity, but Louisiana dried shrimp has a distinctive flavor of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s great in a shrimp cream sauce or a soup. The garlic sauce from Poche’s is an essential ingredient in some quarters for dousing boiled crawfish tails. The instant roux mix, while not so different from Wondra flour, makes a great tan roux.

grocery3 The last item is a latecomer, at least to legitimate grocery stores. At 100 proof, this colored corn likker has the requisite kick to be called moonshine — minus the chemicals to make you go blind.

Cherry tomatoes and the Killer Tomato cocktail

The last tomatoes hanging in the garden are assorted cherry types–some Sweet 100s, some Sungolds, and mostly some mongrel crosses that volunteered last spring. During our August visit to the Okanagan Valley, we had many good inspirations for using tomatoes (see the last three posts). But only mixologist Gerry Jobe at RauDZ Restaurant in Kelowna turned turned tomatoes into a terrific mixed drink.

RauDZ (a great locavore restaurant that’s a collaboration between Rod Butters and Audrey Surrao) focuses on local-grown food whenever possible, which means that Kelowna tomato guru Milan Djordjevich of Stoney Paradise Farm brings in boxes and boxes of Sungold tomatoes. When chef Butters challenged Jobe to make an Okanagan Bloody Mary, he created the Killer Tomato.

It’s fairly simple. Here are the ingredients:

KILLER TOMATO COCKTAIL
4 muddled Sungold cherry tomatoes
0.25 ounce balsamic vinegar
1 oz. vodka
1 oz. Cointreau
3 ounces of lemonade

Jobe muddles the Sungold tomatoes, adds a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, an ounce of local Spirit Bear vodka, an ounce of Cointreau, and three ounces of lemonade. He shakes over ice and double strains into a coupe rimmed with crushed Szechuan peppercorns and gray salt.

It’s a real wake-up for the appetite.

30

09 2012

Six things to bring home from New Hampshire

In our last post, we mentioned six items we like to bring home from trips to Vermont. Since Food Lovers’ Guide to Vermont & New Hampshire has about the same number of entries from each state, it seems only fair to mention some of our favorite foods to bring back from the Granite State.

Flag Hill Winery & Distillery (297 North River Rd., Lee, N.H.; 603-659-2949; flaghill.com) doesn’t need our imprimatur to sell their immensely popular, often sweet wines made from berries and apples as well as first-generation French-American hybrid grapes. Our preference goes to products from the artisanal distillery. The barrel-aged apple brandy is a classic American applejack, and the neutral spirit, a vodka triple-distilled from apples, is smooth and sultry. It’s named for Revolutionary War hero General John Stark. Deeply chilled, it is excellent to sip neat.

Doug Erb’s family has operated Springvale Farm since the mid-20th century, but the dairy herd really rose to greatness in 2009 when Erb launched Landaff Creamery (546 Mill Brook Rd., Landaff, N.H.; 603-838-5560; landaffcreamery.com). We’re fond of his original Caerphilly style cheese, but the French-style, washed-rind tomme is even more evocative for its taste of terroir. Many stores sell the original Landaff, but we’ve only found the tomme at the farm.

The Littleton Grist Mill (18 Mill St., Littleton, N.H.; 603-259-3205; littletongristmillonline.com) started grinding flour and meal in 1798 and continued into the 1930s. Restored in the 1990s, it produces a prodigious variety of stone-ground flours from organic grains. We’re partial to the buckwheat flour to use in making pancakes and crepes.

We like bacon with our pancakes, and some of the most subtle New Hampshire bacon comes from the chambers of Fox Country Smoke House (164 Brier Bush Rd., Canterbury, N.H.; 603- 339-4409; foxcountrysmokehouse.com). Located on a backwoods road, the facility looks like something from the opening minutes of the Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner’s Daughter. Many stores sell Fox Country bacon in sliced form, but we like to pick out our own packages of unsliced bacon, opting for smoky pieces with good streaking for the breakfast table, more lightly smoked extra-lean chunks for dicing into seasoning for risottos.

Even with the great salumerias of Boston’s North End, we finding ourselves stopping in Manchester, N.H., so we can shop at Angela’s Pasta and Cheese Shop (815 Chestnut St., Manchester, N.H.; 603-625-9544; angelaspastaandcheese.com). The homemade sauces are Italian-American heaven, but what suckers us in every time are the handmade gnocchi that we buy from the freezer case. These are the best frozen gnocchi we have ever found.

If we’re anywhere in the upper Connecticut River Valley, we make sure we visit the Robie Farm & Store (25 Rte. 10, Piermont, N.H.; 603-272-4872; www.robiefarm.com). The honor-system store has organic beef and sausages from the family’s own cattle and pigs. They also sell raw milk, cream, and a couple of farmhouse cheeses. The Italian-style alpine Toma (also available smoked) has a rich creaminess that conjures up the valley’s green pastures when you bite into a piece and close your eyes.

29

06 2012