Posts tagged with Drinking:
Over three weeks of rum chronicles and its come to this. The conclusion takes place in Central America, Nicaragua, actually, to explore the rum held there in highest regard. That would be the Flor de Caña. And when national treasures are the topic du jour for the poorest nation in Central America, and in fact, one of the poorest in the world, that treasure should be celebrated. So in this final post, it’s all about Flor de Caña.
Flor de Caña, sugarcane flower, has been produced for 122 years. They’re based in the capital city of Managua. My roommate, Colin, is an avid surfer and just returned from a trip there. His stories of deep blue oceans, good-natured people and copious levels of tranquility and fresh fish were tantalizing. Naturally, he brought back with him a bottle of Flor de Caña. With 80% of the population living on less than $2/day, it’s hard to imagine substantially aged rum making it on the table alongside the daily bread (rather, fish). But by many accounts for those who’ve visited-and especially for visitors-It is a pervasive element in the experience.
Flor de Caña is our first foray into a molasses-based rum, the style that is most commonly associated with the spirit. After all of the talk about the fine/refined qualities of Agricole, we have to suppress the instinct to characterize molasses rums as something inferior, even though they are less expensive to produce in this way. But if quality is the intent, substantial patience and fine oak barrels will eventually get you there.
Originally, in 1890, Flor de Caña was a sugarcane plantation in the town of Chicalpas, Nicaragua. It was founded by Francisco Alfredo Pellas. One of the cool things about rum is that it is seamlessly, yet defiantly associated with regional history. Terrior is a word relentlessly besieged upon emerging oenophiles, but with rum, this concept is more organic. For instance, we already know that Agricoles, made from fermentable sugarcane juice, are primarily the thing for the French-speaking Islands. We also know this is the thing in Brazil, but there they call it cachaça. English-speaking Islands drink molasses-based rum. Jamaican and Guyanese rums are famously unctuous and on the sweeter side. For Spanish-speaking islands and countries, the style is añejo, consumed younger and less demanding on the palate. This seems a reasonable path as we explore the origins of rum in Central America. It all comes back to the plantation. After harvest, the celebratory ritual was to drink the fermented molasses byproduct. This is the añejo style. The reserve stuff, the stuff that spent more time in barrel, that was reserved for the plantation owners.
In 1937 the Pallas’ wanted to get serious about the rum business and created an internal company called Compañía Licorera de Nicaragua, or the CLNSA. Flor de Caña was their first product. It was the plantation owner making rum in the style of plantation owners. This style has always been their narrative, and to their credit, they’ve managed to maintain a family business while vertically integrating. In 1950, they began commercial distribution via Casa Pellas, and today, the CEO Carlos, keeps the family name at the forefront for the 5th generation. So with all that, let’s see how Yanni has employed the 3rd and final contestant in the Nopa Rum Diary.
The Dusk and The Dawn
Of the many things to really like about The Dusk and The Dawn, the names of these drinks really drive home the point of the cocktails in the Spiritual being coupled. Seeing two drinks entitled, “Dusk and Dawn” alongside one another on a cocktail list seemingly necessitates that each are ordered. Or maybe that’s me. Anyhow, let’s (naturally) begin with The Dawn.
· Flor de Caña 18 year
· Amaro Nonio
· Lillet Blanc
· Rothman & Winter Apricot Liqueur
· Flor de Caña 18 year
· Amaro Nonio
· Lillet Blanc
· Rothman & Winter Apricot Liqueur
How it’s Made
It’s been covered somewhat, but just want to be clear that we’re actually…clear. So, Rhum Agricole, are “agricultural rhums”. They are mainly about the getting the juice from the sugarcane and fermenting that juice directly. Molasses-based rums are a bit different. Molasses is a byproduct of boiling that sugarcane juice. There is a dense black residual deposit that emerges. That stuff is molasses. It is sweet and low in acid, which, for the most part is what producers are looking for. That molasses becomes a slurry and is fermented, then distilled. For amber and dark rums, they are aged in toasted barrels, usually for a couple years, in some extreme cases, up to 12 years. Or, if you’re Flor De Caña, you may decide that not until the lifespan of a high school graduate is your premium bottling ready for release. And if you’re Yanni, you may decide that that is exactly what’s needed in this study of rum cocktails. This Dawn has been 18 years in the making.
On to the Amaro, which deserves (and has earned) an entire Spiritual in its own right. Amaro, (Italian for “bitter”) are a category of after dinner liqueurs. It is a very similar process to vermouth, which we covered earlier. The main difference is Amari take on a sweeter profile and are more viscous than vermouth. That bittersweet quality is one of the reasons bartenders are so infatuated with it. It adds a restrained sweetness to cocktails while also bringing lots of depth. Amaro Nonino from Friuli is at the top of the list. It is made from grappa infused with herbs, bitter orange cinchona (bitters!), liquorice, quassia wood, rhubarb, saffron, sweet orange and tamarind. And probably 20 other ingredients because Amaro producers are notoriously tight-lipped about their special proprietary blends. After 5 years in barrel, Nonino is ready for market. If you’ve never tried Nonino, its worthwhile to do so on it’s own merit, accompanied perhaps, only by a single cube.
Lillet Blanc is another fashionable ingredient, though one we use far less. Lillet is a French apertif made primarily from the white grapes of Bordeaux (Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle). It is technically a tonic since it includes a 15% infusion of a bittersweet citrus liqueurs. By now you’ve heard many times that the bitters comes from chincona. Perhaps more surprising is that citrus from Spain and Morocco are used to develop the liqueur. Though Lillet dates back to the 19th century, it wasn’t until 1986 that the current recipe took form. In an effort to modernize the drink, less sugar and less bitters were used. The current iteration is great. It’s lean and very much like drinking wine. It smells and taste of tropical fruit and has great acidity from the Sauvignon Blanc.
Rothman and Winters Apricot Liqueur
Finally, we got to Austria to round out this multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, intercontinental cocktail. It’s the world we live in when it comes to wine and spirits these days. We are remarkably fortunate to live in this time of access, and not just in the way of local ingredients, but global ones. With all of the (warranted) emphasis on locality, the privilege and joy of consuming wine and spirits is that it allows us a connection to a place. And whether that place is foreign or familiar, the connection is real. Not only in the way of how things actually taste (terrior), but as we see in this Spiritual, how the same product is interpreted different ways based on its origins or lineage.
WIth that, we arrive at the Danube Valley in Austria. The Danube is perhaps the most famous river in the wine world. It is the second largest river in Europe and spans 9 countries. In Austria in particular, many of the top vineyards in the country are along the Danube River, on the north side (but facing south). The river is important in regulating vine temperatures, but apparently orchards too (though the vineyards are along the slopes and the orchards, in the flats). There is a producer called Rothman and Winter that produces really fantastic Apricot Liqueur. A local distillery called Purkhart has made famous their “Blume Marillen” eau-de-vie brandy with the fruit juice of the renowned apricots from the region. The Purkharts have been making the apricot eau-de-vie for over 40 years. The style is fairly simple and clean. I went to check it out on its own, and, well, it smells like apricots! It is highly perfumed with underlying botanical aromatics. It is sweet, but in no way cloying. It’s easy to imagine having a glass with a cheese plate adorned with seasonal fruit or marmalade. It would cut right through a rich cheese, but anything less it may show too much heat (26.2% abv). This is not to be confused with a sweet and sappy apricot liqueur. This is high proof brandy that has been flavored with apricots, not the other way around.
So those are all the elements, but where does that leave us? On a basic inspection, it seems we have a lot of sweet and bitter components. Even within the realm of this Spiritual, we are in uncharted territory.
Even with the benefit of tasting, picture taking and note taking this sequence was a challenge. What your eyes read, and what you palate tastes are not easily reconciled. The lesson: acidity. Never underestimate the crucial role of acid in the food you taste and the things you drink. This is among the most basic of concepts, but as the essential role of salt (especially with starches) never ceases to amaze, acid will completely alter the course a cocktail. On the surface, and based on everything we just explored in all of the elements, it would appear that The Dusk would be a sweeter cocktail, but it isn’t. Even with a rich molasses-based rum, with Amaro Nonino, with Lillet Blanc, with Apricot Eau-de-vie, The Dusk is ominous and billowing. It is a formidable drink that walks the spirituous line without wavering. *It is also worth mentioning that it is stirred.
And yet, The Dawn, with the same backbone and without the sweet, bright addition of Lillet, is whimsical and open. How so? Lemon juice. The addition of lemon juice and the most vigorous shaking we’ve seen thus far brings The Dawn to its apropos title. It is an awakening, plush and tart.
To Yanni, I have to offer sincere thanks for the amount of detail and craftsmanship that went into this Spiritual. Very few will ever grasp your spirituous fervor, but to work with you, and within it, is a joy. Writing about the spiritual has simultaneously reinforced and redefined my understanding of the subtleties of fine drink making. Looking forward to the next one.
Before reading this post, it may be helpful to reference this one. That link is to the introductory article on The Rum Diary Spiritual. The Rum Diary is intended to be absorbed in couplets and the Creole Apertif is best assessed by also taking into account its sibling, Agricole Punch. If you’d rather jump right in, feel free to do so and cross reference the previous one if the words byrrh or agricole are foreign ones.
Creole Apertif vs. Agricole Punch
How to best describe the Creole Apertif? It’s very, well…agricoley. The Rhum Agricole has no place to hide. And that’s just the point. Imagine Agricole Punch (or as we’ll see later, the Classique) in the context of a first date. The idea is to show yourself, but just enough. Certainly there is more depth and rougher edges behind the politeness of a first impression, but it is intrigue, not comfort that you’re after. Once you grow more comfortable, the closer we come to the authentic you. The Creole is the authentic you.
The stripped down Creole Apertif is aromatically savory, almost sherry like in its salinity. But on the palate, there’s an interesting interplay of La Favorite and Byrrh. It was surprising that the Byrrh stood up to the burl of Agricole, enveloping it with an embrace of purple fruit. It was experienced as immensely concentrated, raisiny and jammy even. Since this cocktail is not the least bit sweet, this is an enlightened expression. We found a few soft pockets in an otherwise stern cocktail.
The Important Role of Vermouth
The silent partner in all of this is Dolin Dry Vermouth. Dolin, from Chambéry, is our vermouth of choice. It is seen in no less than a half-dozen of our most popular cocktails. Vermouths from Chambéry are dry in nature (served alone, Dolin is drier than Ben Stein stand-up), lean and tastes of the Alps- its place of origin along France’s Eastern borders.
True the Vin de Savoie AC is a bit further north, it is hard to overlook its comparable flavor profile to the white grapes of Savoie, like Jacquère or Altesse.
Today, Dolin stands alone as the torchbearer of Chambéry vermouth tradition. They are the only producer in the AOC of Chambéry. Perhaps we’ll cover vermouths role in greater detail at some point in the future, but for now, this cocktail is a perfect microcosm for how it works. It is the role of a jazz bassist. To an indifferent ear, the blast of the horn or giggle of piano is perceived. But it is the bass that is the enabler. It is a thankless foundation from which the other elements are granted room for vibrant expression. The same is true of vermouth in cocktails.
Above is an awesome map highlighting vermouths from around Europe. The flurry of activity seen around Torino is to be expected. Piedmont’s capital city has a long history of vermouth production. Their style, Carpano’s are usually red, richer and spicier than the mellow herbal driven ones of Chambéry.
Of all the cocktails in this spiritual, the Creole appears the most exacting and demanding. You can scarcely avoid “forgetting” about this drink even as you’re engrossed in other matters. The Creole Apertif is well suited for the first drink of the night (dry and lean, yet robust) and also for those interested in furthering their experiences with Rhum Agricole.
Because we put so much energy into it, it’s easy to forget that the Nopa beverage program is not immediately understood by many of our guests. Internally, words like Feature, Insert and Spiritual are commonly used. They are important words in the vocabulary of our restaurant, but more importantly, an essential part of our identity. The Spiritual and Wine Feature are composed by distinctive and passionate artists who fill this platform with great care and intention. But intention is not the same as attention, and in the bustle of dinner, it easy to pay very little to a beverage menu. Understandable. So, as we’ve done before, we’ll do a series of posts on the current spiritual to bridge the gap.
The current Spiritual is entitled, The Rum Diary, named after Hunter S. Thompson’s classic novel. Clearly, the cocktails are all rum-based. The sound of it is very lighthearted- a departure from Yanni’s typical approach to drink making. But upon examination, the veil lowers.
It’s easy to miss the intellectual vibe of the Spiritual, but basically it’s this:
Two cocktails from three rum producers; one stern and spirituous, the other juicier and more open, but the ingredients for both are basically the same. It’s like one little tweak here or there and you’ve got something completely different. The idea is to show subtle changes can make big differences. It’s a really fun and challenging exercise since rum is our medium. For instance, consider the Manhattan drinker. Even the adventurous within the category are don’t stray far from whiskey. It’s sort of that way with rum. It carries a particularly juvenile stigma. But the dualistic nature of this Spiritual has offered a great awakening. Rum can be serious.
Agricole Punch: The opening cocktail is the Agricole Punch. It is the juice based offering from La Favorite. This type of rhum is what’s known as an agricole. If you wanted to put to the test that serious nature, you’d definitely drink agricole. Rhum Agricole is dry, very warm (read, high alcohol), savory and pungent. It’s made from fermented sugar cane juice. Whether we’re talking beer or tea, once something ferments, the nature of that thing is changed. What’s left is an individual, a highly stylized character that keeps it interesting. In case, the aromatics are of spiced pears and the palate has a slight vegetal quality and lots of depth.
The Agricole is mixed with an even more obscure element. Byrrh Grand Quinquina. Byrrh is pronounced “beer”, but is actually a wine-based apertif. It is blended with quinine and and other botanicals and fortified. Byrrh has been in production for 125 years sourcing Grenache grapes from the Languedoc Roussillon in France. The leading brand was acquired by the mega-producer/shipper Pernot in 1977 and held dormant until now, revived as a result of the appetite for stuff like this from people like Yanni. It has a rich, almost dessert wine like quality on the palate. It is similar to the Bonal Quinquina, but is a bit fruiter on entering the palate. The mid-palate shifts predictably to dark herbs as quinquinas do. Served chilled, it’s a really great apertif.
Be the first of your friends to come drink byrrh.
Construction: The Rhum, Byrrh, and Lemon Juice are put into a pint glass. There’s just a little but of ice added, followed by a quick shake. A really quick shake since the idea is not to dilute it, rather chill it (the final iteration is served on the rocks anyhow). The drink is then strained into a Collins glass and ginger beer is added. Though everything is measured, as I watched Yanni make the drink, there was a whimsical nature to the ginger beer addition. It was still jiggered, but it was done with such liberty, that it reinforced the vibe of this “dualing” spiritual. The glass is filled to the top with ice. Now, the best part: the garnish is a heavy-handed topping of Angostura bitters. The Byrrh has given the drink a high-toned pink color, that looks strikingly dissimilar to most of the things that come from behind our bar. It does in fact look quite punchy.
The bitters float is visually interesting, providing a sharp contrast to the look of the drink. With a quick glance, it could be mistaken for Coke, but if you’re close enough to smell, that theory goes quickly. For bitters lovers, the blast of on the surface of the cocktail is a cheap thrill. (Admittedly, this was my method). But the idea is for the bitters to be applied as desired by the user, eventually making its way throughout the cocktail and adding a measure of restraint to the lemon and ginger. The best part about the drink though, is that the La Favorite does not run and hide. It can’t. We’re still left with a persistent vegetal undertone, which shows well with the other elements of the cocktail. This is the second most approachable cocktail in The Rum Diary Spiritual. It looks great and is super fun to drink. Come check it out!
Bosco Agostino is a winery in the region of Alba, a town in the famed Piedmont wine region in northwest Italy. For oenophiles and gourmands (the town is also revered for their white truffles) the Alba brand is an impeccable one. Last month, Arron, one of our managers, took a trip to Italy, and predictably, allotted some time for the sacred gastronomic grounds. Even better, he was led around the countryside of Barolo by Andrea Bosco the third-generation grape grower, whose winery bears the same name as his. When Arron returned, he spoke excitedly about many of the wines and people he encountered, but perhaps none more so than Andrea. When the wines were listed this week, I was excited to tap in to Arron’s nostalgia. Even more exciting was to find the Barbera so substantive.
Check out the Piedmont wine map. Can you see Alba? Just south of the Tanaro River
New Old School
A common thing among winey people is to assess the character of the wine as “old school” or “new school”. Frankly, I haven’t been drinking long enough (or even around long enough) to really understand the distinction. It is generally accepted that “new school” is akin to New World. Translated, it is experienced as lots of fruit, alcohol and/or oak.
But now it seems that old school is the new new school. It is no coincidence that many of our favorite producers are anti- interventionist, and some proclaim to make wine completely naturally. Since technology was not historically a word used to describe the winemaking process, it’s hard to argue the point. But as Chris pointed out in his Syrah article earlier this week, a lot of “New World” producers are making wine with “Old World” sensibilities. To explore the idea further, I referenced Hugh Johnson and James Halliday’s Vintner’s Art, which tackles this very subject.
For the purposes of that particuliar text, Piedmont is synonomous to the prestigious Nebbiolo grape. But when discussing Nebbiolo, the next breath can be spent on the native Barbera. It is an essential threading in the proud fabric of Piemont’s wine tradition. It is a fair expectation that it can be found alongside Nebbiolo on most of the region’s top sites. For producers like Andrea, whose grandfather starting farming grapes in 1904, he has the benefit of familial tradition (especially crucial when farming the same land) and modern application; ie, old school and new school. Looking at the wine from this perspective, it looks something like this:
The 2007 vintage in Piedmont was warm, even and early. The grapes were picked a full three weeks prior to the harvest from the 2006 vintage. While the earlier picking is somewhat indicative of the vintage (producers did not want overly ripe fruit), the same reasoning is now commonplace in Piedmont. In Vintners Art Johnson and Halliday talk about the declining favor of late harvest, high alcohol, high tannin wine. This is seen incrementally over the last 30 years and validated in tasting. So that’s old school viticulture in Piedmont.
In the cellar, the wine is vinified in stainless steel tanks (definitely modern) and “pumped over”. This refers to a method in which a valve siphons juice from just underneath the dense cap of floating grape skins and pumps it over the top. The juice filters through the cap, along the way, picking up color and weight. This happens 3-4 times daily.
Then comes the cellaring regiment. The cellaring program is a series of decisions that critically affect the personality of a wine, and is probably the most hotly contested element in “new/old-school” winemaking debate. In Piedmont, large wooden casks are less common than the (59 gallon) French barriques. In this case, 30% of the wood is new and the remaining 70% used. The wine is stored in these barrels for 14-15 months before bottling. This, by “old-school” (Nebbiolo) standards, is a short amount of time.
And though Barbera doesn’t have always the constitution to withstand that kind of barrel aging (mainly because its lush aromatics would be sacrificed), the new norm in Piedmont still seems to be less time in oak.
Perhaps the economy, perhaps the generation, perhaps the consumer are to blame, but at least in this example, the approach has been a success. We’re left with a supple wine with exceedingly generous black cherry aroma. The palate is soft and full, unmistakably oaked, but not overly, high acid, but no sharp edges. In all, this would be considered a “modern” wine-suited for international palates, yet technically correct for Barbera d’Alba. Stay tuned for Arron’s photos.
Quinta Do Vallado Touriga Nacional, Douro 2009
Color: Dark purple with a brownish core
Nose: blackberry, wet leather, vanilla bean, exotic bouquet, rich dark fruits, chocolate, earth tones
Palate: dry, firm tannins, soft vegetal quality, celery, shallots, tobacco leaf, voluptuous, concentrated, rich mouth feel, high acid but the wine’s boldness takes it down a notch, great balance and structure
Summary: Any cab franc fan would love this wine. Great pairing with New York strip, burger, grilled squab, or duck.
When we think Port, it’s easy to think water. But the Douro region is actually inland.
In the heart of the Douro, Quinta do Vallado extends along both banks of the River Corgo, even where it meets the Douro. With references dating from 1716, belonging to the legendary Quinta Dona Antonia Adelaide Ferreira, and remained in the family until today, now going in its sixth generation.