Review: Winc Wine Club

Winc subscription box wines
Winc is a monthly wine club from Northern California that, like most, works via an online subscription service. We had the opportunity to give them a try and were fairly impressed with the offering.

First, a bit about Winc. When you first sign up, you are asked several questions to determine your “Palate Profile.” They ask about how you like your coffee; your salt and citrus preferences; how much you like berry and earthy flavors; and how adventurous you are with trying new foods. The wine recommendations sent are based upon these questions. Most of their wines are around $13 a bottle but can be as much as $35. Rate the wines you get and you’ll improve the next set of recommendations. If you don’t want any wine this month, you can skip it.

A basic subscription includes three bottles plus a flat rate shipping. We received four bottles and a copy of the Winc Journal. The journal is particularly interesting. This one contained articles on terroir and an interview with winemaker Markus Bokisch. The journal talks about their featured wines with food pairing suggestions and rates the wines with regards to body, fruit, woodiness, earthiness, and sweetness.

Inside the journal are also cocktail recipes, using wines from your subscription box. Of our four, two were featured in cocktails in the journal and so we gave them a try as well. (See below.)

But first, on with the wines.

First up is 2015 Forma di Vida Graciano, a Spanish style red wine. Light on the sweetness, this wine has fruit flavors like dark cherry and plum. If you like your wine with lots of body, you’ll want to try this one, though it may be too heavy for people who don’t like strong flavors like we do. A / $13Summer Water cocktails

Next, we have 2016 Summer Water Rosé, which is aptly named as it is so light the alcohol content is barely noticeable. The cocktail included using Summer Water would be nice for the warmest summer days ahead. It gives the impression it would be right at home poolside. B / $15

Summer Water Shim
½ oz. fresh tangerine juice
1 ½ oz. Jardesca or Lillet Blanc
3 oz. Summer Water
1 fresh Bay Leaf

Chill the cocktail glass. Fill a shaker with ice and pour in the tangerine juice and Jardesca. Shake until the shaker feels frosty to the touch. Then strain into the glass and top with Summer water. Garnish with a Bay Leaf before serving.

Our third wine is 2015 Field Theory Abariño, a white wine from Andrus Island Vineyard. This one is extremely fruity and a touch sweet, but not overly so. It might be a favorite of the ladies. B /$18Finkes Widow cocktails

The fourth wine is 2016 Finke’s Widow Sparkling White Blend. A little sweeter than the Field Theory, it has a slight earthy undertone (like mushrooms) which gives way to the fizziness. B- / $13

Avocado-Do Slushy
¼ avocado
1 oz. shiso syrup
1 oz. fresh lime juice
¼ oz. fresh cucumber juice
4 oz. Finke’s Widow
2 shiso leaves

Shiso is Japanese basil but has a mixture of basil, anise, and mint flavors with grassy elements. You can substitute fresh mint if need be.

This recipe called for cucumber juice in the ingredients but coconut juice in the instructions. We chose to make it with the cucumber and adjusted the instructions. You could probably substitute coconut instead.

Puree a cucumber in a blender and then strain to extract the juice. Then combine all the other ingredients, except the shiso leaves, with the juice and stir. Pour into a medium sized glass and garnish with the leaves.

Negroni Spritz
3 oz. Finke’s Widow
2 oz. Campari
splash of soda
1 orange slice

Fill a rocks glass with ice, along with the orange slice. Pour the Campari and sparkling wine into the glass and top with a dash of soda. Mix gently before serving.

Winc’s website includes a recipes section for great food to serve with your wine. Here’s one example:

Garganelli with Lobster and Caramelized Fennel PureeGarganelli with Lobster and Caramelized Fennel Purée
serves 4
1 lb Garganelli pasta
1 1/2 pounds of lobster meat
salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil
¼ tsp. red chili flakes
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 bulbs fennel, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ cup white wine
¼ cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
¾ cup toasted slivered almonds
4 Tbsp. butter
½ cup torn basil leaves
lemon zest

Find a pot that is large enough to fit two live lobsters and fill it with water. Set the pot over high heat and bring the water to a boil. Lightly salt the water. Add the lobsters to the pot, reduce the heat so that the water is gently simmering, and cook for 7 minutes.

Remove the lobsters and run them under cold water to stop the cooking process. Extract the meat from the lobsters—kitchen shears work great for this task. Cut the meat into bite-size pieces. Store the lobster meat in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.

In a large skillet, over medium heat, add the olive oil and the red chili flakes. Wait one minute while the skillet gets hot, and then add the onions. When the onions are soft and translucent, add the fennel. Season with salt. When the fennel begins to soften, turn the heat down to low.

Slowly caramelize the fennel and onion, transforming them into something very soft and sweet. When the vegetables are sufficiently caramelized, add the garlic and the white wine; increase the heat, and cook until the wine has almost entirely evaporated. Add the heavy cream and cook until the cream has partially reduced.

Transfer the contents of the skillet to a blender and add the lemon juice. Puree until smooth. Add scant amounts of water if the puree is too thick. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. If you want, you can store this puree in the refrigerator for a day or two ahead of time before completing this dish.

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package, except under cook the pasta by one or two minutes. While the pasta is cooking, set a large skillet over medium heat and add the fennel puree, stirring occasionally.

When the pasta is cooked, transfer it to the skillet with the fennel puree, making sure to reserve a cup of the pasta water. Add a little of the pasta water to the skillet and stir. Add the butter and the lobster. If you know how to flip the pasta in skillet with your wrist, do that now. Otherwise, keep stirring. Add the almonds and basil. If the pasta looks too dry, add more of the pasta water.

Taste the pasta while it is still in the skillet and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Before serving, garnish the pasta with lemon zest.

winc.com

Cocktails for Mother’s Day 2017

The Queens Choice
Moms come in so many varieties — no matter their shape or size, all are sweet, pretty, and strong. We want to give each one a cocktail of their own and a dessert along side. Kick your feet up, Mom. You’ve earned it!

The Queen’s Choice
2 oz. Baileys Original Irish Cream
1 oz. Smirnoff Vanilla vodka
1/2 oz. butterscotch syrup

Combine Baileys Original Irish Cream, Smirnoff Vanilla, and butterscotch syrup into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well; then strain contents into a coupe glass.

Lavender Collins
courtesy of elit Vodka
1.5 oz. elit vodka
¾ oz. lavender honey syrup
2 oz. sparkling water
2 drops butterfly pea extract
¾ oz. fresh lemon juice

Build all ingredients over ice in a highball glass. Do this next step in front of Mom so she can see the effect. Slowly add the lemon juice and watch the color change. Garnish with lavender sprigs.

Q Cucumber AppleQ Cucumber Apple Mule
3 parts Q Ginger Beer
1 part Milagro Silver tequila
1 part cucumber apple juice
½ part fresh lime juice
mint for garnish

Blend three 1 inch chunks of cucumber and half a green apple in a blender until liquid; then fine strain and discard solids. Add cucumber apple juice, tequila, and fresh lime to a shaker tin with ice and shake to combine. Strain over crushed ice into a tall Collins glass. Garnish with cucumber sticks, apple slices, and mint sprigs.

Ginger Éclair
courtesy of My Best Cocktails
1 oz. Stone’s ginger wine
1/2 oz. Bacardi rum
2 oz. chocolate liqueur
1/2 oz. chocolate syrup
1 oz. heavy cream

Rim a frosted cocktail glass by dipping the rim in chocolate syrup and then in cocoa powder. Shake all of the ingredients over ice and strain into the prepped cocktail glass. Garnish with a ginger slice and a piece of dark chocolate. Alternatively, you can use a dark chocolate liqueur.

Coralina MargaritaCoralina Margarita 
created by Riesler Morales of Mexico City, Mexico
1 ¾ oz. Patrón Reposado
¾ oz. Patrón Citrónge Orange
¾ oz. simple syrup
1 oz. fresh lime juice
½ oz. Mexican red wine
¼ cup dried hibiscus
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup kosher salt
lime wheel

Pulverize the dried hibiscus in a spice grinder; add the sugar and salt. Pulse until combined. Use this mixture to rim a coupe cocktail glass.

Combine Patrón Reposado, Patrón Citrónge Orange, simple syrup, and lime juice in a shaker tin; add ice and shake vigorously. Strain into the prepared cocktail glass. Carefully float red wine on the surface and garnish with a lime wheel.

Blackberry Thyme Champagne Cocktail
courtesy of Style Me Pretty
1/3 cup blackberries, plus 8 more for garnish
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1 bottle of prosecco or champagne
4 sprigs of thyme

In a small saucepan, bring the blackberries, water, and sugar to a boil. Turn to low and let simmer for 10 minutes. Strain blackberries and let syrup cool.

Add 2 Tbsp. of syrup to the bottom of each glass. Top with champagne and add in a sprig of thyme and 2 blackberries.

Sunday Morning HuesSunday Morning Hues
created by Lucinda—Mother of Zeta, 1 month old
1 oz. Creme Yvette
1 oz. Kerrygold Irish Cream Liqueur
1 oz. Caffe Borghetti
1 oz. Espresso
1 oz. Mascarpone

Mix all ingredients except Mascarpone with ice in an Irish coffee mug. Top with Mascarpone cheese and garnish with an orchid.

Glenfiddich’s A Scottish Lassi
created by Glenfiddich Ambassador Allan Roth
2 parts chamomile-infused Glenfiddich 12 Year
1 part unsweetened lassi (yogurt drink)
¾ part Orgeat
½ part lemon juice

To infuse the Glenfiddich, pour a bottle of Glenfiddich 12 and 2 chamomile tea bags to a pitcher. Let stand 10 minutes. Strain, rebottle, and label. Keep refrigerated. If you cannot find unsweetened yogurt drink. Add one part water to 4 parts unsweetened yogurt.

Shake all ingredients over ice and strain into a coupe. Garnish with dried chamomile flowers, if available.

Espresso TiramisuExpresso Tiramisu
Courtesy of Lavazza
Serves: 6
Lavazza Espresso or Mocha coffee
Paste di Meliga biscuits (recipe below)
8 oz. Mascarpone cheese
1 oz. powdered sugar
3 oz. heavy cream
1 oz. whole milk
¼ vanilla bean pod
cocoa powder

To make Mascarpone cream: place the mascarpone cheese in a mixing bowl. Add the powdered sugar, whole milk, heavy cream, and vanilla bean paste (from inside the vanilla bean). Use an electric mixer to obtain a soft creamy mixture; then refrigerate. Brew Lavazza Espresso or Mocha coffee.

Place a Pasta di Meliga biscuit (We used 2.) in the bottom of a cappuccino cup. Add a generous helping of the mascarpone cream mixture. Pour hot coffee around the cream. Dust lightly with bitter cocoa powder and serve with a spoon.

Paste di Meliga Biscuits
recipe from Saveur.com
2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1/2 lb. plus 5 Tbsp. real butter, softened
2 egg yolks

Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, and lemon zest in a large bowl. Add butter and egg yolks. Using your fingers, work butter and egg yolks into flour–cornmeal mixture until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a clean surface and knead 4–5 times until smooth (dough will be soft and tacky). Cover dough with a clean damp kitchen towel and set aside to let rest for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 300°. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Transfer dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 3/8 inch star-shaped pastry tip. Pipe 2 inch diameter spirals of dough out onto prepared sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake until edges turn pale golden, 20–25 minutes. Allow cookies to cool briefly, then transfer them to a rack to cool completely.

Salud! Cocktails for Cinco de Mayo 2017

Clarified Avocado Margarita
When the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo comes up, most of us automatically think “margarita” and “party.” We also love both of those; however, sometimes it’s fun to get outside the box. Here are several cocktails which are either margarita hybrids or inspired by the beauty and independent spirit of Mexico.

Give these cinco drinks a try and let us know what you think.

LageritaLagerita
courtesy Liquor.com
2 oz. tequila
¾ oz. Cointreau or Grand Mariner
1 oz. lime juice
4 oz. Mexican lager
1 lime wheel

Fill a highball glass with ice and set aside. Add the tequila, Cointreau and lime juice to a shaker and fill with fresh ice. Shake; then strain into the prepared glass. Top with the beer and garnish with a lime wheel.

This cocktail is inspired by the tamarind margarita served up at Casa Herradura. We turned it into something light and refreshing.

Tamarind and Tequila SodaTamarind and Tequila Soda
12.5 oz. bottle Tamarindo Jarritos (you can find this at a Mexican market or the ethnic section of a grocery store)
½ oz. ginger syrup
2 oz. añejo tequila
orange sliced, dipped in cinnamon powder

Shake syrup and tequila with ice. Pour into a tall glass. Top with half the bottle of Tamarindo and serve.

Spring Fling
courtesy of San Francisco Bartender Justin Blackwood (One Market Restaurant)
¾ oz. Crème de Violette
2 oz. Blanco tequila
½ oz. elderflower liqueur

Add ingredients to a rocks glass with ice and stir. Garnish with an edible flower before serving.

Margarita SangriaMargarita Sangria
courtesy of Completelydelicious.com
1 750 ml bottle dry white wine (like a sauvignon blanc or chardonnay)
1 1/2 cup blanco tequila
1 cup triple sec
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 orange, sliced
2 limes, sliced
fresh cilantro
crushed ice, for serving

In a large pitcher, combine the white wine, tequila, triple sec, orange juice, and lime juice. Add the orange slices, lime slices, and the cilantro. Chill for at least two hours and then serve over ice. Bear in mind the cilantro does get stronger as the pitcher sits so, if you have guests who aren’t fans of cilantro, then add it to individual glasses instead of the whole pitcher.

This next one makes a large amount and requires a bit of planning, but it can definitely be worth the effort.

Clarified Avocado Margarita
created by San Francisco Mixologist, Leon Vazquez
16 oz. Tequila Don Julio 70 Añejo Claro
6 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
4 oz. simple syrup
30 dashes orange bitters
1 avocado
2 serrano peppers
1 bushel of cilantro (approximately 40 leaves)
6 Tbsp. salt
40 oz. whole milk
lime twist for garnish

Combine 4 ounces lime juice, simple syrup, orange bitters, avocado, peppers and cilantro into an airtight container. Coarsely grind the peppers, avocado, and cilantro. Add 14 ounces boiling water and immediately cover so that no liquid evaporates. Let mixture sit overnight, then strain the mixture into a clean container and add Tequila Don Julio 70 Añejo Claro.

Bring whole milk to a boil. Add the boiling milk and the remaining 2 ounces of lime juice to the strained mixture, the milk will curdle. Strain the liquid slowly with cheesecloth. Pour liquid into a clean container, cover and refrigerate overnight. Serve neat with a lime twist.

No celebration of independence is complete without some thing savory to go with the drinks. This recipe comes to us from Brooklyn’s McCarren Hotel & Pool.

Spicy Chorizo TacosSpicy Chorizo Tacos
5 pounds fresh chorizo
1 Tbsp. olive oil
100 g Spanish onion, diced
10 g garlic, crushed
10 g fresh red Thai chile, sliced very thin, seeds intact
5 sprigs epazote (epazote has a distinctively sharp, herbal flavor, reminiscent of oregano and fennel with minty, pine notes)
½ cup cilantro leaves (save the stems and mince them fine to include in the meat mixture)
2 quarts Queso Fresco cheese
corn tortillas
vegetable oil
¼ cup pickled chiles
¼ cup Spanish onion, finely minced
lime wedges
sriracha hot sauce

In a large pot or skillet, brown the chorizo, onion, and garlic with the olive oil. As it cooks, add the cilantro stems, red chile, and epazote. Once the chorizo is done, turn off the pan. In a separate small skillet, heat up the vegetable oil on high. Then fry the corn tortillas until soft (1-2 minutes), with tongs, flip the tortilla over and fry the other side. How long you fry them will determine whether you get soft tortillas or hard ones…longer makes them hard. Put each cooked tortilla onto paper towels to soak up the vegetable oil. After frying the desired number of tortillas, turn off the skillet and remove it from the stove burner to avoid a fire hazard.

Queso Fresco cheese can be sliced or crumbled between your fingers. Either works for this recipe, though we prefer to crumble it. In the center of each tortilla, layer the chorizo mixture, pickled chiles, minced onion, cilantro leaves, and cheese. Squeeze a lime wedge across the mixture and add a dash of sriracha sauce. Fold the tortilla in half into a taco and serve with plenty of napkins.

Calling All Geeks: Cocktails for National Star Wars Day 2017

May 4th is here, and Star Wars fans are breaking out the lightsabers… and their booze bottles.

To celebrate “May the fourth,” we asked fans and a popular fan podcast for cocktail suggestions and then put our own spin on them. Many of the photos don’t do the drinks justice because some elements like smoke and edible pearl dust don’t show up well in the pictures — but trust us that they make a fantastic presentation in person, particularly under the right party light conditions. The Star Wars ice molds (which can also be used for chocolate) and light saber skewers can be found on Amazon. The edible stars and pearl dust are available where cake-making supplies are sold.

May the fourth be with you… and the hangovers not.

Pink NebulaPink Nebula
Courtesy of One Shot Podcast
1/2 oz. gin
1 oz. lemon
½ oz. grenadine
1/2 oz. strawberry syrup
1 dash peach bitters
1 small scoop silver or pink edible pearl powder
¼ tsp. edible star shaped glitter

Mix gin, lemon, grenadine, and strawberry syrup in a shaker and shake. Add the pearl powder to the glass and then pour the shaker contents into a martini glass. Dash with bitters and serve with lemon peel garnish.

Note: you can turn this into a “Black Nebula” with Mr. Black liqueur or black vodka; however, both of those are difficult to get in the U.S.

Greedo’s Last DrinkGreedos Last Drink
To be served over a discussion about whether Greedo or Han shot first. Original recipe by Sugarspunrun.com
1 oz. Midori
1 oz. whiskey
2 oz. tonic water
½ oz. simple syrup
½ oz. lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a rocks glass and serve.

Princess Leia
courtesy of Daily Dot
1 ½ oz. pear vodka (raspberry vodka is also nice)
3 oz. cranberry juice
1 oz. pineapple juice
edible gold glitter or pearl dust

Mix all liquid ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a champagne flute. Sprinkle glitter/dust over the top of the drink and serve.

Jedi Mind Control
original recipe from completecocktails.com
¾ oz. Pama pomegranate liqueur
1 oz. vodka
1 ½ oz. Hpnotiq liqueur
½ oz. Falernum tropical syrup (any syrup made for tiki cocktails works fine)
2 oz. cranberry juice

Mix together and served in a chilled cocktail glass.

Kylo RenKylo Ren
original recipe by allmommywants.com
1 1/2 oz. cherry vodka
1 oz. silver tequila
1 oz. Fireball whiskey
1 Tbsp. Grenadine
1 Tbsp. ginger syrup

In a bar shaker add 3-4 pieces of ice, vodka, tequila, fireball, ginger syrup, and grenadine. Shake well to combine; then add to a 9 oz. glass and serve.

Darth Vader
Fan inspired and also called a Black Jesus
2 oz. Johnny Walker Black Label whisky
1 oz. Jagermeister

Pour Jagermeister into the glass; then float the Johnny Walker Black Label on top and serve.

Yoda
1 ½ oz. vodka
1 ½ oz. Midori
3 oz. hard apple cider

Add vodka and Midori in a rocks glass with ice and stir. Top with the hard apple cider and serve.

Rey-tini
courtesy of Partida Tequila
2 oz. añejo tequila
3/4 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 oz. agave nectar
1 oz. Champagne

Build all ingredients except the champagne into a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a martini glass. Top with one ounce of champagne and garnish with a long lime twist.

Dagoba Swamp SodaDagoba Swamp Soda
courtesy of GeekGirlBrunch
2 oz. rum
1/2 oz. peppermint schnapps
1/2 oz citrus vodka
1/2 lime
12 fresh mint leaves
3 oz. club soda (lemon-lime soda also works wonderfully as a substitute)
2 tsp. sugar

Muddle half the mint leaves in a shaker. Add all the remaining ingredients except the soda in a shaker with ice. Pour into a glass or canning jar glass; top with soda. Garnish with mint leaves and serve.

We included this next cocktail last because it requires some advanced skill, or
at least some patience with learning the presentation process.

Death Star
cocktail inspired by GeekyHostess
1 oz. Jagermeister
1 oz. triple sec
1 oz. vodka
1 oz. whiskey
2 oz. sweet and sour mix (or mix simple syrup and lemon juice to make your own)

Place all ingredients into a glass with a Death Star ice sphere in it. Stir to mix theingredients and enjoy.

Smoking Death StarTo make the smoking Death Star ice sphere:
1 Death Star ice ball mold
1 stainless steel cooking funnel (make sure the hole isn’t too large or you will have problems with the cherry plug falling in)
Maraschino cherries (we used a small lime wheel because our hole in the ice ball was too large for a cherry)
drink skewer
stainless steel seasoning injector (with a solid needle, not the one with holes on the sides)
cooking foil
wood chips (cedar and oak work great but use what you have access too; you want to be sure the chips are not from wood treated with chemicals)
lighter
ice pick or soldering iron

Create a hollow Death Star ice sphere by filling the ice mold and putting it in the freezer. How long can vary depending upon the type of mold you have and your freezer temperature. We used a silicon mold and put it in for two hours, then flipped it over for another two.

Next, use a pick or a clean soldering iron to create a hole, large enough for the funnel spout to fit in, on the top and return the sphere to the freezer. Insert the skewer through the cherry and set aside. Lay out the foil on a heat resistant surface and pile the wood chips in the center. Use the lighter to burn the wood chips and place the funnel over top to capture the smoke. Pull the ice ball out of the freezer and place over the funnel, inserting the spout into the hole in the ice ball. You may need to tilt one side of the funnel to encourage the smoke to enter the sphere. Once filled with smoke, quickly plug up the hole in the ice sphere with the skewered cherry to trap the smoke inside. Then return the ball to the freezer while you mix up the Death Star cocktail.

When ready, carefully place the Death Star ice ball filled with smoke into a cocktail glass. Pour the cocktail over the ball. Then give the cocktail to your guest, along with a knife or small hammer so they can “destroy’ the Death Star, releasing the smoke. We used the information in a video on how to fill a hollow ice ball with smoke, and then used a Death Star Silicon Mold. The video from Cocktail Chemistry is here.

Book Review: How to Drink French Fluently — A Drinker’s Guide to Joie De Vivre

How to Drink French Fluently—A Drinker’s Guide to Joie De Vivre.

How to Drink French Fluently, a book sponsored by St. Germain (aka St-Germain), is gorgeous. The photos interspersed throughout are lush and beautiful, making this a perfect coffee table book.

This book is a drinker’s guide, but it has so much more to offer than just cocktail recipes. Of course there are plenty of those from acclaimed bartenders, and each centers around St. Germain. For the elderflower liqueur lover, these thirty cocktails are sent from heaven.

The book is divided into five times of the day when a cocktail is considered appropriate—brunch, daytime, aperitif, dinner, and as a nightcap. Each section contains an explanation of the history of cocktail traditions for that time of the day and what to serve with each of the drinks during those occasions. Then come the wonderful cocktails included in each section. We have to fess up to trying nearly all of them, except for two which contain fruits not yet in season.

There is one small section near the back of the book which is particularly impressive. These pages explain how to make the unique ingredients called for in the book’s recipes. Among those ingredients are Gewürztraminer syrup, strawberry shrub, lemon cordial, St. Germain sorbet, smoked tomato-infused St. Germain, and even ice cubes made with St. Germain. We loved the ice cubes so much, we tossed a few into a tall glass of iced tea for a new take on sweet tea.

Here are a few of our favorite cocktails from the book. Once you try them, you’ll want to try the rest.

Rivington PunchRivington Punch
1 oz. dry rosé wine
½ oz. St. Germain
1 ½ oz. Aperol
¼ oz. Combier Framboise
1 oz. soda water
1 strawberry
1 grapefruit crescent

Stir all of the ingredients in a wine glass over ice. Garnish with a strawberry and a grapefruit crescent.

Voodoo Down
2 dashes orange bitters
¼ oz. ginger syrup
¼ oz. honey syrup
¾ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. St. Germain
½ oz. Trinidadian Rum
1 oz. 12-year-old Elijah Craig bourbon

Put all ingredients into a shaker and shake with ice. Strain over ice into a double rocks glass and serve. No garnish is needed.

Voodoo DownMidnight Bouquet
1 dash grapefruit bitters (We used orange bitters instead)
½ oz. St. Germain
¾ oz. Amaro Averna
¼ oz. San Andres Alipus mezcal
1 ½ oz. añejo tequila
1 grapefruit twist

Stir all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice. Then strain into a coupe glass. Next, express the oils from the grapefruit twist over the surface before using it as a garnish.

A /$20 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

A Visit to Casa Herradura

Casa Herradura

The region of Jalisco, Mexico (near Guadalajara) has been, and still is, responsible for the entirety of the Earth’s tequila for over 400 years, though the history of tequila dates back several thousand additional years. Everything in this region is designed to contribute to fine tequila. Beautiful warm weather, natural underground soft water, perfect terroir of red volcanic soil, and the variation of agave plants that produce the most natural sugars are the building blocks of a tequila meant to be sipped and savored. Toss out your salt and lime, and join me in a visit to Casa Herradura — the maker of Mexico’s most popular tequila, produced the same way for generations.

Jimador cutting the pinaHerradura has been instrumental in developing some of today’s key tequila standards, and they continue striving to improve them. They were the first to introduce Reposado tequila to the world in 1974 and Extra Anejo tequila in 1994 — after twenty years spent perfecting it. The excellent quality of their tequila proves that sometimes the old ways are best.

Natural is the way to describe what’s best about Herradura (which means “horseshoe” in Spanish). While there are tequila industry standards, Herradura prides themselves, and rightly so, for exceeding those across the board. Others may harvest their blue agave plants at four or five years; Herradura lets theirs mature a full seven years or more. Herradura enjoys access to their own underground water resources and have their own cooperage through owners Brown-Forman. Even though the fermentation process is quicker in tequila than other spirits (due to the warm weather year-round), Herradura also ferments at each stage of the tequila production process for longer, nearly double what other tequila distillers do. How do you top all that? By cutting the heads and tails, which are unhealthy alcohols that come out at the beginning and end of distillation, not once but twice.

Tequila aging barrelsSeveral interesting things about agave and tequila were brought to our attention during our visit to Casa Herradura. The agave is roasted and then the sugars are pressed out, leaving behind fibers from the agave plant. Those fibers are then rinsed with water to obtain as much agave nectar as possible. This is where the importance of soft water plays in. The liquid is pumped into fermentation tanks, where fermentation begins within a day or two and lasts for 92 hours. No yeast is added, no heat applied, and the mixture foams and bubbles as the sugars are converted into alcohol. The agave nectar you can buy at the store as a sweetener is this same agave liquid used in making tequila. The difference is, in order to turn it into something with a shelf life and no natural fermentation, it must be immediately pasteurized in the same way milk is.

Pinas waiting to be processedBack to the tequila. There are five types of tequila produced by Herradura. They all come from the very same blue agave and are initially processed the same way. So, what’s the difference between Blanco (Silver), Reposado, Añejo, Ultra, and the Seleccion Suprema Extra Añejo? It’s all in how long the tequila is aged. All of it begins life as Blanco tequila. After 45 days in the fermentation kettles, the clear Blanco is either bottled or put into American White Oak casks to age. If a cask has previously been used, the insides are scraped out before being charred all over again. The next tequila is Reposado, which has a light golden color from the oak. The industry standard is aging for two months, but Herradura ages its Reposado for eleven months. For the Añejo, the aging time lengthens to 24 months. Again, the industry standard is only 12 months. The Ultra starts as the base Blanco but goes through a second distillation process, emerging as a very floral tequila. Seleccion Suprema, the Extra Anejo, ages for a full 45 months, at which point 40% of the original liquid will have evaporated. That “angel’s share” is comparable to a 12-year-old whiskey.

Train viewBecause all tequilas begin as Blanco, you can really tell the overall quality of a distillery by the quality of the Blanco. It makes sense; if you can’t sip the Blanco and have to mask it with salt and lime to get it down, then you’ll likely have a similarly bad experience with the aged ones. Any cocktail created with a good quality tequila tastes significantly better.

Visiting Casa Herradura begins in Guadalajara, where you hop onto the Herradura Express — a train opening to the public on April 29. Riding this lush train, while sipping on a margarita or Paloma, is just the thing to set your visit off to the right start. As you ride along, the train passes by fields of blue agave in various stages of growth. You also see the rustic lifestyles of many people living in this area of Mexico. Wood and barbed wire fences surround the fields, while bright frescos decorate the sides of some buildings.

Agave greetersOnce you disembark from the train, it’s a short bus ride to the Casa. The first thing that greets you upon stepping through the stone gates are pathways lined with blue agave. The lush grasses and native plant life give the place a feeling of being a tequila oasis in the desert. The staff are friendly and greeted our tour group with the house margarita — a tamarind version in a glass rimmed with a chile powder mixture. It tasted wonderfully spicy and tangy.

When you embark on the tour, be sure you are wearing good walking shoes. Casa Herradura is a big place, and you will want to see it all. First up is seeing an agave piña (the center) being stripped of its long, bladed leaves and the green portions sliced away. This is because those green skins will make the tequila bitter if left on. Then, the piña is cut in half and taken to the ovens to be roasted.

Herradura uses the oven baking method for roasting agave piñas. There are other distilleries that use an autoclave to speed up the process, but they sacrifice taste as a result. Our host explained it to us as the difference between cooking meat on the grill as opposed to in a microwave oven. Once roasted, the agave has turned a dark pink-brown color and is ready for removing the syrup from the fibers.

Agave roasting in the ovenThe syrup is pumped into large, open fermentation vats. The reason for the open tops is to allow the natural yeasts from the plantation’s trees and other plants to permeate the syrup as it naturally ferments. On our tour, we sampled the syrup in five stages, all straight from the vats. It is interesting how, in each stage of fermentation for only a few days, the taste of the syrup changes. Some of the sweetness is lost as it converts into alcohol; then flavors of banana and florals begin taking shape.

At this stage, the tequila is pumped into large copper kettles and distilled. Afterward, water is added to the Blanco to bring its alcohol content down before bottling. The remaining tequila is sealed into oak barrels to age.

Antique agave crushing wheelHerradura is a charming place, filled with enchanting beauty and history. We drank tequila from barrels carried on the back of a donkey and toured the old factory. Rumors are that the old areas are haunted by the souls of those who died there: workers, priests hiding from persecution, and people seeking refuge from revolutionists. There are underground tunnels where Herradura actively helped smuggle many people to safety in generations past. Those tunnels are now filled with water. Here we also learned that tequila was originally sold solely at barrel-strength and only to men. Times have indeed changed.

The tequila donkeyIn Mexico, people seldom drink tequila cocktails. They prefer sipping it neat or mix it with Squirt or Coke. Drink good tequila from champagne flutes or brandy snifters, as those were recommended as the best glasses to bring the scents and tastes to your experience.

An interesting note: when creating your own tasting, line the glasses up in order — Blanco, Reposado, Añejo, etc. Take in the scent of each after swirling it in the glass to observe the color before tasting. Once you’ve tasted them all, go back to the Blanco and Reposado. Taste one and then the other without any water in between. Then, sip the Blanco again. The change in flavor is immediate and wonderful. Do the same for the Añejo, bouncing among all three. When you do this, the more elusive flavors come forth for you to enjoy. It is a bit of a ritual and a perfect way to enjoy Herradura at your next dinner party.

Review: Captain Morgan LocoNut

Captain Morgan Loconut
A new seasonal take on Captain Morgan’s Cannon Blast is this summer 2017 release, called LocoNut. When it arrived, the scent of coconut wafted up from the box. Yes, the familiar round bottle is dressed up like a cracked open coconut, and even the bottle is scented — but not in the way you typically smell coconut in sunscreen and hair products. This is a fragrant, mouthwatering tantalization of your senses. It actually makes you want to open it right up.

Caribbean rum, spices, and coconut liqueur make up this white spirit. The spicy flavors of cloves, cinnamon, and cassia bark are present, but they all take a back seat to the very sweet coconut. It may be too sweet for some people and could possibly negate the need for simple syrup when used in a cocktail.

Captain Morgan recommends serving LocoNut as a chilled shot, and we also found it works wonderfully on the rocks and in cocktails. Still, you can ramp it up with other spirits in your glass, and Captain Morgan’s recommended cocktails pair it with other alcohols like whiskey or, of course, regular Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum. All work well.

Bottom line: It may not be classy, but if you like coconut, you’ll find this liqueur a winner.

40 proof.

A / $15 / captainmorgan.com

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