Celebrating spirits: An evening of mixology, music and merriment with Brockmans Gin

While it was a week dedicated to communing with the dearly departed (Dia de los Muertos), a party promoting spirits of a different kind celebrated Brockmans Gin with mixology, music and general merriment.

Gin has a long and storied history. Initially created as an inexpensive medicinal oil, by Franciscus de la Boe (aka Doctor Sylvius), a physician at Holland’s University of Leyden, the elixir was developed to relieve bladder and kidney ailments. Dr. Sylvius referred to his medicine as “Genièvre”, the French name for the juniper berry, which was the primary ingredient for his concoction.

English soldiers developed a taste for the local spirit, gin, while fighting alongside the Dutch and brought back the production method to England with them. As taxes on imported beverages were raised, and taxes on English spirits were lowered, gin received a further push and soon became extremely popular, particularly by the poorest classes. So much so that crudely made (and often unsafe) spirits were being sold in thousands of gin shops throughout London and led to many social problems in the city, including increased drunkenness and death.

Eventually, the ills associated with gin were dramatically reduced and the emphasis shifted from a cheap, alcoholic beverage to a high-quality gin. These latter gins were no longer overly sweet and focused on the inherent flavors of the spirit, namely juniper. This new kind of gin became known as the “London Dry Style”.

While less flagrantly conspicuous in society, gin’s appeal continued when it was discovered that it paired well with quinine (used to control malaria) on voyages to the tropics, inventing the now well-known gin and tonic. In fact, during the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was gin and not vodka that was the go to for mixing into various cocktails.

Today, vodka dominates the spirits market as the most internationally traded spirit, with worldwide vodka sales reaching nearly 500 million nine-liter cases. By comparison, gin sales account for roughly only 50 million nine-liter cases. Yet, gin continues to be an important spirits staple and is gaining momentum in the marketplace, particularly at the high end.

This resurgence in the category has not gone unnoticed as new brands are entering the fray, capitalizing on craft beverages and craft cocktails. This renaissance provided inspiration for four friends to produce a super-premium gin with a trendy, night-life vibe aimed at the Millennial market. Thus, in 2008, Brockmans Gin was launched by Kevan Crosthwaite, David Crosthwaite, Bob Fowkes and Neil Everitt.

Thursday’s festivities offered up the opportunity to taste Brockmans Gin in all of its glory.
Produced at the oldest existing gin distillery in Birmingham, England (in a copper still that is over 100 year old), the gin includes the requisite juniper, but this flavor is much less dominant on the palate. As Fowkes explained, market research indicated that many people were not big fans of juniper and complained of drinking beverages reminiscent of a Christmas tree. Consequently, the botanicals in Brockmans Gin lean more heavily on the citrus and fruit components, namely lemon peel, orange peel, blueberries and blackberries. As a high-end product, is it exceptionally smooth and very enjoyable to drink neat.

There were also five different cocktails available. Of the three I tasted, my favorite was the Brockmans English Heat, which was developed especially for the event by Nomad’s mixologists. The beautifully balanced addition of heat was thanks to the inclusion of Jalapeno-infused agave, which was combined with Brockmans Gin, Chambery Dry Vermouth, Tuaca and lemon. This beat out the more citrus-centic Brockmans Nod to Nothing (Brockmans Gin, Cocchi Americano, Jasmine Pearl Green Tea, Apricot, Sale Yuzu and Lemon) by just a little bit, but both showed off the gin to its advantage.

Time in a Bottle: The Pleasures and Treasures of Old Liquors

2016-04-12 20.47.39If we are lucky, we live in the present moment, enjoying and savoring the here and now, rather than constantly worrying about the future still to come. Yet, the opportunity to virtually travel back in time, uniting us with the past, can be a special experience. It is why, at least in part, we visit historic places and hold onto souvenirs imbued with memories from time gone by. Most mementos are a tangible, but fleeting glimpse, crumbling with the passage of years. For most things, we rely on museums to carefully preserve the past under lock and key and precise storage conditions.

While a stroll through an ancient site or viewing an antique document can bring the past to life, there is something inherently unique in partaking in a gustatory experience asynchronously shared with those who lived long ago. Much more than simply opening up a bottle of wine from a previous vacation destination (which momentarily brings us back to that seaside table in sleepy coastal town), older wines and spirits from decades — even centuries ago — can transport us to another era. In this way, an extremely rare tasting of 19th century Cognac, Armagnac, Port and Madeira provided the sensory time machine to visit the more distant past.

Held in connection with an auction at Christie’s featuring 39 bottles of Cognac and Armagnac, each dating to a presidential term of office, from 1789 to 1977, the tasting was presented by Old Liquors, a wine shop specializing in vintage wines and spirits.

The tasting event was hosted by Old Liquors’ CEO, Bart Laming at New York’s Brandy Library. Interestingly, Brandy Library owner, Flavien Desoblin, a specialist in Cognac, noted that, “The U.S. palate has matured to appreciate older brandies, but is still whisky focused.”

Also present that evening was Christie’s Head of Wine, Edwin Vos, who painstakingly opened each bottle and shared tips for cellaring such treasures such as the admonition to store Madeira upright due to its high alcohol and high acidity content, which would damage the cork if left horizontally.

Admittedly, indulging in such wines is an expensive and limited proposition – there are scant bottles remaining. However, it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience to taste these rare wines and recall the world as it once was even if none of us had been there ourselves.

For those with the means and interest in pursuing their own sensory experiences, Old Liquors bills itself as the “World’s largest Old Liquors Store,” with a robust website that accepts orders from around the world.
By Phone: +31 76 5416227
By Email: info@oldliquors.com

Madeira 1865 Café Anglais Madere Vieux, Bual
Aromas of candied ginger, honey and spice; medium sweet palate with high acidity, flavors of coconut, yeast, rancio, ginger bread and orange peel; long length.

Port 1887 Brand unknown, Unknown shipper
A slight rancio note gives way to floral, cherries and bacon on the nose; medium sweet palate, with dried red fruit dominating; much fruitier than the Madeira; long length.

Cognac 1928 Croizet B. Léon Grande Réserve
Greeted by orange peel, spice and slight honey aromas; dry palate with high alcohol, displaying spices, oak and vanilla with elegance and long length.

Cognac 1914 Maxim’s, Caves du Restaurant, Fine Champagne, Réserve
This has an intense nose with woody and vanilla aromas and flavors; it is fuller-bodied on the palate than the above Cognac.

Armagnac 1893 Jacques Marou, Vieil, Handwritten label
This spirit offers concentrated dried fruit, most notably prunes and dates, along with oak and vanilla; simply lovely.

Cognac 1811 Napoléon, Grand Réserve, Imperial glass shoulder, button ‘N’
Aromas of bruised banana, vanilla, dried fruit and orange rind; dry on the palate with high alcohol, offering up spice and floral notes.

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When in doubt, drink Tequila

The view from the balcony was breathtaking – the sand, the sea and the sun all conspired to produce an amazing tableau. Sitting on the balcony every day, we never grew bored with the sight.

Situated in the heart of Cancun, Mexico, we settled into a rhythm for our vacation, foreswearing our usual wine for a week filled with Margaritas. Our visit to the downtown Walmart had yielded an inexpensive, but reasonably nice quality, bottle of Tequila, along with the ubiquitous Jose Cuervo Margarita mix. It wasn’t fancy, but the duo did the trick and kept us awash in cocktails for the week.

Admittedly, a true Margarita should be made with Triple Sec and lime juice (instead of the mix), but we took the lazy journey to Margaritaville.

During our trip, we had the pleasure of visiting the Hacienda Tequila where we were given a brief tutorial on how tequila is made and were reminded on just what it is that makes tequila, well, tequila.

Tequila is part of the larger class of spirits called Mezcal, which are produced from the agave plant. Tequila hails from a delimited area within Mexico, centered around the state of Jalisco, but with differences in aromas and flavors stemming from the various terroirs. In addition, it must be made with 100% blue agave, which is considered to be a superior variety of agave. While these plants resemble cacti, they are actually related to the Amaryllis family.

Jimadors (field workers) harvest the core of the blue agave when the plant is between 6 and 8 years of age. The cores are cooked with direct heat for 36-48 hours and then left in the ovens with residual heat for an additional 24-36 hours. This cooking process is necessary in order to convert the starchy core into a fermentatble sugar. After cooking, the cores are milled to extract the  sugary liquid and remove the extensive fiber. This liquid is fermented into an alcoholic liquid, which is then distilled in pot stills, generally with two distillations.

Depending upon the maturation and ageing, tequilas are labeled as follows:
*Gold or Joven – unaged, with the addition of coloring agents (mostly caramel)
*White or Blanco – unaged or rested a maximum of two months
*Reposado – minimum of two months aging in wood
*Anejo – minimum of one year aging in wood
*Extra Anejo – minimum of three years aging in wood

We tasted through a number of tequilas at Hacienda Tequila, most of which were sipping tequilas — too good to be adultered with margarita mix. One of our favorites was the Casa Azul Reposado, which we purchased in the airport’s duty free shop on the way home. We also loved the Casa Azul Anejo, but it was pricier than we preferred to spend. Now, all we need to do is pour some tequila, close our eyes and be transported back to our Cancun balcony.

Villa Massa Limoncello has freshness and versatility to spare

When life gives you lemons…make Limoncello. At least, that was the thought shared by Stefano Massa and his brother, Sergio, as a way to protect and preserve a treasured asset of his homeland — the Sorrento Oval Lemon. This lemon has been recognized for its high quality and received Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status in 2000 under EU regulations. Cultivated in the Sorrento area since the Middle Ages, the Sorrento Oval Lemon was originally brought to the Amalfi Coast in the Middle Ages as a way to prevent scurvy.

In 1991, Stefano and Sergio developed a special technique to extract the essential oils found in the lemon peels to create a high quality, standardized product of Limoncello that could be brought to the market. Previously, many Italians made their own Limoncello at home as did the Massa family. In fact, Stefano and Sergio returned to the family recipe that had been handed down for generations to create their product.

Unlike many of its competitors, Villa Massa Limoncelllo uses only this special lemon, inflused in pure alcohol for a minimum of three days and then blended with water and sugar and nothing else — no colors, no artificial flavors and no preservatives. The result is a liqueur that exudes the freshness of lemons, with the acidity beautifully balanced with sufficient sweetness.

When enjoyed on its own, the liqueur should be served cold and the bottle has been conveniently designed to fit in the freezer. However, the Villa Massa Limoncello is versatile as a mixer as well as a cooking ingredient. Try it with sparkling wine in place of orange juice or mix it with tonic water for pre-dinner cocktail. It can also replace rum in baking recipes or be used as a marinade component.

The Villa Massa Limoncello is available in 375 ml ($16.99 SRP) and in 750 ml ($27.99 SRP) sizes and can be found at a number of local wine shops.

A Tale of Two Lunches

I woke up on a Monday morning in March with a reasonable agenda — an Italian wine tasting followed by a portfolio tasting. Thus, once I dragged myself out of bed (Mondays are the worst and rainy Mondays are even more horrible), I presumed that I would attend the two events, head home and get some work done in the afternoon (but, we all know about the best laid plans…).

I left our apartment at 10:00 AM to ensure a prompt arrival at the International Culinary Center (formerly known as the French Culinary Institute), which resulted in my being the first to arrive. The weather caused many attendees to be late and necessitated a late start to the event. However, after the delay, the event hit the ground running. It was a small, but dedicated group there to learn from both Adolfo Folonari of Ruffino and Cesare Casella of Salumeria Rosi on the theme of terroir.

Adolfo shared a brief history of Ruffino, noting that the company has been family owned for over 130 years, having been founded by two cousins. Adolfo’s family acquired the company in 1913, continuing the founders’ legacy and now maintains seven estates in the Tuscany region.  He then presented four wines — three of which were Chianti appellations and one Brunello di Montalcino. The wines were very good and showed the diversity within the Ruffino portfolio from the fresh and fruity Ruffino Chianti Superiore DOCG 2008 ($12.99 SRP) to the more complex Ruffino Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico DOCG 2006 ($24.99 SRP) and the modern Ruffino Santedame Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2006 ($33.00 SRP).

Participants then had an opportunity to taste the wines again, this time paired with salumi (cured meats), presented by Cesare, who wore a red chef’s coat, with a sprig of rosemary taking the place of a pocket-square. The pairings were well-received, but of greater interest to me, was learning about the effect of terroir on this type of cuisine. For example, Cesare explained that in Alto Adige, the climate is too cold to salt cure the meat and consequently, they use a cold smoke instead. Similarly, in Calabria, smoking is used because it is too hot to use salt curing. In addition, the breed of pig also differs from region to region, affecting the final product.

We then moved from the formal presentation to the luncheon where guests enjoyed three additional salumi and four other Ruffino wines. We were particularly impressed with the Ruffino Lumina Pinot Grigio Venezia Giulia IGT 2009 ($9.99 SRP), which had vibrant acidity and good fruit concentration, from Ruffino’s property in Collio (Alto Adige). After the salumi were cleared, the menu included beans and tuna as well as short ribs with mushroom risotto, followed by vanilla panna cotta. We were seated at round tables and played a sort of musical chairs, with each table getting a chance to chat with Adolfo and Cesare for one course of the meal, as they made their way around the room.

During lunch, I received a phone call from the PR Coordinator at W.J. Deutsch, letting me know about an event that was taking place as she spoke. It sounded interesting, plus I had yet to get to the venue, sd26, so I switched gears and headed over to meet with Stefano Massa of Villa Massa.

I arrived at sd26 and was warmly greeted by Barbara Scalera, but, as I had been unable to find the restroom before departing ICC, I explained that I needed to first go to the Ladies’ Room before she and Stephano could have my undivided attention. The damp weather had wreaked havoc on my hair, but fortunately, I didn’t scare my hosts. I did my best to make myself presentable and was then led to a private dining room upstairs.

I was seated next to Stefano who promptly launched into a story about his journey into Limoncello. He noted that he and his brother, Sergio, were pioneers in crafting quality Limoncello of Sorrento. Stefano’s family had been producing Limoncello at home for family consumption, the recipe for which had been passed down for generations. Their guests really enjoyed their Limoncello and Stefano and Sergio saw an opportunity to produce the liqueur on a commercial basis. Most importantly, they are committed to maintaining the terroir and consequently only use natural ingredients, most notably the Sorrento Oval Lemon, which has had its own Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) since 2000.

About three-quarters of the way into his monologue, food was served, but the first order of business was to taste the Limoncello. Stefano first served it to me cold and then at room temperature. I was advised to first smell the liqueur before taking some onto my tongue and slurping in some air, in a similar fashion as one tastes wine. The fresh lemon aromas were obvious and even more so with the room temperature specimen.

Risotto was the dish of the day, making a second appearance, this time with scallops that had been marinated in the Villa Massa Limoncello. The second course was veal testina, which I didn’t particularly enjoy (the recipe calls for 1 veal head), but the dessert course was lovely. The Italian pastry, Baba, had been prepared with the Limoncello in place of the more traditional rum and was accompanied by a refreshing Limoncello sorbet. I also liked the use of the Limoncello in two cocktails I was served — the first being a blend of Limoncello and tonic water (I actually really like tonic water, so this was a nice “twist” for me). The second cocktail was a modified Mimosa, with Limoncello standing in for orange juice, resulting in a less sweet version of this popular brunch drink.

At a time when it seems that every spirit producer (and some wine producers) is trying to show the versatility of its product by using it as an ingredient, in cocktails or both, I found the Villa Massa Limoncello to be one of the more successful in this arena.

Having now eaten two lunches in a single day, I thanked my hosts and departed the restaurant. Unfortunately, it was now 4:30 PM and I would not have time to make it to the Dreyfus Ashby portfolio tasting as it ended at 5:00 PM and it would take at least that much time to travel to Ardesia Wine Bar, where it was being held. As I said, the best laid plans…, but of course, it was a great (if not fattening) day of tasting.