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Wine & Spirits
Jameson, Dublin Style
Miss Dixie • July 26, 2011
George Bernard Shaw once said, “Whisky is liquid sunshine.” If that is the case, then the Emerald Isle of Ireland would be one of sunniest places in the world. While the land of James Joyce has a reputation
for rainy weather, the friendly country makes up for its meteorological woes with its world-renowned whiskey.
From the Bushmill’s distillery north of Belfast to the lyrically named Tullamore Dew, tourists have a wide choice of whiskey distilleries and museums to visit in Ireland. One of the most frequented spots is the old Jameson Distillery in Central Dublin.
I head to Jameson’s Old Bow Street distillery on a notably overcast morning looking for a way to brighten my day and ease my jetlag. Even though the sky is gray, I feel my spirits lighten as I reach the front entrance, which is tucked away in a courtyard on the West side of the River Liffey.
The visitors’ center is located inside the original Jameson distillery. Whiskey was made here for nearly 200 years, until its closure in 1971. Jameson is now distilled in Southern Ireland in Middleton, in County Cork.
The center has recreated the old distillery on a smaller scale. A cordial guide walks us through every step of the whiskey-making process, from malting and storing barley, to mashing and fermentation, to distilling and maturation.
While I find the tour both interesting and educational, I am eager to enjoy the tasting sessions that follow. For the first part, we are presented with three distinct whiskeys—a Scotch (Johnnie Walker Black), an American bourbon style-whiskey (Jack Daniels) and Jameson.
We’re encouraged to savor and compare each one. The scotch has a dry, slightly smoky taste, while the American whiskey comes in with a sweet, faintly harsh finish. Finally we try the Jameson. It boasts a smooth and full taste with floral and fruity characteristics. It finishes with a hint of vanilla. I feel like Goldilocks eating porridge, proclaiming, “This one is just right.”
Before bellying-up to the bar for another sample, we are shown a flashy commercial about the different ways Jameson is served throughout the world. In Moscow Jameson is popular on the rocks while New Yorkers prefer theirs neat. Londoners drink it with ginger ale, and in Paris Jameson and Coke is a fashionable tipple.
The most popular mixer in Dublin is cranberry juice. Although this seems like and odd combination,
I order my drink this way.
I am pleasantly surprised. The twang of the cranberry works as a delicious foil to the rich sweetness of the whiskey while not covering up its slightly oaky flavor. A squeeze of fresh orange adds a touch of warmth. This simple highball would make a great Thanksgiving or Christmas cocktail.
When I leave the visitors’ center, I feel a slight spring in my step, I am ready for my remaining day of seeing the seeing the sites of Dublin – cloudy or not.
As the weather in Washington begins to turn chilly and darkness comes earlier in the day, I’ll catch myself peeking over to my liquor cabinet and eyeing up my bottle of Jameson I brought home as a souvenir. Just a quick glance, gives me warm and sunny feeling.
Jameson, Dublin Style
I part Jameson
2 parts cranberry
Squeeze of orange or tangerine
Pour Jameson into a highball glass. Add ice and cranberry juice. Squeeze fruit. Stir to mix
Jameson Irish Whiskey may be purchased at Dixie Liquor at 3429 M Street in Georgetown.
The Northern Spy Cocktail
The holiday season is in full swing. Our calendars are quickly filling up with festive parties, from elaborate formal events to cozy family gatherings. For those who plan on hosting their own soiree, I’ve asked my friend Jerry LeNoir, one of the men behind the ultra cool Mr. Booze website, for some entertaining tips.
Mr-Booze.com, which is dedicated to creating the perfect cocktail vibe in your home, features numerous drink recipes, historical anecdotes, music suggestions and a how-to guide for setting up your home bar.
According to Jerry, the key to hosting a successful party is setting the mood and prepping ahead. “Especially during the holidays, guests should feel they’re someplace special the moment they enter the door,” he says. “Sure, it’s just a house or apartment, but with just a bit of decorating and set-up, the music on and ready to go for a couple hours, your guests can feel like they’re having a true night out.”
The Mr. Booze website features Jerry’s top Christmas music picks for 2010. He describes the list, which includes tunes from Dean Martin, Ramsey Lewis and Harry Connick Jr., as, “So covered in silver tinsel and December snow that you’ll have no choice but to try a few, mix a fatty, and drift off to a time when holiday parties were called Christmas parties and candle-lit living rooms overflowed with little black dresses, sport coats, cheese puffs and pipe smoke.”
Hosting a party is hard work, and in order to free up your time to mingle with your guests, Jerry suggests creating a set cocktail menu so you aren’t stuck mixing drinks all night long. Then prepare a batch or two ahead so you’ll have more time to socialize. A punchbowl is also another convenient option.
One of Jerry’s favorite holiday drinks is the Northern Spy, a recipe he found in Imbibe magazine. The cocktail, which consists of Lairds Applejack, apricot brandy and cider with a cinnamon sugar rim, was invented by by Josey Packard, a bartender at Alembic, one of San Francisco’s top creative cocktail bars. Its combination of warm flavors makes it a perfect tipple to serve from Thanksgiving all the way through winter.
“It’s a great looking drink for the holidays.” Jerry says. “It smells wonderful as you take your first sip; the cinnamon, applejack and cider combine in fantastic ways. It tastes just like a Christmas drink should taste: rich, spicy and flavorful. The cinnamon and sugar rim lets the drinker know that the season’s well under way.”
While the story behind the drink’s moniker is unknown, Jerry projects a holiday theme into the name. “It sounds Christmassy, “ He says. “Isn’t Santa himself, when he’s spying on who’s naughty or nice…something of a northern spy?”
So whether you decide to be naughty or nice this year, mix up a merry northern spy and enjoy the party.
The Northern Spy
2 oz Applejack
1 oz Apple Cider
½ oz Lemon Juice
½ oz Apricot Brandy
Rim a cocktail glass with lemon juice then cinnamon sugar. Mix ingredients together with ice in shaker until cold and pour into glass. Garnish with fresh cranberries.
Jerry LeNoir will be one of the presenters at the Museum of the American Cocktail’s third annual Holiday Cocktail Seminar, Dec, 12 at PS-7. For more information visit Mr. Booze.com or The Museum of the American Cocktail
Ingredients to make the Northern Spy may be purchased Dixie Liquor located at 3429 M Street in Georgetown.
7-Up Emerald Punch
When I was a child my mother had a punchbowl that came out on special occasions, usually around the December holiday season. The snowy white centerpiece and matching glasses where formed from Indiana milk glass molded into a leaf pattern. The cups had little red hooks that were used to hang the glasses on the side. The collection was rounded out a ruby red clear plastic ladle.
It was back in the 1970’s, my mom would dress in a polyester pantsuit with flared legs and my dad would wear a plaid sport jacket with wide lapels and an even wider necktie. Mom would make Chex mix from actual cereal and the adults would nibble on deviled eggs, Jell-O salad and Ritz cracker hors d’oeuvres. While the men would stick to beer, the ladies would ladle out brightly-colored drinks with floating garnishes.
If I was well-behaved I would be treated to a small cup of watered-down punch to enjoy before I was sent to bed. It sent me off into a slumber where I dreamed of hosting my own parties as an adult.
When the punchbowl wasn’t in use, I begged to play with it. Unlike most young girls who hosted tea parties with their dolls, I threw lavish cocktail soirees with my eclectic group of plush animals, including an alligator, a blue elephant and a smiling watermelon. (And you thought the bar in the original Star Wars was weird.)
Punchbowls were a popular entertaining vehicle for people in my parents’ generation. But the origin of punch dates back hundreds of years. According to Wayne Curtis’ 2006 book “And a Bottle of Rum,” the English made punch in India as early as 1673. The name punch most likely came for the Hindu word panch, meaning five. Ancient punches were forged from five ingredients traditionally tea, lemon, sugar, water and arrack, an Asian spirit distilled from palm sap.
My mom’s punch recipe came curiously enough from 7-Up. During a recent visit, while sifting through mom’s recipe books, I came across a stained and well-used magazine insert tucked away in a cookbook. The small advertising brochure cheerily entitled “Merry Punch Bowl to You!” featured four punch recipes with photos – each in a distinctive hue – red, green, yellow and orange.
The ad copy was notable dated, proclaiming, “Gay parties just naturally center around a sparkling punchbowl,” and touting 7-Up as the “magic ingredient.”
Like many recipes of that era, the components concentrated on canned and premade ingredients. The 7-Up was measured in 7 oz bottles, a far cry from 20 oz super-sized single serving plastic bottles of today. However the recipes weren’t that different than the original five-ingredient “panch” formula.
Just for fun during the Thanksgiving weekend, my mom and I whipped up a green batch of 7-Up Emerald Punch. We garnished the colorful mixture with pineapple rings, maraschino cherries and mini-marshmallows. We dragged out the punchbowl from storage, decorated the table festively and talked about holiday memories. This time though we left the polyester in the closet and I stayed up to finish the last glass.
7-Up Emerald Punch
1 can (46 oz) sweetened pineapple juice.
4 cans (6 oz) limeade
¼ cup honey
1 bottle gin (1/5 gallon)
12 bottles (7 oz each) 7- Up
Combine pineapple juice and concentrate in punch bowl. Add honey; stir. Add gin; then 7-up. Add a few drops of green food coloring if desired; add ice. Garnish with fruit.
Ingredients to make punch may be purchased at Dixie Liquor, 3429 M Street in Georgetown.
The Puerto Rican Zombie
A swim up bar is not the place a cocktail snob typically goes for a quality drink. Usually this fun resort amenity is associated with mass -produced frozen drinks, made from bottled mixes thrown together in industrial size blenders to satisfy the all-you-can-drink party crowd.
But at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico, this is not the case. This time-honored resort boasts a lengthy cocktail history. It is well known as the birthplace of the Pina Colada. Bartender Ramon “Monchito” Marrer introduced the classic coconut cocktail in 1954, at the hotel’s now-defunct Beachcomber Bar. Joe Scialom, the inventor the classic Tiki drink, the Suffering Bastard, also tended bar at the Caribe Hilton in the 1950s.
Continuing this long legacy of fine mixology is Ariel Rosario, who presides over the resort’s pool bar. Rosario, a rum connoisseur, has created an extensive list of signature cocktails. He’s even improved upon the pina colada, serving it in a hollowed out pineapple, carved into a whimsical sculpture, and fashioned with a smiling pineapple and cherry face.
His creations highlight the distinct flavors of local rums and the abundance of tropical fruit. According to Rosario, many people think of rum as an unsophisticated spirit because of its history with pirates and people making it at home during prohibition. But this is not true, he says. “In 1952 Puerto Rico created laws to govern the rums that are made here.” He points out. “Even the cheapest rum, if it’s made in Puerto Rico, goes through very strict regulations and processes. “
Puerto Rican rums are made from molasses and are aged for at least one year, which makes them a high quality spirit with much complexity according to Rosario.
One of the most popular poolside libations is Rosario’s update on the vintage Zombie cocktail. The original Zombie was invented by Earnest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, the founder of the string of Don the Beachcomber restaurants that were popular during the Tiki era. His recipe consisted of fruit juices, liqueurs, and various rums, and it was named for its perceived effects upon the drinker.
To make his Puerto Rican Zombie cocktail, Rosario uses five types of rum, four from Puerto Rico, as well as orange, pineapple, and guava and lime juices. “It has a lot of power and a lot of flavor,” he says.
The beauty of Rosario’s concoction is that, despite its lengthy list of ingredients, the drinker can still detect the distinctive flavors of the various rums. “Each rum has unique flavor because of the way it is made,” he says. “So if you mix different types of rum, you will have a blend of tastes. You will notice the difference in a way you can’t achieve with other spirits.”
At Rosario’s suggestion, I try the drink first from the straw for a hit of flavor from the bottom and then sip it from the rim. Each way, I notice the subtleties. The top is lighter and fruitier while the swig from the bottom has a deep warm rum twang. I can pick out a syrupy caramel hint from the Meyers, a rich vanilla tone from the Barillito, the punch from the Bacardi 151, and the pleasant mixture of fruity tastes from the infused rums and tropical juices.
While the drink doesn’t necessarily taste “strong,” I stop after one, not wanting to float away from my barstool.
The Puerto Rican Zombie
½ oz Meyers Dark Rum
½ oz Rum del Barillito
½ oz Don Q Limon
½ oz Bacardi Peach Red
½ oz. Bacardi 151
1 oz pineapple juice
1 oz orange juice
½ oz guava juice
½ oz lime juice
Splash of grenadine
Combine ingredients and mix well in a cocktail shaker. Serve in tall glass over ice. Garnish with fresh fruit.
Ingredients to make the Puerto Rican Zombie may be purchased at Dixie Liquor at 3429 M Street in Georgetown.
As a new year begins, many Washingtonians are still recovering from a holiday hangover. We make resolutions to diet following a season of rich foods. We give ourselves financial restrictions when our December credit card bills arrive, and we vow to cut back on drinking after indulging during too many holiday soirees.
But the lucky folks who attended the Museum of the American Cocktail’s (MOTAC) holiday seminar are looking forward to enjoying a stretch of delightful winter cocktails.
The event, held at PS7 in Chinatown, featured numerous cocktails guaranteed to warm up the long, cold season ahead. Guests were treated to potables mixed by PS7’s Gina Chersevani, Mr-Booze-com’s Jerry Lenoir and the MOTAC founding member Phil Greene.
Derek Brown, of the Columbia Room, which was named by GQ magazine as one of the 25 Best Cocktail Bars in America, started the party with his recipe for glogg, a Scandinavian mulled wine.
Mulled wine, popular in Europe, is made from usually red wine infused with spices and fruit flavors and served warm. It is a traditional drink during winter, especially around Christmas.
Derek first tried glogg during a December visit to Demark where he was invited to a traditional Danish Christmas lunch. While a midday meal may sound harmless, Derek said these gatherings can turn into marathon drinking events, lasting over 10 hours. “They start out with glogg,” he says, “followed by Aquavit (a traditional Danish liqueur, flavored with caraway), Tuborg beer, then back to Aquavit and so on.”
Impressed with the flavorful mulled wine he was served, Derek asked for the recipe from the 96-year-old lady who made the glogg. She declined his request, telling him it was a family secret. But after about seven shots of Aquavit, Derek said she was willing to share the classified information. He extracted the recipe from her with the help of an interpreter.
While Derek’s recipe is simple to prepare, it does take time. After completing all the steps he recommends storing the mixture in the refrigerator overnight, before reheating it the next day. The flavors will continue to infuse and it will give the glogg a fuller flavor.
In addition to wine and spices, Derek adds aquavit to his glogg to give it a rich spicy flavor. If you prefer, you may also add plain vodka for a less herbaceous version or omit the additional liquor for a drink with a lower alcoholic content.
One immediate difference I notice in Derek’s Danish glogg, compared to other mulled wines I’ve tried, is the inclusion of raisins and almonds in the bottom of the glass. These gems provided a delectable finish.
“Have a beautiful, warm mulled wine with raisins and almonds that have been soaked in alcohol,” Derek says. “ If you aren’t warm after you have your first glass, you will be by the time you eat the raisins and almonds.”
1 1/2 bottles of full-bodied red wine (Derek used a nice, inexpensive Tempranillo)
1 cup Aquavit
1 tsp. crushed cardamom seeds
2 tsp. cloves
½ tsp. freshly grated ginger
2 tsp. freshly grated orange zest
4 cinnamon sticks
1 cup almonds – blanched
1 cup seedless raisins
1/2 cup brown sugar
Bring wine to boil. Tie spices and zest in to a cheesecloth bag. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add in almonds, sugar and raisins; cook for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add in Aquavit. Stir and remove spices. Serve hot.
Ingredients to make glogg may be purchased at Dixie Liquor, located at 3429 M Street in Georgetown. For more information about upcoming events visit: MuseumOfTheAmericanCocktail.org or Better-Drinking.com
A Window Into Wine
For any industry to thrive, there must be infrastructure in place to support its maintenance and development. In the case of East Coast wine, an increasing number of educational outlets, quality control organizations, and winemakers’ consortiums are all valuable resources helping to bolster this quickly growing industry. There are many kinks to work out, however, if states like Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania hope to achieve as established a wine reputation as their West Coast counterparts.
Laws surrounding the production and sale of alcohol vary sometimes from county to county, and their complexities often prevent smaller start-up wineries from being able expand.
Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board is particularly archaic in its policies towards independent winery owners, often hampering the efforts of the ideal small business entrepreneur in a bourgeoning industry poised to bring revenue, employment, and tourism to a state in economic downturn. If anyone is wondering why people keep drinking California wines, I might point out a bill recently passed there setting aside $53 million dollars to further promote wineries, despite the state’s virtual bankruptcy. Although this sum seems a bit excessive, it is an example of how other American wine regions have benefited from the support of state institutions.
In Virginia, however, legislators have steadily begun to reform various agricultural and beverage control regulations to be more conducive to the wine industry. Simultaneously, Virginia Tech is on the brink of extending its viticultural degree to include an online program, making a quality wine education available to many more potential winemakers. In addition, Virginia’s wineries continue to find new ways to work together to evaluate and improve the quality of their products.
Virginia is now organized into six official AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas), a notable move towards industry coordination and quality control. This system of “appellations” is taken for granted in Europe, where strict regulations often dictate which varietals may be planted and how they are to be grown. There is much more freedom in the “New World,” but by grouping together certain areas with similar soil, elevation, climate, etc.— terroir, as they say in French—wineries can more effectively work together to develop the common characteristics that make their product stand out.
The majority of vines grown in Virginia are made up the world’s most popular grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay. In the past few years, however, some producers have built their reputation around varietals that they believe will set their region apart. In the Monticello AVA, for example, Barboursville Vineyards is thinking outside of the box. Set on the grounds of the beautiful Barbour Estate designed by Thomas Jefferson, Barboursville has planted Italian grapes such as Barbera and Nebbiolo, originally from the noble Piedmont region of Italy.
Though maybe not as deeply complex as some of the Italian versions, the relatively young Virginia vines result in well made, balanced, and elegant wines. Most importantly, they push forward the frontier, employing the kind of experimentation that leads to revolutionary discoveries. Also make sure not to miss their delectable Malvaxia dessert wine.
While Charlottesville has the hotter growing season mimicking that of Italy or Bordeaux, the gentle hills of Northern Virginia are cranking out some spectacular vintages of grapes that can benefit from its cooler climate and continental breeze, such as Viognier and Cabernet Franc. I was impressed with the soft fruit and spicy finish of Breaux Vineyards’ 2006 “Lafayette” Cabernet Franc, as well as the well-structured 2009 vintage from year-old Paradise Springs Winery, currently building a new tasting room and winery facility in Clifton.
Surprisingly successful in multiple regions, Virginia’s Petit Verdot has been gaining notice from many national critics. Petit Verdot is poised to be to Virginia what Malbec is to Argentina. Both Petit Verdot and Malbec were originially used only for blending in the “Old World,” but have taken to their respective soils to produce some impressive and complex single-varietal wines. With common traits often more subtle and earthy than the bold fruit and classic flavors of other East Coast reds, Petit Verdot may be an acquired taste for some wine drinkers; but as wine and food culture continue to blossom in the Mid-Atlantic metropolitan areas, customers continue to expand their palates with a wider range of varietals, cultivating an appreciation for the vastness of style.
As more wineries continue to pop up throughout Virginia, it will be a challenge to maintain the quality reputation and cohesive marketing necessary to continue to advance in the global market. However, with open forums of communication within the business, and a little extra effort in funding and support from local customers and government institutions, the perception of Virginia wine will be no different from any other respected region in the world.
Sip of the Day
Pollack Vineyards 2008 Petit Verdot
This wine is full of soft black fruits and rich earthy notes of bramble and spice. While some Petit Verdots ere on the side of harshness, Pollack’s effort displays soft tannins and a smooth finish as a result of careful handling and minimal barrel aging in 100% French oak. Let it aerate a bit before drinking and pair with a flavorful red meat such as leg of lamb.
Caroline Jackson is the Assistant Winemaker at Blair Vineyards in Eastern Pennsylvania. She has a degree in English and a background in wine retail. Visit her blog, Sips and Sounds, which pairs daily music selections with a wine or craft beer.
A Window Into Wine: We’re Just Getting Started
Winemaking is one of the fastest-growing agricultural industries in the Mid-Atlantic area. Due to the rapid mutual progression of viticultural expertise and the knowledge and interest from the regional consumer in food and wine culture, it seems like new wineries are popping up everyday.
Just in case you were thinking about quitting your salaried day job and following your passion for Pinot to join the ranks of budding winemakers, I’d like to address a few of the many decisions and risks one must face when embarking upon such a venture. Winemaking is not for the faint of heart; it takes a unique balance of unflagging diligence and zen-like patience, not to mention a shockingly large sum of capital.
As any winemaker will tell you, it all starts in the vineyard. It is an oft-quoted adage that one can easily make bad wine out of good grapes, but great wine cannot be made without exceptional fruit. There are many horticultural nuances that contribute to a well tended versus poor quality vineyard, but the first principal of viticultural potential is that of site selection. Although wineries may grow their own estate vines or buy grapes from several different vineyards, it is up to the winemaker to find sites with the best climatic and topographical characteristics possible for the chosen variety of grape.
The most influential factors are soil composition and drainage, length of growing season, and elevation and slope of the plot. Here on the East Coast, we cannot hope to emulate the hot, dry California summers, so it is essential that a vineyard has ample water drainage and maximum sun exposure. This means careful scouting and analysis before deciding where to grow or buy grapes.
With a source of fruit procured, the beginner winemaker is just getting started. Once the grapes get to the cellar, many parts of the process require highly specified and expensive equipment. When starting a new winery, it can be tricky to decide how ambitiously to plan; it takes a few years of vine growth to achieve full yields and therefore to know exactly how much wine you’ll be producing. This will then determine the number of tanks and barrels, the size of the grape press, the type of bottling set-up, and the sheer amount of man power and accessories needed.
For example, the winery I work for in Pennsylvania used a 1.5-ton capacity press in the rainy 2009 vintage for about 27 tons of grapes; the next year, we were certainly glad we had upgraded to a four-ton press when a healthy harvest yielded over 60 tons. The doubled production also necessitated about 50 new barrels. Some wineries on a budget may opt for alternatives such as oak chips, but a vinicultural purist sticking to barrel aging must then decide between the less expensive but often more aggressive American Oak or spending up to $1,000 each for what many deem the more elegant effects of French Oak barrels.
Another tricky issue for any fermented product is that of temperature maintenance. Most yeasts require an environment over 60 degrees to get started; then individual tanks may need to be cooled down once fermentation gets rolling. In addition, barrels may need to stay at moderate temperatures to go through secondary malolactic fermentation, while wine in stainless steel holding tanks should be kept cooler. This can prove to be quite a challenge without well designed architecture and complex cooling and heating systems.
Aside from choosing material resources, there are thousands of other small decisions that determine the outcome of the wine — how long to age, how often to rack, how fine to filter, etc. — and most will depend on the winemaker’s philosophy and stylistic goals. Do you have a winery that makes a wide range of styles and varietals, or a more boutique operation that focuses its energy on only one or two grapes? Is your goal to make a solid product that most people can afford and enjoy, or will your line-up consist of highly refined wines in smaller production at inevitably higher prices?
A winery’s overarching mission statement will also determine the set-up of the tasting room and the kind of customer experience it will attempt to provide. Are events at the winery mostly upscale dinners with some quiet jazz for ambience, or do you regularly see a bluegrass band on the lawn with some casual catering? It is imperative for any business to determine the personality it hopes to exude to the consumer, but it is especially important in an industry where the competition is growing at such a rapid rate.
As we’ve seen on the West Coast, it is possible for multiple wineries in a small radius to all flourish concurrently if each is able to target a niche in the market and then work together with their counterparts to provide a diversified experience within the common vein of shared terroir and regionalism. Similarly in the past few years, we have seen the success of the Eastern wine industry increase with the number of wineries – a good sign on the path to becoming the world’s next wine destination.
Sip of Day
Paradise Springs Viognier
13.2 % Alc, $25
Paradise Springs is a brand new winery in the beautiful town of Clifton, VA. With two vintages under their belt and a new tasting room under construction, they seem to be taking all the necessary steps to increase in both quality and sales potential. This Viognier is surprisingly smooth and balanced, with notes of ripe white fruit on the front of the palate that provides body and richness without the residual sugar.
The Barrachina Piña Colada
The Caribe Hilton is one of the most well established resorts in all of Puerto Rico. The hotel is set on the edge of San Juan on its own peninsula amid a lush tropical garden and private beach. It rose to prominence in the 1950s for its famous guests, including Gloria Swanson, Elizabeth Taylor and John Wayne. It even garnered a mention in Hunter S Thompson’s first novel, “The Rum Diaries.”
The holiday spot has also earned its spot in cocktail history as the birthplace of the piña colada. Before my visit to San Juan, I learned from my Frommer’s guidebook that the piña colada was created in 1954 by bartender Ramon “Monchito” Marrero at the Hilton’s Beachcomber bar. Marrero spent three months mixing, tasting and discarding hundreds of combinations until he felt he had the right blend. It’s been estimated that some 100 million piña coladas have been sipped around the world since then.
The resort boasts two watering holes — a casual outdoor grill with a swim-up bar and the sleek and stylish Oasis Bar, complete with a floor-to-ceiling glass view of the churning Atlantic sea. However, I thought the most fitting way to sample the piña colada would be to have one delivered by a handsome cabana boy on my beach chair at the Hilton’s exclusive lagoon.
The drink was frothy and sweet. It provided an ample antidote to the scorching Caribbean sun. For a girl who is accustomed to drinking martinis, the recipe was did not pack much of a punch, but its flavor was enhanced by the glamorous beauty surrounding me.
Later in the week, as I wandered through the streets of Old San Juan, I came across the Barrachina restaurant with a plaque mounted outside, boldly stating “The House where the Piña Colada was created in 1963.” Intrigued, I headed inside to a bar in the garden courtyard and ordered one.
According to the Barrachina, the piña colada was invented when the Barrachino’s owner met Spaniard Ramon Portas Mingot, who had worked in some of the finest bars in Buenos Aires, during a trip to South America. Mr. Barrachina hired Mingot as head bartender. While experimenting, Mingot mixed pineapple juice, coconut cream, condensed milk and ice in a blender, creating the drink known as the pina colada. I guess they’re always two sides to history.
The drink at Barrachina was thicker and creamier. The lovely courtyard lined with tropical plants and wrought iron exuded a graceful ambiance that fit in with the charm of Old San Juan. Barrachina’s cocktail had more of a rum kick and the price was bit easier on my wallet. Given a choice between the two, I preferred Barrachina’s version. Still, there’s something to be said for having your cocktails delivered by a suave young man on a private beach.
The Barrachina piña colada
48 ounces pineapple juice
15 ounces of coconut cream
10 ounces water
Blend ingredients, but do not mix with ice. Instead, freeze the mix, stirring occasionally until it reaches a slushy consistency, or by using an ice cream maker. Pour rum to taste in individual glasses and add frozen mix. Decorate with cherry and pineapple.
Ingredients to make a piña colada can be purchased at Dixie Liquor at 3429 M St. in Georgetown.
Stirred, Not Shaken
The steak and martini is a classic food and cocktail pairing. It’s something your grandfather would have ordered at an old boy’s club steakhouse, and it’s something you would feel comfortable ordering today with a cut of Japanese wagyu beef.
So it was no surprise that the martini and its various incarnations were highlighted during a recent mixology seminar at Georgetown’s Bourbon Steak restaurant. Bourbon Steak’s bartender Duane Sylvestre taught the class, in which guests received a primer on basic bar techniques, an overview of various spirits and the history behind many cocktails.
The martini, according to Sylvestre, is one of the most misunderstood cocktails. The classic martini consists of gin and dry vermouth, stirred and served with either olives or a lemon twist. But over the years, the drink has transformed into different things.
The vodka martini, in particular, has evolved from its original form. While a traditional vodka martini should be made with vermouth, Sylvestre says that most vodka drinkers prefer theirs without. However, many people mistakenly order an extra dry vodka martini, believing that the term means “no vermouth,” when it actually means the opposite.
A “dry” martini refers to the addition of dry vermouth. This term came into play years ago as a way to distinguish the martini from its forerunner, the Martinez, which was a gin and sweet vermouth mixture. Therefore, the term “dry” came to mean dry vermouth and extra dry came to signify extra vermouth.
Even though James Bond has dictated the martinis should be shaken, not stirred, Sylvestre is a stickler for stirring. His rule is that any cocktails containing only alcoholic ingredients, such as gin and vermouth, should always be stirred, while drinks that include non-alcoholic mixers should be shaken.
However, he makes an exception with vodka martinis. “Most vodka drinkers want their vodka cold and served straight up,” he says so he lets the market dictate how the drink is prepared.
After making a vodka martini for the crowd, Duane mixed a classic gin martini with a twist using Plymouth gin, which he calls a mild and agreeable gin. “It’s going to add complexity, depth and character,” he said, “without the gin taking over the cocktail.”
The choice of garnish — either an olive or lemon twist — is a simple matter of taste, unless you are ordering a dirty martini, which includes olive juice.
Duane taught the class how to make a lemon garnish by using a vegetable peeler. After cutting the peel from the fruit, he stretched the skin around the rim of the glass in order to extract the citrus oils before dropping it into the martini.
When I got a chance to sample the finished tipple I could see the citrus oils floating in the drink. The added hint of lemon provided a refreshing twang combined with the gin and vermouth. The timeless classic was an ideal balance of bitter, citrus, dry and sweet.
2 ounces Plymouth gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
Stir well. Serve in a martini glass. Garnish with lemon peel or olives.
Readers may sample the martini at Bourbon Steak restaurant, located in the Four Seasons Hotel at 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. Ingredients to make the martini may be purchased at Dixie Liquor, 3429 M St.
The Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail
The Museum of the American Cocktail (MOTAC), along with Mr-Booze.com and Giramondo Wines Adventures, recently sponsored a “Cocktail Class for Beginners” at the Embassy Hilton in Washington. The event, hosted by MOTAC founding member Phil Greene, started off with a lecture about the history of cocktails.
According to MOTAC, the word cocktail was first defined in 1806 in the Balance and Columbian Repository, a newspaper in upstate New York. The word cocktail was used in reference to an article about a recent election.
At that time, politicians on the campaign trail would spend lots of money on alcohol, essentially buying votes by having a really good party. The newspaper published a tongue-in-cheek article about how much a particular candidate spent, even though he lost. This was the first recorded use of the word “cocktail,” and after this article was published, the editor felt compelled to define the word as
“A stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters, it is vulgarly called a bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion inasmuch as it renders the heart stout at the same time fuddles the head. It is said also to be of great use to a democratic candidate because a person having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow anything else.”
For decades later, a cocktail was just that — a spirit and bitters diluted with water and sugar to take the edge off. This simple recipe may sound familiar to anyone who has enjoyed the cocktail known as the Old Fashioned.
Originally, the name “Old Fashioned” referred to any old–fashioned style cocktail such as a martini or Manhattan. Some people believe that Colonel James E. Pepper, a bourbon distiller and bartender at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, KY, created the Old Fashioned cocktail. What is more likely, according to Greene, was that the term “Old Fashioned” was applied to the drink known as a “Whiskey Cocktail.”
Next, Greene demonstrated the ease of making this primitive cocktail, which follows the same definition published in 1806 — liquor, sugar, water and Angostura bitters. While Phil used a muddler to ensure the sugar was fully dissolved, he also suggested substituting simple syrup. For an added flavor boost, Phil squeezed a lemon peel over the mixed drink, releasing its essential oils, before dropping it in as a garnish. He also noted that nowadays bartenders will sometimes muddle an orange slice or other fruit into the mixture.
While many modern drinkers may see this potable as downright “old-fashioned,” perhaps this granddaddy of cocktails deserves a second look. Its rudimentary formula has served as a building block for numerous contemporary drinks. The Old Fashioned’s straightforward composition and uncomplicated taste make it a refreshing alternative to many of the overly sweet and convoluted concoctions we see on so many restaurant menus today.
The Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail
1 sugar cube (1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon water
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 ounces rye (or bourbon) whiskey
Muddle sugar, water and bitters together until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Fill glass with ice, then add whiskey. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.
For more information about upcoming seminars go to www.museumoftheamericancocktail.com or www.mr-booze.com. Ingredients to make the Old Fashioned cocktail may be purchased at Dixie Liquor at 3429 M Street in Georgetown.