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, 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. Germaine. 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]

Review: Luxardo Bitter Bianco

Imagine a glass of Campari. Now strip away all the color. That’s the essence of Luxardo’s Bitter Bianco, a product that dates back to the 1930s but which has been off the market for years. Now it’s back, imported by Anchor Distilling, and ready to bring some clarity back to the world of amari.

Some more details from Luxardo:

Luxardo Bitter Bianco is produced from a distilled infusion of bitter herbs and aromatic plants, such as rhubarb, thyme and bitter orange. The Luxardo family revived the product and improved the production techniques to create a clear expression of bitter with no artificial coloring, featuring the same herbs as the Luxardo Bitter Rosso. Unlike Luxardo’s traditional Rosso, which is produced through maceration at 50 proof, Luxardo Bitter Bianco is produced through distillation resulting at 60 proof. The higher proof, with the addition of wormwood, provides a lingering bitter finish.

As you’ll note in the above, this incorporates the same herbal recipe as Luxardo Bitter, sans the color. Luxardo Bitter is a similar product to Campari in both flavor and color. Luxardo Bitter Bianco is the nearly colorless rendition of the same, with just a hint of yellow. The nose is bold and bitter, with cinnamon and clove notes, bitter roots, and a bit of dark brown sugar. It’s an enticing aroma that’s hard not to sip on (assuming you’re an amaro fan), and the palate doesn’t disappoint. There’s a touch of honey sweetness that leads to notes of rhubarb and traditional bitter roots, a hint of anise, and ample orange peel. The finish is bittersweet but cleansing, with considerable length.

Maybe it’s all in my head, but stripping the color out of this amaro also strips out some of the heaviness, rendering it lighter on its feet than the typical, darker (or candy-colored) amaro that we’ve all become accustomed to. It’s hard to put down. I’m an instant fan.

60 proof.

A / $28 / luxardo.it

Review: Basil Hayden’s Rye Whiskey

Basil Hayden’s Bourbon is a standby of most bars — its metal-ringed paper label (excuse me: parchment bib) an eye-catcher (and the whiskey inside not bad in its own right).

Now the brand is making a natural line extension: Rye. Brand owner Beam assures us this is different from the other ryes that have been flooding the market of late. Here’s how:

Basil Hayden’s Bourbon has long been known for its trademark spicy finish, resulting from the use of twice as much rye as traditional bourbons. Taking inspiration from this beloved rye spiciness, Basil Hayden’s Rye Whiskey is a natural progression for the brand.

A Kentucky straight rye whiskey, Basil Hayden’s Rye Whiskey achieves its deepened and distinctive taste with the addition of a unique, re-barreled rye. The re-barreled rye begins as a four-year-old traditional rye whiskey, which is then dumped out and further aged an additional seven years in newly charred quarter cask oak barrels. Just a touch of this re-barreled rye expertly blended with traditional Kentucky straight rye whiskey amplifies the warm aroma of baking spices and adds differentiating depth to Basil Hayden’s Rye Whiskey.

As rye goes, it’s something of an odd duck. The nose is classically aromatic with baking spices, lots of cloves, lots of ginger, but also plenty of maple syrup and menthol notes, too. Sweet but a little dull, it feels a bit underdeveloped, perhaps too youthful despite those drops of re-barreled rye.

The palate is quite gummy, lower in alcohol than perhaps it should be, with tougher, sharper barrel char notes muddled together with brown sugar and caramel, topped with a splash of mint syrup. Cereal notes push through all of this and claw at the back of the throat — it almost feels like that gummy sweetness is an attempt to cover that cereal up, with a finish that hints at chocolate milk. It sort of works, but drinking it on its own the experience is muddy and imperfect. Best reserved for mixing.

80 proof.

B- / $45 / basilhaydens.com

Review: New Belgium La Folie 2017 and Juicy Watermelon

Something old, something new from New Belgium. One is a reprise of its annual sour release, the other a fruit-flavored ale. Let’s try both!

New Belgium La Folie Sour Ale 2017 – New Belgium’s annual release of La Folie — a sour brown ales matured in oversized French oak wine barrels for up to three years — is here. No surprises for those familiar with the beer. It’s intensely sour, with a heavy focus on fruit notes — apple and lime, especially — that are mouth-puckeringly tart. At the same time, it lacks that heavy acidity and pungency that can make so many sours overblown and undrinkable. While this is undoubtedly a powerhouse, it guides that power into something with balance and grace. 7% abv. A- / $16 per 22 oz bottle

New Belgium Juicy Watermelon – Watermelon lime ale? Sounds like something from which I’d run away screaming (and perhaps a reprise/rebrand of last year’s Heavy Melon), but much to my surprise, this fruit-heavy ale is quite approachable. You don’t even notice the fruit at first, which drinks more like a lager, malty and lightly sweet, with some Christmas spice elements. As the beer warms up, the watermelon becomes more evident, but it’s kept in check, never spiraling (quite) into Jolly Rancher territory. Summery, for sure, so hold out for a hot day. 5% abv. B / $9 per six pack

newbelgium.com

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2017

This year’s Whiskies of the World was shaping up beautifully, but a tragic tumble down the stairs (PSA: Don’t text and navigate staircases!) cut my evening very short. I had time to taste only a handful of spirits before leaving for treatment — shout-out to the crack ER team at Kaiser San Rafael! — but I did make it out with my tasting notes, at least.

I promise to make it up to you at WotW 2018. Until then, thoughts…

Scotch

Highland Park Fire Edition / A / drinking beautifully, light and supple, with lively floral overtones
Deanston 18 Years Old / A / a big surprise; bold and heavy with caramel, with shocking depth
Glengoyne Cask Strength / B+ / ample youth and cereal notes, with a light, sweet lemon finish
Compass Box Three Year Old Deluxe / B / nothing fancy, young and mushroomy; what’s the fuss about?
Glencadam 25 Years Old / B+ / quiet, with light vanilla and fruit notes; subtle
anCnoc 24 Years Old / A / chewy, loaded with raisins and cherry notes, plums on the back end

America

Low Gap Bavarian Wheat Whiskey Sauternes Finish / B+ / exotic, tropical fruit, dark toasted bread, and golden raisins
Low Gap 2013 Port Barrel Rye (barrel sample) / A- / chewy Port notes, with lots of heavy raisin and toasty oak notes; 4 years old now — no bottling decision made yet
Low Cap 2012 Cognac Barrel Rye (barrel sample) / B+ / hotter on the nose, with less barrel influence; needs more time; 5 years old now — to be bottled at age 8
High West Rendezvous Rye / A / always a standout; old rye with lots of apple and spice, classically structured
High West A Midwinter Nights Dram 4.6 / A / mint and cherry notes, with some chocolate — a lovely rendition of the modern classic AMND

Japan

Fukano Whisky / B / single-distilled rice whisky; big cereal character surprises, slightly vegetal
Fukano Whisky Single Cask / B+ / a step up, with bolder apple and raisin, citrus oil notes
Ohishi Whisky Single Sherry Cask / A- / bold sherry  character with the lightness of a rice base; lovely combination

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

Review: The Spirits of Sugarlands Shine

Don’t look now, but one of the busiest distilleries in the country — based on tourism visits — is Sugarlands Distilling, in the Great Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee. A connection with the popular show Moonshiners doesn’t hurt, nor does the vast product lineup, which includes 21 varieties of moonshine, rum, and liqueurs, which range from a straight white rye to a peanut butter and jelly moonshine, all bottled in (incredibly messy) mason jars. Candy- and dessert-flavored ‘shines are a particularly specialty of the operation.

It’s impossible to keep on top of all of these flavors — there will be more by the time you read this — so consider this a representative sampling of what Sugarlands is up to. Thoughts follow.

Sugarlands Shine Silver Cloud Moonshine – This corn and cane sugar moonshine is the starting point for much of what Sugarlands makes, and it’s a fair enough ‘shine to get you going. Plenty popcorny at the start, particularly on the nose, the spirit offers hints of vanilla and cinnamon but otherwise drinks relatively flatly but cleanly, with a jet fuel-soaked finish — that classic moonshine pungency. 100 proof. B / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Unaged Rye – Billed as a rye, though no mashbill information is available. This is a more classic white whiskey, loaded with popcorn and roasted grains, with a subtle undercoat of baking spice. Lacking the sugar of the moonshine, the finish is rougher and more rustic, with a mushroom and tobacco note, plus some hints of baked bread. 100 proof. B- / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Appalachian Apple Pie Moonshine – Less sweet than many an apple pie moonshine, the raw cereal character of the spirit comes through more clearly. The fruit takes on an apple cider character, somewhat oxidized with a kind of butterscotch note that isn’t completely on the pie spectrum. The finish is reminscent not of apples but of cherries, particularly the cough syrup variety. 50 proof. C / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Hazelnut Rum – Nicely nutty on the nose, those hazelnuts roll over anything that’s particularly rummy in the mix. Some brown sugar notes and cloves at least offer a nod toward a spiced rum, with a touch of that funky petrol layering itself in underneath. The finish is a sustained nuttiness, with notes of toasted marshmallow. Hazelnuts are a smart choice to give this spirit a strong and unique flavor, but it drinks almost like a liqueur rather than a rum. 80 proof. B+ / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Root Beer Moonshine – Spot-on root beer aromas kick the nose off on this heavily flavored (and nearly opaque) ‘shine, which is heavy on the sassafras and baking spices. Alongside a healthy slug of sweet vanilla, the body sees more peppermint coming to the fore than I would like or expect, with surprisingly heavy clove character. These cloves endure for quite some time, eventually mellowing as the finish fades into a sort of charred wood character, which erases some of the excitement and nostalgia of what’s come before. 70 proof. B / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Appalachian Sippin’ Cream Butter Pecan Cream Liqueur – Not dark brown as the bottle would indicate, but rather a gentle, creamy tan. Extremely sweet on the nose, with light brown sugar the clearest component. The buttery, nutty pecan notes are a bit slightly clearer on the palate, but there’s so much sugar that it overwhelms just about all of it, leading to a milky finish akin to melted vanilla ice cream. 40 proof. B- / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Appalachian Sippin’ Cream Dark Chocolate Coffee Cream Liqueur – The color of milk chocolate, with a nose that is a heavier blend of coffee with some chocolate syrup swirled in. Ample vanilla kicks off the palate, along with some butterscotch sweetness, before the relatively gentle coffee character arrives. There’s nothing really “dark” about the chocolate in this liqueur. As far as the cocoa goes, it’s about as milky as it gets. Nevertheless, it works fairly well. 40 proof. B+ / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

sugarlandsdistilling.com

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