Warren Bobrow in the Charleston City Paper (South Carolina)

The bourbon boom is all about the South

Rip-Roaring Spirit

by Robert Moss @mossr

Food writer Warren Bobrow has a sure-fire trick for scoring face-time with even the most in-demand personalities at events like this week’s Charleston Wine + Food Festival. His introductory e-mail begins: “I’m bringing a couple of bottles of Pappy down with me. Let’s have a drink.”

Pappy Van Winkle - Jonathan Boncek

The Pappy in question is Pappy Van Winkle, whose star shines brighter than any other in the constellation of small-batch bourbons. Over the past five years, it has achieved what can only be called a cult following. Pappy fans text and tweet each other in desperate search for a bottle for an upcoming gathering. At liquor stores throughout the South, new shipments sell out the day they hit the shelves. In far-off regions like New York City, some owners don’t even put it on display, keeping it discretely under the counter for special customers.

One place you can find it reliably in Charleston is the bar at Husk, where they serve so much of the stuff that they managed to secure an entire barrel from the Van Winkle family. Sixty-five bucks will buy you a splendidly smooth 20-year-old Pappy Van Winkle Reserve or, for an extra $20, you can upgrade to the 23-year-old variety. And that’s for a single glass, not a bottle.

It’s not just for show. “We actually sell quite a bit of the 23-year-old,” say Dan Latimer, Husk’s general manager.

There are plenty of less pricey options. The Husk bar is a veritable temple of bourbon, stocking more than 50 premium brands grouped on the menu by their city of origin. You can have yours served over a single crystal-clear sphere of ice, handmade in a copper press. Or try it in a handcrafted cocktail like the Fire in the Orchard, Husk’s down-home take on the Old Fashioned that includes smoked apple juice, applejack brandy, and pickled jalapeños.

“We definitely made a decision to put bourbon center stage,” Latimer says, explaining that “the brown water” fits perfectly with the restaurant’s central theme of celebrating Southern ingredients. “We showcase the products of artisan producers, like Allan Benton’s bacon, Glenn Roberts’ grits and rice, and Craig Rogers’ lamb. Artisan bourbons like Julian Van Winkle’s go hand in hand with them.”

Within the Husk dining room, cornbread-stuffed quail is adorned with bourbon jus, and the dessert menu pairs its selections not with a wine or liqueur but with a recommended bourbon.

The barrel of Pappy Van Winkle at the Husk bar is just one indicator of a rising passion for slow-aged corn whiskey.

“It’s definitely made a comeback,” says Tim Willard, a bartender at FIG. He notes that while longtime bourbon drinkers “tend to have the one brand they like and don’t stray too far from it,” bourbon is winning new converts, too, thanks in part to the resurgence of craft cocktails.

In fact, FIG’s Death & Taxes, a blend of Buffalo Trace bourbon, Lillet Blanc, aperol, apricot, and dry vermouth, has been their best-selling cocktail for quite a while, Willard says.

Wine still takes top billing at the Charleston Wine + Food festival, but bourbon is getting its due at tastings and “perfectly paired” dinners. And, if you check the hip flasks being passed around by chefs and industry insiders at the festival after-parties, odds are they’ll be filled with Pappy.

Roderick Hale Weaver forms a sphere of ice at the husk bar, the better to enjoy your bourbon with - Jonathan Boncek

  • Jonathan Boncek
  • Roderick Hale Weaver forms a sphere of ice at the husk bar, the better to enjoy your bourbon with

The Big Business of Bourbon

It hasn’t always been this way. The liquor that Congress declared to be “America’s Native Spirit” in 1964 has had a rather rocky go of things over the past century.

Bourbon was born in the late 18th century in the hills of Kentucky when Scotch-Irish settlers applied their traditional distilling techniques to corn, the grain they had on hand in their new home. The real boom for “Old Bourbon” whiskey — named for the area around Bourbon County, Ky. — came in the last decades of the 19th century, as thousands of new distilleries were built and new brands were launched, many of which are still popular today.

Prohibition put most of the old Kentucky firms out of business forever. In the wake of Repeal, many of the distilleries and brands were consolidated into the portfolios of a few large companies like Schenley, National Distillers, and Seagrams. At the same time, imported Scotch, gin, and Canadian whiskey poured into the American market and left bourbon makers — whose products had to age for years in barrels before coming to market — struggling to catch up. The post-War era of cocktail parties and three-martini lunches only cemented America’s preference for clear, dry liquors like gin and the newly introduced vodka.

By the 1980s, things looked pretty grim. International conglomerates were buying and selling bourbon brands like so many baseball cards, shuffling them from one balance sheet to another and squeezing out the few remaining family-run distilleries. For wealthy consumers, a single-malt Scotch had become the hip way to prove connoisseurship, while out in the bars the younger crowd was ordering ever more vodka and rum.

But the bourbon makers weren’t quite ready to quit. They went after the Scotch-sippers first, introducing small batch and “special reserve” lines — what’s known in the trade as the high-end and super-premium categories. It worked. By the late 1990s, affluent drinkers were passing up the Macallan and the Laguvulin in favor of a few fingers of Blanton’s or Baker’s over a single cube of ice. Today, you can walk into your neighborhood liquor store and see row after row of bourbon bottles from dozens of different brands, some with the kinds of prices once commanded by only the rarest of single malts.

If you look closely at the labels, you might notice that this flourishing of brands comes primarily from just a few large companies. Knob Creek, Basil Hayden’s, Booker’s, Baker’s, and Maker’s Mark are all from Beam, Inc., while Heaven Hill produces Elijah Craig and Evan Williams, and Brown-Forman owns Jack Daniel’s, Early Times, and Woodford Reserve. The old mid-market brands have launched a whole series of premium “line extensions,” too, like the six varieties of Jim Beam, which range from the original four-year-old white label bourbon to the eight-year-old double-aged black label.

The growth in the high-end market, though, has made room for some new players, and a series of smaller, more artisanal distillers have started making their way into the market, like Angel’s Envy from the Louisville Distilling Company and the Garrison Brothers from all the way down in the Texas Hill Country.

Nowhere is bourbon’s resurgence stronger than in the South, where whiskey sipping has been elevated to a high-art and America’s native spirit finds itself not only in upscale bars but even on the menus at the toniest fine-dining restaurants.

Old Rip Van Winkle Wakes Up

Bourbon sales have continued to grow over the past decade, driven primarily by the high-end and super-premium brands. And the most premium of those super-premiums is Pappy Van Winkle. It’s the product of the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, a two-person firm comprised of President Julian Van Winkle III and his son, Preston, who serves as marketing manager.

The Van Winkle family has a long history in the bourbon trade. Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle got his start in the business in 1893 as a 19-year-old traveling salesman for the Weller & Sons wholesale house in Louisville. After 15 years, he pooled his funds with his friend Alex Farnsley and bought the wholesale house. After riding out Prohibition, they bought the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery, creating the Stitzel-Weller company, whose brands included W. L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, and Rebel Yell.

At its peak during the 1950s and 1960s, Stitzel-Weller was producing 800,000 cases of bourbon a year, and Pappy himself remained closely involved in its operations until his death in 1965 at the age of 91. Pappy’s son, Julian Jr., ran the company until 1971, when he was forced by stockholders to sell to the Norton Simon conglomerate, and the rights to their old brands eventually ended up in the hands of various other companies.

“The bourbon business was not very good in the early ’70s,” recalls Julian Van Winkle III. “It was fighting white whiskey, it was fighting vodkas.”

His father, Julian Jr., awakened “Old Rip Van Winkle” — a pre-Prohibition brand whose rights the family still owned — from its decades-long slumber and packaged it in specialized decanters adorned with wildlife images of university logos. Julian III took the reins when his father passed away in 1981. At that time, almost no one was selling long-aged bourbon, and Van Winkle started buying up old inventory from struggling distilleries, particularly those selling his family’s old brands, which had been sitting in barrels for years.

In the mid-1990s, the company launched its Pappy Van Winkle line of aged bourbons. Named after the family partriach, they’re different from ordinary bourbons for two reasons: their formula and their age.

Most bourbons are made with at least 51 percent corn and then rye and barley. The Van Winkle whiskeys are “wheated,” meaning they’re made with wheat instead of rye as the secondary grain. “Pappy only sold the wheated bourbon whiskey and that was his favorite,” Julian III says. It makes for a smoother, more mellow bourbon. “It ages more gracefully than a rye bourbon and picks up less of the wood and charcoal flavor from the barrels.”

Graceful aging is the second key. To be called a bourbon, corn whiskey has to age in new charred-oak barrels for at least four years. Most of the ultra-premium bourbons produced by the major distilleries are six to eight years old. The youngest sold by Van Winkle is the 10-year-old Old Rip Van Winkle, while the Pappy Van Winkle Special Reserve line has 15-, 20-, and 23-year-old versions.

Does it really make that much of a difference? Enough to invest months of time cultivating a relationship with your local liquor store owner or plunking down a cool $85 for a single slug at the bar?

Van Winkle believes in letting the tastebuds decide. At 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon, he will be providing Wine + Food festival-goers with a tangible demonstration at the Bourbon Born Spirit Tasting at Halls Chophouse. Attendees will sample four different versions of corn whiskey in sequence. The first is “white dog,” corn liquor straight off the still. Next, to show the effect of four years in an oak barrel, will be a Buffalo Trace bourbon that has the standard rye as its secondary grain. The final two tastes are both Van Winkle wheated bourbons, the first 12 years old and the final one 20 years.

Van Winkle will also be part of the 200+ Years of Charleston Classics Dinner at Hominy Grill, where two noted Charleston chefs — Kevin Johnson of the Grocery and Hominy’s own Robert Stehling — team up with Chris Hastings of Birmingham’s Hot and Hot Fish Club to present a four-course meal of traditional Charleston classics. Van Winkle is providing a slow-sipping bourbon pairing for the dessert course.

Sometimes it seems about the only way to get your hands on some Pappy Van Winkle is at events like these. The Rip Van Winkle Distillery makes only 7,000 cases of bourbon annually, while the demand seems to be growing every year.

“We apologize for the scarcity,” Julian Van Winkle III tells fans of his family’s bourbon. “Most of the liquor stores are mad at us, and the consumers are mad at us, too.”

But their hands are tied. They have upped the amount of bourbon they put away each year, but it takes at least a decade in the barrel to be ready for market. “We’re just stuck with what we have.”

Here’s an insider tip on scoring a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle at your local liquor store: The company releases its bourbon twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring. First, they sample bourbons from various barrels to determine which ones are ready for market, then they bottle it and finally release an allocation to the distributors for each state.

It’s up to the distributors to schedule their pick-up times and get it back to the stores in their respective states. Watch the company’s Facebook site. They’ll announce when each state’s allocation ships, and you can start staking out your local liquor store and hounding the owner for your bottle.

As of press time, the spring allocations had just been released to distributors and pickups were being scheduled, but the South Carolina allocation had not yet shipped.

The locally produced Virgil Kaine infuses bourbon with ginger - Amanda Click

  • Amanda Click
  • The locally produced Virgil Kaine infuses bourbon with ginger

Enter Virgil Kaine

If Julian Van Winkle is the high priest of bourbon, Charleston’s David Szlam is something of an evangelist. He freely admits that his newly released Virgil Kaine Bourbon & Ginger is meant to win over those who might not consider themselves bourbon drinkers.

It’s not an easy mission. For years there’s been a gulf in the world of spirits, what one might call the brown liquor/white liquor divide. On one side are the whiskey drinkers, who sip their bourbon or scotch straight and do little else with it. On the other are those who won’t touch the brown stuff, preferring clear vodkas and light rums, often in sweet, highly flavored concoctions that are the antithesis of an aged bourbon on the rocks.

Flavored vodkas have been the hot thing for years now, starting with basic infusions like orange and citron and branching out into more exotic flavors like mango and black pepper. The trend may now have reached its peak with Pinnacle Vodka, which offers — count ’em — 34 different flavors of vodka, including cookie dough, cotton candy, and cake.

Indeed, it seems the ultra-premium small-batch bourbons, epitomized by Pappy Van Winkle, and the bubble-gum pop of flavored vodkas couldn’t possibly be any further apart. But Szlam is trying to bridge that divide.

His passion for Kentucky’s native spirit started while he was in college when, perhaps just a bit ahead of the law on such matters, he and his buddies filled a glass case with as many different brands of bourbon they could get their hands on in an effort to sample them all. “Bourbon was our drink of choice,” he says. “A lot of it was great, a lot was shit.”

The enthusiasm continued after college as Szlam embarked on a career in the restaurant industry, including a stint as chef and co-owner at the short-lived but much acclaimed Cordavi, which made Esquire‘s list of the best new restaurants in 2006. Last year, as Szlam and Jake Johnson, his former sous chef at Cordavi, were considering their next venture, they noted all the flavored vodkas that everyone seemed to be drinking around town. “Why not do it with bourbon?” they asked.

And they did, drawing on a few molecular gastronomy techniques borrowed from their days at Cordavi. They experimented with a range of flavors before settling on ginger for a simple reason: A lot of new bourbon drinkers like mixing bourbon with ginger ale.

Szlam and Johnson start with barrels of Kentucky bourbon and infuse it with ginger, vanilla, and cinnamon. Then, they redistill the liquor to clarify it before bottling it for sale.

“It’s a good introduction to bourbon,” Szlam says. “Even someone who’s not a bourbon fan can have a shot and enjoy it … and not make ‘the face.'”

He’s right about that. Virgil Kaine is very much in the vein of bourbon and ginger ale, smooth and quite sweet, and it sips easily on the rocks without any mixer at all.

The product launched initially in the Charleston area and has already landed on the shelves of dozens of liquor stores and restaurant bars around the city. Ben Arnold Distributors are now taking Virgil Kaine statewide, and Szlam and Johnson are hitting the road to promote it in Columbia, Beaufort, and Hilton Head.

Virgil Kaine joins a relatively new category of flavored bourbons that have come on the market over the past few years. By design, they’re attracting new kinds of consumers — especially women and men under 40 — to a product that once appealed primarily to older white men. The major players have already established a foothold with products like Jim Beam’s cherry-flavored Red Stag, Wild Turkey’s Honey American liqueur, and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey. And the segment is growing fast, with sales of flavored whiskeys more than doubling in 2011 over the previous year.

Szlam and Johnson think their ginger-flavored bourbon is unique enough to hold its own with the big boys. There’s more in the works, too. Szlam is tight-lipped about the next flavored bourbon to be released, but he says to expect it out before the end of the year.

Bourbon’s Next Shot

Is bourbon’s recent revival just a fad, or can the old-time liquor of the South keep this two-decade run going?

Julian Van Winkle III is optimistic. “It just seems to be getting more popular all the time,” he says. “We’re seeing no slow down in demand at all.”

More people in their 20s and 30s are ordering bourbon these days, some taking it on the rocks or with just a splash of water and others mixing it in an ever-expanding array of inventive cocktails.

Indeed, there’s a subtlety and authenticity to a liquor that gets its flavoring from years spent in charred oak rather than blasts of sugary goo. In many ways bourbon seems like the ideal spirit for our times.

Brooks Reitz, a native Kentuckian and the manager at FIG, sees bourbon as perfectly in line with his restaurant’s ingredients-centric philosophy. “These days, it’s all about the heritage breeds of pork, the small batches, and artisanal products … it’s all led back naturally to good, small-batch bourbon.”

That aesthetic is finding an appeal outside the South, too. Just as they are embracing stone-ground grits and pimento cheese, consumers are discovering the delights of bourbon. Exports have boomed over the past decade, with a 17 percent rise in 2011 alone. Distillers are banking on big growth in China and India, and they’ve been investing heavily in increasing production capacity, like the $50 million expansion that doubled the output of the Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ky.

It seems that some exciting years lie ahead for America’s native spirit. “I don’t see it fading any time soon,” Dan Latimer of Husk says. “With the artistry that goes into bourbon, the history, the fact that the general public is getting more educated about it … it’s here to stay.”


Recipes for Virgil Kaine’s Bourbon & Ginger

If you’re the kind of purist who takes your bourbon over a single cube of ice, Virgil Kaine Bourbon & Ginger probably isn’t the tipple for you. But as far as I’m concerned, anything that can strike a blow against the flavored vodka martini plague is a step in the right direction.

I’ve been experimenting with Virgil Kaine in cocktail recipes, and its infused spice brings a nice twist to traditional whiskey drinks. It’s brilliant in a sour, and it seems to blend particularly well with a little squeeze of lime juice. Because it’s sweeter than your typical non-infused bourbon, ease off a little on the amount of sugar called for in traditional bourbon recipes when using them with Virgil Kaine.

Here are two recommended recipes, the first from the Virgil Kaine website (bourbonandginger.com) and the other of my own formulation.


The Bitter End

The Virgil Kaine guys have come up with a nice twist on a Manhattan that balances Virgil Kaine’s sweetness with bitter Campari.
2 oz. Virgil Kaine Bourbon & Ginger
1 oz. sweet vermouth
½ oz. Campari

Pour all liquors into a pint glass with ice and stir with a spoon for 30 seconds. Strain and pour in martini glass or rocks glass with one large piece of ice.


Virgil’s Julep

Virgil Kaine’s ginger bite and a splash of lime juice make for an interesting modified mint julep. Sweet, sharp, and minty, it’s a fine sipping drink.
2 oz Virgil Kaine Bourbon & Ginger
½ oz simple syrup
6 mint leaves, plus an extra sprig for garnish
¹⁄8 of a lime

Put the mint leaves and simple syrup in a mixing glass and press with a muddler or wooden spoon — not hard enough to break up the leaves but just enough to squeeze out the mint oil. Add the bourbon, squeeze in the lime juice, and stir to blend. Strain the mixture over crushed ice in a rocks glass or, if you’re lucky enough to have one, a silver julep cup. Stir vigorously with a spoon until the sides of the glass begin to frost, then garnish with a spring of mint and serve.

Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer- Modenus-Friday Cocktails!

Warren Bobrow’s Cocktail Hour: The Green Fairies Ear

 

 Absinthe posterAbsinthe stirs the imagination.  All those paintings from France in the 1800’s exemplifying the mystical aspects of this misunderstood liquor makes me want to delve deeply into measured sips.  But how does Absinthe work?  It does because of the mystique surrounding the clear liquid that somehow turns cloudy after dripping scant drops of water over the surface.  Magic happens!  Sure there are the botanical herbs, of course there is the ever-present alcohol- you cannot miss that with many varieties exceeding 120 proof!

Absinthe is powerful stuff indeed!

I love Absinthe because of the bad boy (bad girl) element.  From a flavor perspective, Absinthe is every bit as delicious as botanical Gin, but it is thicker somehow.  On the first taste, you can feel the creamy texture against your lips and tongue- then- coming quickly into view is the anise elements- then suddenly as if a monster awakened- the brooding depth of the alcohol.  Sweet, savory, tart and herbal elements differ from brand to brand.  The European varieties are known to contain certain long banned ingredients, but the American ones are no less potent.  The rumor of a brand of Absinthe that may have plied Van Gogh to cut off his ear is known as the Green Fairy- good luck finding it! (No, not his ear) La Fee Verte.

This week’s cocktail is woven of Absinthe, freshly squeezed, charred grapefruit juice and a splash of Q-Tonic water.  Q-Tonic water is available in nearly every Williams-Sonoma store and also in Whole Foods.  It’s worth the extra expense for a hand-made product!

I’ve taken a small producer Absinthe from St. George in California- certainly available around the country- although you can use your choice of Absinthe- and added freshly squeezed grapefruit juice.  I char the grapefruit segments in a cast iron pan before juicing to reveal a deeper personality and a hint of mystery!

The Green Fairies Ear

Ingredients:

  • 2 shots of St. George Absinthe
  • 1 grapefruit, peeled and segmented, charred in a cast iron pan, then juiced/strained
  • Coconut water ice cubes (freeze un-sweetened coconut water in an ice cube tray)
  • Q-Tonic water

Preparation:

  • To a small rocks glass, add two or three coconut water cubes, then the Absinthe, mix a bit to cool.
  • Add about three tablespoons of the charred grapefruit juice
  • Top with Q-Tonic water and sip (carefully) to the Belle Epoque!The Green Fairies Ear - made with Absinthe

Just the Weekly Round-up of articles on Williams-Sonoma..

Thanksgiving Cocktails and a Punch

By: Warren Bobrow
Reprinted from Williams-Sonoma Blender Blog

I love the idea of a blazing fire, accompanied by friends and family gathered together at the table to share a Thanksgiving meal.

 

 

Redline Cocktail

This important holiday evening is started nicely with cheery glass of Cava, or Spanish sparkling wine. I then add a fire-roasted fruit puree. I’ve taken organic strawberries, charred them in a dry, yet sizzling hot, cast iron pan, let them cool, then run them through the food processor. I adjust the sweetness to taste with agave syrup, I then add a dollop or two of this smoky-sweet puree into each glass. Use two pints of strawberries and two 750 ml bottles of Cava for 8 people.

 

The tangy-sweet-tart quality of the strawberries when added to a mineral-tasting Cava just says a welcoming celebration in your spirited glass. You don’t need very much of this drink to say greetings and please join us at our bountiful table.

 

Dyed in the Wool

Another easy and exotic drink is a spin-off on the classic Rob Roy cocktail. In this case blended, (not single malt) scotch whiskey is added to a short rocks glass. I then add some freshly squeezed lemon juice and  some cool, rustic apple cider. A small splash of sweet vermouth finishes the drink.

 

The earthy, richly scented cider melts into the deeper tastes of scotch and the sweetness of the cider. Scotch and apple cider is a very sophisticated and a slightly under-the-radar combination.

 

2 shots blended scotch

1 shot sweet vermouth

1/4 cup apple cider (preferably unpasteurized, unfiltered)

2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Angostura Bitters

Lemon twist for garnish

 

To a cocktail shaker add the blended scotch, sweet vermouth, apple cider and the freshly squeezed lemon juice with ice.

 

Shake and strain into a short rocks glass with a lemon twist and a shake or two of Angostura Bitters to finish. Serves 1.

 

Apple Betty Punch

For all of you wine lovers out there, may I recommend instead a perfectly lovely, crisp punch to go along with your dinner? Hard apple cider is marvelous when combined with sparkling, non-alcoholic cherry juice and some lemon and lime juices for spark. The flavors of hard cider with the citrus juices are marvelous with turkey and all of your fixings!

 

1 bottle of hard cider

1/2 bottle of non-alcoholic cherry cider

1/2 bottle of seltzer water

1/4 cup each of lemon and lime juices

2 cups ice

 

Mix all ingredients together, pour over ice and serve with round slices of lemon and lime. Makes 20 four-ounce portions.

 

If you don’t want an alcoholic beverage, please substitute non-alcoholic sparkling apple cider for the hard variety and use a bit of seltzer water for that celebratory fizz.

 

Spiced Scotty Toddy

Dessert also calls for a deeply warming hot toddy. I’m especially fond of the classic Hot Buttered Rum. The extra warmth a toddy offers is the perfect send-off to your friends.

 

This drink is an exotic approach to the classic boiling hot water-based toddy, with the addition of sweet butter. You can also use freshly whipped cardamom and ginger-sweetened cream on top of the mug instead of butter; it’s your choice. I like to use dark spiced rum or a home-spiced whiskey for this hot drink.

 

After Dinner

For an interesting after-dinner drink, I suggest something a rich glass of Pedro Ximenez Sherry or an older vintage of Madeira — it’s rich and thick, a dessert in a glass! Ask your local wine store what they carry. Use this rule of thumb: dry sherry for appetizers, sweet juicy sherry with dessert.

4 to 5 shots spiced rum or good blended whiskey that you have spiced a few weeks in advance (see note below)

1 quart or more hot chai tea or strong black tea

1 pat sweet butter per drink (if you use whipped cream, eliminate the butter)

 

Pour a shot rum or whiskey into 4 or 5 preheated mugs, then distribute the chai tea among the mugs. Top with butter pats or spiced, sweetened whipped cream.  Serves 4 to 5.

 

*How do I spice whiskey? Add apple pie spices with a split vanilla bean to a cheesecloth bag. Submerge into a bottle of whiskey for a couple of weeks before using. Use the spiced whiskey for all your whiskey-based cocktails.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Rediscovering Gin

Rediscovering Gin

Reprinted from “Foodista Magazine

November 6, 2011

Rediscovering Gin by: Warren Bobrow cocktail whisperer

Gin is suddenly hot again.  I didn’t forget Bourbon, nor have I forgotten Vodka.  I still take a sip of Absinthe now and again.  But for a slurp of flavor, packed with botanicals and dare I say juniper, nothing comes close to Gin for sensual aromatics and freshly cut herbal flavors.  Gin also is a powerful beverage-countries have made Gin their national drink- 80 proof and above are the normal dosage of palate warming alcohol.

Sure Rum is my usual go/to in a snifter.  But recently I’ve found that Gin has certain magical qualities on the rocks or straight from your freezer to your tongue.  Sure, you may want to pour some into a glass first, your lips will stick to the glass bottle!  No matter how attractive the packaging, pour some Gin into your glass first to fully appreciate the flavor packed into every glistening sip.

Caorunn Gin

Crisp and lively in a snifter- I’m charmed by the Celtic Botanicals and slightly salty nose.  Try a couple slices of Granny Smith apple in your glass along with a cube or two of distilled water ice.  This is very sophisticated Gin, meant for sipping. The apple is not just there for color- it’s there for flavor!

 

Bulldog Gin

The first tastes I get are from lavender, citrus oils and juniper berries.  This Gin will surprise your sense of flavor with an 80 proof alcohol level that tastes like some of the more powerful offerings.  I love this gin with a chunk of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice infused ice.  Nothing more is necessary!  It’s a bold Gin and you’ll know it immediately.

 

Hendrick’s Gin

My first impression of Hendrick’s drives the complex flavors of cucumber and Turkish Rose oil wrapping around and coating my tongue.  I’ve taken chunks of a peeled, European cucumber, muddled it with freshly squeezed lime juice, Royal Rose (Rose) Simple Syrup and a couple cubes of Rosewater infused ice cubes.  Then add a three shots of 90 proof Hendrick’s Gin to your glass.  Finish with Q-Tonic Water to taste.  That’s it!

 

Tanqueray Rangpur

The lime is already in the bottle with the Tanqueray Rangpur Gin.  My favorite way of enjoying this highly aromatic Gin is with a slice or two of cucumber and freshly drawn seltzer water.  The citrus elements are quite pronounced so the addition of extra citrus is just not necessary.  Sure you can mix this Gin with simple syrup, some Bitter End Thai Bitters and tonic water- it makes a finely twisted cocktail.   Less is more with Rangpur!

 

Nolet’s Dry Gin

Roses, freshly cut in the garden is the initial flavor of Nolet’s Dry Gin.  It’s almost fruity in nature- with the heady aromatics of sweet cream and Asian spices.  I don’t recommend mixing this Gin, there is so much going on in there- cutting it with a bit of well water may be all that is necessary.  I fully believe that even a drop of Vermouth would be overpowering.  This Gin rolls in at a hefty 95.2 proof, but it doesn’t taste hot in the glass.  Quite the opposite in fact.  It’s quite remarkable stuff!   Take a snifter, add one cube of ice.  Add a couple shots of Nolet’s and read a good book.

 

Beefeater Gin

Suddenly Beefeater is exciting again.  This staple of the cocktail lounge is making a comeback in creative cocktails the world over.  I’ve tasted it in a Martini and straight (without vermouth) but with the addition of a lemon zest.  My preference is the latter.  Beefeater Gin is dry, crisp – not like the Nolet’s or the Caorunn- certainly not as aromatic as the Bulldog, nor the Rangpur- but for the drinker who seeks something a bit more Vodka-like and merely scented, may I recommend Beefeater.  A drink that says- I’m cool… Here’s one for you- this should be called a Lemon Peel Cocktail.  Zest a Myer Lemon into a long thin strip.  Chill down a couple of shots of Beefeater Gin. Pour into a pre-chilled Martini glass. Garnish with the lemon zest and sip your way to England.  Elegant in a mixed drink and it should be at just under 100 proof.

 

Cocktails for Thanksgiving from Cocktail Whisperer: Warren Bobrow

Non-traditional/new traditional Thanksgiving drinks.

I love the idea of a blazing fire- friends and family gathered together to share a meal.  A celebratory evening is started nicely with cheery glass of cava and to it, the addition of a fruit puree.  I’ve taken organic strawberries, charred them in a cast iron pan, run them through the food processor *adjusting the sweetness to taste* then added a dollop or two of the puree into each glass.  The tangy-sweet quality of the strawberries when added to a chalky tasting Cava just says celebration in a glass.  You don’t need very much of this drink to say welcome to our table.

 

Another easy and exotic drink is a take off on the classic Rob Roy. In this case Blended Scotch Whiskey, instead of expensive Single Malt- is added to a short rocks glass with a tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice and topped with cool, rustic apple cider.  A small splash of sweet vermouth finishes the drink.  The cider melts into the deeper tastes of whiskey,  the sweetness of the cider and the herbaceous tinge of sweet Vermouth.

It is a very sophisticated drink.

Of course I recommend instead of a usual bottle of wine, a perfectly lovely, tangy punch to go along with dinner.

Hard apple cider is marvelous when combined with sparkling cherry juice and some lemon/lime juice for spark. The flavors of hard cider with the citrus juices are marvelous with turkey and the all your fixings!  You can drive up the alcohol level with some dark rum. 

Dessert calls for the classic and deeply warming-  Hot Toddy.

I’m especially fond of a hot buttered rum to go with a pumpkin or apple pie.  It’s a classic and the extra warmth it gives to the body (and spirit) is the perfect send-off to your friends!

The Chai Tea Toddy is an exotic approach to the classic water based Toddy with a bit of sweet butter.  You may also use freshly whipped sweetened cream on top instead of butter- your choice.

  I like to use dark spiced rum or a spiced whiskey for this hot drink.

  • 1 quart hot Chai tea or black tea.  If you want to make the drink sweeter, use some ginger/cardamom simple syrup
  • 4-5 shots Spiced Rum or good blended Whiskey that you have spiced a few weeks in advance. (save that expensive single malt for another day)
  • 1 pat sweet butter- per drink

If you use whipped cream, eliminate the butter.

How do I spice whiskey? Add apple pie spices with a vanilla bean (split) to a cheesecloth bag. Submerge into a bottle of whiskey for a couple of weeks before using.  Use the spiced whiskey for all your Whiskey based cocktails.

The Five Questions- Tamara Kaufman Food Stylist for Photography

The Five Questions- Tamara Kaufman Food Stylist for Photography

Cocktail Olive Splash Chris Elinchev Small Pond Productions Photography

I met Tamara Kaufman on Facebook.  I’m not really sure how interesting and accomplished people find me, but they do.  Tamara is a very creative person.

I’ve always been fascinated by food stylists for television or print work.  Many years ago, when I was a teenager, I worked (liberal use of the word) for EUE/Screen Gems in NYC.  They did television commercials.  My degree from Emerson College is in Film.  As a budding cinematographer, (this helped to translate my keen appreciation for photography) I worked on dozens of television commercials.  One in particular was for the product: Cool Whip.

I’ll never forget this commercial because the food just looked so darned good.  Almost too good.

Color corrected does not necessarily mean safe to eat.  So what did I learn?  Don’t ever eat color corrected food.

Foot-tall “Dagwood” sandwich Chris Elinchev Small Pond Productions Photography

Tamara Kaufman: The Five Questions.

 

1.  Who taught you about food?

My early memories of food are very vivid—both visually and in flavor.  My parents nurtured a real sense of exploration, as did my grandmother.
My Grandmother was a great cook and made delicious pies.  She taught me the joy of making pie crust from scratch.  My favorite treat was to eat the raw pie dough and to cook off the leftovers with cinnamon and sugar.
There so are many things that I remember my grandmother making — an amazing lamb and spinach stew, liver and onion sandwiches with butter, watermelon rind pickles (a favorite) and plum jam.

Many of my favorite snacks come from my childhood – I love mangos, sharp cheddar, braunschweiger and simple avocado sandwiches with salt.

Of course I had my moments of unsophistication… and loved ketchup, sour cream and butter slathered on baked potatoes and ketchup and white bread sandwiches.

I was born in Colorado where my Dad was attending CSU.  We moved back to Iowa when I was five where my parents built a house on a 140 acre century farm, meaning it has been in our family for 100 years.
We always had interesting things going on and a variety of animals including a small herd of beef cows, chickens, a turkey that followed us on walks, guinea hens, a horse and a pony.  Most animals acquired names and when they ended up on the dinner table it was a bit traumatic but gave me a true sense of where our food came from.

We had a garden every year.  My dad would encourage eating turnips, tomatoes and carrots right from the garden, washed under the hose.  I avoided weeding the garden at all costs.  My first and only attempt at a garden as an adult had a plethora of weeds.  We have one of the best farmers markets in the world here in Madison, Wisconsin, and many CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture programs) and so I leave produce growing up to the professionals and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

My mom canned and froze the garden vegetables and so we had garden grown tomatoes all year long and rhubarb sauce over vanilla ice cream in the middle of winter.

I learned how to hunt morel mushrooms on our property and I can tell the difference between the morel and its toxic lookalikes.

On our property we had apple, mulberry, pear and plum trees, wild black raspberries and black berries.  My dad hunted for wild asparagus and a local bee-keeper gave us honey in return for keeping his hives on our property.  My father went elk hunting in Colorado every winter for 30 years and so elk meat was a staple at our table.

Everything I experienced gave me such an appreciation of how the land plays a role in bringing food to the table.  We never had junk food or sugary sweet sugary cereals…but I confess that I do have a ferocious sweet tooth.

As a child, I vacationed with my parents in a VW camper van, never staying in one place long, which meant that before graduating from college I saw all but two of the lower 48 states, all the lower provinces of Canada and parts of Mexico.  We always sought out the local cuisine.  I remember a great bbq served in a back yard shack in Florida, dim sum during a wedding in Toronto’s China Town and fresh lobster and crawdads cooked on the beach.  Dad sought out the local BBQ sauces wherever we went.

Friends of the Family

A close family friend had a monthly tradition of gathering in a local park with a giant frying pan and a selection of ingredients were he made omelets for everyone who came.  I also remember him at our house cooking late night meals with crepes and “stinky” soft cheeses while speaking in a silly French accent.

I was offered many unusual things at the dinner table including Rocky Mountain oysters.  There isn’t much I don’t like.  I adore every ethnicity of food.  There are a few exceptions such as beef tongue and sea urchin.

Cheese, Food Advocacy and the Creative Arts
My serious interest in cooking and healthy eating began many years ago at a local natural grocery store where I acquired a position as Cheese buyer.  Cracking open a 80 pound wheel of Parmigiano – Reggiano is an amazing experience.  I dream of owning a cheese cave.  I also worked for Whole Foods as a cheese buyer where my job description included teaching classes to the public.

I surrounded myself with people passionate about good food and grew to understand the importance of cooking seasonally, with whole foods …and became passionate about the politics of food and food safety.

Through the years I have done everything from stocking groceries and delivering pizza to making large beautiful batches of puff pastry, decadent chocolate cakes with chocolate ganache, custards and pots de crème.  I had my own small catering business for three years and then decided to pursue food styling.

Food styling is primarily a free-lance career, however I was fortunate to work for Readers Digest/Reiman Publications as a staff food stylist for two years.

As far as the artistic side of my work, creativity runs in the family.
My mom and dad built their house in 1973 and were DIY’ers back when there wasn’t a TV network dedicated to this lifestyle.  My mom is a watercolor artist and my grandfather conducted an orchestra in Latvia.  I have always been very visual and acquired a BA in Art and Design from Iowa State University with an emphasis in Psychology and Advertising.  I believe it’s my art degree that gives me a different perspective on food styling than many who come in to the career from cooking school.  A great photo-composition is very important to me.  Three dimensional design skills come in very handy with building things such as sandwiches and cakes, as they require structure inside to stay in place on set for long periods of time.

 

Pancakes with blueberries John Cizmas Photography

 

2.  What is in your refrigerator right now?  Do you keep your props for your food photography at home?  Where do you shoot your work?

My fridge/pantry is usually filled with pretty basic ingredients.  I always have sharp cheddar, Spanish Manchego or a fresh chevre.  I stock lemons, limes, edamame in the shell, unsalted butter, half and half creamer for my coffee, toasted sesame oil and endless condiments.  Beans and grains are a staple.
Right now I have my home made port-wine-fig compound butter, waiting to be delivered to friends as a gift.

Potions

And then there are the mystery potions that I use in my work…Glycerin, Mallose (a browning agent) and the many items that I use to keep food looking beautiful on camera.

Food dies quickly and stylists use some tricks to help the food stay fresh looking on set.  I strive for a balance between real food/recipes and adding final touches that make for a beautiful composition.  I don’t want it to look overly styled, unapproachable or overly promised.

I do use special effects and faux foods such as ice cream and milk as these remain stable and help save on an advertising budget.

Powdered sugar and Crisco make the perfect fake ice cream, Wild Root hair tonic makes a perfect “milk” that won’t turn the cereal soggy in minutes.  Kitchen Bouquet makes a perfect chardonnay, tea or coffee.  I use fake bubbles, fake ice cubes, fake droplets of “water”…and I always have tweezers and other strange tools on hand.

The photos are taken anywhere from my dining room to sets across the country.  This summer I was invited to participate on a cookbook project in Maui.  Moorish Fusion Cuisine will be my first cookbook credit and I hope it to be the beginning of many more.

 

John Cizmas Photography

 

3.  Do you miss film photography?  I find that digital is more computer than eye.  What you think about computer manipulation of images?

I love film photography and mourn the loss of it.  I learned to shoot on film in high school and college and only just recently acquired a digital camera.  I loved developing my own black and whites and miss the connection you feel to the photos when you process your own film and photos in a dark room.  There is also the excitement of not knowing what you actually captured until the film is developed.

In my profession digital image manipulation can save the day.  Many hours are often spent on just one photo.  For instance, on one shoot, the lighting and composition were perfectly set after many hours of work.  The two eggs and bacon no longer looked like a smiley face and the lighting was perfect.  Lo and behold the egg yolk broke.  It had already taken us several dozen eggs before the perfect sunny side up egg was achieved.  It would have been no easy task to replace it with a new perfect egg, making a typical 12-hour day even longer.  This is where Photoshop and modern photography keep people on the job sane.  With all of the magic of digital photography, it is still truly an art to capture food well.  Technical lighting skills are one of the key elements that help the food come alive.  The working relationship between the photographer and food stylist is crucial.  We work together on every detail, as you don’t get a second chance to give the client what they want.  The food has to appeal to the five senses, yet it must be translated into a single visual image.


Many think that a food stylist’s job must be zany and fun all of the time…but it is actually a very high-stress job.  Food has a life of its own, and its life expectancy is short, therefore photo shoots are labor intensive.  Keeping calm and a sense of humor is key!

Commercials and advertisements are often the collaboration of an entire team of creative people including magazine editors, art directors, photographers, prop stylists, soft goods stylists (clothing), models and food stylists.

I am the shopper, prep cook, baker, builder and creator of a beautiful composition.

 

John Cizmas Photography

 


4.  If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would that be?  Doing what? Eating/Drinking what?

SO hard to choose one!

On the ocean having fresh lobster, scallops and fried clams.

In New York exploring some interesting restaurant.  Casual and hidden little gems are usually the most fun!  I have never had a bad meal in N.Y.

At Sweet Revenge in NY having the best cupcake on earth pared with a glass of wine or cup of coffee.  I wish they shipped.

In Boston’s North End Italian district for a day of total indulgence, beginning at Pizzeria Regina and then moving on from there for gelato, a cappuccino, cannoli and Italian tri colored cookies!

Traveling in Italy, Spain or any country with a rich food culture.

Seeing cheese made, anywhere in the world.  If there is anything I would be likely to smuggle in to my luggage…it would be cheese!!

On a rooftop garden overlooking Brooklyn with a glass of red wine and a piece of cake from the Chocolate Room.

At Random in Milwaukee, WI eating a genuine retro ice cream drink with Frank Sinatra playing in the background.

At Conejito’s in Milwaukee, WI for the best Mole I have ever had.

I love my job!

 

Chocolate swirl with berries Chris Hynes Photography

Seabras in Newark, NJ. My work for NJ Monthly Magazine (originally published in NJ Monthly)

Seabra’s Marisqueira

In the Ironbound section of Newark, an ebullient, down-to-earth crowd rolls up its sleeves for heaps of the freshest fare of the sea, Portuguese style.

Reviewed by Warren M. Bobrow
Originally posted June 16, 2010

Chowing at the bar.

Chowing at the bar.
Photo by Ted Axelrod.
A plate of sautéed garlic shrimp.

A plate of sautéed garlic shrimp.
Photo by Ted Axelrod.
Waiters delivering epic orders.

Waiters delivering epic orders.
Photo by Ted Axelrod.
Chef Jack Fernandes cozies with a fearsome-looking, sweet-tasting bruiser of a halibut.

Chef Jack Fernandes cozies with a fearsome-looking, sweet-tasting bruiser of a halibut.
Photo by Ted Axelrod.

The bar area by the front door brims with displays of iced lobster, cockles, clams, whelks, snails, and bright pink prawns, their glaring black eyes and antennae intact. Freshly charred sardines and grilled white anchovies touched with sweet red peppers and olive oil come into view along with ceramic dishes of steamed clams dotted with fiery green sauce (garlic, puréed with olive oil, hot chilies, and parsley). The bar is clearly not just a great place to sip a lip-smacking caipirinha. It’s just as much about feasting on sparkling seafood.

Located in the Ironbound section of Newark, just off bustling Ferry Street, Seabra’s Marisqueira was founded in 1989 by the former owner of what is now the A&J Seabra Supermarket corporation of Fall River, Massachusetts. In 2000, three Newark businessmen—Jack Fernandes, Antonio Sousa, and Manuel Cerqueira—banded together to buy the popular restaurant. They work in the restaurant, too—Fernandes running the kitchen, Sousa and Cerqueira the front of the house. Their supportive attitude has fostered a strong esprit de corps.

“We are our own bosses now,” says manager Mario Martins, who, like most of the staff, has been at Seabra’s (See-AH-bra’s) since the start. “We wanted to control our own fate. We can decide the future of our passion.”

As even a single meal at the Marisquiera makes clear, that passion is for freshness and faithfulness to Portuguese culinary tradition. Pointing to a patron eating fish soup at the bar, Martins says, “Everything we serve is prepared fresh daily. We make fish soup from scratch. That is a bowl of our culinary history. ”
Cheerful, efficient waiters in black pants and crisp white shirts lead diners past the perennially packed bar and the bustling glassed-in kitchen to the blue-and-white tiled dining room. Seductive aromas of sautéed garlic shrimp accompany them on the journey. Hardly a word of English is heard among the patrons.

A good way to start is to order garlic shrimp and sop up the garlicky, saffron-laced, white wine sauce with the warm, locally baked, crusty bread. Don’t be put off by the need to peel the shells. It’s part of the fun of eating Portuguese. The aforementioned caipirinha (which is Brazilian, but never mind) goes well with fish and shellfish, thanks to its large hit of lime juice and its fuel of cachaça, which is Brazilian sugar cane rum.

Fresh North Atlantic sardines, charred and smoky from the charcoal grill, come with hunks of fresh lemon. If you’ve only had canned sardines, you’re in for a discovery. Eat them with your hands; they’re gone in two quick bites. Fresh grilled white anchovies also take you far from their oil-cured cousins. Served in a cazuela (ceramic bowl) with sweet onion and red vinegar, they are not at all salty and are in fact reminiscent of fresh brook trout. For a hearty and heady meal in a bowl, try sopa do mar, heaped with whole Jonah crab claws, whitefish, hake, and several head-on giant shrimp peering over the steaming surface of tomato-and-fish stock.

Most entrées come with thinly sliced, pan-fried, Portuguese-style crispy potatoes, another perfect soaker-up of broths and sauces. Sautéed green beans and sliced carrots in green garlic sauce complete the presentation of delicious charcoal-grilled grouper. Two split, grilled Nova Scotia lobsters come doused with a tasty butter sauce. Seabra’s staff honors requests for no sauce or sauce on the side not with rolling eyes, but with a warm reply: “Sure, no problem.” The waitstaff is also adept at finding the right Portuguese wine or sangria to complement the food. The best Portuguese wines, little known here, are great values—high in quality, low in price.

A fine entrée is pescada cozida com todos—white potatoes, hard-boiled egg slices, and sweet onion simmered with hake, a sweet, white-fleshed fish served in seaside towns along Portugal’s coast. Another entrée, bacalhau (dried, salted codfish) is served roasted with olive oil, garlic, green peppers, and onions, in a deep bowl. To extract most of the saltiness, Seabra’s soaks the crusty slabs of bacalhau for several days before cooking.

The kitchen staff turns out more-than-respectable meat dishes, like luscious, spit-roasted suckling pig with baby clams, and zesty pork tenderloin pounded into scallopini, pan-fried till crisp. Grilled short ribs smeared with a sweetly perfumed, caramelized garlic paste, make irresistible finger food. Same for baby lamb chops served with garlic flan.

For dessert, the dense, creamy, sweet house-made flan is even better with pulls of Seabra’s smoky, thick espresso. Caveat: The noise level can be high. Best defense: Bring a bunch of fun-loving friends and create a joyful noise of your own.