Recipes for National Tequila Day, 2015

As with most holidays held in the summer, this one seems as if it should have its own weekend and not a single date. However, with July 24th falling on a Friday, it should be easy to stretch this one out over three days, no problem. Here are a few recipes sent to us from various folks over the last couple of weeks celebrating National Tequila Day. Some are pretty straightforward, and others do a good job at highlight tequila’s versatility in cocktails. Of course, drinking it straight up is always good, too. Enjoy!

CarpeCarpe Dia Punch
2 parts Milagro Añejo
1 part lime juice
1 part blackberry syrup
1 sage leaf
1 part ginger beer
Blackberries (for garnish)

Build all ingredients except ginger beer in a punch bowl over a block of ice. Top with ginger beer right before stirring.

palomaLavender Paloma
2 parts Milagro Silver
1 part grapefruit juice
.5 part lavender and vanilla simple syrup
.5 part fresh lime juice
Grapefruit peel and kosher salt (for garnish)

Mix ingredients and top with soda water. Add garnish. Sit on patio reading Elmore Leonard novels and listening to Steely Dan. (optional)

Fresa Breeze
Created by Tomas Delos Reyes
2 oz Partida Blanco Tequila
1/2 oz agave nectar
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
2 strawberries
2 tsp diced cucumber
Mint sprig (for garnish)

Muddle strawberries and agave nectar in a shaker. Add ingredients and shake over ice. Strain over ice and top with diced cucumber. Garnish with mint sprig (optional).

AOFAñejo Old Fashioned
2 slices of orange
2 scoops of sugar
3 drops Angostura Bitters
½ oz Herradura Añejo (we tripled this)
1-2 brandied cherries

In an Old Fashioned glass muddle the orange slices, sugar, and bitters. Add ice sphere to glass. Add Herradura Añejo. Garnish with brandied cherries.

(Note: As a resident of Kentucky, I was highly skeptical of this recipe and was ready to be offended. However, to my surprise it wasn’t blasphemous. Approach with an open mind.)

Fairweather Sour
Served at The Wayfarer in NYC
1 oz Milagro Silver
1 oz Pura Tirta Mezcal
1/2 oz pineapple puree
3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz jalapeño simple syrup
Pinch of fresh cilantro
Dash of Memphis bitters
Smoked paprika Salt (for rim)

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with a scoop of ice. Rim the rocks glass with the smoked paprika salt. Shake well and double strain into the glass over ice. Garnish with a slice of fresh jalapeño.

Review: Glory Irish Poitin

IrishGloryPoitin-0This poitin — Ireland’s answer to moonshine — comes from West Cork Distillers, whose aged whiskeys we reviewed a few months back. Pot-distilled from barley and beet sugar, it is bottled without aging.

The nose of Glory is incredibly pungent. Strong notes of fuel hit first, touched with just a bit of sweet vanilla. The body arrives with a rush of heat, more petrol notes, and some earthier notes — tree bark, forest floor, and a bit of mushroom. Some sweetness creeps in, but it’s hard to place specifically. Burnt sugar? Clove-dusted doughnuts? Who can say?

Poitin is rarely an elevated drinking experience, and Glory comes across largely as expected — on par with the white whiskey experience but dusted with a touch of sweet stuff.

80 proof.

C+ / $25 / mswalker.com

Drinking in Dublin: Guinness Storehouse and Teeling Whiskey

Howdy, everyone. Just back from the British Isles, where I spent nearly two weeks exploring Ireland and Scotland, two of the lands whose names are inexorably linked with the world of whiskey. This is the second of two travel pieces on major drinking attractions across the pond — this one focusing specifically on the city of Dublin.

Ireland boasts a handful of distilleries, but they are spread all around the island and visiting them takes quite a bit of doing. We devoted our time in Ireland largely to Dublin (with one day trip to the countryside by bus), but you can do a lot of boozy exploration without having to venture far from the city center.

In addition to a wealth of pubs and whiskey bars, Dublin boasts at least three attractions dedicated to drink. I skipped one of them, the “Old Jameson Distillery,” which is really just a museum and not a working still. Locals regard it as a tourist trap, so I focused on these two spots, both of which I heartily recommend visiting.

Guinness Storehouse

Dublin is the home of Guinness, and the Guinness Storehouse is the mecca for all fans of this archetypal stout. Yes it is chock full of tourists. Yes it is still well worth visiting.

The Storehouse is part museum, part experience, located adjacent to the brewery itself, which is a massive sprawling area that spans a couple of city blocks. Inside the Storehouse you’ll access a multi-story tour about how Guinness is made, and your ticket will also get you at least a pint or two of Guinness to enjoy while you’re making the rounds. The top floor, called the Gravity Bar, boasts panoramic views of all of Dublin. It’s extremely crowded, though; better to spend your time in the bar two stories below, where you are taught how to pour the perfect pint — and get to pull one for yourself to test your skills.

True enthusiasts will want to upgrade to the Connoisseur VIP experience, which comprises a 90-minute tasting of all of Guinness’s major versions worldwide, including a history lesson and a deep dive into the company that you won’t get from the standard tour. After the tasting, you’re set loose behind the bar — and when it’s all over you get to pick your favorite bottling to take with you on the road. Feel free to take it up to one of the three restaurants and enjoy it with your lunch — the Beef and Guinness Stew was one of the best I had during my time there.

Bottom line: Whether you like Guinness or not, don’t miss this experience.

Teeling Whiskey Company

Jack Teeling is an official Friend of Drinkhacker, and his distillery — the first to operate in Dublin since 1976 — just opened for visitors in May. Teeling Whiskey Company is still building out its tourist experience, but visitors are welcome to take a brief tour and taste some of the company’s products. At present, everything Teeling is bottling is sourced from other distilleries, but you can watch new-make spirit being produced now. Eventually this juice running from these stills will comprise the core of the Teeling product line.

We had a private tour with Jack and master distiller Alex Chasko, where we tasted Teeling’s standard lineup — widely available in every bar in Dublin — and some of its very rare limited edition releases. My hands-down favorite: The 26 Year Old Single Malt, which is finished in white burgundy casks for three years, an elegant whiskey that showcases the delicacy of Irish by infusing it with florals, gentle heather, and light citrus fruit notes. The fragrant, white flower finish almost makes you forget about the €450 price tag.

Also on hand at the tasting was one of the first bottlings of Teeling’s new Single Malt Single Cask offering. Seven different casks are being bottled — with different wood types and different age statements — and I managed to bring one home for a formal review. Stay tuned — and make sure you tell Teeling I sent you if you drop by.

Don’t miss the first part of this travelogue… Scotland!

Review: Bacardi Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron

bacardi maestro

“Gran Reserva.” “Maestro de Ron.” These are terms that one would expect to see applied to a dark, old, well-aged rum, but Bacardi is taking the unusual step of slapping them on its latest release, a white rum.

Bacardi Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron is “designed to elevate the simple cocktail experience” and is intended as “the ultimate white mixing rum.” As with most white rums, it is aged in white oak, then filtered to white — though Maestro de Ron is said to be “double aged” — each barrel is aged for at least one year, then the barrels are married and aged again for a further three months.

That aside, the results are fine and the rum is capable, if less inspired than the name might imply.

The nose of this spirit — not quite white but rather the palest shade of gold — strikes familiar white rum chords. Hefty vanilla notes with a modest touch of fuel-like character give it that unmistakable Bacardi aroma. On the palate, the vanilla is backed up with more traditional white rum notes, including ripe banana, pencil shavings, coconut husk, and a touch of cinnamon — for the most part they are all flavors that would play nicely in tropical cocktails.

On its own, Bacardi Maestro isn’t altogether that exciting. It’s got too much of a bitter edge, particularly on the finish, which tends to highlight the petrol character a bit too clearly. There’s nothing wrong with a little funk in a white rum, particularly at this completely reasonable price level, but you’ll probably want to use it as intended — in cocktails, rather than by itself.

80 proof.

B / $25 / bacardi.com

Scenes from Passport to Russian River Valley, 2015

The last weekend in June marked the third annual installation of the Passport to Russian River Valley, an event that sets the public loose on dozens of relatively remote wineries, many of which aren’t normally open to the public.

This year’s event took me to Benovia, Sonoma-Cutrer, Dutton Estate, and Inman Family Wines. Lots of fun to be had at each stop, including a memory ride to Sonoma-Cutrer’s “Pinot Barn,” where winemaker Mick Schroeter was on hand to talk about the company’s vineyard-desginated bottlings (while pouring 2014 samples direct from the barrel) and a lengthy chat with Kathleen Inman before posing for an on-site caricature. At Benovia we were treated to a tour and a lengthy, in-depth tasting of a variety of chardonnay and pinot noirs — the elegant 2012 Cohn Vineyard Pinot Noir being one of my favorite wines of the day — while Dutton paired each wine with a different morsel to eat (quite effectively, I should add).

The first day of the event ended at a memorable barbecue at Gail Ann’s Vineyard in the heart of Russian River Valley, headlined by a whole roast pig and a passel of locally-grown vegetables and capped off with a gorgeous sunset.

Lots of photos below. Hope to see you in the RRV in 2016!

Review: Innis & Gunn Rare Oak Pale Ale and Highland Ale

I&G Highland Ale Bottle with Box 660ml 2015 LO

It’s our second look at Scotland-based Innis & Gunn‘s beers, with two new oak-aged offerings (as all I&G beers are made) hitting the shelves now. The first is a seasonal brew, the second is a special edition that comes in a large-sized bottle and its own wooden carton.

Innis & Gunn Rare Oak Pale – Aged over Scottish oak, with the addition of elderflower and sweet gale (a medieval hops alternative) during the maturation. Sweet, but not aggressively so as in some Innis & Gunn bottlings, it offers distinctly floral and fruity notes — almost like juicy apple meets fresh violets. The vanilla-fueled oak plays out over all of that, with just the lightest touch of bitterness to even things out. 5.8% abv. B / $11 per four-pack

Innis & Gunn Highland Ale – This is an oversized, special edition brew, made from “Scotch Ale matured over oak chips infused with 18 Year Old Highland Scotch Whisky in Innis & Gunn’s patented Oakerators (think coffee percolator).” As with most Innis & Gunn bottlings, it’s very malty and quite sweet, pushy candylike notes with caramel sauce and cream soda notes. The whisky element comes through, a bit, on the somewhat racy nose and through a raisiny note on the body, but what this ale really needs is some bitterness to help cut through the sugar and add a little balance. 7.4% abv. B / $7 per 22 oz. bottle

innisandgunn.com

Review: Starr Hill King of Hop and Soul Shine (2015)

King of Hop 4pk_transIt’s time for one new, limited release — King of Hop — and the return of a seasonal — Soul Shine — to the Drinkhacker beer fridge. Let’s dig in…

Starr Hill King of Hop Imperial IPA – Not to be confused with the King of Pop, this is a classic, dry-hopped Imperial IPA with all the expected trimmings. Lovely citrus-pine notes up front, dusted with a touch of burnt marshmallow and notes of forest floor. Chewy and lightly resinous — but far from overpowering in the bitterness department — it’s a refreshing and well-crafted IPA with just a touch of uniqueness to carry things along. 7.5% abv. A- / $NA per four-pack

Starr Hill Soul Shine Belgian-Style Pale Ale (2015) – This “Americanized” Belgian ale grew on me a bit with this go-round, its late-game bitterness pairing a bit better with its heftier up-front maltiness and mushroomy, bready, slightly vegetal notes. 5.2% abv. B- / $10 per six-pack

starrhill.com

Travel: Touring Scotch Whisky Distilleries in Speyside, Scotland

The trouble with drinking whisky in Scotland is the regret you experience the moment you get home. No matter how long you spend there and how much you purchase, by the time you get back to the States you wish you’d tasted and brought home more than you did. The vastness of malt whisky options available to residents and visitors to the UK is impossible to overstate. Even the humblest of pubs is likely to have 100 or so bottles on the shelf, a few of which you will never even have heard of. At major whisky meccas like Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and inns in the heart of Speyside, it isn’t unusual to see 500 Scotch whiskies on the back bar — or rather jammed into every corner of the place. Each night at the Quaich bar in the Craigallechie Hotel in Speyside I got to ogle whiskies, just sitting on shelves next to the armchairs, that retail for $4000 or $5000 a bottle. Of course, it’s the ones I was able to sample that I will remember forever.

And so it is that I return to you, my bags stuffed with liters of whisky but my heart left in Scotland, following a pilgrimage I’ve wanted to make for the better part of a decade.

Visiting distilleries in Scotland isn’t difficult, but you’ll want to plan your trip carefully to make the most of your time there. With this post, I want to share some tips and advice if you decide to venture to see Scotland’s stills for yourself, along with commentary about each of the distilleries I visited.

For starters, unless you have a week or more to spend here and can cover multiple areas, you’ll want to pick a region to focus on. For some, Islay and its smoky malts is the place to be — and I’m told there’s really nothing else at all to do there except drink whisky. For others, its Speyside, which is where I spent four solid days.

Speyside is a great choice for visiting for a lot of reasons. First, some of the best whisky in the world is made here, so you’ll have endless opportunities to sample lovely malts. Second, the central location makes it relatively easy to get to. (Fly into Aberdeen, then drive about 80 minutes.) Third, and most importantly, Speyside boasts about half the distilleries in Scotland. From a base in Craigallechie, you’re about 15 miles from 40 or 50 distilleries, and more if you venture 25 or 30 miles away.

Not all distilleries are open to visitors, so keep that in mind when planning your trip by researching them in advance, and many require you book in advance if you want a tour. Don’t overlook this step, as you don’t want to venture 5000 miles to Scotland only to find out that the tours for the week are all booked.

Lastly, and this is where I blew it a little, note that many if not most Scottish distilleries shut down for a month or two in the summer, usually starting in early July. This is called the “silent season,” and it’s a period when the distilleries are repaired, upgraded, cleaned, and otherwise worked on. The stills can’t operate during the silent season, so many are indeed very quiet. That’s not that big a deal — you’ve see one mash tun, you’ve seen ’em all — but the bigger problem is that with all that construction you often can’t even venture into the stillhouses or other parts of the distillery because they’re closed off as a safety precaution. Despite all that, July is still a heavy tourism month for Scotland and most everyone is still operating a tour of some kind even during the shutdown. Just bear in mind you might not see everything you could if you were there, say, in the middle of winter.

As I mentioned above, we chose the Craigallechie Hotel as our base. This is a lovely place to stay — though the Wi-Fi is pants — with a perfect location, nice rooms, and solid dining in the Copper Dog restaurant below. The breakfast options (included) are amazing — and nothing beats a full Scottish to prime the pump before heading out to the distilleries. The Quaich Bar makes for a perfect nightly ritual, too.

So let’s get on to the distilleries. Here they are, in the order I visited them.

The Glenrothes

The Glenrothes is not open to the public, so it’s perhaps not fair to start here, since you can’t actually visit. But Ronnie Cox really set the stage for a memorable time here, treating us to a tour of the Rothes House — the spiritual home of parent company Berry Bros. and Rudd (literally, the town minister used to live there) — plus lunch and an in-depth tour of the distillery. Capped off by a deep dive into the Glenrothes spirit archives, our time included discussions about the geology and history of Speyside, a stroll through the (no longer haunted) Glenrothes cemetery, and even the raising of the U.S. flag in honor of my visit. I couldn’t have asked for a better host than Cox, and he really set a high bar for the other distillery visits we had in store.

Cardhu

Cardhu was a last-minute addition to our trip after some scheduling hiccups at another distillery, but it was a nice one to visit because it was actually up and running. Cardhu mostly ends up in blends, not single malts, but the tasting did include three single malts from the distillery, each made in a slightly different style. Higher-end tastings are available for an additional fee. The nosing challenge (where you try to ID what’s in a series of sealed containers) is particularly fun.

Aberlour

Aberlour’s tour was one of the more unique ones, with a distillery that includes a look at some rare parts of the facility, including the funky biologically-powered tanks that process the waste product from the stills and turn it back into water which can be returned to the river. The tour is concluded with a very nice, sit-down tasting that lets you sample the full range of Aberlour products, including distillery-only releases.

Macallan

Macallan is in the midst of a massive expansion. In two years there will be a whole new visitor’s center here. Our visit to the estate began with lunch at Easter Elchies House, a historic home on the property that you can find on the label of Macallan whiskies. After lunch, a tour takes you through every aspect of production — and includes a very well-done museum-style exhibit on the various types of wood that the distillery uses. For whisky newcomers, consider Macallan as an excellent first stop in order to aid with education. Following the tour (sadly, photos were off limits in many buildings) we sat down to a private tasting that started with the Fine Oak 21 Year Old and went deeper from there. Macallan saved the best for last, though: A sampling of the 1979 Gran Reserva, a long-off-the-market bottling that spent 18 years in first-fill sherry casks. This beautiful but incredibly intense whisky really showcases what sherry aging can do, and it was the perfect way to cap off the day.

Glenfiddich

Glenfiddich is a massive operation, with 47 warehouses full of whisky on the property. Our tour guide, Fergus, led us on a private tour of the facilities — again, some areas off limits and many with no photos allowed — which included some fascinatingly fun times. A stop at a warehouse to try to identify — simply by smelling the casks — which of three whiskies was in an ex-sherry barrel was much tougher than you think, and the chance to see Glenfiddich’s Solera vat, from which its famed 15 year old is drawn, was a unique experience. Of course, a major highlight of the trip was dropping our own “dog” into our choice of Glenfiddich barrel — first-fill or refill, sherry or bourbon — to bring home our own, bespoke, single-cask selection. We ended the day at Glenfiddich with a tasting of rare bottlings, including the 21 Year Old Gran Reserva Rum Cask, the red wine barrel-finished Age of Discovery (third edition), and the oddball 26 Year Old Excellence. Very different whiskies, and each memorable in its own way. Again, a highly recommended tour especially for newcomers to Scotch.

Benromach

All good things must come to an end, and we wound up our time in the Highlands at Benromach, which is about 30 miles north of the heart of Speyside, near the Moray Firth on the coast. Benromach is younger and smaller than all of the other distilleries we visited, and it operates under the ownership of famed indie bottlers Gordon & MacPhail. We dropped by on the road to the city of Inverness, the gateway to Loch Ness. Benromach was a great place to stop because it was in production, there are no crowds, and unlike the distilleries in the heart of Speyside, it uses a bit of peated malt in its production. This was a very casual tour — we asked for an expedited visit due to a time crunch — but the staff was friendly and accommodating and really distilled the operation well despite our shortened visit. We’ll have a full review of the newly released Benromach 15 Year Old in short order.

Thanks to all my new friends in Scotland for taking care of us ugly Americans!

Tasting the Wines of Italy’s Lugana Region

IMG LUGANA (11)

What, you’re not drinking Lugana wines every night? You can be forgiven if the name doesn’t ring a bell. Lugana is a tiny region in the north of the country, nestled between the better-known areas of Lombardia and the Veneto, snug against the southern shores of Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy.

It’s here that Lugana makes primarily white wines, almost all from the turbiana grape, aka trebbiano di Laguna. What’s turbiana? There is significant debate about this — scientific in nature, even — and there’s no concensus quite yet. It’s not the same is trebbiano, but some researchers claim it is the same grape as verdicchio. Others say it is its own unique grape that lies somewhere between these two — and possibly other grapes — and even the many producers and importers that attended a recent lunch showcasing Lugana ultimately had no idea what the truth is. (If you want to get really into the weeds, Fringe Wine will help you.)

Lugana wines are, as is the case with most Italian white wines, crisp and acidic and loaded with minerals. The wines have similarities to Soave, to Pinot Gris, and to Sauvignon Blanc, depending on the bottling.

Tasting through a couple of dozen wines reveals a lot of commonality — high acid and generally low alcohol (12.5% or 13%), zippy mouthfeel and a cleansing finish with a touch of bitterness. Generally I preferred the younger wines to the older bottlings. After only a couple of years these fresh wines start to take on a pungency and develop some oiliness in the mouthfeel — similar to what happens to riesling as it starts to age. Nearly universal at the event was the opinion that Lugana wines were best when consumed with food.

Lugana wines typically run $16 to $20 in the U.S., and up to $25 for reserve bottlings. In Italy or neighboring Germany, where much Lugana is reportedly consuming, you’ll likely find these wines for under 10 euros.

L003ugana isn’t in hefty supply stateside, and that could be threatened in the near future by a new high-speed rail that’s being constructed to connect Milan and Venice. It will cut directly through the Lugana region and reportedly cut wine production by 30 percent in the process.

Brief thoughts on all wines — the majority of which are not currently imported to the U.S. — follow.

Tasting Report: Wines of Lugana, 2015 Releases

2014 Bulgarini Lugana / B / lots of zip, herbal aromatics
2012 Cesari Cento Filari Lugana / B / notes of cheeses and roast meats, apricots, some coconut
2013 Cà Lojera Lugana / B+ / nice tropical notes, some astringency, lovely aromatics
2014 Ca Maiol Fabio Contato Lugana / B- / lots of funk, meaty and vegetal at times
2014 Citari Conchiglia Lugana / B+ / tropical, lots of citrus, good balance
2014 Le Morrette Mandolara Lugana / B+ / pine needles, brisk finish
2014 Lenotti Decus Lugana / B+ / mild, fresh
2014 Le Preseglie Hamsa Lugana / B+ / fresh, zippy, floral and citrus
2014 Malavasi Lugana / B / quite herbal
2014 Marangona Lugana / B+ / brisk citrus, followed by light meat notes
2013 Marangona Tre Campane Lugana / A / good mouthfeel, well balanced, better structure; a standout here
0062014 Montonale Montunal Lugana / B+ / rougher, chewy body
2013 Pratello Lugana / A- / organic; higher altitude bottling; fresh herbs, citrus, lots of acidity
2014 Pilandro Terecrea Lugana / A- / nicely bitter edge, zippy, acidic; good balance
2014 Selva Capuzza Selva Lugana / B / meaty, rustic
2014 Selva Capuzza Antica casa Visconti Lugana / B-
2014 Tenuta Roveglia Limne Lugana / A- / bigger fruit, acid, tropical notes
2011 Tenuta Roveglia Vigne di Catullo Lugana / B+ / showing significant age; roast meats, oily
2014 Villabella Ca del Lago Lugana / B / meaty edge, fruit hits later
2014 Zenegaglia Carlo Montefluno Lugana / B+ / some briny notes
2014 Zeni Marogne Lugana / B- / off balance
2014 Zeni Vigne Alte Lugana / B+
2013 Il Lugana Lugana / A- / vanilla and coconut notes, sea spray, nice tang
2014 Ca dei Frati Il Frati Lugana / A / massive acid, big zing, another standout
2014 Olivini Lugana / B- / off balance

Review: 1792 Sweet Wheat Bourbon

1792 Sweet Wheat Bottle

1792 Ridgemont Reserve Bourbon has long been a well-respected but widely overlooked part of the Buffalo Trace stable, which is understandable since it’s made at its own facility, Barton 1792, quite a ways away from the thriving Buffalo Trace headquarters.

But BT is breathing some new life into 1792 with this, the first of what is planned to be a series of new, limited edition expressions of 1792.

1792 Sweet Wheat is a wheated bourbon, aged eight years at the Bardstown facility. (The standard 1792 uses rye.) Fret not about flavorings or added sugar. There’s nothing overly “sweet” about the whiskey beyond the house style of the whiskey itself; the sugars are derived from standard barrel aging the same way they are in any other straight whiskey.

1792 Sweet Wheat starts off not with sugar but with lumberyard notes; the nose is surprisingly forward with wood, tempered with tropical notes and a touch of peach. On the palate, it’s not especially sweet either, offering notes of tinned fruit, coconut, cinnamon, ample vanilla, and some gingerbread notes coming up the rear. There’s ample wood structure here, giving the whiskey some tannin — and tempering the sugars — which is actually a bit of a disappointment considering the name of the spirit. Give it a little air and things open up in time — the chewy cinnamon bun of a finish is worth waiting for — but otherwise there’s not that much to get too excited about.

91.2 proof.

B / $33 / 1792bourbon.com