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Archive for July, 2011

Review – Alize Red Passion

Posted by Reese On July - 29 - 2011

Alize Red PassionLong a favorite of musicians like 2Pac, Notorious BIG and Jay-Z, Alize was a spirit I had heard about but never had the chance to sample.  That is until recently.  I received a bottle of Alize Red Passion for review and my interest, or rather Elisabeth’s interest, was immediately piqued.  I do have to admit though, the idea of passion fruit and cranberry is definitely appealing.  And, I’m happy to say, Alize Red Passion lives up.

Alize Red Passion (16% ABV) – Light red with an aroma of passion fruit, Alize makes a strong visual impression.  Passion fruit is definitely the star here.  The cranberry is far lighter but still present in the background.  Sweet, but not cloyingly so.  You could easily drink this straight over ice.  This would make a nice stand-in for wine in your next picnic basket.  Or, better still, combine the two by adding some sparkling wine for a light spritzer.  Make it a brut though so as not to get overly sweet.

I enjoyed the Alize.  Am I going to be writing songs about it?  Likely not.  But that can be said for all the spirits I taste.  I’m getting a vibe that this would mix well with some gin.  Haven’t had a chance to experiment as yet, but you’ll be sure to know when I do.

† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.

Review – Spring44 Vodkas and Gin

Posted by Reese On July - 27 - 2011

Talking to the proprietor of a small farmer’s market stand or family run business is always an uplifting experience for me.  The passion that these folks exude simply can’t be beat.  Talking to Jeff Lindauer, CEO of Spring44, is the same.  The passion for his products is palpable and you’re quickly wrapped up in the story of Spring44, both the eponymous spring and the company.

In 1969 Jeff’s father purchased a plot of land in the Colorado Rockies completely surrounded by Roosevelt National Forest.  You see, earlier in the century homestead plots surrounded by forest land were sold to ranchers.  The idea being that the rancher would then lease the surround forest land to graze his cattle and both enterprises would benefit.  Jeff’s father purchased this remote piece of property from the original rancher and Jeff and his family vacationed their throughout their lives.

A tradition when visiting the Lindauer’s property has always been to drink directly from the high mountain spring, Spring44.  As luck would have it, on one such outing Jeff brought along his friend and water connoisseur, Russ Wall.  Russ was amazed with the quality and purity of the water.  Insisting that his friend had an untapped resource on his hands he convinced Jeff to get the water tested.  What they got back confirmed Russ’ belief that they had some of the purest natural water in the world.  Their first idea of a line of top shelf bottled water quickly faded as they realized the cost to get the water from the spring to market would result in bottled water costing more than $10 per bottle.  Lovers of fine spirits, their brainstorming naturally turned that direction and Spring44 was born.

Jeff and Russ have set their sights high right from the start.  Their intent is to compete in the uber competitive premium vodka market.  And, they’ve come out swinging.

Spring44 Bottles

Vodka (40% ABV) – Crystal clear with noticeable viscosity.  The aroma is crisp, bright and lightly sweet.  The flavor follows suit with a light sweetness, great mouth feel and a super-clean finish.  There is a subtle complexity to this vodka that’s hard for me to put words to.  You take a sip, contemplate and want to take another sip to see if you can identify it.  I would absolutely put this vodka on par with other premium and super premium (read expensive) vodkas on the market.

Honey Vodka (40% ABV) – Wanting to create a vodka with a unique flavor the gents at Spring44 couldn’t have picked better than honey.  There are sparse few honey vodkas on the market and Spring44 is a great addition.  The color is, as you would expect, a very light honey.  The aroma is distinctly honey with sweet and floral notes rounding it out.  The flavor is sweet, but not overpoweringly so.  This is definitely a honey vodka, not a honey liqueur.  Though, that said the honey flavor is pronounced and very clean.  You could definitely sip this all on its own.  On a side note a small portion of the profits from this vodka go to a group focused on promoting pollinators.  It’s a nice gesture, but not a marketing point.  They do it because they feel it’s the right thing to do.

Gin (40% ABV) – Crystal clear and lightly viscous, like the vodka.  The juniper is definitely the star of the aroma with citrus and coriander coming through in the background.  The flavor offers less juniper than you’d expect and complexity in spades.  Orange, juniper, lemon grass, cinnamon, green tea…seems like you could go on and on.  Each sip offering more to your palate.  This is a great gin.  Balanced flavors of juniper and other botanicals make this a great choice for drinks where the gin is the star.  The Martini (naturally), the Ramos Gin Fizz, or even a Gin and Tonic with the ratio low (like 2:1 tonic to gin) would be great with this gin.

Spring44’s offerings are definitely in the premium spirits category with their flavors, but the great thing is the price doesn’t follow.  Both vodkas ring in at $25 and the gin is $30.  Great deals all of them.  Another thing I love about Spring44 is the labels.  They’re very cleanly laid out with a large iconic image on each.  A snowflake marks the vodka, a honey bee the honey vodka and a juniper berry for the gin.  The imagery is truly stunning.

I think what I liked most about talking to Jeff about his products was his boundless energy and enthusiasm.  We talked about the honey vodka and he explained the problems they had keeping the honey in solution.  We talked about their interest in getting certified as organic.  For the record, they’re not certified yet, but most of their ingredients are organic.  From there we moved to the gin and we dove deep into their process, ingredients and his ideas for future offerings (dry gin, navy strength, etc).  You can tell he has a passion for his work that simply knows no boundaries.  Finally I asked where the name Spring44 came from.  Jeff got a slight twinkle in his eye and said that as a kid the answer to any question he asked his dad was 44.  “How much does that cost? $44  How much longer is it? About 44 miles.”  Seems only appropriate that his dad would name the spring on his property Spring44.

I had the pleasure of attending the Spring44 launch party in Denver last week and want to share two of the cocktail recipes created by Denver mixologist Sean Kenyon.

Smokey Mountain
2 oz Spring44 Honey Vodka
1/2 oz Peach Liqueur
1/2 oz Del Maguey Mezcal Vida
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/4 oz Honey Syrup (1:1 Honey to Water)
1) Combine in a shaker with ice
2) Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass
3) Garnish with a lemon wheel 

Two notes on this drink.  When they served it at the party they used habanero infused Spring44 Honey Vodka and the added spiciness was fantastic.  As regards the mezcal, you can really use any one you like, just make sure it’s smokey.  That’s key to the flavor profile.

Blackberry Sage Gin Smash
2 oz Spring44 Gin
3 Blackberries
4 Sage Leaves
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/2 oz Raw Sugar Simple Syrup
1) Muddle blackberries with the lemon juice and simple syrup
2) Add the torn sage and gin
3) Shake and strain over fresh ice in an old fashioned glass
4) Garnish with a blackberry and sage leaf

Nothing to add to this one.  Just super tasty.

† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.

Review – I Spirit Vodka

Posted by Reese On July - 21 - 2011

I Spirit VodkaA new vodka is coming to market with some serious names behind it.  A collaboration between restauranteur Arrigo Cipriani (who’s father started Harry’s Bar in Venice), Lapo Elkann of Fiat Automobiles and Friulian distillers Marco Fantinel and Francesco Cosulich, I Spirit Vodka is “the essence of culture, taste and Italian flavors from yesterday and today.”

I can’t speak for that quote, but I can speak for the product itself.  It’s got all the pedigreed features you’d expect to find in a top shelf vodka.  The distillate is made from Friulian grapes and grain, distilled five times.  The resulting spirit is then combined with filtered water from the Dolomite mountains bringing it down to 80 proof.  Finally the vodka is chill filtered one last time at 0 degrees F.

The resulting spirit has a very clean aroma.  Nothing really jumps out at me there.  The flavor has a tiny bit of brandy essence from the grapes and the grain comes through subtly as well.  As for the finish, it’s short and very clean.  While there is a bit of spiciness to the spirit there is no burn.  This is a top shelf vodka that I’d put on par with the other players in the field.  If you’re a vodka fan and looking for a new bottle, I Spirit is worth checking out.  It’s crisp and clean, just as a top shelf vodka should be.

† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.

BarSmarts Advanced

Posted by Reese On July - 12 - 2011

Have you ever been talking with someone and had them say something along the lines of “Oh, man.  You put Jeff and Dave in a room and you’ve got a party.”  You know the kind of line I’m talking about.  It’s rarely true, very cliche and mostly annoying.  Well, get ready for one of my own.  When you put Paul Pacult, Dave Wondrich, Andy Seymour, Dale DeGroff, Doug Frost and Steve Olson in a room all kinds of things are going to happen.  First, you’re going to laugh, a lot.  Second, you’re going to be drinking, and it’ll be damn good stuff.  And, third, you’re going to learn more than you can hope to remember about spirits and cocktails, their history, their recipes and how to make and serve them.  In short, you’re going to have a damn fine time.

So, why the rambling intro and ass-kissing?  In April I was invited to attend the final day of BarSmarts Advanced (BarSmarts Live) as it rolled through Denver.  BarSmarts is a two track course of spirits and cocktail education.  The first, and primary, track is BarSmarts Advanced.  The second, which I’ll highlight later, is BarSmarts Wired.  With BarSmarts Advanced, upon enrolling, you’re sent a workbook and a set of professional bar tools.  You work through the workbook on your own, reading the modules, watching online videos and taking online quizzes.  Once you’ve completed all of that you move on to the final step, BarSmarts Live.

BarSmarts Live is what I got to sit in on.  Your day begins with 4 hours of discussion about spirits and cocktails, their history and how to make and serve them right.  All of this is led by the impressive team of educators I listed above.  You start off with an overview of the spirits industry and current trends.  Which brings me to an interesting point.  While BarSmarts is a partnership between BAR and PernodRicard it is, in no way, a sales pitch for their products.  I think a quote from Steve Olson drove it home for me.  “We’ll never tell you what (spirits) to use.  We don’t care.  That’s your decision.”  And that was the theme throughout the spirits portion.  It’s not so much about showing you some great options, though they do that, it’s about teaching you what makes them great so you can pick out great spirits for your cocktails.

Following the general spirits discussion, Paul Pacult takes the helm.  If you’re ever given the option of enjoying a tasting with Paul, do it.  Doesn’t matter how many tastings you’ve been to, you’ll have a great time and you’ll learn a ton.  For this tasting we had five, unlabeled glasses sitting in front of us with a small pour of spirits in each.  Paul takes you through each glass one by one, only revealing the brands at the very end.  The first two spirits are clear (gin and vodka you’ll come to realize) and you’re walked through their profiles.  First the aroma, then the flavor.  I’m not going to detail the process as it really deserves a post of its own, but suffice it to say it’s simple, thorough and not at all pretentious.  Following that intro, you’re left with the other three glasses.  Each is filled with a brown spirit and you’re given no hints going in as to what each contains.  Through the tasting process you suss out the contents of each and, most importantly, learn why they taste the way they do.  So, now that you’ve had a brief, but detailed, intro to spirits tasting, it’s time to move on to cocktails.

Which brings us to the second session, cocktails.  Dale DeGroff starts off the session with an overview of bar service and how to make really good cocktails.  His experience and passion for the craft comes through in everything he shares and he definitely has strong opinions, most of which I share.  In reference to sour mix, “You can’t overpour sour mix.  An ounce, two ounces, it doesn’t matter, it all tastes crappy.”  Well said.  Dale explains each tool in the kit and why they’re important.  And, all along the way, Dave Wondrich is chiming in on the history of the tools and passing around vintage examples from his collection.  Ever seen an original Hawthorne strainer or know why it’s called that?  Neither had I, but I can now say that I have and I do  At the end of the cocktails discussion, Dave dives in to his favorite topic for a bit, punch.  Giving a brief history of the category and where it’s going currently (big upswing in popularity, if you’re wondering).  Then, the best part, he serves some punch which Dave I think described best.  “(It’s) subtle and delicious, so it’s moreish…like you want more.”

Dave wrapped up the discussion and demo portion with a quote that rings more true than I think I realized at the time.  “As long as the 21st century continues to suck, people will continue to drink.”  I couldn’t agree more.  But, for the record, I’m going to be drinking whether the century sucks or not.  Somebody’s got to, right?

At this point things break up for a tasty lunch and time to chat with your fellow students.  This was also time for a final cram session for a lot of folks, because next up was the practical and written exams.  The group was divided in half.  The first half going first to the written exam, which includes questions about cocktails and spirits as well as a blind tasting portion.  Hint, when in doubt go with citrus and pepper, they’re in almost every flavor profile.  The second half of the group was further broken down into groups of seven for the practical exam.

The practical is the part that I think would be the most daunting.  The reason why?  You’re being reviewed by a member of the panel I listed above.  These are guys who have been in the cocktail business for years.  They’re the allstars of the field.  So, how does it work?  Like this.  You enter the room and you’re sent to one of the prepared stations.  Each station has all the spirits, mixers, tools and garnishes you’ll need to make the cocktails you’ve been studying in the workbook.  Then the testing begins.  Your reviewer gives you three cocktails to make, in the manner that a bar patron would.  “I’ll have a Manhattan on the rocks, with a twist and my girl loves sweet drinks so she’ll have a Margarita.  My buddy wants, aww crap, what did he say, it’s a highball…ummm…oh yeah, a Gin and Tonic.”  At this point you have eight minutes to make these drinks, from memory, to the best of your abilities.

Your task doesn’t end there though.  You’re a bartender afterall. You’re supposed to be entertaining as well.  So, while you’re being judged on the cocktails you produce you’re also being watched for your banter and overall demeanor.  Once the eight minutes is up you leave the testing area and the reviewers sample your drinks and make their final notes.  Written exam and practical finished you’re free to be on your way.  You’ll find out later whether you passed.

Now that I’ve piqued your interest, a bit of bad news.  BarSmarts Advanced is invite only.  You can sign up for their mailing list, which might get you on the invite list at some point, but no promises there.  Unlike most bits of bad news, this one has a very nice silver lining.  You can take the whole BarSmarts program, minus BarSmarts Live, all online via the BarSmarts Wired program.  It’s the same course work as Advanced but you don’t get the tools and there is no live day.  But, back to the silver lining, for summer 2011 the BarSmarts Wired program is being offered completely free!

So, here’s the long and short of what has become quite a long write up.  If you have the opportunity to attend BarSmarts, do it.  No questions, no contemplation, just do it.  You’ll be a richer (figuratively) cocktail creator as a result.  If you’re not on the invitee list or not in one of the cities BarSmarts is passing through, check out BarSmarts Wired.  Heck, you might even learn something.

† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.

Maple Leaf – Deliciously Arboreal

Posted by Reese On July - 5 - 2011

Last week I was looking for a new cocktail to try out and stumbled across the Maple Leaf on Anvil’s drink menu.  The thought of a whiskey sour sweetened with maple syrup was more than I could pass up.  I did a bit of searching around and found the recipe on Bobby Heugel’s site.  No coincidence really, Bobby is one of the owners and bartenders at Anvil.  First, let’s talk about Bobby’s recipe.

Maple Leaf (Drink Dogma)
2 oz  Bourbon
3/4 oz Maple Syrup
3/4 oz Lemon Juice
1) Combine in a shaker with ice
2) Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass

Maple Leaf

This drink has a fantastic combination of flavors.  The maple syrup fills in the complexity gap that bitters would fill in a classic whiskey sour.  The lemon adds just the right amount of sourness and the bourbon rounds things out.  My only complaint about this recipe is that it’s a touch sweet for me.  Onward fellow drinkers.

Maple Leaf (Cocktail Hacker)
2 oz  Bourbon
1/2 oz Maple Syrup
3/4 oz Lemon Juice
1) Combine in a shaker with ice
2) Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass

Now we’re talking.  This version has all the complexity of the original with a touch less sweetness.  With only 3/4 oz of lemon juice (versus 1 oz in a classic whiskey sour) this drink is more about the bourbon and maple syrup interplay.  I’d recommend a good bourbon for this one.  I used Bulleit and, as always, enjoyed the extra spiciness from the rye.  I think Maker’s Mark 46 would also work tremendously well.  The added spice notes would harmonize with the maple syrup.  Whatever you choose this drink is well worth mixing up.  Thanks for the inspiration, Bobby.  Much appreciated!