Monthly Archives: February 2010

Widow’s Kiss

My favorite thing about this cocktail is that it makes inexpensive Calvados taste like a million bucks.  Calvados is an apple brandy with its own appellation in France, just like Cognac or Armagnac.  We can get into the specifics of Calvados at a later date, but for now I’ll say it’s my favorite thing made from apples and it does wonders for re-awakening your appetite.

Yellow Chartreuse, Calvados, Benedictine and bitters. Mmm, mmm good.

If the name didn’t give it away, this is one of Ted Haigh’s forgotten cocktails. 

1-1/2 oz Calvados, 3/4 oz Benedictine, 3/4 oz Yellow Chartreuse, 2 dashes Angostura bitters. Combine all ingredients over ice, shake, strain into a chilled glass and garnish with a cherry.

The yellow (versus green) Chartreuse is an important distinction in this cocktail, because the yellow is more mild and has a touch more sweetness.    The Benedictine, in addition to the Chartreuse, adds just the right amount of herbaceousness.  The apple notes of the Calvados, though, are what come out on top here – clean, crisp; like you’re up a ladder picking your own apples in an orchard. 

The finish of this drink seems to last forever – eerily so.  Maybe that’s where the name comes from.

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Sour grapes

The beginning of the grape ripening process is referred to as veraison and in the northern hemisphere, it happens in the summer. 

Red grapes undergoing veraison.

The term comes from the French véraison and it is the time in the vine cycle when the vine’s energies are shifted from growing the berries in size to developing their sweetness and ripe fruit flavor.  Before this process, the grapes’ color is dictated by cholorphyll.  Depending on the variety, anthocyanins will make some berries red-black and carotenoids will make others yellow-green.

Prior to this period of time, the grapes are referred to as green berries and wouldn’t be recognizable to most folks.  They’re hard, starchy, acidic and about half of their final size.   

Alien berries!

Most people wait to harvest their grapes until they are fully ripe.  I came across a video, however, that shows how harvesting some of the grapes early can naturally promote acidity in wine (as opposed to adding tartaric acid later on in the winemaking process).  The clip features my friends Tracey and Jared of A Donkey and Goat Winery, based in Berkeley, CA. 

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Sour grapes“, posted with vodpod


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I want a drinkbot

In the article Just Like Mombot Used to Make in today’s Times, robots are delivering snacks, whipping up omelets, preparing octopus balls and making up to 800 bowls of ramen per day (with human staff reporting to them). 

I couldn’t help but think that while a snackbot is nice, a drinkbot would be nicer.  Unsurprisingly, other thirsty spirits out there share my sentiment.  By the time I got to page 2 of the article, I learned about the group, Roboexotica, who hosts festivals where scientists showcase “cocktail robots” as well as “beerbots”, some of whom will not only mix, serve and consume cocktails, but they might also tell jokes and smoke cigarettes. 

Just for fun, I went to You Tube to see what would pop up with a “drinkbot” search.  No clip on robots is complete without the statement, “Does not compute”.

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C is for cap

The cap (chapeau in French) is the layer of grape solids that forms on the surface during red wine fermentation. 

Grape solids forming on the top of fermenting Mourvedre at A Donkey and Goat Winery in CA.

Fermenting Mourvedre at A Donkey and Goat winery in CA.

I got to sample a grape and it was like eating pop rocks, because of the CO2 forming as a by-product of fermentation.  The cap limits the oxygen available to the yeast, encouraging them to eat away at the grape sugar to form alcohol.  

The cap must be broken up and mixed back in with the liquid below, however, in order to extract the phenolics, which add color, flavor and longevity to the wine.  Phenolics can be found throughout the grape, but are particularly rich in the skins, seeds and stems (the solids!).  On a smaller production scale, the winemaker will “punch down” the cap several times per day.

Jared showing off his stainless punch down tool.

The punch down tool breaking through the cap. Notice the bubbles. Jared told me the cap would support his weight and he's not a little guy (he volunteered that information, too).

On a larger production scale, the winery will “pump over” the cap.

A pump doing its thing at Miner Family in CA.

We recently had an illustration created to use in our classes to explain how pumping over works.  Thanks, Laurel.

Flushing the liquid back over the cap to break it up, using a pump. My favorite part of this illustration is the female winemaker.


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I was recently introduced to  It’s been around since 2005, so I’m a little slow on the draw on this one.

You gotta love a guy who refers to himself as a spiritual advisor.  You’ll find reviews of everything from bar tools to Welsh whisky.  The “adventures” section has great photographs of Carlsson’s booze-themed travels and events.  He also seems to dig the Finger Lakes Distilling products, which is fine by me.

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Reinheitsgebot in Vietnam

Beer for sixteen cents a pint?  Crystal Ale draft, a top-fermented beer made with passion fruit and the local, litchi-like rambutan?  Restaurants serving German and Vietnamese fare side by side?  Yes, please!

Follow thirsty Russ Juskalian on his fantastic journey through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City in this great article in this weekend’s Times.

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One week from today

Come taste Finger Lakes Distilling products with me at Morrell & Company! 

I’ll be at One Rockefeller Plaza (on 49th between 5th and 6th) from 4-6:30 pm on Friday 2/26, so you can get your weekend started early.  Morrell sells the Seneca Drums Gin, the Glen Thunder corn whiskey and the McKenzie rye, but if you ask nicely, I might have a few other surprises in my bag. 

Hope to see you there!

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Well-suited pair

We hosted a team building event at school last night for the Klingenstein Center, part of Columbia University’s Teachers College.  The group made a 3 course meal and then sat down together to enjoy the fruits of their labor. 

I was not excited about the prospect of selecting a wine when I learned the first course was asparagus soup.

Asparagus, along with artichokes, eggs, garlic, cumin, chocolate and several other tasty things, can be tricky to pair with wine.  Certain chemicals in the asparagus can make your wine taste grassy, vegetal, tinny or just plain gross. 

When I saw the finished product, though, I knew I had to come up with something.

Asparagus soup garnished with a chicken lollipop, wild mushrooms and creme fraiche. It was too pretty to go wine-less.

The general rules when selecting a wine to match these dreaded spears are as follows: go with something crisp and refreshing (think Albariño or Pinot Grigio), try a sparkling wine (don’t go too yeasty here, maybe Cava), opt for an aromatic varietal (Grüner Veltliner is a good choice), and avoid tannic or oaky wines.  Ignoring all this, I chose a Chardonnay.

Specifically, I selected the 2006 Kumeu River Village Chardonnay.  Now to be fair, this is a wine from New Zealand, with notes of ripe peaches, flinty minerals and a distinct nuttiness, as opposed to an oak bomb that you might find from California.  While some of this wine (1/3) saw some oak, most was aged in stainless steel. 

The nuttiness was a perfect match to the earthiness in the asparagus and the mushrooms.  The ripe fruit notes worked really well with the sweet chicken.  The acidity worked perfectly, too, thanks to the addition of the crème fraiche. 

Sometimes it pays off when you don’t follow the rules.

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B is for Baco 22A

Most of the wine we drink is made from grapes from the Vitis Vinifera species.  Vitis is the genus for many vine plants and vinifera comes from the Latin “to bear or carry wine”.  This species started out in what is now Iran and made its way out of the Middle East and into the Mediterranean.  From there, the Greeks spread the vines to North Africa and southern Italy.  The Romans then brought them along as they began occupying the western part of Europe, as early as the 1st century B.C.

Simultaneously, North America had land under vine, but the vines were all non-vinifera species, with fun names like Vitis labrusca, Vitis riparia and Vitis aestivalis (there are 15+ total).  When phylloxera (insect/epidemic that kills grapevines) struck Europe, they didn’t want to plant our vines, but they were interested in our phylloxera-resistant rootstock.  The solution was grafting the more desirable vinifera vines onto the  hardier American species. 

Grafted Riesling vine. Grafting is done by cutting a cane (stem of a mature grapevine) of the desired variety in a way that it will fit into a matching cut made in the selected rootstock (think of a puzzle piece).

Grafting took many years to perfect, but it was just the beginning of experiments done by botanists.  By the late 1800s scientists were cross-pollinating different vine varieties and families.  French-American hybrids were born of these experiments.  The idea was to combine the winter-hardiness and phylloxera resistance of the American vines with the fruit and flavor of the French vines.  We’re still developing these varietals, particularly at the Cornell Viticultural Research Station in Geneva, New York. 

At one time hybrids accounted for several million acres of vineyards in France.  This is no longer the case, though hybrids can still be found in the eastern U.S. and Canada, and South America.  Interestingly, one hybrid has survived in France; Baco 22A.  Sometimes called Baco Blanc, it is a crossing of Folle Blance (acidic, French white, ravaged by phylloxera) and Noah (hardy American hybrid developed in the 1860s in Illinois), and was created by François Baco in 1898.  Until the late 1970s, Baco 22A was the primary ingredient in Armagnac.

Ugni Blanc now plays a bigger role than Baco22A, as French authorities try to rid their vineyards of hybrids.

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Pink Gin

Yup, only 2 ingredients in this cocktail.

This is not a cutesy drink in honor of Valentine’s Day weekend.

After sampling this cocktail, it made perfect sense that it had been created by the British Royal Navy.  Some say they were trying to find a way to make Angostura bitters more pleasant to drink, since the bitters had been shown to ease seasickness.  My guess is that someone on a boat in the middle of the ocean wouldn’t argue much when it came time to receive his booze ration.  Regardless, the Navy brought the idea to bars in Britain and it stuck.

I’ve seen several variations of this cocktail; some are 1 part gin to 1 part bitters, some are topped off with iced water or tonic, some suggest a lemon peel garnish.  If a bartender asks you if you’d like it “in or out”, the “it” (you dirty bird) is the bitters – picture swirling vermouth in your glass before dumping it out while making a martini.

I used the recipe from Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails:

3 oz. Plymouth Gin
6 dashes Angostura bitters
Shake with ice and strain.  No garnish.

I happen to like both gin and bitters, yet I bet some of you are cringing upon reading this recipe.  Something pretty special happens when you mix these two, though, and I suggest you give it a shot.

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