The cool air is heavy with the smell of wine as our guide beckons us toward a wooden cask perched at eye level on a stand. We’re in an immense, high ceilinged stone warehouse in the southwest of Spain, beams of sunlight streaming in from windows high above us. Reaching behind the cask, he flips a switch and we realize the circular top and bottom barrel ends are made of clear plastic. The cask is mostly full of pale liquid, but floating on top is a quarter-inch thick layer of what appears to be mold.
Wait? Is this normal? Is it safe to drink? Odd as it may seem, the thick layer of yeast cells protect the wine from oxygen and creates an aging environment practically unique within the wine and spirits world. But this unusual yeast layer, known as “flor,” is just one of many dimensions that gives sherry it’s most unusual flavor–and makes it much more than just another wine.
A recent online piece from Bon Appetit, Why We’re Drinking Black Rum, a Caribbean Spirit Even Whiskey-Drinkers Can Love, really got my dander up. Not that Bon Appetit is on my regular reading list, but when the linked passed by in my Google News alert for rum, I naturally had to see what a “mainstream” and respected food and drink magazine had to say about rum. As it turns out, the same-old blatantly incorrect “conventional wisdom.”
Quoting the article: “So, what separates black rum from its lighter counterparts? For one, it’s aged for much longer than white rums. The aging process takes place inside a well-charred barrel, where the molasses-based spirit takes on the smoky characteristics of its environment. The result is that black rum shares taste characteristics with your favorite whiskeys, but with a touch more sweetness.”
If you’ve been around these parts or the Cocktail Wonk Instagram feed for any length of time, you know Tiki drinks play a big role in the Wonky lifestyle. I revere the classics like the 1944 Mai Tai and the Jet Pilot, while celebrating modern recipes from my Tiki Monster friends like Jason Alexander, Martin Cate, Justin Wojslaw, and Zac Overman. Every so often I dip my toes into crafting my own concoctions using elements of the Tiki pattern and Minimalist Tiki principles. So hereby I present an original Tiki recipe that we’ve been enjoying the hell out of lately: The Tonga Thunder.
In his 1895 book, The Time Machine, H.G. Wells posits a tabletop device that takes people backward and forward in time. Even if you can’t literally travel through time (yet), the ability to compress it has nearly limitless appeal. With his disruptive, rapid aging technology for spirits, Bryan Davis is doing just that: A way of forcing the chemical reactions that occur during barrel aging to happen orders of magnitude faster than Mother Nature would allow in her own sweet time.
It’s no surprise that Davis has latched on to a time machine metaphor for his rapid-aging spirit reactor (“a time machine for booze”), even using it as the title of his TEDx presentation about it. Now, I realize this may be old news to many of you, as the story of Lost Spirits and Bryan has spread far and wide. Stories in Wired, the Huffington Post, and numerous other spirits publications (including yours truly) have told the story many times over.
Banana. Chocolate. Rich aged rum. Gentian root. Peppery spice. Intrigued? These are just some of the flavors dancing together in Seattle bartender Cameron George’s Havana Hustle, a semifinal-winning entry in the Bacardi Legacy Global Cocktail competition. In a few weeks, he’ll be taking his entry to the U.S. Finals in Miami, and if he dominates there, on to Berlin for the Global finals in the spring.
For spirits wonks, one of the great joys of travel is seeking out new and exotic bottled treasures and returning home with them in tow. It’s the thrill of the hunt – what will you find? Maybe it’s a bottle you never knew existed, or perhaps it’s one you’ve been stalking for years. Here in the U.S., the three-tier system makes it royal pain sometimes to find what you’d like at your local stores. So hunting for liquor while you travel, both domestically and internationally, can be highly rewarding.
When it comes to bringing liquor back into the U.S. from international travel, the biggest source of fear and confusion is “duty,” aka the duty free exemption. Generally speaking, U.S. residents can return to the U.S. with one liter of spirits, duty free. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) site says this:
So many cocktails! So little time! Such is the nature of Speed Rack–a bartender-organized charity competition, now in its sixth year. It pits an all-female set of contestants in head-to-head competitions to make four drinks at once, called for at random by a panel of judges. Thanks to sponsorship by some of biggest names in the spirits world, one hundred percent of the event’s proceeds go to breast cancer research.
Battling side-by-side in a bracket format, pairs of contestants race to make all four drinks in the shortest time possible while keeping their creations up to the highest craft cocktail standards. Each contestant is timed as they make their drinks, and afterwards the four judges evaluate the cocktail they called for, as made by the two contestants. The judges may add additional seconds to the contestant’s timings based on how well the cocktail meets their standards. A perfectly executed drink yields no time added, while a disastrous showing can add up to thirty seconds. Continue reading “Northwest Speed Rack 2017 in Pictures”
If you’ve paid any attention to the high-end rum world as of late, you’ve no doubt noticed a large upswing in the number of special, limited-edition releases by the major players. Guyana’s El Dorado has a healthy handful of special “finishes” (red wine, white port, Madeira, Sauternes) for their twelve- and fifteen-year mainstays. Mount Gay has its Origins series (pot vs. column, virgin cask vs. charred cask), and a pricey, limited edition XO cask strength. Ron Zacapa’s Reserva Limitada 2014 claims to have spent two additional (?) years aging “…in a herb garden created high above the clouds…”
On one hand, special releases are a good thing for the rum category, providing enthusiasts like yours truly with more collectibles for their shelves. Equally important, they provide strong evidence outside of the rum world that there’s more to the category than millions of liters of Bacardi silver and Captain Morgan. On the other, some of these releases feel like gratuitous money grabs. Sure, they may be limited release, but do they really warrant the 2x or 3x premium for similar products from the same producer? Into this maelstrom of special, limited release products steps The Real McCoy, a relative newcomer to the rum world, that recently released a limited-edition twelve year rum. Let’s put it up on the rack and take a look.
In early 2016, Mrs. Wonk and I trekked across Islay and Speyside in Scotland, visiting as many single malt Scotch whisky distilleries as time allowed during our all too brief ten-day stay. In a series of posts, I’m documenting our experiences, one distillery at a time with tons of photos. If you’re not familiar with how single malt Scotch whisky is made, I highly suggest first reading my prologue post, Essential Highlights of a Scotch Whisky Distillery Visit. What follows is our visit to the Cragganmore distillery in Ballindalloch, Speyside.
Day five of our single malt distillery sprint dawns with a crisp, cold morning, the skies clearing after the prior evening’s rain. Most of the snow has melted and the roads are blessedly free of cars as we hurry along the two-lane A95 from Dufftown to Banffshire. It’s our first daytime experience in the rural parts of Speyside outside of Dufftown and Rothes, and the sights are everything we’d hoped for–lush green farmland rolling as far as the eye can see, bridges over sparkling streams, and rugged low mountains in the distance. Today is our “Diageo Day,” with visits to two of the Scotch whisky powerhouse’s lesser known distilleries in store. Our first stop: Cragganmore.
While 2016 was a year many would have gladly skipped, here in the Cocktail Wonk corner of the boozy blogosphere, it’s been gangbusters for great experiences and stories. As I wrote my 2015 roundup post a year ago, I wasn’t altogether convinced that 2016 would be able to top it. Boy, was I wrong!
Over the past twelve months, I’ve written fewer straight-up spirit reviews and cocktail recipes and more long form essays. It’s taken a while to get to that level. The opportunities for unknown stories and fresh takes on topics are there to be found, but it requires waiting for the right contacts and opportunities to fall into place, as they did this year.
What follows is my take on the most important topics I covered this year. It’s an entirely subjective ranking on my part, without regard to actual page visit statistics. Some entries represent a single post that particularly resonated with readers, while others are a collection of posts. Hyperlinks to the original posts are interspersed in the descriptions below.