Global Wines – What’s the Best Bang for Your Buck?

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When purchasing wines, one frequently runs into the quality and whether or not it’s worth the sticker price. That said, what are some of the best wines around the world that don’t require you to empty your bank account. Check out the info below!

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The History of Liquor

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 5.23.30 PMEver wish you could thank the distillers of old who invented the liquors you enjoy so well, or wonder how someone could have come up with the idea of distilling in the first place? Distilling has a captivating history, tracing back to the alchemists of the old Middle East.

Alchemists are best known for attempting to turn lead into gold, an endeavor they (unfortunately) were never successful in. However, they were more interested in creating elixirs for medical use than creating gold. These ancient Arabs viewed the vapors given off and collected during their alchemy processes as the “spirits” of the objects they were working with. Of course, the most prominently isolated element in distillation is alcohol.

Gin was originally distilled by Middle Age Europeans to cure the plague. Though unsuccessful in achieving it’s original goal, it was later repurposed in the Netherlands for dialysis, and later still, was found to be useful in fighting malaria. The side effect it’s most famous for (and all it remains to be used for today) however, is getting people inebriated.

Tequila has been distilled in Mexico since the 1600’s, and was originally used for religious purposes. Funny how what was once called a religious ceremony is now simply called a party. Though less reserved in our regard for drinking today, tequila is still enjoyed in Mexico, and the now, the world over. Cenobio Sauza brought the liquor to the U.S. in the late 1800s.

Rum is sweet by taste, but has a bitter history. Inspired by the need to find a use for sugar’s byproducts during the Caribbean slave trade, rum was not only wrought through slavery, but also played a hand in perpetuating it, as the liquor was traded back to Africa in exchange for more slaves. Despite it’s dark genesis, rum has become an important to Caribbean culture, and a valuable export for the people today.

Evidence suggests that the Russians have been distilling and drinking vodka since the 9th century. Famous for their love of the vodka, Russians enjoyed it openly at religious ceremonies and social events.

The Mystery of the Bloody Mary

maurice amon bloody maryVodka fans know the Bloody Mary as a refreshing, tomatoey mixed drink, ideal for daytime drinking during hot summer months, but few are aware of the classic cocktail’s controversial origins. Most notably, Paris based bartender Fernand Petiot claimed to have invented the Bloody Mary in 1921 whilst working at the New York Bar (later called Harry’s New York Bar), a regular destination of Ernest Hemingway. Fernand Petiot is a widely reputed bartender, credited for inventing the White Lady, Harry’s Pick Me Up, the Sidecar, the Blue Lagoon, and others. However, 21 Club in New York, New York is also strongly associated with the invention of the Bloody Mary. Many credit 21 Club bartender Henry Zbikiewicz for inventing the cocktail in the 1930’s. Others yet believe comedian George Jessel, a frequent patron of 21 Club, to have invented the drink. A 1939 issue of This New York provides one of the earliest mentions of the Bloody Mary in U.S. print: “George Jessel’s newest pick-me-up which is receiving attention from the town’s paragraphers is called a Bloody Mary: half tomato juice, half vodka.”

In 1964, Fernand Petiot updated his conjecture: “I initiated the Bloody Mary of today. Jessel said he created it, but it was really nothing but vodka and tomato juice when I took it over. I cover the bottom of the shaker with four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper, and a layer of Worcestershire sauce; I then add a dash of lemon juice and some cracked ice, put in two ounces of vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice, shake, strain, and pour. We serve a hundred to a hundred and fifty Bloody Marys a day here in the King Cole Room and in the other restaurants and the banquet rooms.”

But Who Really Cares?

Bloody Marys are a bar favorite, and for good reason! Regardless of who invented it, it’s a great drink. Few drinks differ so widely from bar to bar, but the basic gist of the cocktail is as follows: equal parts tomato juice and vodka, salt, olive brine, cracked pepper, lemon juice, brown sugar, horseradish, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Tomto juice and vodka are the defining ingredients of the Bloody Mary, as selection of subsidiary ingredients is for the most part optional and added in whatever amount suits the preference of the drinker.

Cheers!

Most Innovative Liquor Bottles

For this month, I decided to go a different route for our blog. While many blogs focus on the actual drink and taste of the spirit, few focus on the aesthetic of the bottle. Some bottles are a true work of art and there times when the bottle is just as important as the actual drink. The aesthetic can definitely affect what you pay for the drink. Check out some of my favorites below:

maurice amonCrystal Head Vodka: This premium vodka is unique for its additive-free recipe — no glycerol, citrus oils or sugars — as well as the crystal skull bottle that holds the clean liquor. After seven filters, three through Herkimer diamonds, the vodka is decidedly smooth but it’s the bottle that gives this vodka its extended value. The crystal skull was designed by Dan Aykroyd and John Alexander with the desire to create a vessel that reflected the quality and purity that the vodka embodies.

maurice amonCapone Tommy Gun: Who doesn’t like a good Al Capone reference, especially when it’s combined with hard liquor? This vodka vessel is appropriate for the classic thug or anyone who just enjoys a good cocktail. Though it’s a bit expensive ($69.99), the gun-shaped bottle really makes the juice worth the squeeze.

maurice amonCoronation Khukri Liqueur: If you are looking for a stylish addition to your liquor cabinet, then this is the rum for you. Not only does this smooth and balanced rum provide a fine aroma and oak wood flavor, it also showcases that wonderful taste in a 20 inch handsome dagger bottle and included stand. There is a reason that this Nepalese rum proudly presents itself as the “Taste of Himalayas.”

maurice amonMedea Vodka: Medea boasts a deliciously smooth vodka with subtle aromas of apple, lemongrass, cream, and vanilla. It’s a delightful liquor that fits beautifully with almost any cocktail recipe. But this Netherlandic Vodka company lets its bottle give the real wow factor. Their LED technology lets users program personalized messages directly onto the bottle. Light up someone’s special day with this programmable bottle of Medea Vodka.

maurice amonRemy Martin Louis XIII Rare Cask: Okay, $2,399.99 is a little much for even the tastiest Cognac, but the Remy Martin Louis XIII is a 50-year-old 100% Grande Champagne with a complex bouquet of aromas and flavors. This French masterpiece apparently offers a balanced smell of truffles, rancio, roasted chestnuts, and prunes. If that doesn’t whet your appetite, then at least you’ll feel fancy as you pour out of the ornately designed crystal bottle. It’s a design fit for a king (or queen!)


To get a more in depth look into the world of cocktails, follow Maurice Amon on Twitter.

Best Cheese To Pair With Vodka

 

maurice amonWhen thinking about cheese pairing, one usually thinks of wines to pair it with. For whatever reason, society doesn’t think about pairing cheese with hard liquor. What many don’t know is that wine isn’t the only alcohol that can be paired with wine. Vodka can serve as an exceptional pairing for cheese as well. Pairing vodka and cheese may seem illogical, but vodka like many other spirits enhances or reduces the flavors of cheeses as well. Big full flavored cheeses will mostly clash with the subtleties in Vodka, so it’s best to stick with soft, mellow, creamy cheeses.

Due to the harsh taste of vodka and the heat that accompanies it when you take a sip, you don’t want to go with a mild cheese like a swiss cheese, mild cheddar, or something similar. You would hardly be able to taste the flavor in the cheese at all. This is a great example of vodka reducing the flavors in cheeses. With vodka it’s best to pair it with cheeses that fill your senses immediately with strong notes and flavors. Scientifically think of high alcohol to high fat content. Think of cheeses that have enough fat to challenge the amount of alcohol found in vodka.

For Vodka it’s best to pair it a creamy mellow goat cheese as one the cheeses that pair well. The high notes in goat cheese are enhanced by the vodka and the vodka does a great job of bringing out the different flavors in the goat cheese. Goat cheese ranges in taste from strong and pungent to delicate and mild. For vodka pairings it’s best to stick with the strong and pungent flavors. Goat cheese usually has a really distinct flavor and being that it’s not excessively salty like some other cheeses, the flavor would pair well with vodka. Goat Cheese is more on the tangy side which gets enhanced by the vodka.

(FoodRepublic)

 

Know Your Whiskey

maurice amonWhat is whiskey? Where does it come from? How is it made? What are the differences between each type? Here is where you find out:

Whiskey is what you drink when you ferment grain mash, similar to the beer making process. instead of continuing the beer process though you distill it, similar to vodka. For a drink to be considered whisked it needs to be at least 40% alcohol by volume (ABV), and cannot exceed 94.8% ABV. DIfferences between the major types of whiskey come from the types of grain used in the mash, and the location of the process.

Scotch

The scotch variety of whiskey comes from the place it was made, and similar to what it sounds like, Scotland. It cannot be considered scotch unless it was made in Scotland. To qualify it must also be made from a malted barley mash, not using much more than barley water and yeast. Scotch and most whiskeys get their color from aging in charred barrels. Scotch must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years.

Bourbon

This varieties mash-grain mixture has to be at least 51% corn to be considered bourbon. The other 49% can be filled in by the distillers discretion. Contrary to scotch, bourbon must be made in the United States and contain no more than 80% ABV. While bourbon has no aging limits within charred casks, straight bourbon has a minimum of two years.

Tennessee Whiskey

This type of whiskey is the same as bourbon in every way except the fact that it must be produced in Tennessee, USA.

Rye

With loose definitive rules associated to the variation, rye whiskey In Canada, its origin country must have some rye in it (can be as high as a rye to corn ration of 9:1) and have the aroma and taste of rye whiskey.

American Rye has qualifacations of 51% rye mash with a finishing ABV of 80%

Irish Whiskey

You guessed it, Irish whiskey is whiskey that is produced only in Ireland. Other than that it follows the same rules as scotch. It must have an ABV lower than 94.8, aged for at least three years.

(Real Men Drink Whiskey)

 

Bourbon in the Land of Bourbon

So, allow me to first dispel any myths about bourbon in Kentucky. Bourbon does not have to be made in Kentucky. Bourbon has to be made in America to be considered a bourbon. With that said, it is undeniably true that the best bourbon comes from Kentucky.

  • Bourbon is made primarily from corn, in fact it must be at least 51% corn to be considered Bourbon.
  • Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels. They cannot be reused. Interestingly, once the barrels are used they are often sent to Scotland to be used in the aging Scotch whisky.
  • Bourbon can never be above 80% alcohol by volume, and must be less than 62.5% alcohol by volume before being aged. Neither of which should pose any problem.

Bourbon is served neat, on the rocks, and in a variety of drinks. Some of the more popular cocktails are:

  • Bourbon and Coke
  • Bourbon and Ginger Ale
  • Old Fashioned
  • Whisky Sour

If you want to seem like a bourbon pro, or stump a bartender when ordering drinks, here are two of the more obscure bourbon drinks.

  • Louisville, Kentucky is the land of the Kentucky Derby and the drink of choice for Louisvillians is the Mint Julep. It is drunk year round but is especially popular during the derby season. The drink is made with sugar, water, mint and bourbon.
  • The next is a bourbon mule. Mules, often seen served in a cold tin can, originated in New York, originally using vodka instead of bourbon, and apbourbon_cocktailpropriately named, “Moscow Mule”. However, people soon found that Ginger Beer, bitters and lime went really well with bourbon, and the bourbon mule was created.

In cities all over the United States craft beer is growing in popularity. Not to be outdone, many enterprising individuals in Kentucky are banking on another growing market: craft distilleries. One limiting growth factor to the industry, however, is that all bourbon is aged, and the best bourbon is aged longer. The market is there. Just like Starbucks proved with coffee, and Stone Brewery proved with craft beer, people are willing to pay a premium for quality consumables.

 

Negroni Week

Maurice Amon NegroniWe’re approaching the end of Negroni week, and I sure have made a lot of them at my bar.  It’s not that people asked for them…I don’t get many requests for Negronis.  But when I recommend them, and someone tries one, they often ask for another.  Negroni is a very accessible drink made with Campari, an aperitif that many people find a little hard on the taste buds.

Negronis are one part gin, one part sweet vermouth, and one part Campari.  Garnish with an orange peel.  It’s typically served neat, either up or in a rocks glass.  I like using Greenhook Ginsmiths gin, Noilly Prat sweet vermouth, and just a sliver of orange peel shaved off with a potato peeler.  Be sure to stir the drink – shaking it will give the drink bubbles, which will kill the sweetness needed to balance out the bitter Campari.

Like most cocktails, nobody really knows who first made the cocktail, but there are a handful of myths that are passed around the bar industry.  It is generally accepted as an Italian drink from Florence from the early 1900’s.  Caffé Cavalli lays claim to the origin bar, which at the time had a different name.  The story is that there was a count named Negroni who invented it.  He asked the bartender to make an Americano, which in the cocktail world is simply Campari and sweet vermouth, splashed with a little club soda.  In the interest of speeding up the road to intoxication, the count asked to replace the seltzer with gin.  The bartender obliged, garnishing with an orange peel instead of the lemon peel typically served with Americanos as a signifier that the drink was different.

I take all stories like this with a grain of salt.  The cocktail community can get downright mythological.  I feel like I could make a story up like this after a few Negronis myself.

Whatever the origin, the cocktail took off.  Later, the Negroni family founded the Negroni Distillerie, making bottled versions of the cocktail.

A Negroni is an acquired taste.  There is a definite bitterness that many casual cocktail sippers may not enjoy.  You’ll need to enjoy the taste of gin, particularly if you use a stong-flavored one like Greenhook.  It has as much alcohol as a Manhattan, so watch out…the buzz will sneak up on you.  Especially if you drink it before dinner on an empty stomach, as aperitifs are meant to be imbibed.

The Old Fashioned

maurice amon old fashionedIt was brought to my attention that today is the anniversary of the Old Fashioned cocktail.  This cocktail has a strange history, and is a great example of the wild variations of recipes in the cocktail world.  Anyone who needs to exist in a world of black and white need not look to get into the field of bartending.  Next time you’re at a bookstore, take a walk over to the food book section, and then find the very small section of books about drinks.  Open up a cocktail recipe book and pick a drink you’ve never heard of at random.  Now find the same recipe in three more books.  I bet you’ll find that no two recipes match exactly.

It’s easy to understand how this would be possible.  Any bartender will tell you that even within a bar, there can be variations of recipes.  Great bars work hard to achieve consistency between bartenders, giving their customers the same drink experience every time.  I can think of a few bars where, when being trained by a legacy bartender, was told, ‘oh, they SAY to make this drink like THIS – but here’s how to make it really great!’  Even the training was encouraging coming up with variations!

The Old Fashioned is the original cocktail.  The earliest use of the word cocktail was in the early 1800’s, where it was described as spirits, bitters, sugar, and water.  Any spirit could be used, but it only became a cocktail with the addition of bitters, sugar, and water.  In the coming years, there was great innovation in cocktails, with additional spirits and liqueurs added, different mixers, and of course the removal of bitters, sugar, and water.  Once new drinks began gaining in popularity, some folks began to ask for an ‘old fashioned’ cocktail.  They simply wanted what was originally considered a ‘cocktail.’  They might order whisky, they might order gin, but they wanted that simple, original mix.

Today, ordering an Old Fashioned typically means you’re going to get bourbon whiskey, though its not strange to hear customers request another type of whiskey.  Customers who know, typically choose their specific spirit as part of the request.  Lately the request on Long Island is for a Bulleit Old Fashioned, with the implied understanding that I’ll make it with Bulleit bourbon (as opposed to their rye, which is also popular).  With all of the throwbacks to speakeasies and classic cocktails happening, I wonder if customers will start asking for Gin Old Fashioneds…