For more than 18 years, Thomas Keller's acclaimed French Laundry in Yountville, CA did just fine without a spirits program. (It's hard for people to be disappointed by Champagne in the garden and a cornet of salmon tartare.) But after a quiet launch in February, this May they officially announced their first forays into hard alcohol, focusing on a library of super-rare bottles.
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We chat with Robert Simonson, cocktail writer for the New York Times, about what he's been drinking lately, how he got into the spirits-writing business, and where he sees the cocktail scene going next.
Have you ever wondered about the difference between a spirit and a liqueur? What on earth is a cordial? And why is that bartender over there so precious that he has to call his Manhattan perfect, anyway? Here's your guide to a few easily-confused cocktail terms.
Working behind the bar, you learn quite a bit about various spirits, depending on what sort of establishment you work at and what sort of drinks you're making. But there's always more to find out.
Since the debut of its Original Label Gin, Letherbee has unveiled a limited-release gin for autumn; a unique "absinthe brun," which aged in a charred oak barrel; and R. Franklin's Original Recipe Malört, an ode to the (in)famous Chicago-centric and wormwood-driven bitter liqueur developed in collaboration with Robby F. Haynes, bar manager at Chicago's first modern craft-cocktail destination, The Violet Hour.
When I mention brandy, you probably have an image already in your head. An older gentleman, sitting quietly in a leather armchair, perhaps smoking a pipe while listening to Brahms, swirling a snifter of brandy around in his hand. We think of brandy as an Old World after-dinner drink. And I have to say, it serves that purpose beautifully. But if you limit it to that, you're missing out on a lot.
There's a shelf in every liquor store that gets less love than the others—you know the shelf I'm talking about. It's usually tucked away in the corner, gathering dust, filled with bottles with hard to pronounce names: the grab bag of foreign booze! Today we're going to demystify a few essential spirits that hail from Central and Eastern Europe.
It was a pretty fair year here on the Bottom Shelf. As I looked through the archives, I found far more (relative) hits than misses. This could be because I burned through most of the truly disgusting novelty stuff in 2011, and it could be because my tongue has been slapped so silly by this job that I can no longer tell right from wrong. But let's say it's because cheap liquor quality is trending upward. At any rate, these are some of my fondest memories of another year trolling the depths.
It was the unique and the novel booze, the under-rated and the foreign, that truly made the year for me. Here are 6 of the year's standouts from where I'm sipping.
Black Friday! Small Business Saturday! Cyber Monday! It's enough to make anyone want a drink, especially if you're stressing out about gift giving. If you're having trouble thinking of great presents for your favorite spirits aficionados, we're here to help. These gifts will be a hit with cocktailians, home mixologists, and fanciers of booze in general.
As part of an effort to revitalize local agriculture, the planning firm that Brian Ellison worked for purchased 25 acres of land on Washington Island, Wisconsin to begin growing wheat. But they began to run out of places to sell that wheat, and that's when Ellison, founder and president of Death's Door Distillery, got the idea to start distilling it.
I got married for the normal and noble reasons that Bottom Shelf research director Emily is very pretty and has good employer-provided health insurance, plus my luscious head of hair isn't going to last forever so let's not kid ourselves about my options down the road. Proposing to Emily in January was the best decision I ever made, which means quite a little bit coming from the man who invented the Slim Jim-studded hamburger: I know from good decisions.
Enter the new Kahlúa Midnight. It's a higher-octane version of Kahlúa—the familiar coffee liqueur gets blended with rum for extra punch.
While we wouldn't necessarily recommend getting sloshed while you're manning the front door Halloween night, we must say: booze makes Halloween candy taste better. We recently pillaged the liquor cabinet to put this theory to the test, aiming to find the perfect match between a few classic Halloween candies their ideal spirit pairing. What should you drink with a Snickers? Which alcohol is best sipped with Junior Mints? We have all the answers for you here today.
Peat, if you don't know, is decomposed organic matter—grass, heather, moss—that melds into a chunky, ever-deepening formation along the coastal, boggy lands of places like rainy, verdant Scotland and Ireland. It's amazing stuff—an ever-renewing resource—as it can plunge more than a meter deep and take up to a 1,000 years for the lower parts to form into hardened, coal-like, fossilized organic matter, which gets cut into brick-like shapes and used for heating homes. But the softer, newer top part—that's the stuff that holds the most moisture and smokes when you burn it. That's used in part to truncate the germinating of the little barley bits via heat and, in its most vital act, flavor the malted barley in Islay. And it's what makes it utterly different from any other Scotch whisky you will have.
Orange liqueur has earned a bad reputation over the last few decades. Take, for example, curaçao. When many people think of curaçao, they immediately recall bright blue cocktails, sticky sweet and garish—drinks they might have had in college or even as recently as last weekend. Today we'll look at a range of orange liqueurs, from high-priced brandy-laced products to inexpensive triple secs.
My knowledge of alcohol from India has so far been limited to Kingfisher beer, which quells the spice from Vindaloo at my local Indian restaurant, and Amrut Fusion, a tasty whiskey made with Indian and Scottish barley. But my lack of knowledge isn't because I don't venture out from sips I'm already familiar with. As I learned from the seminar on Indian spirits at last week's Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, it's because only half of local Indian spirits find their way out of the states they're produced, let alone to the United States.
The American rum industry is making a comeback, with craft distillers in the forefront. And these three white rums are definitely worth lugging to the beach.
Genever today tastes malty (similar to a light Scotch) with subtle undernotes of herbs and spices. If you don't like gin's piney qualities, please do not assume you'll also dislike genever.
While it might seem like putting a bunch of berries and herbs in vodka couldn't possibly result in a drinkable gin, you definitely can make a gin just as complex and delicious as what you'll find at the liquor store. I like to call it I Can't Believe It's Not Gin, even though that's selling it short because it does not taste like a substitute or compromise.