Monday, October 15, 2012

Boston Cocktail Summit Weekend, Part V: Amari and More

My Saturday afternoon at the Boston Cocktail Summit started with the session Do You Speak Amari?, with the energetic Francesco Lafronconi, National Directory of Mixology and Spirits Educator for Southern Wine and Spirits of America, and an internationally renowned mixologist.  Francesco took us through the wide world of Italian Amari, providing a bit of background and history, and a LOT of tastings.

The word "amaro" (plural "amari") is of course Italian for "bitter."  According to Francesco, the term itself is generic with no particular legal definition.  "Amaro" generally refers to a liquer flavored with bitter herbs and spices and sweetened with sugar.  Amari are general around, or slightly over, 30 proof, and have less than 10% sugar content.  The based spirit used to make amari is often distilled sugar beet molasses (due to it being inexpensive), but neutral grape brandy or, less commonly, wheat grain alcohol might also be used.

Amari originate from the use of bitter herbs for medicinal purposes as far back as Hippocrates in the 5th Century B.C.  The amaro industry came up in the 1800s, however, spurred on in part by industrialization and Italian unification.  The 1950s brought a boom in amaro advertisement in Europe, which helped make them a ubiquitous part of Italian drinking culture.

Amari are often served before dinner as an aperitivo, or after dinner to help digestion.  This stems from the fact that amari are said to have the therapeutic effects of stimulating the upper digestive function and causing gastric secretion that, within about 20 minutes of consumption, stimulates the appetite (Franceso also mentioned, rather amusingly, that drinking amari helps combat flatulence, making them excellent drinks for distribution in air travel).  Amari are traditionally served straight up or on the rocks, or even with seltzer, giner ale, ginger beer, or cola.  Often, a citrus garnish is added.  In cocktails, amari are usually a modifier, often paired with citrus in sours, used as a float, or even added to ice cream to create a tasty frappe.

After giving us our background, Franceso led us through a tasting of 15 amari, providing details and tasting notes on each.  Here are a few notes I took:
  • Both Zucca and Cynar are sometimes consumed by adding a splash to wine.
  • My favorite amaro today for the moment is probably Cardomaro, possibly due to my affinity for Piemontese wines.
  • Amaro Nonino is popular with ginger beer or champagne.
  • Amaro Dell'Erboista is reputed to be the most bitter of all amari.

Francesco leading us through a tasting

The spread of available amari

Our tasting layout

After filling up on amari, I headed back over to the Park Plaza for How to Order a Great Wine Every Time, with Master of Wine Sandy Block.  Sandy took us through a tasting of 10 different wines, offering tips on how to pick a winner when facing an unfamiliar list.  Some of his tips included:

  • Look for wine on the list from a rising area, which currently include Spain, Portugal, Greece, and South Africa.
  • Avoid simply asking for a recommendation or what the server likes.  For one thing, palates are very different when it comes to mind, but also, a servers motives might be skewed by the fact that they have certain items they are incented to promote.  Instead, ask for information about specific wines or about the difference between wines on the list.
  • Look for older vintages on the wine by the glass list, as they often imply a more deliberate choice.)
One type of wine I had not had before that I enjoyed in particular was the South African Chenin Blanc.  This type of wine is available in both sweet and dry variations (the one we had was a dry).

After adding wine to my tasting repetoire for the day, I jumped back to the Royal Sonesta and sat in on a seminar that hit on something similar but different, the session When Apples Go Cooler than Cool; Fresh New Ideas from the North.  So what was this all about?  In short, apple ice wine (aka ice cider), a relatively new kind of product from Canada.  Boisset Family Estates Stephane Rochefor briefed us on Boisset's product Neige Apple Ice Wine, a tasty dessert wine with a nice sweet apple taste balanced with acidity.

Neige, which was first produced in 1994, was the first commercial apple ice wine.  It is produced in a similar fashion to traditional ice wine using either the technique of cryoconcentration, where pressed apple juice is kept outside in freezing winter temperatures producing a concentrated syrup that is then fermented, or cryoextraction, where actual frozen apples are pressed and fermented.  Prior to Neige, people had been making ice ciders non-commercially for a few decades, but because the quality was not very high, they had gained somewhat of a bad reputation. 

There are six different versions of Neige ice ciders (as they are called in Canada), three of which are available in the U.S.  The different versions use different blends of apples, and some use cryoextraction rather than cryoconcentration.  Neige was an interesting product, and one of the surprise dicsoveries for me from the Summit.  I'm looking forward to trying some Neige with an appropriate cheese or after dinner; I think it has potential.

To wrap up the Summit, I swung by the Beam BBQ for a while, where there was a bith of BBQ, some Beam products to sample, and eventually a Prince tribute band.  The event suffered some logistical issues from all appearances, and I was a little disappointed with the selection of Beam offerings that were actually available, but to be honest I was pretty taped out at that point anyway.  Consequently, I called it a bit of an early night, and began resting up for next year.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Boston Cocktail Summit Weekend, Part IV: Sweet and Bitter

Friday night yielded a rough time getting out of bed on Saturday, but I rallied and made it in time for the Sweet and Bitter seminar at the Park Plaza.  I'm very glad I did because this session proved to be one of my overall favorites of the Boston Cocktail Summit.  The masters of ceremonies and mixologists for the session were the lovely Kitty Amann, Brand Ambassador for Fernet Branca and Infinium Spirits, and the handsome (I don't want him to feel left out) Martin Duffy, National Brand Ambassador for Bénédictine D.O.M.  The session had three speakers, who talked about the human perception of sweet and bitter tastes, and the effect of these tastes on human biology.  First up was Don Katz, professor of Neuroscience and Chemosensation, followed by chemist and founder of Opus Affair, Graham Wright, and nutritionist Kendra Strasburg.

Don first talked about our perceptions of taste, noting that taste is actually processed as a mixture of all senses, and not just what we taste using the taste buds of our tongue.  People's affinity for carbonated beverages, for example is partially a reaction to touch as the bubbles tickle our tongue.  He next discussed our evolutionary reactions to sweet and bitter, namely that sweet tastes in nature tend to indicate calories, which of course our bodies would need and be inclined towards, while bitter tastes are also the tastes produced by many poisonous things in nature.  A study showed this proclivity might hold true even when mixing sweet and bitter.  When a sweet flavor was added to a bitter flavor, subjects found the perceived amount of bitter greatly diminished.  When bitter was added to sweet, the sweet also diminished, but not to the same degree.

Graham talked about different perceptions of "pure" flavors, as opposed to mixed, noting that pure bitter/sweet flavors have a stronger initial response, but combined flavors have a longer duration of perception.  Regarding people's individual sensitivity, approximately 50% of people are sensitive to bitter taste, 25% or "super tasters" with exceptional sensitivity, and 25% are non-tasters with little or no perception (we all got to be tested using a strip of paper with a bitter solution placed on the tongue - I fell in the average sensitivity camp).  People's sensitivity, while genetically influenced, also appears to result from adaptation, aging, and experience.  Apparently in peoples with predominantly vegetable diets, 98% show sensitivity.

Next, Don and Graham took us through the nitty gritty of out taste buds and the reactions that go on when we taste sweet or bitter.  Even with in our taste buds, the cells that actually process taste are a minority - most are actually used in neuroprocessing.  The result is that sweet and bitter flavors actually compete for cells when it comes to how the tastes are perceived.  Perception of taste follows a particular order, detection, followed by identification, followed by "goodness" (assuming it's liked).  To illustrate some of the physiological responses to taste perception, we were shown a video of a rat first when given something sweet, and then when given something bitter, which resulted in very distinctive "yum" and "yuck" faces respectively (human infants apparently mimic the same response, which includes rolling the tongue forward as if to try to expel the food in the case of bitter tastes).

One of the most intriguing observations that was presented about taste perception is that sweet tastes, unlike others, trigger the dopamine system in the brain.  Dopamine is a chemical neurotransmitter commonly linked to addition.  Consequently, while bitter tastes might trigger a "liking" response, sweet tastes can trigger both a liking response and a "wanting" response from the dopamine response.  Further, when some sweet is added to a bitter taste, it provides a means to trigger this wanting response for bitter as well.  The cell response from sweet is also increased when calories are introduced as well.  Testing shows that you can achieve a maximal response by introducing calories first, and then a sweet and bitter taste mix, stimulating both the potential liking response and the addiction-related wanting response.  An example:  a sweetened rim on a glass, which provides calories just before the consumption of the sweet and bitter drink.

Last to present was Kendra, who discussed the nutritional side of .  Her major theme, however, was that of achieving balance in the body between the opposing sweet and bitter dietary elements, the yin and yang as she called it.  Sweet and bitter foods each introduce different, opposing physiological and emotional responses.  Sweet tasting foods can produce expansive sensation in the stomach, trigger happy emotional responses, and feelings of warmth to name a few; bitter foods meanwhile are contractive, can correlate to aggressive responses, and cool sensation.  In short, our bodies strive for balance between the two.  Hence, consuming from the opposing group may balance out an excess from the other, which perhaps helps explain some of the medicinal effects of bitter herbs (e.g. in cocktail bitters, original taken for medicinal purposes) identified in various cultures.

Kendra also gave a few tips on hangovers that are worth mentioning.  For one, she noted that drinks using non-refined sugars tend to produce fewer/less severe hangovers.  These include palm sugar, honey, maple syrup, and brown rice syrup.  She also mentioned one of her favorite hangover prevention methods (or hangover relief methods) is 4 sprays of Urban Moonshine bitters (unlike many bitters, Urban Moonshine promotes their products primarily as a homeopathic remedy rather than a cocktail ingredient; they are available at Whole Foods among other places).

One of the last topics mentioned was that of chemicals that enhance bitter and sweet flavors.  Fatty acids apparently have the affect of sharpening perception of both bitter and sweet flavors.  To illustrate, we were given a chance to taste some Bénédictine and Fernet Branca after a few drops of lineolic acid was added.  The difference in the Fernet was more pronounced, though interestingly, rather than taste more bitter, it was actually milder (perhaps proving the point about sweet overpowering bitter in an even matchup).  Also mentioned was the chemical zinc sulfate, which has the effect of chemically inhibiting bitter taste, but neurologically inhibiting sweet.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that we had a chance to sample some tasty cocktails during the course of this presentation.  There was the "Problem Solver," a mix of rye, and Cherry Heering with a Fernet Branca rinse; the "Toronto," rye, simple syrup, and Fernet Branca, served with an orange peel; and my favorite if only for the simplicity, the "Big Ben," a combination of Bénédictine and tonic served with a citrus sliver.

So, in closing, the lesson to be learned here:  sometimes it's worth it to get up early on a Saturday, even after a night of drinking.  Kudos to the hosts and presenters on a great seminar.

Stay with me, one more post to go to complete my tales of the Boston Cocktail Summit...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Boston Cocktail Summit Weekend, Part III: Scent Science, Drink Writers, and More

I began my Friday afternoon at the Boston Cocktail Summit with the seminar Making Sense of Scents, presented by Domingo-Martin Barreres, the resident mixologist at Market by Jean-George at the W Boston Hotel, who also teaches the class The Art of the Cocktail at the Boston Center for Adult Education.

Domingo started out by giving us a bit of a primer on olfaction and the human brain, and the interactions of taste, smell, and memory.  During the rest of the session, Domingo took us through a few scent experiments to show some of these interactions (and also let us sample some cocktails, of course).  First, we smelled some aromatic substances in some capsules that began with baby powder and ended with tobacco to demonstrate scent in the context of a trip down memory lane running from youth-related to later in life aromas.  Next, Domingo had us chew on a jelly bean while holding our nose at first and then not doing so, in order to show the difference in taste just from having your sense of smell cut off (it was actually pretty dramatic).  After that, we tried a cocktail first on its own, and then with drops of some highly aromatic oils that had been prepared (one was a basil-mint oil, I can't recall the second) to see the difference.  Finally, for our last comparison, we were given a standard Margarita, presented in a glass with a clip attached.  We were then able to sample the Margarita on its own and compare the taste when clipping a sprig of mint or a sprig of rosemary just above the drink.

Our palate of scent experiments

Margarita with a mint sombrero

My next session of the day was the "Drinking for a Living" cocktail writers panel.  The panelists consisted of moderator Jason Wilson, cocktail/spirits writer for the Washington Post and author of Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits (which coincidentally I wrote a review of here); Liza Weisstuch, a freelance writer in the areas of cocktails and the spirits industry, as well as food, theater, and marketing, who contributes to publications including The Boston Globe, The Boston Pheonix, Fine Cooking, Imbibe Magazine, and the Boston Zagat Boston Restaurant Survey, for which she is a 2011-2012 editor; Kirsten (Kitty) Amann, freelance writer, founder of LUPEC Boston, weekly cocktails/spirits contributor for the LUPEC column in The Weekly Dig (as "Pink Lady"), and author of The Screaming Orgasm: 69 X-Rated Cocktails; Brandy Rand, a freelance spirits writer and consultant, whose publications include pieces for Boston Common, Northshore Magazine, Nightclub & Bar, Boston Magazine; and Kerry Byrne, food & drinks writer for The Boston Herald, whose beer writing has appeared in Esquire, Boston Magazine, Penthouse, and elsewhere, and whose sports writing has appeared at, Yahoo!Sports, and his own websites and

The panelists talked about a wide range of topics generally covering their experiences getting into and working in the drink writing field, whose writing they tend to read regularly, and tips and perspectives on entering the field.  None of the panelists went head on gunning to become a drinks writer from the start.  Liza, for example, started out writing about theater.  The panel also agreed (sorry to disappoint) that drink writing was not from their experiences a viable full-time occupation, but rather one nuance of what they each do.  Brandy, for example, provides marketing and other spirits industry related consulting services.  Kitty works as a marketing representative for Fernet Branca.  Jason teaches writing at Drexel University.

Regarding what other writers the panelists regularly read, a few familiar names popped up like Dave Wondrich, Robert Hess, and Camper English.  Some other authors that came up were Wayne Curtis, M.F.K Fisher, Crosby Gaige, and of course Hemmingway, the quintessential drink and travel writer.  Some specific works that came to the panelists' minds were The Accidental Connoisseur by Lawrence Osborne, The Tender Bar, and Barnard's Whiskey Distilleries of Scotland.

The panel was very fun to listen to, and seemed a well-spoken, and light-hearted group (as perhaps epitomized by the point where Liza passed around some 40s of Busch that the panel shared).

Drinking for a Living panelists taking a moment to pass a 40 (courtesy of Liza)

That evening, I grabbed dinner and drinks with a friend at Central Kitchen before heading out to the Bacardi 150th Anniversary party back at the Royal Sonesta Hotel.  Bacardi definitely did it up for the event, with the entrance to the patio decorated like an airplane and 2 women dressed as stewardesses there to greet us.  Inside, they also had a number of girls roaming around dressed as vintage cigarette girls.  I think what most drew my attention was the table setup with a woman hand-rolling cigars for us - she is definitely welcome at my parties.

While impressive, the Bacardi party just didn't feel like the appropriate scene for me and my companions (they were trying really hard to make it feel like we were in a Bacardi commercial).  Before it got too late, a we headed over to Bergamot, where we had a fantastic time hanging out at the bar for a few hours.  Many, many thanks, as always, to Servio, Paul, and Kai for their hospitality.

Still an entire day's worth of recap to come, stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Boston Cocktail Summit Weekend, Part II: How the Spirits Industry Works and Spirits Tasting

Brandy Rand presenting on How the Spirits Industry Works

I kicked off Friday morning at the Boston Cocktail Summit by sitting in on the seminar How the Spirits Industry Works.  Presenting were Brandy Rand, a spirits writer and consultant, and former marketing rep for  a number of national brands including Bacardi and Grey Goose, and Sam Rubenstein of Horizon Beverage, a distributor operating in Massachussetts and four other New England states.

Brandy walked through the three tier system of supplier-distributor-retailer that exists in some form in most U.S. states, and it's post-Prohibition era origins.  In short?  The system was born in order to collect taxes, which today comprise around 55% of the cost of spirits (twice that of beer and three times that of wine).  Forcibly interposing distributors in the chain of sales allowed States to collect these taxes at the distributor level rather than from the far more numerous retailers.

Brandy next reviewed the three main State regulator models in the U.S.:   control states (where the state government runs retail sales exclusively, or near exclusively); open states, where private licenses are granted to retailers (and suppliers/distributors) in limited numbers according to population levels; and franchise states, which include Massachusetts and Connecticut, where the differentiating characteristic is that agreements between suppliers and distributors for brand distribution are either irrevocable or at least difficult to rescind (in Tennessee, a supplier is locked perpetually in an agreement with a distributor; in other states, a brand can be added to additonal distributors but not taken away from the original distributor; in still others, changing can occur but only in limited circumstances). The franchise state model has come under fire recently because of the fact that it locks in a supplier to a distributor regardless of the distributor's performance in selling the brand (the speakers didn't talk about it much directly, but the controversy is also entwined in the changing landscape of the industry which has led to consolidation of distributors, which once were more plentiful than big name suppliers, while now micro distillers/brewers have shifted the balance to the opposite in some states).

The presenters also went over a number of other state to state differences in liquor laws including different regulations for consumer tastings (onsite versus offsite, or none at all in the case of 6 states including Rhode Island) and laws on Sunday sales of alcohol.  For Massachusetts residents, some of the quirks we have include the anti-chain law, which limits the number of retail liquor licenses per person/entity to 3 (expanded to 5 in 2012, 7 in 2018, and 9 in 2020).  Massachusetts also bans happy hour sales on alcohol, or specifically any discounted price that is in effect for less than one week (the presenters speculated this might catch some heat once casinos come to Massachusetts and bars have to potentially compete with free drinks).  Massachusetts also has a two drink at a time serving limit (no triple fisting folks).  Another quirk I had not heard about is the cordial and liqueur license.  If you ever see something like a bottle of Sambuca for sale somewhere but no vodka, rum, etc. and are wondering how they are managing that - that's your answer.  Interestingly, the cordial & liqueur license is based purely on a minimum sugar content rather than proof.

Some other interesting facts:

  • Industry consolidation has led to 5 large suppliers accounting for about 80% of sales:  Diageo, United Spirits, Pernod Richard, Bacardi, and Beam.
  • 69% of spirits exports consist of American whiskey.
  • Notwithstanding the micro brew phenomenon, beer sales have been declining in the past two decades as compared to spirits and wine sales.
  • About 25 brands comprise 45% of total sales volumes for spirits.
In closing, it was a very informative presentation, and even managed to capture my attention at 10 am during a conference involving lots of drinking.

After the seminar, I looped back to the Royal Sonesta to visit the two tasting rooms for a spell.  In the craft spirits room, I chatted a bit with the rep from Boston-based Bully Boy Distillers and got to sample their excellent upcoming product, their first aged whiskey.  I also tried some of the offerings from Vermont's Caledonia Spirits, which included Barr Hill Vodka, a vodka made from honey, and Barr Hill Gin, an excellent floral gin that also used raw honey.  The rep from Philadelphia Distilling kindly gave me a sample of an absinthe drip using their Vieux Carré absinthe and talked with me a bit about his new line of bitters, Hella Bitter.  Finally, I chatted a bit with the folks from Onyx Moonshine, a Connecticut-based moonshine producer.  They had a very tasty pumpkin cocktail (I believe it also had some cranberry in it) which I need to email them to get the recipe for - it was very Fall in New England appropriate.

A quick photo from the Craft Sprits tasting room

I didn't have much time in the grand tasting room, but I did manage to stop by the table from Burke Distributing Corp. for a bit.  They had a wealth of fantastic products on hand.  With limited time available, I went for the Novo Fogo aged, organic cachaça, which was quite tasty (I had never had an aged cachaça); I know in terms of process it's a similar product so a rhum agricole, but I actually found the aged cachaça more approachable, and like a good reposado tequila I could see it being good as both a straight up drink or cocktail ingredient.  I also enjoyed the Tempus Fugit Kina L'Avion D'Or Vin Aperitif au Quinquina from Switzerland that was on hand (but don't ask me to remember that full name).

Back again soon with another installment...

Monday, October 8, 2012

Boston Cocktail Summit Weekend, Part I: How to Make Vermouth

This past weekend heralded the first ever Boston Cocktail Summit, and yours truly was certainly not going to be one to pass on such festivities.  The event kicked off on Thursday with a bevy of events at various locations throughout Boston, ranging from beverage destinations like The Hawthorne and Silvertone's to more  unique venues such as the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum and Circle Furniture.  Sadly, my schedule was tight on Thursday, but I managed get to one event, a seminar on Making Your Own Vermouth held at Island Creek Oyster Bar and taught by some of the faces behind Eastern Standard, Island Creek, and The Hawthorne.

Jackson Cannon, co-owner of The Hawthorne, and bar manager for Eastern Standard and Island Creek Oyster Bar started out the seminar with a little background on what inspired him and his cohorts to first dabble in the art of making homemade vermouths, a primer on vermouth itself, and a description of the elements and basic process for fashioning a homemade vermouth.  Joining Jackson as speakers were some of the other big names in the Hawthorne-Eastern Standard-Island Creek trinity:  Kevin Martin, bar manager for Eastern Standard; Nicole Lebedevitch, head bartender at the Hawthorne; Bob McCoy, Beverage Programs Liason for The Hawthorne and Island Creek; and Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli, General Manager at Island Creek Oyster Bar.

As with many of the homemade ingredients that have found their way into bars in recent years (like bitters and syrups, and perhaps most notably Amer Picon replicas), Jackson and company's forays were first inspired by the inability to get certain existing products because they were not distributed in the U.S.  Notable examples given were Carpano Antica Formulare sweet vermouth (now available in the U.S.) and Noilly Pratt's Ambre vermouth (still not available).  Apparently, once upon a time, there was a house party where musings about the lack of such things led to Tom cooking up some vermouth in the kitchen.  The results?  Well, interestingly enough, one of Jackson's observations about various homemade vermouth experiments was that in terms of creating exact replicas, they were largely failures; nobody was going to mistake the home cooked product for the original.  However, what Jackson and company also discovered was that their home cooked concoctions were delicious in their own right, with often vibrant flavor profiles that made for creative cocktail ingredients.

During the next part of the presentation, Kevin went through a demonstration of actually cooking up some of the Eastern Standard house Rosé vermouth.  At a high level, the process involved preparing two heated components, a set of bittering agents and other herbs for flavor heated to a boil in a batch of base wine mixed with port, and a batch of sugar and water that is heated and caramelized (the caramelization helps bring the appropriate texture and mouth feel the final product) .  The caramelized sugar is carefully dissolved in brandy (the fortifying agent), combined with the herb-wine-port mix and two additional bottles of wine, and some orange zest is added on top.  This final mix would normally then be left to rest for about a day and then be strained and bottled.  Later in the presentation, Kevin took an audience member and had him go through the process to cook up a second batch of vermouth.  The audience meanwhile got to sample both this final product and the Martini & Rossi product that was the inspiration, as well as several cocktails that featured house made vermouths.

Jackson presenting while Kevin cooks

Kevin overseeing an audience member giving it a try

Some other useful tidbits I gleamed from the presentation:

  • The best base wines are quality, less expressive wines (merlots, cabs, and Sauvignon Blancs do not work well, whereas something like a grenache does)
  • Making sure the sugar does not fall out of suspension is key when caramelizing and blending
  • Homemade dry and bianco vermouths are harder to produce successfully
  • Variations can be made by using a different type of sugar (though some are more challenging), using different herbs and bittering agents, and playing with the brandy phase either with flavoring or using  vacuum seal heating which can quickly produce results akin to substantially longer extraction periods.
And that's how I spent some of my Thursday afternoon.  Definitely a great presentation, and one of my favorite seminars from the Summit.  Much, much more to come soon.  In the meantime, if you want to learn more about vermouth in general, I strongly recommend checking out


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Boston Cocktail Summit & Local Craft Brewfest

It's been a while, but this week brings with it the perfect stimulus to get me blogging again - the first ever Boston Cocktail Summit! This 3 day conference begins tomorrow, Thursday Oct. 4th and runs through Saturday Oct. 6th.  I plan on attending some events each day and will be giving my recap shortly thereafter.  Very exciting!  For anything that's interested, tickets are still available, so go ahead and check the event page for details, or check out the Boston Pheonix's guide to the event.

But wait, there's more!  This Friday also marks the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts' 3rd Annual Local Craft Brewfest, to be held at HarborPark at the Boston waterfront (near the Moakley Courthouse).  The event runs from 6pm - 9:30pm, and tickets run $45, which gets you access to tastings of local beers, as well as live music.

It's a fun weekend in store for the Boston beverage culture!  Cheers!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My Weekend at the MCC 2012: Part III

On Monday of my Manhattan Cocktail Classic trip, I switched gears a bit and spent a good chunk of the day as a volunteer for the MCC helping with event check-ins, rather than as attendee.  Even so, I was able to spend a bit of time in between to check out the goings on of the industry invitational portion of the event.   I managed to get over to some of the tasting tables, including that of Industry City Distillery.  This was my second run in with the boys from Industry City Distillery this weekend - I encountered them at the opening gala when my companion and I were surprised to see a familiar face in Industry City's Zachary Bruner, whom we had met previously met in the very different setting of our fraternity house at our alma matter (though Zac is a younger vintage than I by more years than I care to think about).  I had the pleasure of trying some of their small batch sugar beet-based vodka, which was quite tasty.  I wish them much luck with their endeavor!

After my vodka sampling, I took a wander upstairs to check out what was going on in some of the hospitality suites.  High West Whiskey was hosting a tasting in one suite.  High West is an interesting brand first for the fact that they are based in Utah (Park City) - not exactly the capital of alcohol production (in 2007, they became the State's first legal distillery since 1870).  Their product offerings themselves are also quite interesting.    Perhaps the most intriguing was their newest offering, their Campfire Whiskey, which is a blend of straight bourbon, straight rye, and blended Scotch whiskies.  The result is essentially what it sounds like - a spicy bourbon taste with a smokiness to it that's unusual for bourbon.  They also offer two un-aged whiskey offerings, one an oat whiskey, and several rye and bourbon whiskey alternatives.  One that I particularly liked was their Double Rye, which is a blend of a young high rye straight rye whiskey and a relatively low rye (53%) 16 yr aged rye.

In my wanderings, I was also able to check out a bit of an ice carving in the "Importance of Cold" demonstration presented by Richie Boccato of Dutch Kills (sponsored by Oxley gin).  Boccato talked about some of the practical aspects of bar ice programs and took some questions from the crowd as well.  He also did some of this while reducing a large block of clear ice to glass appropriate ice cubes using among other tools, a chain saw and chisel (the unfortunately blurry photo at the top).

By early evening, my MCC activities were pretty much wrapped up for this trip.  I headed out to the Caroll Gardens are of Brooklyn to meet up with a few friends for dinner and drinks at a few stops that are potentially worth mentioning here.  The first was Farmacy, a soda fountain shop I first read about in an issue of Imbibe magazine.  Farmacy sports a seasonal menu utilizing fresh ingredients that includes a number of specialty soda fountain drinks, and one of the tastiest looking arrays of sundaes I have ever seen in my life.

The extremely delicious "Sunday of Broken Dreams"

Our next stop was down the street a bit to the Clover Club, a cocktail hot spot that I had not previously had the pleasure of visiting.  We had a few tasty beverages off of their menu, which is organized by classic drink family (Sours, Daises, Snaps, Cobblers, and more)  and features several seemingly Dave Wondrich influenced punch recipes that looked appealing.

Finally, my companions and I headed over to check out my friend Brian's condo in Brooklyn Heights before parting for the evening.  The highlight of the tour was a trip up to his roof for a panoramic view of surrounding Brooklyn and Manhattan across the river.  It was a fitting way to top off my weekend in New York.

With that, my trip out to New York for this year's MCC was pretty much wrapped up.  I headed back to Boston the following day, sad that I had to miss an opportunity to attend the MCC's culminating event that night, the Anti-Gala (maybe next year).

For anyone that is looking to share in the fun, the Manhattan Cocktail Classic will return next year from May 17th - 21st.  In the meantime, there are two other major events this year worth mentioning for the cocktail enthusiast.  The first is the oldest and biggest major cocktail event in the country, Tales of the Cocktail, being held July 25th - 29th in the wonderful city of New Orleans.  Then, this Fall, Boston will hosting it's first ever city-wide cocktail festival the Boston Cocktail Summit, which will be held October 4th - 7th this year.  I can't wait!