genever, or before gin

bols-genever-gin-antique-bottleBelgium might be best known for its beer, but it also makes a special spirit called genever (pronounced jen-EE-ver). Produced for over 500 years, this drink is to Belgium as whiskey is to Scotland. Many of today’s classic gin cocktails were originally made with genever, and with good cause: English gin evolved from this Belgian forebear. Belgians generally sip and savor genever ice cold in shot glasses that have just been pulled from the freezer, but why not shake things up and swap out gin for genever in a cooling summer cocktail? I’ve suddenly got a hankering for a new-style Pimm’s Cup.

Share

thai delight

20121206-082006.jpg

Share

secret whisky agenda

Confession time: the true reason for my wanting to stop off and spend a bit of time in Oban is the distillery, which – you guessed it – makes one of my favorite brown liquors. Oban also happens to be one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland – physically and spiritually at the heart of the town. In fact it predates the town. Founded by local brothers John and Hugh Stevenson, who established a boat building yard, a tannery, and in the 1790s a brewery which by 1794 would become the Oban distillery, the town of Oban is largely a byproduct of the brother’s business enterprises. By the late 19th century it had become a busy port which shipped wool, whisky, slate and kelp to Liverpool and Glasgow. The arrival of the Victorian railways brought further prosperity, revitalising local industry and giving birth to local tourism. In 1883 the distillery fell from family hands when it was bought by J. Walter Higgin. He dismantled and rebuilt it bit by bit, carefully replicating the famously small stills and other traditional features in order to preserve the quality of the whisky. Today the distillery buildings and their internal arrangements are substantially the same as they were following Higgin’s refurbishment. The distillery has only two pot stills, making it one of the smallest in Scotland, and the whisky it produces perfectly echoes its coastal location: briny on the nose with a background of heather and peat. It’s a distinctive West Highland flavor which falls somewhere between the lighter, sweeter Highland malts of Glenmorangie and Dalmore and the dry, smoky island-style of Talisker and Laphroig. Single malt whisky has been made here for over 200 years; by contrast it’s only recently that very exceptional malts were bottled and sold as ‘singles,’ as opposed to blended. Guided by senior site manager, Mike Tough, I was lucky enough to be taken through the whiskey making process and given a bit of insight into Oban’s unique profile: made using barley malted to the distillery’s particular specification, the partly germinated kernels are gently dried in a kiln where a light peat smoke gives the malt its distinctive character. The particularly addictive malty dryness in the flavor and finish of Oban whisky owes almost as much to how the grain is handled as it does the small-batch distillation process and a stillman’s attention to detail. It’s no cliche to say you can taste the tradition – and the finish is ever so smooth.

Share

live blog: sunrise, sunset

On my final night into day at The Lodge at Doonbeg I had the dubious whiskey-fueled distinction of witnessing both the sunset and sunrise from the 18th green of the Greg Norman-designed links course. The sky was a sight, each time in its own breathtaking way.

Share

live blog: pure pot still

This trip has seen my eyes opened to not just one but two new single pot still whiskies: the old school Green Spot, and the literary-inspired Writer’s Tears. The pure pot still technique is unique to Ireland, which by 1802 accounted for 90% of the world’s exported whiskey. Pot still – not to be confused with poitin, a high-alcohol content Irish moonshine – developed as a reaction to the British taxation on Irish malt. In an effort to avoid the taxes, Irish distillers decided to use a higher percentage of unmalted barley as opposed to malted barley, which resulted in a very different style of whiskey – one that became highly sought after for its smooth finish. Though once widespread, a number of historical factors including mass emigration and the war for independence led to a drastic reduction in the number of functioning distilleries. Those that survived turned to producing less labor-intensive blends and single malts. Yet in concert with the food movement which has swept over Ireland the last five to ten years, so, too, has there been increased demand for a more artisanal-style distillation as embodied by Green Spot, Writer’s Tears, and another favorite, Red Breast. The inverted percentage of barleys in the mix makes for a lighter, spicier-tasting drink. If they hit the high notes a bit too hard at first, that’s rectified by a splash of water or a cube of ice. Even better is what happens during the maturing process. At 12 years, Red Breast takes on the woody bass notes and amber hue you’d expect from cask aging. I’d expect in the coming years these other two should fare equally well.

Share

irish coffee (non-blarney edition)

According to sources, the first Irish coffee was invented and named by Joe Sheridan, head chef at the restaurant and coffee shop in the Foynes terminal building. (A precursor to Shannon Airport, Foynes was the last port of call for seaplanes on the eastern shore of the Atlantic. During Word War II it would become one of the biggest civilian airports in Europe) The coffee was conceived after a group of American passengers disembarked from a Pan Am flying boat one miserable winter evening in the 1940s. Sheridan added whiskey to the coffee to warm them. After the passengers asked if they were being served Brazilian coffee, Sheridan told them it was Irish coffee and the name stuck. In 1951, Stanton Delaplane, a travel writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, tasted what had by then become the traditional airport welcome drink and was smitten. Returning home he told his friend Jack Koeppler, owner of the Buena Vista Café and the two set about trying to recreate the drink. Stymied by the Irish flair for floating the cream on top, the duo went so far as to seek help from the city’s then mayor, George Christopher, who also happened to own a dairy. He suggested that cream aged for at least 48 hours would be more apt to float, and so it did. In later years, after the Buena Vista had served, by its count, more than 30 million of the drinks, Delaplane and the owners claimed to grow tired of the drink. (And who can blame them, the currency had been cheapened: bastardized versions of a drink that were less hot toddy and more like hot candy had popped up everywhere.) A snark after my own heart commented that the problem with Irish coffee is that it ruins three good drinks – coffee, cream, and whiskey – but you’d never surmise that from the crowds that still take the Hyde Street cable car to Maritime Park in search of the original elixir. In fact, if you’ve never tasted a proper Irish coffee, you have no idea what you are missing – two go down nicely on an afternoon, while three guarantee a lovely start to the evening. Here’s how it’s done: Fill a glass goblet with hot water, then empty. Pour in hot coffee until about three-quarters full.  Drop in two sugar cubes. Stir. Add a full jigger of whiskey and top with a collar of lightly whipped cream. Do not stir. Drink piping hot in two or three sips. Okay, four at most.

Share

wishlist: the perfect (un) cube

When it comes to ice – to paraphrase a famous ecdysiast - you either got it, or you ain’t. (And boys, I got it.)  Or rather, I want it. Let the 2011 holiday wishlist begin with this Ice Ball Press Kit from Cirrus. For years I’ve been prattling on about substandard ice and you wouldn’t believe the curious looks I get – as though all ice was created equal. Ha! Too long a staple of only high-end cocktail bars, where a bartender would actually hand-carve them out of frozen blocks, these ice spheres have way less surface area than cubed or crushed ice. Which means they melt slowly, chilling your drink instead of making soup. If you think that sounds just a bit too precious try splurging for an aged single-malt whiskey. It’s something you want to savor, not slurp – and that, dear reader, is what proper ice is all about. The 16lb, gravity-powered, aluminum presses come in 2 sizes to produce either 2”- or 2.75”-diameter balls, and’ll turn out the perfectly round drink-coolers in just under a minute with next-to-no cleanup or attention. Santa, I’m ready to be bowled over.

Share

live blog: meditating on the practical applications of icebergs

Add whiskey and enjoy.

Share

Proudly powered by WordPress
Theme: Esquire by Matthew Buchanan.