The Green Fairies Ear

 

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

Martin Miller’s Gin. (you could say that I’m a BIG FAN)

 

Warren Bobrow’s Cocktail Hour – The Gin Twist

3
Feb

 

Martin Miller - hotelier and maker of Martin Miller's London Dry GinMartin Miller – Bon viveur and maker of Martin Miller’s London Dry Gin via www.luxist.com

 

I’m sitting in front of the fireplace right now. Also in front of me are over 15 bottles of Artisanal Gin. My new favorite is the London Dry Gin from Martin Miller’s Gin. This is truly exotic stuff. The London Dry is in a low, squat bottle. Upon opening the handsome bottle I detect immediately the scent of cucumbers. Not just any cucumber but an especially aromatic variety. This Gin doesn’t need to be mixed- it’s got all the stuff right inside. I’m absolutely blown away by the softness of the nose- coupled with that unmistakable aroma of the cucumber. I got to thinking- when was the first time that I smelled this quality of Gin? Hendrick’s does a cucumber scented Gin that I like, very much. This Gin from Martin Miller is a very sophisticated and dare I say sensual slurp of liquid pleasure. The cucumber is right there in the foreground. You cannot miss it. I’m almost shocked by the depth of the vegetable aroma and flavor. White flowers follow up immediately- those little tobacco flowers. Then the attack of herbs and spices come quickly into view. The initial distillation happens in England. The blending occurs in Iceland with pristine glacial water as the adjunct. I’m just blown away by the finish- it goes on and on and… on .

I thought I introduce a new cocktail to Modenus this week. Gin and Citrus come to mind. Charred grapefruit juice, Maraschino Cherry liquor and a chiffonade of Thai Basil. What? Fresh herbs in a drink? Why not?

To make this cocktail you must be ready to take your palate to another place. In this case, the drink is Martini-like but not a Martini. Sure it has Vermouth, but Carpano Antica is the Sweet Vermouth (instead of dry) and there is the slightly charred grapefruit bringing up the rear.

I love working with great ingredients and you should too!

The Gin Twist

Makes two invigorating cocktails for whatever you desire at the end of the day.

Ingredients:

Martin Miller’s London Dry Gin

Carpano Antica

Cucumber chunks

Bitter End Thai Bitters

Lime hunks

Grapefruit chunks

Fresh mint

Seltzer water like Perrier Pink Grapefruit

Chiffonade of Thai Basil

Preparation:

To a cocktail shaker filled ¼ with ice add some charred grapefruit. (sear grapefruit segments in a sauté pan until nice and colored on all sides, then muddle with fresh mint and the cucumber, lime and grapefruit chunks until they release their essence about 3 minutes or so. Add to the shaker the Carpano Antica Vermouth (about a shot) Roll the Thai Basil into a cigar shape, and then slice on the bias to release the aromatic oils. Add to the shaker.

Add the Martin Miller’s Dry London Gin and the Maraschino Liqueur. ( 1 shot)

Shake and strain into a coupe’ glass and garnish with a flamed peel of orange peel. Top with a home cured cherry. Add a splash of seltzer water to finish.

Slurp away to a freezing cold and wet spring in old England.

The Single Barrel from Jack Daniel’s is world class in every way

On Whiskey: Macallan Single Malt v Tennessee Sippin’

Features, On Whiskey | November 15, 2011 by admin | 0 Comments

WARREN BOBROW is the On Whiskey columnist for OKRA. He grew up on a biodynamic farm in Morristown, New Jersey. He is a reluctant cocktail/wine writer and former trained chef/saucier.

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A quick, yet highly focused tasting of the Macallan Single Malt Scotch vs. 2 offerings of Tennessee “Sipping” Whiskey

My old friend Becky once told me that she’d “rue the day” that I called Tennessee “sipping” whiskey bourbon. She said that only a “damned Yankee” would be confused enough to call Jack Daniel’s bourbon.

Tennessee “sipping” whiskey is not bourbon. The char, smoke, and charcoal filtering make Jack Daniel’s unique in the dichotomy of whiskey. There is the rub.  The smoke, the char, and the power.

Macallan, on the other hand, is an extremely fine Scotch whisky. The most immediate difference between Tennessee whiskey and Scotch whisky is not that one is spelled with an e, and the other without- but the terroir, or taste of the place.  Scotch just tastes different.

I recently received a bottle of Macallan whisky and set to comparing this benchmark 12 year old single malt whiskey against the very American slurp of whiskey.  What I discovered is quite profound.  The Tennessee whiskey is every bit as sumptuous and delicious as the kindred cousins from across the pond.

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select

Notes of fire-toasted pecans give way to a smoky, peat-laden mid-palate.  Flavors of sweet cream and sweet vanilla gelato enrobe your palate with sharper notes of scorched toffee and treacle pudding.  This is a very sophisticated slurp of liquid American History.  The finish goes on and on and right into the robust 94 proof finish.  The price is usually about forty-five dollars and is worth every sip.

Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey

Lighter in color than the Single Barrel Select, this whiskey is more akin to a blended Tennessee whiskey. The high price is from a double application of the “Lincoln Country Process.” In other words, filtering the spirit through charcoal- twice for a more mellow taste.  The barrels are charred and often make their way to Scotland at the end of the aging process.  Like what you taste? It rests in the cask for about four years.  Be prepared to fork over about twenty- five dollars for the pleasure.

Macallan Highland Single Malt Scotch Whiskey (12 year aged in Sherry Oak Casks from Jerez, Spain)

Pure lust is the first thing I taste when I drink Macallan Sherry Cask Scotch Whisky.  The nose is smoke, peat and wet wool shorn from sheep accustomed to living outdoors.  There is a fire burning in the fireplace in the cottage and it is a slow burning peat fire – smoldering and giving off little bursts of wet soil; charred wood; more wet wool; sweet toffee; and a lingering, charming, dried fruit finish.  The Sherry nose is immediately apparent through the attack of sweet/spicy and the sophisticated elegance is long lasting in your glass.  There is no doubt that this is Scotch whisky (spelled without an e) The taste of the place – oily, salty, and dripping with history – will stay on your palate for minutes, leading to hours to the eventual finish.  Twelve years in the barrel only means one thing- a classic single malt passion.   I wouldn’t say that I prefer the Scotch whisky to the Tennessee sipping whiskey.  What I will say is that they are very similar in nose, follow, and finish.  You can expect to pay about fifty dollars for the pleasure.

Which one is better?  I’ll leave that to you.

I will say that the Single Barrel from Jack Daniel’s is world class in every way.

Cheers!

The Blackadder (Scotch you will never be able to find)

On Whiskey | March 14, 2012 by admin | 0 Comments

WARREN BOBROW is the Food and Drink Editor of the 501c3 non profit Wild Tableon Wild River Review located in Princeton, New Jersey. He attended Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. He has published over three hundred articles on everything from cocktail mixology to restaurant reviews to travel articles. In addition to OKRA Magazine, Warren writes for Williams-Sonoma’s Blender Blog and Foodista.http://www.cocktailwhisperer.com

Imagine, if you will, a liquor company that is able to source a single barrel of whisky at a time.  In an age where liquor companies are trying to produce more and more of their product to slake the thirsts of thousands of thirsty drinkers- there is one company that is decidedly set on satisfying only a couple of hundred- it that!

Enter the Blackadder.  You many remember the BBC Television show by the same name.  If you do, you’re half way there.  The Blackadder was a dark comedy on British television and in many ways the philosophy of  this television show is evident in every sip of the Blackadder!

There is stuff in every bottle of Blackadder.  This stuff is from the inside of the casks!  Blackadder is not filtered or blended.  It is bottled at Cask Strength.

The Blackadder is a one of the most unique single malt Scotch whiskies that I’ve ever tasted. My friend Raj facilitated this tasting by sending me four hand numbered bottles.

1.      Lochranza Distillery- 2011- Raw Cask- label reads that it contains its natural Cask Sediments as well as all the natural oils and fats.  Mmmm, that’s what I like to hear.  The Lochranza  is bottled at 104.8 proof.  At the bottom of the informative label it reads Sherry Puncheon.  I suppose this means that the Scotch was aced (finished) in used sherry casks.  Bottle 82 of 548, Bottled 14th of October 1996

2.      Mannochmore Distillery-1999-Raw Cask- label reads that is also contains its natural Cask Sediments as well as the natural Oils and Fats.  Label reads Speyside malt whisky- one of only 304 bottles drawn at Cask Strength from a single oak cask no.5400 bottled by Blackadder in November 2011. 121.2 Proof 12 years old

3.      Blair Athol Distillery- 1999- 1st September 1999.  Reads: This Highland malt whisky is one of only 462 bottles drawn at Cask Strength from a SINGLE REFILL SHERRY BUTT, marked bottle 66 out of 462. 114.6 proof 12 years old

4.      Blackadder Smoking Islay- The Spirit of Legend-11 year old Islay Malt Scotch Whisky Raw Cask- 118.8 proof- Distilled 12th April 2000, bottled August 2011.

All the whiskies read that they are bottled from carefully selected casks.  They do not chill filter or otherwise filter their whiskies through small filter pads to remove sediment.  No two casks of Whisky are ever exactly alike because of the type of oak used and the conditions under which it is stored.

Like fine wines, these naturally bottled whiskies may throw a little sediment.  Now we’re talking!

I love wines with stuff in them.  Why not whisky?  Why not!?

Tasting Notes:  I did all the tastings in front of a blazing wood fire after eating a rib steak sandwich with Swiss cheese and grainy French mustard on Pechter’s Rye bread.  I used a tiny bit of spring water to open up the Whiskies. No ice.  A Maine tumbled granite sea-stone (frozen overnight) provided a bit of chill- to cellar temp.  Truth is this tasting is highly un-scientific.  You will never read scores from me.  I find them incongruous.

1.      Lochranza Distillery- I’ve woken up in a honey bee nest.  My skin is covered in honey and the bees are giving me little tiny nips with their stingers. Not enough to hurt, just enough to know they are there.  Pure smoke lingers on the periphery. It’s the beekeeper- smoking out the bees.  It tastes of peat and smoke-honey and dark stone fruits. Luscious stuff- the finish just goes on and on.

2.      Smoking Islay- the fire in the fireplace is giving off that tell-tale smoky scent of wet wood.  There is the scent of wet-dog and wet clothing and wet leather.  Spanish leather at that.  What does Spanish leather taste like? Come off your horse in the pouring rain, the last thing you remember before you bury your face in the mud is licking your saddle on the way down.  That’s what Spanish leather tastes like.  Candy sugar on the tongue and deep inside my throat gives way to sweet honey and freshly cut grasses.  There is some citrus in there too. Almost a wine like nose- if the wine was a very well aged Muscadet that is.  I love this stuff.

3.      Blair Athol Distillery- There is wind blowing through my hair- tinged salt water and more wildflower honey, a farmhouse comes into view and there is a fire in the chimney- yet the residents are not aware of the pending disaster.  Approaching the house I realize there is no fire in the chimney, it is coming from a peat fire in the backyard.  But no matter- there is fire and salt and smoke.  Honey gummy bears on the tongue with little bursts of sweet rock candy in the finish.  This is awfully sophisticated.  Thick perhaps. Creamy.

4.      Mannochmore- What can I say about perfection.  With a splash of cool spring water I am transported to a foreign country without grasp of the language.  This Speyside whisky is frightening in its depth and grip. I taste more honey and salt- smoke and smoked salmon- yes Scottish smoked salmon in the finish.  Salty. Salty Salty. Golden honey in color- there is stuff in the bottle. Scotch is not usually my go-to on spirits but with bottles of whisky as sensual and delicious as these in my cabinet, the frosty winter winds may blow- causing me no immediate harm.   Thank you Raj for being so generous with gifts of perhaps the best whisky you can find.

 

Pappy Van Winkle (My article “on Whiskey” for Okra Magazine in New Orleans)

On Whiskey: Pappy Bourbon

On Bourbon, On Whiskey | February 1, 2012 by admin | 2 Comments

TwitterWarren Bobrow is the Food and Drink Editor of the 501c3 non profit Wild Tableon Wild River Review located in Princeton, New Jersey. He attended Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. He has published over three hundred articles on everything from cocktail mixology to restaurant reviews to travel articles. In addition to OKRA Magazine, Warren writes for Williams-Sonoma’s Blender Blog and Foodista.

Photo by Warren Bobrow

There comes a time in everyone’s drinking history that they aspire to seek the very best that money can buy.  Be it a bottle of wine, a bottle of Port- or in my case a bottle (or two) of Bourbon.  The Holy Grail for my drinking history was reached about five years ago when I received several bottles of pre-1960 Bourbon.

To some, present company included, the gift of a bottle of Bourbon is a high honor.  When FedEx arrived yesterday bearing a rather large box, hailing from Kentucky- I knew something special was inside.  Carefully unwrapping the bottles, their inner glow revealed themselves as the extremely rare and utterly profound bottles of Pappy.

But what is Pappy?

Those of us who follow the art and history of making bourbon aspire someday to be able to taste the liquid charms of Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon.  It’s not inexpensive stuff- I don’t want to quote prices, but you can look that up.  Is this a considerate gift to someone who appreciates the very best?  You can bet your last nickel on it.  But I will tell you, you need to rub your nickels together and hope they meter out a bit more than the amount needed to wet your lips with this magical elixir. There are few bottles of anything distilled that even approach the charm and subtlety of Pappy.

Pappy is not for everyone- just as a bottle of a First Growth wine may not please everyone.  Good taste comes at a price.  But good taste is tough to come by since very few bottles are produced each year.  If you see some on the shelf at your local bar,  it must be a very special place because most people don’t even know about Pappy.

They call their method of making their bourbon “wheated. ” This means the process uses corn, wheat, and, barley instead of corn, rye and, barley.  Pappy ages gently and produces a softer finish than its peers on the bourbon shelf.   They say it ages more gracefully. I say it is unlocked history in your glass.

I would also go so far to say that each taste unlocks more than just memories of the past.  The deeply aromatic flavor of this bourbon helps you create new memories of the present through the finely tuned craftsmanship of the past.

Tasting Notes:

Pappy Van Winkle 15 year- is it me or is the 15-year more powerful than the 20 year?  Well, first let me tell you what’s on the label.  It reads very clearly 107 proof.  The first things I taste are wild gathered acorns on the nose- followed closely by the unmistakable scent of saddle leather.  The heat of the 107 proof touches every part of my mouth and the finish just goes on and on.  This is not your typical Bourbon and cola sip- I think if you were to mix it you’d be on your own.  I’m not suggesting any mixing.  Ok, maybe a sprinkle of Branch.  But that’s it.

Pappy Van Winkle 20 year- Soft dew coated white flowers give way to the flavor that only time in the barrel can give- it’s soft to the tongue- easy to savor- easier to swallow and images of charred wheat bread smeared with sweet butter and apricot jam come into view.  This is very sophisticated stuff- certainly not for just anyone.  In fact just anyone can buy it, but good luck finding it.  Extremely rare.  Entire websites are dedicated to finding out when the next batch will be released- doubtful that you can find it?  Well, you’re halfway there.  The way that this liquor is made- they do so little of it- wealthy people just buy it up.  Again, I’m not telling you how much it costs- but a healthy part of your mortgage payment will just about cover the price of admittance!

Not everyone will like the softer, rounder flavors of Pappy 20.  They might say, save your money and buy one of the overly oaked barrel aged Bourbon varieties that clog the shelves of your local spirit shop.  To me, many of them just taste the same.

Let me tell you- and you can quote me on this.  Pappy 20 and the 15 year old versions are things of rare beauty.  I drank my tastes in a small glass with a polished hunk of Maine granite. (Frozen in the freezer overnight)  You really can do what you want with it as far as mixing or adding ice- but I don’t recommend it- just like I’d never add crushed ice to a glass of the uber-expensive white wine named Le Montrachet. And some people like to do that too!

Of course you can do anything you want, after all it’s your hard-earned money that purchased a bottle.

I’m just saying that it’s just not recommended, so I’m not making any mixing suggestions.  Of course if you want to sprinkle some freshly gathered Branch water over the top, please feel free to do so.   And do so with reverence.

But please enjoy with restraint and create your own memories!

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.

J. Madison Mutt Cocktail by: Warren Bobrow-Cocktail Whisperer

J. Madison Mutt Cocktail

Ingredients to make 2 rather potent cocktails

2 Shots of Maker’s Mark 46

1 Shot of Tenneyson or Lucid Absinthe or your choice

1 Shot of Conjure Cognac or your choice

Seared Tangerines and Lemons (carefully peel to remove bitter pith)

2 Tablespoons of Ginger Simple Syrup (recipe below)

2 Tablespoons of Dark Maple Syrup

Lemon Peel garnish

Bitter End Jamaican Jerk Bitters

Preparation:

In a stainless steel pan, sear the citrus fruits and set aside to cool

Muddle seared citrus in your shaker and then add a bit of ice to the shaker

Add Liquors, Bourbon, Absinthe, Cognac

Add Syrups

Shake and strain into a short rocks glass with a couple cubes of ice and garnish with a lemon peel and a couple drops of the Bitter End Jamaican Bitters

Ginger Simple Syrup

1 cup of sugar

1 cup of water

1 Ginger Root peeled and grated (use a small ginger root)

Boil Sugar into water and add ginger root until sugar is dissolved. Let cool and let steep with the ginger for a couple of hours before using.

Ginger Syrup!!!

A Limerick for Laurel

Cocktail hour with Warren Bobrow – A Limerick for Laurel cocktail

There was a fine gal named Laurel.

Who never put up with any Quarrel

She married fair Bill

Whose true voice that she willed

So there would never be bitters to spoil!

 

The clouds are rushing in this morning. Rain is pouring heavily from the sky in buckets. Someone said something about heavy thunderstorms and sixty- degree weather. This is not winter- I’m confused. Certain types of confusion- such as the weather do strange things to my sense of normal. But what is normal these days? Is it finally Winter?

I hope so. This may be just an anomaly.

It’s a mere blip on the radar screen.

While down in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail- I had the pleasure of meeting and enjoying a cocktail at the historic carousel bar at the Monteleone Hotel with my friend Bill York of Bitter End Bitters and his lovely wife Laurel. As the carousel made the slow go-round and all those around me became more and more sloshed, (present company excluded) my cocktail driven sense of self detached from the reality of the situation. Now, many months later, I’m reminded of the restoratives served at the Carousel Bar and the friends I made while circling the room as the seconds ticked away.

Cheers!

A Limerick for Laurel Cocktail

( A VERY twisted takeoff on the classic cocktail named Bees Knees)

Makes one very dangerous drink. Stay off the roads!

  1. 2 Shots of a very smoky Bourbon Whiskey like Devil’s Cut from Jim Beam
  2. 1 Shot fresh lemon juice
  3. 1 Shot freshly squeezed orange juice
  4. 2 tablespoons Lavender/Lemon Simple Syrup from Royal Rose
  5. 2 tablespoons of wildflower honey
  6. Bitters (your choice) I prefer the Thai Bitters from Bitter End

 

Preparation: To a cocktail shaker- add ½ with ice. Add Scotch, honey, juices and bitters, shake and pour into a short glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a grilled orange slice and sip to the mournful sound of that strange, yet familiar song from Chet Baker- My Funny Valentine- all sung in minor notes. Very appropriate for a 60 plus degree winter day.

 

 Cheers! Wb the Cocktailwhisperer.com

Magic Monk Eventual Dream Punch by: Warren Bobrow

Magic Monk’s Eventual Dream Punch by: Warren Bobrow-Cocktail Whisperer

January 12, 2012

Pardon my fuzzy photography from my ancient iPhone- I had to capture this picture with the camera I had on hand.  This drink came together after a particularly unpleasant day yesterday.  My day started with two deeply placed cavities being drilled out- at the dentist.

Please don’t get me wrong, he is most gentle and very kind- no barbarians here!

My mouth was not happy and after a few hours of discomfort I was able to get to work writing and dreaming.

My mind sometimes wanders to cocktails for reasons other than purely creative expressions of my inner self.  Yesterday, it drifted towards alcohol to kill that dull pain of the experience.

I waited until the early evening to let my mind wander.  Waiting for the magic to take place.

A fire graced the dining room fireplace- warming against my back. I was eagerly awaiting that flood of inspiration from using great ingredients to create new flavors.

They lend their secrets through creativity.

The cast iron pan heated to smoking in the kitchen.  I had some tiny Florida Blood Oranges in a bowl for snacking, then, inspiration struck.  What if I segmented the oranges into sections, then seared them in the cast iron pan, smoking nicely in the background?   Certainly would change their flavor.  Deepen it somehow.  Make it sensual- a seared blood orange juice for a cocktail or a punch?  Absolutely.

But what liquor to go with this.  I’m sure cognac would work, but I didn’t want to go down that road from a flavor perspective.  I needed something with deep mystery.  What liquor evokes mystery more than Absinthe?   Nothing except maybe Chartreuse VEP?  Having several bottles of Absinthe and one of the VEP  in the liquor cabinet didn’t hurt.

Carefully I drew open the ancient wooden box that contained the VEP.  The wax covered top and hand numbered bottle looking like something from an alchemist’s lair.  The bottle of Absinthe that I chose was Tenneyson.  The company hails from Texas, yet the magic captured in the bottle is distilled in France.  Is there a connection here?  I’m not sure.

With the blood oranges popping up and down on the sizzling hot cast iron pan, I realized that they were attaining that crunchy covering that only can happen with high heat.   Removing them from the pan I set them aside to cool.  Then I juiced them by hand through a cocktail sieve.

I chilled this really cool mid-century modern glass down with some ice and water, but I didn’t want this drink to be cold.  My teeth were pretty sensitive at this point.

Combining a bit of Chartreuse with Absinthe takes real fortitude.  The Chartreuse VEP is 108 proof.  Not for the meek.  Tenneyson Absinthe, rolling in at 106 proof is at first sniff, pure Gin.  I don’t know how they do it, other than the specific Terroir of the herbs in their unique recipe.  This Absinthe is contemplative, yes- but when combined with Chartreuse VEP and charred blood orange juice- something magical takes place.

It is a punch beyond dreams- a simple drink really.  Made with passion!  You need to include two other ingredients that may have to be ordered directly from their source.  Bitter End Moroccan Bitters and Royal Rose Simple Syrup of Tamarind to acheive my flavor profile.  Or you can skip them and use the bitters on hand and a sugar cane simple syrup.

 

Magic Monk’s Eventual Dream Punch (Makes two or more… Just lovely cocktails)

Ingredients:

2 oz. Tenneyson Absinthe or your choice of Absinthe

.25 oz. Chartreuse VEP

4 oz. of grilled blood orange juice

A few slices of (ungrilled) blood orange for garnish

Bitter End Moroccan Bitters

Royal Rose Tamarind Syrup

Seltzer Water

Preparation:

Sear blood orange segments in a cast iron or stainless steel pan until nicely browned on both sides, set aside to cool, then juice through cocktail sieve

Combine Absinthe and Chartreuse VEP in a cocktail mixing vessel of your choice.

Add seared blood orange Juice slowly while mixing with a stainless steel cocktail mixer.  Be gentle. Watch the louche’ take place in the glass. Contemplate the creamy, gin and citrus scented aromas that rise up from within.

Add a medicine dropper of the Bitter End Moroccan Bitters.

Add a splash or two of the Royal Rose Tamarind Syrup.

Give another gentle stir.

Pour into one of your most favored glasses… Have a connection to your glass that you will pour the drink into- make it memorable and share this elegant little punch with someone who appreciates FLAVOR!

Top with a bit of seltzer water, and garnish with a slice of blood orange.  Sip, then dream into your Absinthe colored mystery!

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