Dizzy Recap: Winter is for Whisky

Martin Daraz, Highland Park brand ambassador, leads a toast at Highlands Scottish gastropub in the West Village. Photo by Phillip Angert.

Now that it’s officially spring [despite the fact that I’m still wearing a sweater], I can say there was an overarching theme to my drink of choice this winter–a spicy, amber-hued theme. Considering that the winter of 2009-2010 has been more tenacious than in years past, I don’t think it’s too surprising that I’ve turned to Scotch whisky to keep warm and stay sane.

What is it about whisky that makes it so warming? All alcohol is warming–although in reality, alcohol increases bloodflow to the extremities, which lowers the core body temperature–but whisky/whiskey and bourbon in particular seem to heat the tongue and the body much faster than other spirits.  Curious, I posed this question to a few whisky enthusiasts, and got some interesting theories:

“It’s a perception due to the complexity of the spirit,” said Robin Robinson, brand ambassador for Compass Box Whisky. “The congeners present are full of fatty lipids. Our senses interpret these as we do all fats, essential to the energy engine of the body, translating to a sense of well-being. It’s why we like comfort foods. We interpret that as ‘warmth.'”

Dr. Bill Lumsden of Glenmorangie attributes the warming effect to the amount of time the whisky sits in wood casks, which he believes creates a chemical reaction in the body.

And then there were the more cryptic answers from Richard “The Nose” Paterson of The Dalmore: “only whisky is distilled with warmth and love;” and Sam “Dr. Whisky” Simmons of Balvenie: “Why does butter make life better? Why does music played on records sound better than on CDs or (eek!) MP3s? Why is the heart-warming feeling you get from receiving 100 birthday emails equivalent to receiving just one letter in the mail any other day of the year? Why can Nina Simone send more shivers than a bucket of ice water? If whisky be the water of life, drink on.”

Hey, I’m with you there, Dr. Whisky, but if there’s any reason to have a little whisky science experiment, I’ll be a happy lab rat. If anyone wants to dig deeper into this “hot” mystery, let me know.

Earlier this year, I veered from a 10-day veggie detox straight into the arms of The Macallan at “Flight Through the Decades” at SoHo House. Graeme Russell, East Coast Brand Ambassador for The Macallan Single Malt Scotch, led a room packed with discerning bloggers (tweeting all the while) through drams ranging from fresh-off-the still new make spirit to 50- and 52-year old vintages. Each dish paired with the aged Scotch beautifully, and I had the added bonus of meeting NotCot, immaculate infatuation, cool hunting, and photographer cwhateyec (check out more photos from the event here). It was definitely a luscious (or is it lush-ous?) way to ring in a new year of drinking!

Then to kick off February, I sat in on “For Peat’s Sake,” a roundtable discussion at Beekman Bar & Books, listening to some whisky scholars (aka fanatics) discuss the finer points of peaty Scotch. Peat – dried bricks of decayed bog vegetation, historically used as fuel in Scotland, is roasted during the distillation process, leaving a smoky, spicy essence unique to the region. John Henry of Pipeline Brands moderated the meeting of minds, and speakers included Sam “Dr. Whisky” Simmons (brand ambassador for Balvenie), Jeffery Karlovich (Whisky Life magazine, Whisky Guild social network), Robin Robinson (brand ambassador for Compass Box), Peter Silver (Malt Maniacs), and Simon Brooking (brand ambassador, Ardmore and Laphroaig). It was a treat to sit by the fire and learn about peat’s earthy flavors and hear how China and India are flooding the demand for peaty Scotch. To learn more about what we drank, head over to Teleport City  – Keith Allison took way better notes than I did.

And I can’t believe I tasted $4,000 Scotch during the launch of Highland Park’s limited edition 1968. Please show my Examiner page some love for the details on that one – let’s just say it was one elegant evening that quickly took my mind off that evening’s monsoon.

And just when it seemed like seasonal affective disorder might kick in, Glenmorangie came to the rescue with an “Inside the Whiskey Maker’s Lab” tasting at Apotheke. Signet, Nectar D’Or, a fire show by Albert Trummer – if that doesn’t take the edge off during winter in NYC, well I don’t know what will. And unfortunately I missed the lovely “Women & Whisky” fundraiser earlier this month sponsored by Compass Box Whisky and LUPEC NYC at Astor Center, but I heard it was a smashing success. Check out Wine Mag for a roundup the drool-inducing whisky cocktails I missed out on – sad I couldn’t make it.

So long as this cool weather lingers, I’ll be reaching for that aged, amber dram… and I’m not complaining! Looking for a dram? Here’s a list of some of the best whisky/whiskey bars in NYC.

Macallan through the decades. Photo by John Walder, cwhateyec.com

'69 Macallan, baby!

Simon Brooking (Ardmore and Laiphroaig) and Robin Robinson (Compass Box) get peaty with it. Photos by Lush Life Productions.

Dr. Bill Lumsden of Glenmorangie dishes the latest whisky research at Apotheke.

Albert Trummer knows how to kick it up a notch at Apotheke.

Kiss the Bottle: Seven Sultry Spirits for Valentine’s Day

“I kissed the bottle/I should’ve been kissing you/You wake up to an empty night/With tears for two”–Jawbreaker, “Kiss the Bottle”

Who says you need a date for Valentine’s Day? Love and lust are fleeting, but a good bottle of liquor will never let you down. Everyone’s sharing Valentine’s Day cocktail recipes, but here are seven spirits that can be sipped on their own, no mixing required. Pour one out with your sweetie or a friend, or with your fine-lookin’ self, on February 14 or, honestly, any other time of the year:

Compass Box Hedonism

Silky with notes of vanilla, toffee, cocoa and coconut, this 100% grain whisky lives up to its name. Retails about $80/750ml bottle.

Ilegal Mezcal

Velvety on the palate with balanced smokiness, there's a hint of caramel apple in this lust-worthy agave spirit. The reposado retails for about $55/bottle.

Pierre Ferrand Ambre

Delicate with notes of caramel, orange peel, almond, and vanilla, this 10-year cognac is subtle. Retails for $40/750ml bottle.

Glenmorangie Signet

Made with roasted chocolate malt barley and offering notes of espresso, this rich, dark single malt is aged more than 34 years. Retails for $195/bottle.

Santa Teresa 1796

Aged up to 35 years, this sipping rum is rich with notes of toffee, caramel, cocoa, and ripe banana. Retails for about $40/bottle.

Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth

Based on a 1786 recipe, this stunning aperitif offers notes of apricot, vanilla, baking spices, and candied orange. Retails for about $30/bottle.

Martini Rossi Sparkling Rosé Minis

Could these sparkling rosés be any cuter? Sweet, sexy, and just $15 a pack.

Dizzy Recap: The First Dizzy Fizz Blogger Brunch!

I had no trouble filling the room with bloggers who brunch at Clover Club.

“I exercise extreme self-control. I never drink anything stronger than gin before breakfast.” —W.C. Fields

How about mezcal and tequila with brunch? Something tells me W.C. Fields would have approved. On Sunday, January 24, I had the pleasure of hosting nearly 30 of NYC’s best cocktail, food, and lifestyle bloggers at Clover Club in Brooklyn for a “blogger brunch” in praise of agave spirits. My vision was pretty simple–I know enough writers via Twitter and through blogging who love to network and love to brunch, so why not gather them together so we can do that at the same time? Fortunately, Sombra Mezcal, Partida Tequila, and Clover Club’s owner, Julie Reiner, all agreed to help make the idea a reality.

Clover Club’s private parlor room, complete with a real fireplace, was the perfect setting for the rainy day occasion, and both the liquid and food offerings were tantalizing enough to satisfy even the pickiest foodies in the crowd. We began with a large bowl of punch that included Partida tequila, Chartreuse, muddled mint, and lime juice. This was an instant ice-breaker and refreshed everyone’s palates as we settled down to learn about Sombra from Jen Craig of Domaine Select Wine Estates, which represents Sombra as part of their Classic & Vintage boutique spirits line.

Jen told us how Sombra is made from organically-harvested agave in Oaxaca, Mexico, and then the pinas (agave hearts) are mesquite-roasted to give them an earthy smokiness. Other than 10 percent water used during the fermentation process, nothing is added to Sombra, which is double-distilled in copper pots. Jen led us through a tasting of Sombra on its own (retails for about $45 per bottle), giving us an opportunity to discover the subtle citrus tasting notes. Then we were given Julie’s original “Oaxacan Daisy” (Sombra, CioCiaro Amaro, raspberry syrup, blood orange juice, and lemon juice, served over crushed ice). I had asked for a Valentine’s Day-themed cocktail [I know, cheesiest holiday ever], and this ruby red concoction delivered–the mezcal added a sexy smokiness to balance the sweetness of the raspberry.

Before we delved into the Partida, plates of deliciousness were served to help us soak up the aforementioned booze: family-style tastings of bacon (maple bacon, black pepper bacon, and duck bacon), deviled eggs four ways, and baguettes with jam. For our main course, we had a choice of baked eggs with truffle and leeks, pork ‘n’ grits, or a decadent lamb burger with goat cheese. This was paired with a “Bloody Maria”–a spicy Partida tequila bloody mary.

We then heard from Partida brand manager Dave Singh about Partida’s efforts to stand out among the other premium tequilas on the market. We were fortunate to have a straight tasting of Partida Reposado (retails for about $55 per bottle), which renowned spirits reviewer F. Paul Pacult gives five stars (the highest rating). Aged for six months in Jack Daniels barrels, Partida Reposado has an amber hue and a peppery, yet subtly sweet flavor, with a smooth finish.

Special thanks to: Katie Darling (our lovely mixologist for the brunch), Chef Craig Rivard, Jen Craig, Dave Singh, Julie Reiner, and Leo Borovskiy from Lush Life Productions for taking amazing photos as always. And thanks to all of the bloggers who made it out despite the drizzle and the beginning of what was the final Jets game of the season. It was great to see so many new and familiar faces, and I think everyone agreed that there needs to be more blogger brunches in the near future–I look forward to the next one!

“Oaxacan Daisy” by Julie Reiner

1 1/2 oz. Sombra Mezcal

1/2 oz. CioCiaro Amaro

3/4 oz. raspberry syrup

1/2 oz. blood orange juice (fresh-squeezed)

1/2 oz. lemon juice (fresh-squeezed)

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass, add pellet ice, and swizzle to combine.

Dizzy Recap: The Six Dizziest Moments of 2009

Junior Merino, The Liquid Chef.

So really, this recap only reflects the past seven months of 2009 since I started this blog in May, but so much radness went down that I thought the time period deserved some pause–including one event I haven’t even recapped until now because life and too many cocktails got in the way (it happens to the best of us).

  • Junior Merino’s Liquid Lab (November): Holy hole in a lotus root, if you have been to Junior’s lab you have truly tasted the rainbow.  Primarily for bartenders, this free, day-long experience at Junior’s offices in the Bronx (sorry, no photos allowed) is a mix of mad cocktail science and blind tastings. On the day I attended, we tasted five different kinds of vodka, cachaca, rum, pisco, tequila, and mezcal, and we tasted everything twice. Tasting spirits twice (after lots of water and spitting) allowed my palate and brain to register more intense flavors. We then mixed cocktails using each type of spirit and pulled ingredients from Junior’s seemingly endless supply of liquor, liqueurs, juices, syrups, bitters, fresh produce and herbs, garnishes, spices, salts–really anything you could imagine, it was there. Each cocktail we made included at least one sponsored ingredient–Combier Orange Liqueur, Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur, and Castries Peanut Rum. Being an amateur mixologist, this was a real treat for me, as was tasting the more experienced bartender’s concoctions. My best drink (in my opinion) included: muddled pepquinos (tiny melons) and starfruit, habanero-infused Siembra Azul Tequila, Combier, The Liquid Chef Agave Nectar, lemon juice, and garnished with rock chives, starfruit, and The Liquid Chef Cactus & Lemongrass Salt on the rim. Some bartenders toyed with the liquid nitrogen, dry ice, and liquid smoke for more molecular experiments. A highlight for me was tasting the not-yet-released Creme Yvette, which offers a brilliant mix of berry and vanilla flavors. Another major highlight was the amazing lunch spread provided by Junior’s wife, chef Heidi. If you are in the NYC area and are a working bartender, this is an opportunity not to be missed.
  • World Cocktail Day (May): The day I got this blog up and running, and what a day it was! More than 20 of the country’s top mixologists threw down at Pranna in celebration of the birthday of the cocktail.
  • The Manhattan Cocktail Classic, Day 1 & Day 2 (October): Two days of expert sessions and tastings, followed by a blowout gala. This is one weekend that will probably be remembered as the event of the year for NYC cocktailians.
  • WhiskyFest New York (November): Where I learned that there is no such thing as too much whisk(e)y. Why can’t every day be WhiskyFest?
  • 2nd Annual D.C. Repeal Day Ball (December): No better reason to put on a black-tie outfit than to celebrate the anniversary of Prohibition’s end–and no better place to celebrate than the D.C. cocktail hub.
  • The Dizzy Fizz Holiday Puncheon (December): C’mon, you know I had to put the puncheon on here! If you were there, you know; if you weren’t, I’m sorry but you missed a damn fine time.

*Glaring omission: No, I was not at Tales of the Cocktail. Hopefully next year!

Dizzy Recap: Death & Co.’s Fall/Winter Menu Tasting

"Pelée's Blood" (Rhum JM Blanc, Don's Mix #2, homemade grenadine, lime juice, dash absinthe)

“Taut nerves relax; taut muscles relax; tired eyes brighten; tongues loosen; friendships deepen; the whole world becomes a better place in which to live.”–David A. Embury

Death & Co., which recently rejoiced over its extended hours (now open until 2 a.m. on weekends), rolled out a new cocktail and food menu earlier this week, and I had the pleasure of attending last night’s press tasting. The 2 1/2-year-old cocktail den of East 6th Street had a challenging beginning with several legal battles with the SLA/Community Board 3, but this new, inspired menu signals perseverance for the bar and seems to put the past to bed.

Co-owner David Kaplan is especially proud of the new food menu by recently-hired Chef Luis Gonzalez, who trained under renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten at Mercer Kitchen. “For once, I feel like we have a food menu that is on par with the quality of the cocktails,” said Kaplan.

And quality cocktails they are–we started with “Pelée’s Blood” (Rhum JM Blanc, Don’s Mix #2, homemade grenadine, lime juice, dash absinthe), D&C bartender Thomas Waugh’s take on a tiki cocktail. It was a delicious punch-type drink with balanced sweetness, and it made for a refreshing start. The drink was paired with a small plate of tuna tartare with crushed avocado and homemade kettle chips as well as a melt-in-your-mouth pan-seared foie gras with corn pancake and quince puree. Clearly, Gonzalez’s dishes elevate bar snacking  to a whole new level.

Next, I had the “Daisy Buchanan” (Chamomile-infused Old Overholt Rye, Dolin Dry Vermouth, Aperol, and Yellow Chartreuse), created by D&C bartender Joaquin Simo. Solid, strong cocktail, especially if you like a dry finish. This was a perfect palate-cleanser for the pulled-pork slider and mini-scoop of truffle mac ‘n’ cheese, which were both highly-satisfying indulgent treats. Then, onto the “Ingenue” (Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac, Dolin Sweet Vermouth, Don’s Spices), one of D&C bartender Brian Miller’s cocktails. The clove-heavy flavors of Don’s Spices (a mix of vanilla syrup and allspice dram), made for a rich, autumnal drink that would be perfect for sipping next to a fireplace.  This was paired with a mushroom tart with walnut and onion pesto and the crispy pork belly, served with sauteed kale, braised cranberry beans, and pomegranate seeds.

Last but not least was D&C bartender Alex Day’s “Little Engine” (Famous Grouse whisky, tawny port, apple butter, lemon juice, maple syrup). Served over a mountain of crushed ice with a fresh apple garnish, this drink for me was the most “adult” apple cocktail I’ve ever tried. The port adds depth to the usual apple pie flavors, and the apple butter infusion coats the tongue without being unctuous. Naturally, this was served with apple cobbler.

Special thanks to David for the invite, and to bartenders Jason Littrell and Brian Miller for being so on-point, given all of those new recipes to keep track of. I can’t wait to return and try more!

Dizzy Recap: WhiskyFest New York

Nov10 024

David Blackmore and Arnaud Dalibot of Glenmorangie

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whiskey is barely enough.” –Mark Twain

Toasted vanilla, sweet sherry, cedar. Prunes, dark chocolate, charred fruits. Cracked pepper, moss, smoky peat. What is there not to love about the spicy, tongue-tingling world of whisk(e)y? Clearly, not a thing, as the 12th Annual WhiskyFest New York at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square was wall-to-wall packed with whisky drinkers Tuesday night. With more than 200 exhibitors pouring drams of single malts, blended whiskies, bourbon, rum, beer, and other spirits, this was one dizzy affair.

Upon entering the boisterous scene, I made a beeline for the USBGNY booth to sip on some scotch cocktails before diving into straight pours. As expected, the drinks were complex and delish–I sampled Meaghan Dorman’s “Bagpipe Dream” (Compass Box Asyla scotch, fresh lemon juice, ginger maple syrup), Jolene Skrzysowski’s “Rustic Plums” (Woodford’s Reserve bourbon, Domaine de Canton, plum wine, pear nectar), and Hal Wolin’s “2009 Scotch Odyssey” (Glenmorangie 10 Year scotch, Laphroaig scotch, mole bitters, demerara syrup). I also had a fantastic Old Fashioned by USBGNY President Jonatha Pogash, but forgot to write down the ingredients.

John Glaser, creator of Compass Box Whisky, said the recent evolution of fine scotch as an ingredient in cocktails has made for a positive addition at WhiskyFest. “You would never have seen this five years ago,” he said.

So which whiskies did I try? Let’s see, from what I can recall there was Michael Collins Irish Whiskey Single Malt, Compass Box Spice Tree, Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or, Ardberg 10 Year, The Balvenie Portwood 21 Year, Glenrothes 1991 (they were out of 1985),  Tullamore Dew 12 Year, Blanton’s Single Barrel bourbon, Highland Park 18 Year, Yamazaki 18 Year, and a most delicious Signatory Glen Grant 1976 from the Bar & Books booth. I also had Zacapa Rum, BrewDog Paradox Smokehead stout aged in Scotch casks, and more scotch cocktails mixed by kilted bartenders from St. Andrews Restaurant & Bar. There were so many more drams I wanted to try, if time and liver capacity were of no concern.

The crowd was, from my approximation, 90 percent male, 40 percent Orthodox Jewish (maybe more), and 70 percent over the age of 40, not that it matters or anyone’s counting. Thanks to Malt Advocate for organizing the event and to Kate Laufer for the invite. Slainte!

Saloon Stakeouts: Bar Celona and Summit Bar

Bar Celona sure is pretty. Photo by Bartomeu Amengual.

Recession schmecession, it’s fall in New York and that means bar openings, people! Not since June, which saw the openings of Fort Defiance and Ward III, has there been so many new cocktail menus and plush seating to try out. While I have plans to hit up Highlands, Henry Public, and the bars at Crosby Street Hotel and Ace Hotel (plus a brand-spanking new bar you probably haven’t heard about yet), there are two joints where I recently caught a whiff of new bar smell, Bar Celona in Williamsburg and Summit Bar in Alphabet City. Both are lookers, both have savory-centric cocktails, and both are keepers, in my opinion.

Bar Celona, on South 4th Street between Bedford Avenue and Berry Street, is a swanky, noiresque enclave in a neighborhood full of grungy pubs and cafes. A Spanish tapas and cocktail lounge, the space is the vision of Cynthia Diaz, a fashionista who grew up in the restaurant industry. The Hollywood Regency-style decor, which Diaz designed with her mother, is simply stunning–gold lion wall decals, leopard-print salon seating, glass-enclosed fireplace–but what’s really impressive is the cocktail menu created by the Tippling Bros.

Tad Carducci and Paul Tanguay have put together a slew of sweet and savory drinks using Spanish ingredients–expect the menu to expand soon, according to bartender Frank Cisneros. The cocktail menu is divided into three categories: “G y Ts” (variations on gin and tonics, Spain’s most popular drink), “Gastros” (featuring savory culinary flavors), and “Variedades” (variety of ingredients).

I started off with the “Paellarinha” ($11), a “gastro” drink that included Leblon cachaca, fino sherry, red bell pepper/saffron syrup, and lemon juice. I’m usually not a fan of bell peppers, but this drink was incredibly refreshing and the paella-inspired flavors made it a justifiable appetizer. Next, Frank offered me a special off-menu cocktail, a “Burnt Caipirinha.” He torched some demerara sugar with an alcohol-filled atomizer before muddling in limes and adding Leblon. The drink had a nice toasted caramel flavor and the fire show was definitely a conversation piece. Lastly, while I nibbled on dates stuffed with Mahon cheese and wrapped in Serrano ham, I sipped down a “Sea Monkey.” One of the gin and tonics, this cocktail called for Plymouth Gin, celery/apple juice, lemon juice, Anise del Mono, Fever Tree tonic water, and a fennel salt rim. Since I am a fan of all things celery, I quickly made it disappear. It was hard to choose from this menu–all of the drinks sound amazing. Next time, I think I’ll try the “Missionary’s Position” (for a change, wink, wink), with reposado tequila, Rioja pear syrup, falernum, and ginger. Take note that Bar Celona is closed on Mondays.

Summit Bar, on Avenue C between 8th and 9th Streets, also features plush seating and chandeliers, but the brick wall interior and laid-back East Village vibe offers a balance that has attracted a sizable following (and even a mention in The New York Times). Co-owned by Greg Seider, who created the cocktail menu at Minetta Tavern, Summit features a mix of “Classic” cocktails (Tom Collins, French 75, Vesper, Dark and Stormy, Daiquiri) and “Alchemist” drinks which exhibit Seider’s culinary-inspired mixology skills. I had a “Shu Jam Fizz” ($12), a combination of DH Krahn Gin, apricot jam, fennel-infused syrup, peach bitters, lemon juice, and club soda. The apricot jam married perfectly with the gin and anise flavors of the fennel and was not cloyingly sweet.

I wish I could have stayed for more drinks at Summit Bar, like “The Gov’ner”–Yamazaki 12 year whisky, toasted cardamom-infused agave syrup, Japanese yuzu, and fresh orange juice. I did, however, get to scope the cabana-style back patio, which will be a neighborhood destination once the mercury reverses. Summit also offers a small menu of charcuterie, with more options coming soon.

Dizzy Recap: Days 3 & 4 of the NYC Wine & Food Festival

The cover of Jill DeGroff's forthcoming book, "Lush Life," picturing Gaz Regan

The cover of Jill DeGroff's forthcoming book, "Lush Life," picturing Gaz Regan

“Martinis are like breasts: one’s not enough, and three’s too many–and four’s a party.”–Simon Ford

While hordes of foodies went to burger bashes and stalked Rocco DiSpirito, my NYC Wine & Food Festival experience was much more liquid-oriented, as I mentioned previously. So in no change of pace I found my weekend booked with two seminars featuring spirits that, just a few years ago, were on opposite ends of the popularity spectrum–gin and tequila.

At “Gin Joint” at 5 Ninth, Plymouth Gin Brand Ambassador Simon Ford admitted that when he first moved to New York from London, gin had a bad rap. “I’m sure many of us had a bad experience and got sick drinking it from our parents’ liquor cabinet,” he said. But now that less-junipery gins are on the market, gin is finally having a moment again, at least here in New York. After “cleansing” our palettes with French 75s (Beefeater Gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, Perrier Jouet Champagne), Simon took us through a tasting of six gins representing the history of the distilled juiper elixir traced back to monks in the 11th century.

Naturally, we started with Bols Genever, based on the 19th-century recipe for Holland-style gin. Its subtly sweet, malty taste was a hit with British troops fighting in Holland against the Spanish in the Thirty Years’ War, who dubbed it “Dutch Courage.” So when the British appointed a Dutch king to the throne (King William of Orange) in 1689, the gin craze officially took off. By the mid-1700s, gin was so popular in England that 11 million gallons were being produced a year, and at that time the spirit was known as “mother’s ruin” for its detrimental effects. Thankfully, the 1830s brought the invention of the coffee still, leading to the column distillation method for what is known as London dry gin.

Next, we tried Beefeater, a classic London dry gin, which features notes of juniper, citrus, and angelica root, and Plymouth Gin, which is made in the town of Plymouth, England, and manages to balance juniper with citrus, spice, and floral notes. By the 1890s, the gin rage crossed the pond to the U.S., where it was a classic cocktail ingredient until Prohibition. We also tried Boodles, a classic London gin with juniper and coriander notes founded in 1762, Beefeater 24, a new gin released earlier this year with prominent citrus and tea notes, and Magellan Gin, which features a blue tint and floral nose due to its use of iris root. We were also served a dry martini (Plymouth Gin, dry vermouth, orange bitters, and a lemon twist) and a “Breakfast Martini,” featuring Beefeater, Le Combier orange liqueur, lemon juice, and orange marmalade.

 The highlight of the session for me was chatting with Simon and Jamie Gordon afterwards and getting a sneak peek at Jill DeGroff’s “Lush Life” book, a collection of her stunning caricatures of well-known cocktailians set for release on Nov. 1. Jill, wife of “King Cocktail” Dale DeGroff, has close ties with many of the people she illustrates, and her anthology captures the warmth and spirit of these animated “characters.”

For my last day of the NYCWFF, I attended a tequila tasting at Los Dados by Jaime Salas, National Brand Ambassador of Tres Generaciones Tequila, distilled by Sauza. A refreshing cocktail of Tres Generaciones plata, creme de cassis, ruby red grapefruit juice, and Sprite was served to prepare us for straight tastings of tequila, sans lime or salt. Jamie told us how blue agave, “maguey,” was fermented and drunk by pre-Hispanic emperors before the Spanish distillation process was introduced in the 16th century. In 1873, Don Cenobio Sauza was the first to call the agave spirit “tequila,” named after the region in the Jalisco state of Mexico, and the first to ship it to the U.S.

To be labeled tequila, the spirit must be at least twice-distilled, and it must come from the state of Jalisco and a few other areas. It must also have at least 51 percent of the fermented sugars come from the blue agave; the remainder may include cane or brown sugar, although this is considered less premium. Jamie said tequila is the costliest spirit to produce because agave takes eight to 12 years to ripen and then is harvested manually. Tres Generaciones is 100 percent blue agave and is triple-distilled, leaving smooth and clean agave flavors with a slight pepper finish. We tasted the plata, which is unaged (lightly sweet, citrus and banana notes); the reposado, aged four months in oak (vanilla, light caramel, and smoke); and the anejo, aged at least one year in toasted oak barrels (vanilla, toffee, and white pepper). Needless to say, this was not a bad way to start a Sunday afternoon.

A few facts Jaime shared: chilling tequila suppresses the flavor; in 2007, the U.S. surpassed Mexico for tequila consumption; and the margarita is the most-requested cocktail in the world.

¡Salud!

Dizzy Recap: Day One & Two of the NYC Wine & Food Festival

The Grand Tasting tent on the Chelsea Pier seemed to stretch all the way to Jersey.

The Grand Tasting tent on Pier 54 seemed to stretch all the way to Jersey.

What’s that, you say? The Food Network’s NYC Wine & Food Festival ended a week ago? Well, my apologies for the late recap, but I’ve been busy, mmmkay? (I just returned from a blogging conference in Vegas–blogging on that to come).

After covering just the Grand Tasting last year (which you can read here, if you wish), I was psyched to attend four events this year: Chelsea Market After Dark, the Grand Tasting, a gin clinic, and a tequila clinic. I’ll start by telling you about the first two, which were both massive exhibits in wine, spirits, and beer (all courtesy of Southern Wine & Spirits).

Of course, this year, I came with more of a cocktailian perspective, so when I arrived at the After Dark event, which took over Chelsea Market, I was pleasantly surprised to be handed a Sidecar right away. Appropriately enough, Food Network’s saccharine Sandra Lee was signing her cocktail party book next to piles of what I can only assume were “semi-homemade” cupcakes. I also caught a glimpse of Guy Fieri posing for pictures with fans in a clubby lounge area. Other than that, the focus for the night was on the food and drink that’s available in and around the Chelsea Market (Morimoto’s yellowtail pastrami was especially addictive). Throngs of people crammed the winding aisle throughout the building to taste and sip everything in sight, as well as grab shwag like mini bouquets of flowers. After trying some Georges DuBoeuf wines and Palm beer, I stumbled into the Chelsea Market Wine Vault, where I was stoked to see St-Germain reps handing out small cups of the elderflower liqueur mixed with champagne as well as in a white sangria. And who did I meet behind the St-Germain booth? None other than Robert Cooper, creator of the liqueur and a third-generation distiller whose father introduced Chambord liqueur. I asked Rob when he thinks his highly-anticipated Crème Yvette will hit the shelves, and he said that it’s still in the production process and will be launched later this year/early next year–so sit tight, kids!

The following day I attended the media preview of the Grand Tasting, which took place in a sprawling tent at Pier 54 along the Hudson River for the second year in a row. Presented by ShopRite, there were nibbles and signature dishes all along the way, and of course, aisles and aisles of premiere wine and spirits. After learning my lesson last year (better to sip and spit than overindulge), I was picky about which spirits and cocktails I tried, but highlights included: Atlantico Rum, Don Q Rum, Tommy Bahama Rum, Partida Tequila, Cabo Wabo Tequila, Yellow and Green Chartreuse, Sagatiba Cachaca, Aperol, Glenlivet 18, and Svedka Vodka. At the Svedka booth, I had a déjà vu moment when I ran into master mixologist Alex Ott, who was handing out artfully-garnished flavored vodka cocktails just like he did last year.

In the end, I still indulged a little more than I should have, especially considering I had plans to drink Maker’s Mark later that evening, but it was all in the name of research, I swear!

Dizzy Recap: Classic & Vintage Artisanal Spirits Launch

Dolls in Mustangs added to the atmosphere.

Dolled-up beauties added to the atmosphere.

Aware that the Tippling Bros. would be in charge of the drink offerings, I was revved up to attend last week’s Classic & Vintage Artisanal Spirits launch party at the Classic Car Club of Manhattan hosted by Domaine Select Wine Estates. The Classic & Vintage collection is a line of boutique products including: Averna, G’vine, Death’s Door, Tuthilltown, Benromach, Ransom Old Tom Gin, Rhum J.M., and The Bitter Truth Bitters, plus many more. This is an unprecedented collection of rare small-batch gems made available to the masses, greatly due to the increasing interest in classic cocktails.

This event was one of the better-organized cocktail parties I have seen in a while, and the Tippling Bros’ (Tad Carducci and Paul Tanguay) event planning skills really shined, as did the stunning collection of classic cars. Tad and Paul are brand ambassadors for the Classic & Vintage collection, and they gathered top mixologists to mix drinks for the event: Danny Valdez (New Orleans), Sean Kenyon (Denver), Misty Kalkofen (Boston), Justin Noel (NYC), Jason Littrell (NYC), Tonia Guffey (NYC), Frank Cisneros (NYC), and Gianfranco Verga (NYC).

One highlight for me was that I got to try Ransom Old Tom Gin for the first time. Created by Sheridan, Ore. winemaker/distiller Tad Seestedt with the input of cocktail historian David Wondrich, Ransom has yet to launch on the shelves of NYC. The gin manages to marry maltiness and herbaceous sweetness (orange, cardamom, juniper) magnificently.

Ransom is based on 18th century distillation and aging methods, and Tad has sought to make the most historically-accurate Old Tom Gin in the world. The base wort uses malted barley to impart a subtle malty sweetness, and the final distillation is run through an alembic pot-still for maximum aromatics. Then the whole batch rests in neutral Pinot Noir barrels for texture and color. The gin has a warm golden tinge to it, and I have to say, I love the apothecary-style bottle design. Sipping it neat was pure pleasure, and I could also imagine it working perfectly in a Martinez.