Cocktail of the Month

June 4, 2014

No matter where you go in Indonesia, you will see them. A small storefront with a counter, a vendor on the street. They are dispensing drinks of an odd consistency: most of them thick and gooey, like globs of brownish mud. These curious potables can be purchased at one of the incalculable number of jamu shops that fill this island nation.

Jamu is a traditional herbal medicine from Indonesia, dating to ancient times. While little known in the States, jamu is widely used by locals. Indigenous healers, or dukuns, were the original jamu practitioners, but now it is more widespread than CVS in D.C.

A mixture of plants, leaves, seeds, herbs, bark, spices, fruits and flowers, jamu is purported to cure everything. It can treat diabetes, lower cholesterol, eliminate body odor, improve sexual stamina, cool the body, cure arthritis and even provide harmony within your family. The list goes on and on. Depending on the ailment, a different combination is prescribed.

Commercially prepared jamu is widely available, but most prefer to have it freshly made at a shop, where they can get a custom blend. It comes in tablets, powders and teas, but is most commonly consumed as a drink. Sometimes it is served in a combination of these.

My first jamu experience came courtesy of my friend Henry Kunjuik, who runs three jamu shops in Denpasar, the busy capital of Bali. Over the course of my nine months in Indonesia, Henry has treated me for a leg infection, hangovers and cuts and scrapes.

Henry comes from Padang, a region of Sumatra famous for its spicy food. He has been practicing jamu in Bali for more than seven years. He and his older cousin learned to make jamu from a master jamu guru in Java. Henry works at one of his stores and has taught his younger brothers how to run the other two.

Located on a busy thoroughfare, his main store opens around 4 p.m. every day to provide a relief for tired souls coming home from work and looking for a pick-me-up. He stays open until 1 or 2 a.m. In the meantime, his shop becomes a gathering point for a truckload of friends he refers to as brothers.

The typical jamu order is a customized combo of a thick, freshly prepared natural smoothie with a shot of juice or tea and a tablet on the side. The most popular requests can be ordered from a menu, divided into jamu for men, jamu for women and jamu for both sexes. An average serving costs about 8,000-12,000 rupiah (72-94 cents), depending on the mixture and the type of egg used (duck or chicken).

Jamu Pegel Linu, which relieves muscle fatigue and helps one get a good night’s sleep, is the most frequently ordered item on the menu. Customers can expect to wake up the next morning rested and ready to go. “You work hard all day, then you’re so tired, “ says Henry. “Then you drink jamu before you sleep and when you wake up you much feel better.”

When I ask Henry for an analysis of the natural ingredients, he recites a list of Indonesian words. While some are familiar – like ginger, citrus and turmeric – most of the words can’t be deciphered by Google’s online translator. In Indonesia, words vary not only from English, but from one island to another.

Two of the ingredients common to most jamu drinks are egg and honey. It is generally believed in Indonesia that when mixed together they increase stamina. (If you want to make jamu at home, you will have to have most of the ingredients shipped to you, since they are native only to Indonesia. You can also order commercially made powders online.)

Henry mixes up a concoction to relieve my insomnia and teaches me to drink like a local. First, he whips up a thick sludge using a mixer mounted to the counter. I watch as he cracks an egg into a cup and throws in various powders, Beras Kencur –a locally produced juice infused with herbs – and a special honey only made and sold for jamu.

After a series of whirs and clanks, Henry pours a thick goop into a glass. He offers me a sample first. It’s bitter and medicinal, a bit like Jagermeister. He rims the glass with lime and squeezes the remaining juice into my glass, which adds a pleasant citrus flare.

My prescription is served on a plate, along with a sunny glass of Henry’s handcrafted ginger tea, a tablet of commercially made jamu and a piece of candy for dessert.

I am instructed to chug the jamu and chase it with the sugary tea. The smack of the sweet and spicy ginger provides a lovely contrast to the herbaceous jamu, washing down the slurry with a refreshing twist. I finish up by taking the tablet with the remaining tea and skip the candy.

Maybe it’s the power of suggestion, but I begin to feel invigorated almost immediately. When I go home that night, I ease into a soothing slumber.

Alsatian Spring: Six Delicious White Wines for the Season

May 9, 2014

The seconds are literally counting down to spring as I write this. . .tick, tick, tick. Washington is
sitting on the edge of its seat, waiting for the new season to usher in warm breezes and sunny weather.

Washingtonians have been dreaming of the day when the weather will break, allowing for the leisurely enjoyment of a delicious glass of white wine. Spring always makes me think of fragrant and luscious white wines. Specifically, Gewürztraminer and Riesling from the Alsace region of France come to mind. Below are my annual Wines for Spring recommendations, featuring the off-dry to dry Alsatian Gewürztraminer and Riesling.

Enjoy a glass and toast the end of Washington’s “Winter of Discontent” – whenever that happy
day arrives. Cheers!

Hugel & Fils Gewürztraminer

2010 $22

This white wine from Alsace, France, will display a slight green tinge in the glass. Only in Alsace will you experience the true heights and expressiveness of this grape varietal. This Gewürztraminer is a fine entry-level example of a spicy, dry and
well-balanced wine of the region.

Hugel & Fils Gewürztraminer

2010 $25

Look for pale yellow colors with flecks of green once you pour this in your glass. This wine, from older vines than the first Gewürztraminer on the list, is made under stricter standards. Consequently, it shows more elegance and finesse. Upon tasting, you might experience flavors that remind you of orange peel and mango. It is highly aromatic with lots of floral scents emanating from your glass. See if you can catch hints of rose and orange blooms. Though it is a dry wine, its lushness and acidity make it refreshing. Drink this wine young or let it sit for a year or two. Drink it alone, as an aperitif or (if you wish to pair it with food) with lobster tail or tandoori chicken. varietal. This Gewürztraminer is a fine entry-level example of a spicy, dry and well-balanced wine of the region.

Domaines Schlumberger Gewürztraminer Kessler Grand Cru
2008 $30

Domaines Schlumberger has been family-owned and family-run since 1810. Biodynamic and sustainable farming practices have been employed in this premier cru. One thing you will definitely notice is this dry wine’s body, meaning its weight in your mouth. It has more substance then most of the wines listed here and could never be called thin. The richness of the fruit balances well with its acidity.

Domaines Schlumberger Gewürztraminer Kessler Grand Cru

2008 $28

Minerals and citrus fruit flavors abound in this Riesling. This wine is a beautiful golden color. It is dry, but expresses nice fruit
flavors. Drink now and through 2015.

Domaine Weinbach
Gewürztraminer Cuvée

2011 $45

Thoughts of spice, apricots, banana and candied orange rind come to mind when tasting this off-dry Gewürztraminer. Aromas of lychee and caramel will draw you into your glass. You might experience a slight oily or petrol impression, but these are classic notes in Alsatian wine, adding to its complexity. This wine can be drunk now or held for up to five years in your cellar.

Trimbach Riesling Cuvée
Frederic Emile

2009 $62

No list of Alsatian Riesling recommendations would be complete without a mention of wines from one of the most prestigious houses: the family-owned Trimbach. While known for Rieslings (there are four), the house also produces Gewürztraminer. The Rieslings are classically dry with apricot, pineapple and mineral flavors. I recommend any of the bottlings. Explore, but
do try the Cuvée Frederic Emile. It is an elegant, expressive, steely Riesling, a wonderful example of what the house –and region – produces.

Shari Sheffield is a wine, food and lifestyle writer as well as a Wine Educator and speaker. She can be reached at
shari@sharisheffield.com or via her website: www.sharisheffield.com.

A Quintessential Experience

April 23, 2014

Well, if you were despairing that you won’t get a chance to experience the swanky new Georgetown Capella hotel’s $3,500-per-person “Once In A Lifetime” wine dinner that was postponed indefinitely, you are in luck! There’s a new opportunity to visit the hotel for something special.

Executive Chef Jakob Esko and the hotel’s Grill Room restaurant have announced their revised wine-dinner concept. On May 8, guests will take part in a quintessential experience featuring the wines of Quintessa winery of California and food pairings handpicked by Chef Esko. Capella plans to host several wine dinners throughout the year.

The Quintessa estate, located in Napa Valley, is a favorite of the hotel’s sommelier, Will Rentschler. In addition to its stellar reputation for producing amazing red wines, Quintessa prides itself on sustainable growing methods. This excellence in producing wonderful tasting wines, as well as environmentally conscious organic farming, has endeared Quintessa to many a lover of fine wines.

When I spoke to Rentschler and Esko about the upcoming event, their excitement to share the winery’s new releases – and show how well they complement the cuisine of the Grill Room in an intimate setting – was evident. Quintessa’s own Larry Stone, wine director and educator, will be on hand to highlight what makes each of the wines a standout.

Chefs usually create food, with wine just an accompaniment. However, this night will be different. Chef Esko has designed four great seasonal dishes around the Quintessa wines. At the dinner, you will be led through four food and wine courses:

Quintessa Illumination

Sauvignon Blanc, 2012

Paired with diver scallop carpaccio, served with cucumber, radishes and soft goat’s cheese.

Quintessa Proprietary

Red Blend, 2010

Paired with herb-roasted quail, served with rosemary and potato gnocchi, chorizo and parsley.

Quintessa Proprietary Red Blend, 2005

Paired with bison strip loin, served with wild mushroom ragout, black truffle and spring peas.

Faust Cabernet

Sauvignon, 2011

Paired with dark chocolate Black Forest cake roll.

Capella’s Grill Room typically showcases creative seasonal dining. Diners enjoy views of the picturesque C&O Canal, with outdoor seating available.

The Quintessa Wine Dinner four-course menu is priced at $180 per person (excluding tax and gratuities). To make a reservation, call 202-617-2424 or visit www.thegrillroomdc.com.

Think of the Grill Room’s upcoming wine dinners as “Once in a Couple of Months” wine experiences. Once you have had your fill tasting the new Quintessa releases, why not head back to the hotel’s Rye Bar for a nightcap, go up to the rooftop infinity pool and look out over Georgetown or check in to one of the 49 luxury guest rooms and suites? You’ll make it your own quintessential evening. Cheers!

Shari Sheffield is a wine, food and lifestyle writer as well as a Wine Educator and speaker. She can be reached at shari@sharisheffield.com or www.sharisheffield.com.

Cocktail of the Month

February 13, 2014

Naming cocktails after current events is nothing new, especially in a wonky city like Washington. Whether it’s an election, scandal, debt ceiling, snowstorm or government shutdown, there is always a cocktail commemorating something in D.C.
Two of my favorites in recent years have been the “Binders Full of Women,” a Mitt Romney-themed election tipple from the Mt. Vernon Square bar and restaurant The Passenger, and BLT Steak’s “Gun to a Snowball Fight,” named after the 2009 incident in which a cop in plainclothes pulled a gun during a snowball fight on U Street.

What about naming a cocktail after an international court ruling? This occurred in Peru last month after the International Court of Justice gave Lima economic rights over a slice of Pacific Ocean maritime territory in a 100-year-old dispute with neighboring Chile.

The new elixir, called the La Haya Sour (The Hague Sour) after the Dutch city where the ICJ is based, is a variation on the Pisco Sour, Peru’s national drink. According to Agence France Presse, the cocktail was unveiled on the eve of the country’s Pisco Sour Day.

Peruvians are so crazy about pisco, they have not one, but two national holidays commemorating their flagship spirit: National Pisco Sour Day (the first Saturday in February) and National Pisco Day (the fourth Sunday in July). The official website of the Peruvian government has a link to a site called “Pisco es Perú.”

According to AFP, which interviewed the drink’s creator, bartender Javier Perez, the concoction’s intense blue comes from a dash of Curacao, to “give it the color of the sea.” Says Perez: “It’s a drink that pays tribute to The Hague ruling in favor of Peru and that puts an end to border problems with Chile.”

Naming a pisco drink after Peru’s court victory is a double smack in the face for Chile. Peru and Chile have been fighting for decades over who invented pisco (a grape brandy produced in winemaking regions of Peru and Chile). Both countries also claim the Pisco Sour as their national drink. While it may sound trivial, the debate can become fierce between these neighbors.
There is actually a town named Pisco in both countries, so each can lay international claim to an “appellation of origin,” a direct link between the product and the land. This is similar to France, where Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy can only be labeled as such if they’re produced in those specific regions.

The Peruvian city by that name dates back to 1574, while the Chilean town was given its moniker in 1936, when then Chilean president Gabriel González changed the name of La Unión to Pisco Elqui. Many believe the name was only changed in an attempt to steal the Pisco name from Peru.

In 2013, the European Commission ruled that Peru will be recognized as the original home of pisco. The decision established the Peruvian village of Pisco as the geographical origin of the drink and protects the country’s right to claim its provenance in the European market.

The rivalry between these two nations goes back to the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), which pitted Peru and Bolivia against Chile. During the conflict, Chile invaded Peru, occupying the capital, Lima, and delivered a crushing defeat to its Andean enemies. Peru, which lost the territories of Arica and Tacna, fared better than Bolivia, which lost its entire coastline to Chile. Tacna was returned to Peru in 1929.

Some Peruvians say that Chile stole the production of pisco during these years of disputed borders.

“Chile, they try to claim everything from Peru as their own,” says Lowell Haise Contreras, a musician from Villa María del Triunfo, a district of Lima that was on the front lines during the 1881 battle for the capital. “Pisco, ceviche, empanadas. . . . They don’t make anything of their own, so they try to take credit for the great creations of Peru.”

As for me, since I consider Peru my second home, I have to side with the land of Macchu Picchu.

La Haya Sour (The Hague Sour)
1 egg white
3 ounces Peruvian pisco (I prefer Macchu Pisco)
1 ounce lime juice
½ ounce simple syrup
½ ounce blue Curacao
Angostura bitters
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine the first five ingredients. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds, then strain into a cocktail glass. Top with a few drops of bitters. Garnish with a lime.

La Cusquenita Linda

January 17, 2014

Peruvians are crazy for pisco. Not only is pisco, a grape brandy produced in Peru, the country’s national liquor, there are two public holidays celebrating its virtues. National Pisco Sour Day is celebrated during the first Saturday of February and National Pisco Day on the fourth Sunday of July. So one afternoon as I wandered the touristy corridor of Cuzco between the Plaza des Armes and San Blas, I wasn’t taken by surprise when I strolled by a storefront identifying itself as the Museo de Pisco (Pisco Museum). It seemed perfectly logical in this tourist mecca for a pisco museum to exist.

With its walls filled with diagrams, graphs and maps explaining the pisco-making process, distillation equipment on display, and a vast collection of bottles behind the bar, I was ready to spend a cultural day communing with this local elixir. It didn’t take long, however, to deduce that the Museo de Pisco was actually a bar disguised as a museum. This revelation did not sour my visit in any way.

While not official guides, I quickly realized that the bartending staff here had an encyclopedic knowledge about pisco and were eager to educate a gringa about their country’s pride and joy. Not only was I given a primer on the distillation process, but barman Ruben Dario educated me about the specific grape varietals used for pisco and the difference the each grape imparts on the finished product.

The bar stocks more than 40 brands of pisco, each of them with their own unique qualities. After asking several questions about the merits of different types, another bartender, Joe Rojas Garcia, was kind enough to offer me a taste of some of his favorites. As a resident of Peru, I had been drinking pisco for nine months at this point, but I had never taken the time to explore the subtle differences in various varieties.

While I was familiar with the most popular cocktails, pisco sour, Maracuayo sour (made from a local fruit), and Te Macho, (pisco and coca tea), I was instantly intrigued by the bar’s extensive cocktail menu.

Overwhelmed by all the choices, I asked Joe what he recommended. In a flirty move, he suggested the Cusquenita Linda, literally translated, “pretty little lady from Cusco.” The cocktail is a mixture of pisco, cassis, lime and aguaymanto juice.

Aguaymanto is a fruit native to Andean region of South America, also known as the capegooseberry, golden berry or Incan berry. It has a tart, yet slightly sweet, flavor. Herbalists have used it as a folk remedy for diabetes, inflammation and asthma.
Not being a fan of sweet drinks, the fruit mixture intrigued me. The red-orange drink was presented in a martini glass with a cheery star fruit garnish. The mixture of sharp Aguaymanto with the piquant blackcurrant flavor of the cassis and sour lime proved a fitting foil for the crisp, clean and tangy flavor of pisco. The overall result was a sublime and unique tipple that was captivating and refreshing at the same time.

As I savored my cocktail, a tour group arrived, and I was able to absorb another education lecture from their guide, as well as sip on a free sample of pisco punch, mixed with lime and pineapple, offered to the group. I also watched as another bartender prepared one of the many pisco infusions made in-house, which include morado (purple corn), eucalyptus, chili pepper and ginger.

It would be easy to spend an entire afternoon or evening at the Pisco Museum, engaging with the friendly staff and sampling the many delicacies. This year, Peru’s National Pisco day falls on July 28. Wherever you may be on that day, celebrate it with a South American pisco treat.

La Cusquenita Linda
2 oz Pisco
2 oz Aquaymanto juice
¼ oz Lime juice
¼ oz sugar
1 oz crème de Cassis
Mix ingredients in a shaker with ice, then pour into a martini glass. Garnish with star fruit. [gallery ids="101372,153206,153204" nav="thumbs"]

Wines for Your Thanksgiving Feast


Thanksgiving can be D. R. A. M. A. Trying to choose “the perfect wine” to go with your Thanksgiving feast can
?add to that drama. Trying to find a single wine to please everyone from grandmother to the newly minted drinking-age college boyfriend your daughter has brought home is a challenge. With all the meal preparations required, quite frankly, don’t you always have enough to worry about planning this holiday meal? Stuff the bird before cooking or after? Cranberry sauce with whole berries or none? Sweet potato soufflé or candied yams casserole? And let’s not even get into the seating arrangements that must be con- sidered ensuring that a family kerfuffle doesn’t erupt … again … seconds before the bird even hits the table. Thus, turning your Thanksgiving into your own Bravo reality TV series. Why stress yourself out with what wine to serve?

One tip I give to quickly calm down those responsible for securing the wine for the Thanksgiving meal: Pick one red and white wine. It’s so simple it often gets overlooked. You will invariably have guests at the table who will pull a face and whine dramatically: “I only like white” or “I only like red.” Serving at least one type of each will put a cure at least to that issue.

But, of course, you can go all out and turn Thanksgiving into an opportunity to try multiple wines in one setting. This can be fun and wine will rarely be wasted because of the number of people who will be trying them, if you host a large Thanksgiving meal for family and friends. It is also a chance to explore bottles you might not normally try and discuss.

Another way to totally obviate the pressure of choosing the right wine is to ask each guest to bring a different type of grape varietal (one brings a Chardonnay, one a Merlot and so forth). You can also assign each guest to bring a bottle from a different region. This will result in your own informal private wine dinner right at the Thanksgiving table.

However, if you choose to select the wines yourself, here are a few recommendations for food friendly wines that will pair well with multiple dishes and please the cast of characters seated at your table this year. When the curtain closes on the meal you’ll be able take a bow for your role as “Grace Under Thanksgiving Wine Pressure.” Cheers!

Sparkling
Choose your favorite Champagne or for a French sparkling wine that is reasonably priced. Try the Blanc de Blanc from Duc De Raybaud available at local Whole Foods, under $17.

Riesling
A less dry Riesling will go well with salty, sweet, and spicy foods. Its apple/citrus flavors and balanced acidity won’t over power your turkey. And, it will go with the pumpkin pie. Try Bonny Doon’s California Riesling or Rosemount Estate Diamond Traminer (Australia), approximately $10.

Pinot Gris
This floral white wine has a hint of smoke, apples and creamy texture with all the character of a chardonnay but has more fruit flavors. Try King Estate Pinot Gris, $12, or J Russian River Pinot Gris, $17, approximately.

White Blend
Try Perrin Cote Du Rhone Blanc, 2011 under $17. The Vioginer and Grenache Blanc take the leading role as the predominate grapes in this blend. Marsanne and Roussanne play supporting roles which makes this wine’s lemon flavors and floral notes heavenly at this price point.

Pinot Noir
DeLoach Russian River Pinot Noir $21, has cherry and plum flavors that pair well with herbed stuffing and dark meat without overpower- ing the rest of your dishes.

Syrah
Kunde Syrah costs approximately $16. Syrah can be light or tannic with a lot of structure. This light style Syrah, aka Shiraz, has peppery notes and a spicy edge along with lightness.

Merlot
Markham Merlot from California is very smooth and food friendly. If a crown roast or lamb will be served at your Thanksgiving meal. It has structure but is fruit-forward. It is also velvety with chocolate notes.

Sherry
Sherry is a fortified wine and as such is higher in alcohol usually around 15 percent. It can be drunk with the meal, as a dessert wine, or after dinner. Try Tio Pepe Fino with its pale golden color. It has fresh bread and almond aromas. The palate is very dry and complex.

Cocktail of the Month

January 15, 2014

As Washington – and much of the United
States – thaws out from one of the biggest
cold spells in recent memory, I
have been relishing my new tropical home on
the tranquil island of Bali. Enjoying an average
daily temperature of 85 degrees and a 10-minute
commute to the beach, just looking at the cold
weather on CNN sends shivers down my spine.
But if you can’t move to Polynesia, one of
the best ways to bring the beach to you is with a
tropical umbrella drink. While a hot toddy may
warm your soul, nothing quite says sunshine and
happiness like a tiki bar.

The original tiki bar was Don the
Beachcomber, created by Ernest Gantt in 1933
in Los Angeles. (Author Wayne Curtis tells the
story in “And a Bottle of Rum: A History of
the New World in Ten Cocktails”). Gantt, who
had spent much of his youth rambling about the
tropics, rented a small bar and decorated it with
items he’d gathered in the South Pacific, along
with driftwood, nets and parts of wrecked boats
scavenged from the beach.

Gantt stocked his bar with inexpensive rums,
available in abundance after Prohibition, and
invented an array of faux-tropical drinks using
fruit juices and exotic liqueurs. His bar became
incredibly fashionable, attracting celebrities and
prompting Gantt to legally rename himself Donn
Beach.

The other iconic tiki bar was Trader Vic’s,
founded in 1934 in Oakland, Calif., by Victor
Jules Bergeron, Jr. Originally called Hinky
Dinks, Bergeron’s small bar and restaurant
soon morphed into a Polynesian-themed spot
with tropical drinks. It was renamed Trader
Vic’s at the suggestion of Bergeron’s wife, who
thought it would fit because her husband was
always involved in some type of deal or trade.
According to Curtis, Bergeron admits he swiped
the tiki concept from Gantt.

Both bars expanded to multiple locations,
sparking a nationwide craze that spawned dozens
of imitators, all rushing to replicate each
other’s colorful tipples.

Gantt was a talented mixologist who crafted
complex drinks with lengthy ingredient lists,
including multiple rums, homemade syrups and
fresh fruit. But as more tiki-themed bars opened
and Trader Vic’s turned to franchising, the
intricate cocktails became watered-down and
simplified.

Perhaps the most duplicated tipple is the
quintessential tiki drink: the mai tai. Both Gantt
and Bergeron claimed to have invented it, but
their recipes vary wildly. The name is derived
from “Maita’i,” the Tahitian word for “good.”
Though it later fell out of fashion, the mai
tai was one of the most popular cocktails in the
1950s and ’60s. It featured prominently in Elvis
Presley’s chartbuster movie “Blue Hawaii.”
In their heyday, tiki bars were popular places
to celebrate a big occasion. Trader Vic’s at the
Washington Hilton was a hot spot for power
lunches. It was a favorite of Richard Nixon, who
had a fondness for mai tais.

According to Curtis, a mai tai was the first
thing requested by Patty Hearst, the Symbionese
Liberation Army kidnap-victim turned conspirator,
when she was released on bail in 1976.
Eventually the tiki bubble burst. With
scores of cheap imitators and poor locations,
the Polynesian fad began to lose its luster. None
of the original Don the Beachcombers are still
in existence and Trader Vic’s has only a few
remaining outposts. Perhaps the trend’s last
stand came in 1989, when the ever-brash Donald
Trump closed the venerable Trader Vic’s in New
York’s Plaza Hotel, calling it “tacky.”

Tiki crawled back into the spotlight over the
last decade and a half as retro-hipsters embraced
its kitschiness. Its comeback has continued with
the recent cocktail renaissance. Modern mixologists
have begun to uncover some of the original
tropical recipes with their multi-layered rum
profiles, fresh juices and handcrafted syrups.
The craft tiki cocktail movement arrived in
full force at the Georgetown waterfront in 2009
with mixologist Jon Arroyo’s extensive list of
authentic cocktails at Farmers Fishers Bakers.
Imbibers can sample homemade mai tais based
on the recipes of both Bergeron and Gantt.
Another option is Hogo, a Caribbean-themed
rum bar on 7th Street, NW, featuring highend
island cocktails. The man behind Hogo,
launched just over a year ago, is Tom Brown,
a partner in Washington’s craft cocktail palace
The Passenger.

So when the January frost is nipping at your
nose, remember the words that Donn Beach
would tell his customers: “If you can’t get to
paradise, I’ll bring it to you.”

Don the Beachcomber’s Mai Tai
1 1/2 oz. Myers’s Rum
1 oz. Cuban rum (use a medium-bodied rum such as
Appleton or Barbancourt)
3/4 oz. lime juice
1 oz. grapefruit juice
1/4 oz. falernum syrup
1/2 oz. Cointreau
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Dash of Pernod

Trader Vic’s Mai Tai
2 oz. aged Jamaican rum
.5 oz. orgeat syrup
.5 oz. orange curacao
.25 oz. rock candy syrup
Juice from one fresh lime

For both drinks: Shake everything with ice and
strain into a double old-fashioned glass full of
crushed ice. Garnish with pineapple spear, lime
shell and a sprig of fresh mint.

Cocktail of the Month

December 5, 2013

When one thinks of liquor and Japan, sake immediately comes to mind. With its history dating back to the 700s, complex serving etiquette and array of fancy drinking vessels, this fermented rice wine is synonymous with Japan.

But during my recent excursion to the Tokyo area, I discovered another beverage that is booming in popularity in the land of the rising sun. Sh?ch? is a distilled beverage, mostly forged from barley, sweet potatoes, wheat or rice.

It varies in alcohol content from 20 percent to 25 percent and sports a crisp dry taste comparable to vodka or arrack. Multiple-distilled sh?ch?, which is generally used in mixed drinks, may contain up to 35-percent alcohol. The main difference between sake and sh?ch? is that sake is brewed, whereas sh?ch? is distilled.

Sh?ch? originated in Kyushu, the most southwesterly island in Japan, where it has been drunk for centuries. In recent years, its popularity has surged. According to the Japan Times, sh?ch? had long been thought of as being “cheap and nasty.” But as premium brands emerged and it was discovered by a new generation, the last two decades have seen triple-digit growth in sales. Trendy bars specializing in sh?ch? began popping up all over Tokyo.

Once considered stodgy, sh?ch? has been embraced by younger drinkers. Kimiyoshi Utsugi, a Tokyo resident, says he drinks sh?ch? every day. “My father always drank sake, but I drink sh?ch?,” he said. “The younger generation believes it’s much better for you.” Kimiyoshi says there is less sugar in sh?ch? and it won’t make you fat.

The way sh?ch? is served depends on the quality. According to Kimiyoshi, if it’s of good quality, it’s drunk neat or on the rocks. Brands of lesser quality are mixed with fruit juice, tea, lemon or cola.

The most popular sh?ch? cocktail is ch?hai (pronounced Shoe-High), which is a mixture of sh?ch? and lemon juice topped off with club soda for a fizzy finish.

Douglas Ford, my fun-loving host during my holiday, introduced me to the ch?hai cocktail. After a traditional Japanese dinner, we stopped by Wesley’s, one of his preferred watering holes for a nightcap.

We were in Fujisawa, an industrial city a short distance from his home in Kamakura. While the city lies about 46 kilometers south of Tokyo’s city center, to me it felt like part of the L.A.-type sprawl of Japan’s capital city.

As we walked down a dark side street near the train station, we stopped at a narrow doorway that opened to a steep flight of enclosed stairs. Nothing from the street level indicated that anything at all was located in this dim building. But sure enough, once we ascended we arrived in a small cozy den of eclectic regulars. The walls in this dive bar were plastered with marker graffiti and a collection of posters and customer photos. It reminded me of CBGB’s meets Cheers.

The true highlight of Wesley’s is the owner Kagefumi Yoshimora. Yo-Chan, as he is known, is an adorable bespectacled man with cute fuzzy eyebrows and a matching mustache. He becomes an instant friend with all his patrons. Not to be missed are the special nights when Yo-Chan plays guitar with his jazz band.

Doug suggested that I try Yo-Chan’s special version of ch?hai. My drink, a bright yellow concoction, arrived in a handled beer mug. The flavor was bright, refreshing and effervescent. The pungent lemon shined while being softened by the fizzy soda. The sh?ch? added an invigorating bite.

After a 90-plus degree summer day, this tipple is a perfect way to quench your burning thirst. Be forewarned, Yo-chan’s ch?hai packs a punch. After a frustrating day plodding through airports, his cocktails went straight to my head on my first night in Japan. After asking for his recipe I discovered why his ch?hai is so lethal: there is an approximate 5-1 ratio of sh?ch? to mixers.
Ch?hai is not just popular in bars. It’s commonly found as a canned pre-mixed drink in supermarkets, convenience stores and even vending machines in train stations. Popular beverage companies like Kirin (beer) and Suntory (whiskey) produce their own ch?hai canned drinks.

While pre-mixed versions may be a convenient option, some of my fondest memories of Japan are huddling around the cramped bar at Wesley’s, cooling down with a glass of “high test lemonade” and listening to Yo-chan jam with his mates. Domo arigatou.

Ch?hai
150 ml Sh?ch?
30 ml Lemon Juice
Pour in a beer mug and top with club soda.

Cocktail of the Month November 6, 2013

November 6, 2013

I can hear the faint rumble of the ocean over the chill sounds of a mellow reggae beat. The cool sea breeze laps at my hair as my partner and lounge in an oversize bean bag chairs with a candle lit between us. Brightly colored paper lanterns glimmer in the dark as they hang from the large ketepeng tree. In the night, I watch the glow of the moonlight as it catches the waves that slash on shore. I can smell the salt in the air and the feel sand between my toes, as I sip on a cool cocktail.

Welcome to the JAJ beach bar on located on the Double Six beach in Legian on the tranquil isle of Bali, Indonesia.
What feels like a dreamy paradise, is actually quite a simple concept. JAJ, which is short for ?Jing a Jing? is not much more than a crew of three or four with a makeshift bar under the trees.

The beaches of South Bali are lined with these so-called beach bars. While not bars in the standard sense, these gathering spots usually consists of a cooler or two, filled with soft drinks and beers, beach chairs, umbrellas and some Indonesians hosts, happy to entertain you with jokes, guitar melodies and magic tricks, while you soak up the sun and surf. Each little place is like a mini ?Cheers? where everyone knows your name.

But JAJ has managed to take the concept a little further. They have cashed in on in on the natural beauty of Bali, postcard-worthy sunset every night and the magical sea – to create a serene and blissful atmosphere. Lounge chairs, romantic lighting, a high quality sound system and a small menu of beachy cocktails add to the island vibe. The bar opens at 4 p.m., about two and half hours before sunset and stays open until about 1 am.

The main man behind the bar is Irvan Blueocean who says he has been working on the beach for more than half his life. Irvan has been a fixture here since 2000 playing guitar, renting beach chairs, giving surf lessons and mixing drinks. Whether you just want a simple tumbler of Johnny Walker, a classic mojito or a tropical creation, he will mix it up for you with a smile. Irvan and the others who man the bar call themselves ?the crew of happiness.?

The name of the bar itself is an acronym for happy. ?Jing a jing? which is a Balinese translation of the Indonesians phrase ?sik a sik ? is derived from the word, Asik, which means to enjoy yourself.

Most of the drinks on the cocktail menu are fairly simple, but what makes them special is Irvan?s special mixer that he calls ?jungle juice.? A secret blend of fresh tropical fruits including pineapple and sweet orange. It?s bright and crisp flavor make a refreshing tipple that mixes in harmony with the sunny setting.

For me, my favorite tipple to enjoy here is a freshly-forged mojito, sans sugar. For this Irvan will grab a handful of green mint leaves from a basket and muddle them together with limes. Topped off with rum and club soda, this brisk and chilly cocktail is perfect for someone that doesn?t like sugary drinks. But if you prefer your elixirs on the sweet side, that?s no problem either, Irvan will customize it to your taste.

A popular choice is the bar?s namesake cocktail, the Jing a Jing Sunset. It is a fruity concoction of Absolute vodka, ?jungle Juice,? lemon and grenadine. The combination provides a refreshing burst of flavor, reminiscent of the original tiki drinks that were made by hand, before pre-made mixes became the norm. The red grenadine, combines with bright yellow juice to form a drink with the brilliant hue of an island sundown. Ask for this drink with rum instead of vodka and the result is a cocktail similar to a Mai Tai.

As the drinks and conversation flow, the Irvan dispenses tidbits of joyful advice, like ?Make the world green,? ?Love your life? and ?It?s all good,? as he jokes with the happy bunch of fellows that gather here. Whether you chose to indulge or not, it?s hard not to leave JAJ in a better mood than you came with.

**JING A JING SUNSET**
2 jiggers vodka (1.5 oz each)
1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
4 oz fresh fruit juice
1 teaspoon grenadine
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into glass full of ice. Enjoy (Jing a Jing!)

Soju

October 10, 2013

In Korea, drinking is a social art. It is enjoyed in groups, at business dinners, family celebrations and nightclubs. When people get together they often will join in for a bottle (or two or three or seven) of soju.

Soju, a rice liquor made in Korea, is the most popular spirit in the land. It is uniquely identifiable with Korea.The clear liquid has a smooth, crisp and somewhat bitter flavor. While most soju ranges in the 20-25% alcohol content, it’s potency can vary from 10% up to 45%.

While I spent most of my time in Korea, unwinding in a Buddhist monastery in the tranquil Songnisan Mountain National Park, I set aside three nights to explore the bustling fashionable metropolis of Seoul.

Curious about soju, I ask Joon-Tae Kim, my amiable host at my guesthouse in the trendy Hongdae neighborhood, for some recommendations on the best place to try Soju. Knowing that I had arrived solo, his first question was “Where are your Korean friends? ” Unbeknownst to me soju is a social tipple. He told me it would be so sad for me to drink it on my own.

Since I didn’t have a Korean posse in place, I asked Joon-tae to give me a soju tutorial. The first thing I learned is that whenever people are gathered together, usually they are joined by soju.

Drinking soju is a way of social bonding in Korea. “If I drink with you, you are my friend,” Joon-tae tells me. “When going out soju is main ingredient for a good time,”

But soju is not just for social calls, it is also an important part of a business encounters. Whether you are meeting with a client, negotiating a deal or connecting with your colleagues after work, soju is usually included. “It’s good for business relationships,” Joon-tae tells me. “It makes for a more dynamic atmosphere.”

So what to do if you don’t like soju and you’re out with your boss? Drink it, because according to Joon-tae, drinking itis a symbol of politeness.

Korea has some strict rules for drinking soju, he informs me. Some are related to their culture of respecting their elders. Generally the younger person serves the older person.

If you are receiving a glass of soju, you hold your glass with two hands, with your left palm on the bottom and your right hand around the glass. If you are pouring a glass for others, always use two hands.

It is considered rude to drink in front of your elders. You must turn to the side, so that only your profile is seen, and cover your mouth and glass with hands.

After all this formality one would think that you might sip your tipple gracefully like a fussily preparedcup of tea. This is not the case; you are expected to down the glass in one shot. And then most likely the glass will be quickly refilled. An empty glass is considered bad thing. But you never pour your own glass and you never fill a glass unless it is completely empty.

With the younger generation of Koreans, many of these rules are relaxed. Soju is often served mixed because its bitter taste is not as palatable to the youthful crowd. A popular cocktail is a slushy blend of soju with fresh fruit such as strawberry, lemon or kiwi.

My first stop on my soju adventure is Hosi Tam Tam a barwith a bohemian French theme, where I order a bottle of Jinro, the most popular brand in Korea. We drink it straight up. The liquor is potent, but not as strong as a shot of hard liquor. It is bitter and dry. I am glad to have a palate cleanser of crackers nearby.

Next it’s off to Soju Has, achic nightspot. Plush red velvet couches fill this hip lounge. We sample soju mixed in a blender with papaya. Our pitcher looks like a juicy daiquiri from the tropics. The fresh fruit masks the bitterness of the soju, but a hint of its flavor shines through giving the drink a good balance. Plus there is little sugar added which allows it to avoid tasting like a cloying sweet cocktail one would find at an Ocean City beach bar.

As the pitcher winds down, so do I, as I have an early flight to Tokyo. I won’t be experiencing a marathon round of soju drinking, that Joon-tae tells me is fairly typical. But before I turn in for the night at the guesthouse, I say farewellto my newly-minted sojufriend. [gallery ids="101492,151735,151738" nav="thumbs"]