Charleston Wine and Food Festival- March 2012
Charleston Wine and Food Festival- March 2012
Back in the eighties I bartended a bit, drank a fair amount of good bourbon in carefully learned, hand-crafted mint juleps, and cooked the line in a fine, white tablecloth restaurant near the historic waterfront area known as Ansonborough in Charleston, South Carolina.
That restaurant was named the Primerose House. Here at this very early proponent of locavore cooking I was introduced to the culture and mystique of the oft mentioned, never tasted branch water. After Hurricane Hugo set us all asunder in 1989, Charleston changed, but her charm, as a graceful Southern city has never faded.
Many moved on to other places and culinary careers, myself included. But the manners that I was taught in Charleston have stayed with me. I especially cite Martha Lou’s Kitchen for teaching me the value of listening under pressure in her non-air-conditioned kitchen. In the Soul Food restaurant she owns in Charleston, Martha Lou let me watch her cook. Once she trusted me after several months of my begging, she let me cook alongside her for a few lunches. Martha Lou also gave me another gift, the palate for all things hog, Southern culture and a glass of Bourbon Whiskey.
I was reading a food article in the New York Times by the noted Southern cultural raconteur named John T. Edge. He wrote a piece on All-American, Mexican Hot Dogs. His web presence begins with these words: “Eater, Writer, Educator.” As one of the founders of the Southern Foodways Alliance and a contributing columnist of the Oxford American Magazine, John T. Edge has a passion for bbq, clothing and fine Bourbon whiskey. I admire his pen and have learned much from his unforced, open ended- writing style. He has championed the work of Billy Reid, the 2001 CFDA Award winning clothing designer in his unique style of prose and Billy Reid in turn has created a carefully constructed shirt in honor of his friend John T. It sits amongst other bits and pieces of Southern vernacular clothing, not shouting, but gently calling out…put me on. Wear me home. This shirt is simply known as the John T. The shirt has a nice muted check, is narrow in length and is made, like many of the pieces of Billy Reid’s clothing designs, in Italy. This is clothing is meant to complement an afternoon of tasting ancient bottles of Bourbon or working in the corporate canyons of NYC. Billy Reid is known to most Southerners as their native son-their home-spun answer to Ralph Lauren.
While reading John T. Edge’s writing on his web page, I noticed that it immediately references bacon, one of my passions. This piqued my interest in Edge and his alliance with his clothing designer friend, Billy Reid, both modern day cultural icons of the New South.
Reid’s clothing store in NYC is sandwiched between renovated former industrial buildings on a rag-tag cobblestone street in Lower Manhattan. Here in the basement of a former manufacturing space, the gracious interior elegant as a fine gentleman’s bar room and open to the street through large sun filled windows, was the perfect venue in which to taste a series of three, half-century old bottles of Kentucky Bourbon whiskey. I sat with some of the friendly and eager staff and we discussed at length the concept, unknown to most Yankees (of which I am one) of branch water. Branch water, I learned is a direct connection to the cultural and culinary definition of Southern drinking heritage. Webster’s Dictionary defines branch water as: “Pure natural water from a stream or brook; often distinguished from soda water.”
I’ve found from my very short time living in Charleston South Carolina, somewhere out there in the steamy ancient forests-thick with blood-sucking ticks, leeches and poisonous snakes, (they wear those thick leather leg chaps when walking in the woods for a reason)–lays a Valhalla or holy-grail in “Bourbon-speak.” A pristine spring bubbles up sweet water, pure as the dew that lights up in sunlight shining on the elegantly dripping strands of Spanish moss. Vanilla-tea-colored water rises from the depths-situated directly in front of the roots of the almost mythical in proportion, ancient Southern Live-Oak tree. The sweet water found here is known as branch. It is one of the defining elements of Bourbon understanding, the physical act of discovering for the first time…spring of water bursting from the ground, the essence of purity and grace, danced simply over a glass of the brown liquid. The next act in appreciation of the past is by making a perfect drink with that branch. This physical interaction of adding branch to Bourbon binds hundreds of years of Southern culture and drinking lore.
I offered to bring the employees at Billy Reid, a bottle of locally sourced branch.
Near where I live is the Morristown National Historical Park. There is an ancient artisanal well somewhere out there in the deep woods. (Historically, it was used by George Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War.) This source of branch, sweet and alive with minerals, is from the pure spring located at the foot of a long forgotten rotted oak. The sweet water bubbling up from the depths remains to this very day. Its secret location is just up in the woods from me apiece.
I know they’ll smile at Billy Reid because finding a previously undiscovered source of real branch water is a rare experience. It is my desire to put the bottle of this geographically specific Yankee Branch water into the hands of Billy Reid himself drawing a modern connection to his upbringing as a Son of the NEW South.
Some may say that they rue the day that a Southern cocktail would even allow the introduction of Yankee Branch water and call it a nip. I say create your own history by using what is available and that branch should speak clearly of the earth from which it arose.
It only takes a few drops of branch to liven a brown elixir in your great- grandfather’s unwashed crystal tumbler. An antique bottle of branch water may last a lifetime. Branch is not used casually; but the simple act of using the branch is a specific connection to Southern lore and Bourbon cocktails.
Branch water, when used correctly, is metered out in small portions, only use a small amount! Just what fits between your bare fingers. It was described to me on an ancient plantation somewhere east of the Cooper River, as gently snapping your branch water-moistened fingers together over the glass. There is a specific sound, one that was made by moving one’s fingers together. I would imagine snapping my fingers underwater to approximate the feeling. This pure liquid entering the glass, scattering over the top of the glistening- 55 year old Bourbon was in my experience, a physical bond to a bygone age.
This specific act of making a Bourbon and branch cocktail hasn’t changed much in several hundred years.
As we sipped our whiskey in the former basement industrial space-its original inhabitants long gone-standing over hand-hewn barn-wood floors, surrounded by the casual, unforced elegance of bespoke Southern gentility clothing we tasted our way through 3 unique bottles of Kentucky Bourbon dating from 1952 to 1959. The flavors unleashed from the long sealed bottles linger on in my mind.
The Historic Bourbon:
Old Forester 100 Proof/Bottled in Bond
Set into oak: Spring 1952-bottled fall 1957.
Warm treacle tinged molasses. Sun-dried walnut butter, melted then smeared on crunchy, fire-toasted cornmeal Hoecakes.
Exceptionally long finish with exotic Jungle Curry undertones. This liquor tastes as fresh as the day it was bottled. Bottle looks like a sputnik. Space Age stuff!
Old Forester 100 Proof/Bottled in Bond
Set into oak: Fall 1954-bottled fall 1959
Sweet tobacco cream and freshly dug peat. Caramelized yams in the mid-palate. Dry, country ham finish with a whiff of pit-roasted Hog Cracklins’ at the end. Bottle is modern in design and interesting looking, with the real surprise contained within, a history lesson of the way Bourbon used to taste before modern innovations changed the way Bourbon is made. Crafted by artisans long gone.
Old Grand Dad 100 Proof/Bottled in Bond
Set into oak: Fall 1954-bottled fall 1958
Creamy, sweet vanilla fire gives way to a pecan brittle mid-palate. Long mouth filling finish with sharp hints of Southern blackberries and brown butter coated and roasted-hazelnuts dipped in crushed dark bittersweet chocolate pastilles. Hints of those slushy mint juleps enjoyed in Charleston, South Carolina*with Booker’s Bourbon* under the piazza at the Primerose House. This bottle looked like a Baccarat Crystal decanter.
All whiskeys served without ice in a unwashed glass with the sweet soulful drones of Greg Spradlin tearing it up on the stereo, serving as background music for our tasting and deeper conversations.
Our new friends at the Wild River Review have recently discovered ROOT and have been experimenting with ROOT. This one’s perfect for the cold days that will soon be upon us. Drink up and enjoy.
2 Ounces of Single Origin Hot Chocolate from Askinosie (or your choice)
2 shots Root-The USDA Certified Organic Neutral Spirits with North American Herbs and Pure Cane Sugar
1 shot Branca Menta Amaro (super intense mint liquor from Milano, Italy
freshly whipped cream
(there REALLY is no substitute for the real thing, throw out those cans of chemical fluff they call whipped cream)
Prepare a mug with boiling water to heat through and through.
Pour out the water, the mug should be really hot.
Add Branca Menta, then the Root liquor, then top with Hot Chocolate-finish with a large spoonful of freshly whipped cream.. scrape some fresh nutmeg over the top and reflect on your fine manners by offering your friend a cup.
….. sip and enjoy!
Heat and humidity is what says “Charleston, South Carolina” in the summertime. The air, thick with the sour smell of decay from the confluence of the Cooper and the Ashley Rivers at low tide. Fort Sumpter just out of reach, where the Civil War started they say. The mood somehow becomes somber around town. People run amok for the smallest things. Heat and the unrelenting breezes will do that — it makes them crazy!
I was working as a chef at the Primrose House and Tavern. Joann Yaeger, the owner and creative force behind the restaurant, would gather me up at the end of a particularly busy night at the restaurant, under the broad piazzas that signified the architectural history of this former mansion, to learn the art of the hand-crafted mint julep. Bourbon would be at the ready. Sterling silver julep cups, polished to a crisp shine waiting in the wings, along with ice to be crushed, sugar to be muddled and mint just picked from the garden.
Biodynamic Wine article for Edible Jersey by: Warren Bobrow
This is my 8 minute interview for the website: My Path Builder. Thanks for watching. wb
We are happy, no, ecstatic to be able to introduce you to our newest contributor. Warren Bobrow does not write about design, and yet, his work is all about designing; designing the perfect drink that is. Warren’s ability to not only create masterful cocktails but to carefully craft descriptions that evoke the perfect ambiance has garnered his publications great reviews, both nationally and internationally. Warren is the Food and Drink Editor of the 501c3 non profit Wild Table on Wild River Review located in Princeton, New Jersey. He attended the Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, where he successfully sought and found quite a few well prepared drinks and you can see him in person when he presents on the topic of rum at the Charleston, SC Wine and Food Festival in 2012.
His research on Biodynamic and Organic Wine and Food will appear in the 2012 Oxford Encyclopedia of Food/Drink in America, Ed., 2.
Warren has published over three hundred articles on everything from cocktail mixology to restaurant reviews. (Served Raw, Drinking in America, DrinkGal.com, Bluewater Vodka, Purity Vodka, Botran Rum, Orleans Apple Aperitif, Marie Brizard, Art in the Age: Root, Snap, Rhuby, Hendricks Gin, Sailor Jerry Rum, Tuthilltown Spirits, Bitter Cube, Bitter Truth, Bitter End-Bitters, Voda Magazine and dozens of other spirit and wine publications, nationally and internationally.)
Warren’s recipe for the “Last Pirate Ship” just appeared in Daily Candy Magazine.
He’s written food articles and news for Edible Jersey, Chutzpah Magazine, NJ Monthly and does a bit of traditional newspaper food journalism.
He is one of the cocktail bloggers for Williams-Sonoma and Foodista, as well as Serious Eats.
He is a Ministry of Rum judge and, if all of that were not enough, Warren is also a trained photojournalist and shoots with the venerable Leica M8.
Sometimes the most interesting cocktails are the easiest to make- you just have to know how to use a careful hand.
To kick off this end of summer cocktail- I look to the farmer’s markets that are just brimming with the flavors of the season.
Using fresh herbs in a cocktail has always intrigued me. I love cooking with basil, thyme; rosemary- they combine beautifully with vegetables and fruits in culinary arena- why not in a cocktail?
The explosion of herbaceous and spice infused rums on the market inspired me to open the tool-kit of Friday “after work” cocktails that speak clearly of the season.
When I was down in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail, mixologists experimented with many culinary ingredients in their concoctions.
Late summer fruit like peaches, white rum and lemon thyme combine to make a dreamy little cocktail. I call it the Peach Punch- what makes it a punch? The addition of freshly squeezed citrus juices. The base is firmly in the tropics with the use of crisp and aromatic white rum. This drink is served elegantly in a Martini glass with a slice of peach and a leaf (or two) of lemon thyme.
Late Summer, Peach Punch
The most aromatic peach you can find- just a few thin slices per cocktail is used
Spiced rum like Sailor Jerry (in a pinch, a fruit or vanilla scented vodka)
Freshly squeezed lime juice (about a 2 tablespoons, it’s essential to use fresh juice!)
Crush a few slices of fresh peaches in a cocktail shaker with a few pieces of lemon thyme (no wood!)
Fresh Ice to cocktail shaker (just a few large cubes- you don’t want to dilute this cocktail)
Add fresh lime juice
Add 3 shots of spiced rum (like Sailor Jerry) or flavored vodka
Shake until the cocktail shaker is frosty
Strain into a Martini glass – Garnish with a slapped piece of mint and sprinkle few leaves of lemon thyme over the top. To slap mint- put it in your hand and slap it with the other- it releases the oils with this motion.
The Jimi Cocktail
I certainly didn’t invent this, but what I did do is refine it with “slapped” mint and a cucumber round and Rhum Agricole (or white Rum).
Ever since I sat as a Rum Judge at the 2010 Ministry of Rum tasting competition in San Francisco, the whole direction of my spirits-writing career has changed. I used to only write about wine.
Then a flash went off: wine is so serious; why not write about something fun, like spirits?
I’ve always loved rum. Rum appeals to me.
Rum is a spirit woven from history. Flavors exist within rums that don’t reveal themselves in other lighter-colored liquors. I’m a fan of rums aged in used wooden casks that formerly held bourbon or cognac. The caramelized notes of smoke, butter and bittersweet chocolate reveal themselves beautifully with the white flower aromas of freshly crushed cane sugar.
What is good rum, and how does it differ from all other rums? I’m not entirely sure. But when you’re out on a yacht, somewhere between Bermuda and the Virgin Islands, nothing tastes so delicious with some coconut water ice.
Over the past few years, Tiki Bar cocktail lounges have revealed themselves as funky representations of times gone past. Tiki gives credence to the easier times in America.
Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco faithfully reproduces a dream Tiki bar located down off a decaying pier, jutting out into a world of rotting boats and handcrafted cocktails. If a stage set of liquid pleasures could be created, Smuggler’s Cove fits the West Coast genre to a T. Over on the East Coast, on the Island of Manhattan — described as the Greatest Island in the World – PKNY – formerly named Painkiller(the name is another story for another day) has a knack for Tiki as well.
Here’s a Tiki Bar cocktail you’ve never had before.
The Yachtsman’s Demise
3 oz. Kōloa Rum from Hawaii (use their Spiced Rum for this cocktail)
1 oz. fresh mango juice
1/2 tsp. freshly chopped coconut meat
1/2 tsp. freshly scraped ginger
3 drops Bitter End Thai Bitters
6 ice cubes made with coconut water and freshly grated nutmeg (just a bit, it’s strong stuff!)
1/2 oz. Lemon Hart 151 Rum
Q-Ginger Ale to finish
Fill a cocktail shaker with fresh ice (reserve your coconut water ice for the glass). Add the Kōloa Rum to the shaker, then the fresh mango juice, coconut meat and ginger. Add the Bitter End Thai Bitters.
Shake and strain into a tall Tiki (ceramic) mug filled with your coconut water and grated nutmeg ice cubes. Float the Lemon Hart 151 Rum over the top, and finish with Q-Ginger Ale. Makes 1 cocktail.