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!

Friday, May 18, 2012

My Weekend at the MCC 2012: Part II

Dushan Zaric at MCC Handcrafted Cocktails seminar

Sunday of my MCC weekend was a bit more leisurely than the prior two days.  The afternoon consisted of some dim sum and a trip over to Mario Batali's Eatily.  Eatily is pretty much an Italian foods super store that also sports some mini-restaurants, a cafe, pastry bar, and gelato bar, as well as a fun rooftop beer garden.  It is definitely a sight to behold, and if you're not already hungry by the time you walk in, give it a few minutes.

Later, I headed over to Macao Trading Company in Tribeca for the MCC seminar Handcrafted Cocktails:  How to Create Homemade Ingredients, Syrups, Cordials, Infusions and Accompaniments (sponsored by POM Wonderful).  The lecturer for the event was Dushan Zaric, one of the bartending minds behind Macao Trading Company and Employee's Only, and also the co-author of Speakeasy: The Employees Only Guide to Classic Cocktails Reimagined and You Didn't Hear It from Us: Two Bartenders Serve Women the Truth About Men, Making an Impression, and Getting What You Want.

Zaric began by talking a bit about how he came reach the point of incorporating 25-30 homemade ingredients at a time into his bar's toolkit, and why.  One of the initial reasons had to do with the exploration of some of the classic recipes from older cocktail books which, when he and his co-conspirators tried, were terrible (unbalanced, etc.).  After some experimentation, they identified one reason why.  Back in the 1800s, many of the non-spirit ingredients (grenadine, for example) weren't commercially produced products that were purchased, but rather were handmade by the bartenders themselves.  After attempting to recreate some of these ingredients and using the handmade ingredients in the drinks, they found that the formulas used made much more sense.

During the course of the lecture, Zaric went through several different cocktail creations involving various homemade ingredients, the thought behind the cocktails, and the process for making the ingredients.  And, of course, we got to sample the quite tasty results, as well as the homemade ingredients.  The list of homemade components that were featured were grenadine, absinthe bitters, chai-infused sweet vermouth, grapefruit cordial, lavendar infused gin, "Vermouth de Provence," Pandan leaf syrup, and Macao 5-spice bitters.  One hot tip (no pun intended) that Zaric mentioned as far as making syrups and heated infusions (other than vodka infusions) was that instead of boiling in a sauce pan, he found that he could get faster/better results using the milk frothing attachment of an espresso machine (sadly, a restaurant grade espresso machine is outside my budget right now).

I found all of the cocktails we sampled to be tasty, but the two that really stood out for me were the Mata Hari and the Drunken Dragon's Milk.  The Mata Hari consisted of Louis Royer Force 53 VSOP cognac, homemade Chai-infused Sweet Vermouth, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, POM Wonderful, and 3 dried organic rose buds for garnish (shaken and strained).  The infused vermouth was made with cardamom pods, cloves, a cinnamon stick, chai tea, and Dolin sweet vermouth.   In addition to a great presentation and aroma, the drink brought with it a wonderful balance between the overproof cognac, tea, and fruit flavors.

The Drunken Dragon's Milk consisted of Charbay Green Tea vodka, young coconut puree (Boiron), lime juice, Pandan leaf syrup, a pinch of thai basil leaf, and Macao 5-spice bitters, served shaken and unstrained in a Collins glass.  The bitters were made from Goslings 151, fresh ginger, cinnamon sticks, cloves, Szechuan pepper corns, star anise, and slightly burned brown sugar. This drink was kind of like a Thai iced tea or bubble tea meeting a pina colada.  I loved the flavor profile.  I also really enjoyed the taste and aroma of the Pandan leaf syrup that was used on its own and might have to play around with it at some point to see what other creative uses I might be able to find.

My evening ended very low key this time around, with a bit of Indian food with some friends and a relatively early night for the first time all weekend.  That's all for now - one more post to come with the final wrap-up.  Until next time!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Weekend at the MCC 2012: Part I

Cacao Prieto's hybrid copper pot still

The weekend has passed, but what a fun weekend!  After a fantastic evening at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic opening gala on Friday, I headed on over to my first MCC event on Saturday afternoon, the  Hands-On Distilling Workshop:  The Art and Science of Distilling.  The seminar was held at  Cacao Prieto  in the Red Hook part of Brooklyn.  Cacao Prieto is a young business started by former aerospace engineer Daniel Prieto.  The presentation was done primarily by Preston and Dr. Randal Murphy, PHD, a Chemist with the company (and apparently a college professor of Preston's).  As they described, Cacao Prieto is effectively a tripartite business:  a chocolate producer using cacao imported from the Dominican Republic; a distillery (primarily of rum, although they are branching out into other products, including a cacao liqueur and a whiskey); and a biotechnology arm looking at potential medicinal and other useful properties of cacao.  Among other interesting facts, Cacao Prieto touts having received the first license to distill rum in New York City since prohibition.

In the course of a the near-three hour session, the presenters took us through a rather detailed look at the technology and science of distillation.  The presentation covered some history of distilling and other methods of alcohol extraction, different types and variations of stills, and the specific chemistry of the distillation process (slides of molecular models and all).  The presentation was quite interesting, even if some of the specific science may have gone over my head at times (my last serious science class was more years ago than I care to think about).  Here are a few tidbits that I found most memorable/most interesting:

  • Among the alternate ways to extract alcohol from fermented liquid is freezing.  Freezing causes water molecules to solidify while leaving a higher alcohol solution in a liquid state that can then be poured off (the process can be repeated until a maximum threshold is hit, which I believe was around 25%).
  • At the top of a pot still or hybrid pot still (the latter being the type used at Cacao Prieto), there is always a type neck where the end product moves on to the next stage.  The shape of this neck actually has an impact on what components move on (and thus of course the flavor).  Different kinds of necks are actually used for different types of spirits (and among different national producers, e.g. Irish whiskies versus Scotch or American, etc.).
  • There are several different types of column stills.  The presenters discussed in particular the packed column design and the bubble plate design (the kind used by Cacao Prieto).  In distillation setups involving different levels of plates, different levels of heat are applied at the various stages of the column, with the hottest temperature applied at the bottom.  There are plates at the different levels that effectively facilitate a kind of mini-distillation at each level as different cogeners evaporate based on different boiling points.  It's these different plates that make marketing about "three times distilled" vodka and the like relatively meaningless, since it can simply refer to additional plates present in the still setup rather than actual re-distillation of the product.
  • In the bubble plate design, there is a liquid at each stage which effectively catch certain components of the vapors and filter them out.  If the liquid bubbles over a certain height, it is caught in a return that returns it back to the bottom of the column where it can rise through again.  
  • Distillation by itself cannot produce pure alcohol.  To go beyond a certain point (somewhere around 196 proof), additional processing has to be applied, which commonly either means adding something to the distillate that will in essence act to soak up some of the water molecules or by using vacuum filtration to bring up the level to a higher proof (both of these are comparatively expensive processes to apply, so they are generally done at large producers, not micro-distilleries).
  • Some larger distilleries actually produce industrial ethanol and their beverage products from a base of the same distilled pure, or near-pure alcohol.  In essence, to make the pure alcohol taste, for example, like rum again, they add back in flavor components until it reaches the desired flavor profile.
  • The effect of barrel aging is three fold: it causes some matter to be added to spirits, some matter to be removed, and some reactions to be catelized between what is in the distillate and what is the wood.
  • Charring barrels has the effect of catelizing some reactions between the distillate and the barrel, and also acting as a barrier between the distillate and the outer wood.  The thickness of the char can have an impact on the end product, as can the rate and temperature of the charring.  
  • The idea of just storing distilled or fermented product in an oak barrel for some number of years and hoping for the best is largely a fiction.  First, aging using oak doesn't necessarily mean a barrel on the shelf.  Aging is sometimes done by adding oak staves to glass containers (which are less prone to evaportation than barrels) or adding oak or other wood chips.  Further, there is constant monitoring of the product as it ages, often with various additions and adjustments being made (for example, in the case of aging wine, even the most traditional of producers will still add tanins to the barrel during the aging process to adjust the flavor).  Even the design of warehouses for storgage of barrels incorporates knowledge of how the sunlight might hit the buidling and the heat and airflow within each floor of the building.
  • New Yorkers might appreciate knowing that in the initial attempts at distilling rum at the Brooklyn location, the staff at Cacao Prieto tried using NY tap water.  The result was the yeast died.  In short, they learned that using NY tap water would entail using filtration and lots of nutrients to keep the yeast clinging weakly to life.  Today, they instead use spring water from upstate New York from an area once involved with limestone mining, which apparently the yeast was very happy with (limestone content is said to be one of the things in the water in Kentucky that also helped the Bourbon industry explode there).

During the course of the presentation, the staff also began an actual distillation of some rum in the next room.  As the presentation went along, they passed around a sample of the distilled product at various stages so we could smell and, in the latter cases when it was more of a consumable product, taste the differences after different time periods in the process.  We also got to have a brief tour of the facilities, including a look at a small rotovap still occassionally used for special products, and their fermentors.

Rotovap Still

This was the only Saturday even I attended at the MCC, however coincidentally, my friend and I (after a few stops including drinks at Amor y Amargo and dinner at Prune) met up with a colleague of hers and some friends that had also been hitting some MCC events, including one Traveling Foodie.  The result was a late night of dancing at a Soul Night somewhere in Brooklyn if my admittedly impaired memory serves.  I definitely can't complain about ending the night with an evening of dancing with four lovely ladies.  More stories of the weekend to come soon...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Friday Night at the MCC

The Manhattan Cocktail Classic started off the weekend with a bang Friday night with the opening gala at the New York Public Library.  This was my first time attending the gala, and I must say it was an amazing event.  Approximately 3,500 people, dressed to the nines, invaded the library late Friday evening to be met with drink stations lining nearly every wall sporting cocktails from each stations patron liquor company (I think off the top of my head, my favorite drink that I sampled was the Black Marlin  from Pisco Porton).  On top of that, there were several rooms of with live music, spread out across the daunting four floors of party.  Also, this was in the New York Public Library - how cool is that?  There were also the occasional random elements thrown in, such as the Shaving Station sponsored by New Amsterdam, a room full of hats being tried on, and some photo booths (I believe there's a picture of me with a life-size stuffed black bear on facebook somewhere now).  All-in-all, great time.  If you have a chance to go to this event, do it.  My companion and I finished off the evening after closing time with a trip to Booker and Dax for one last drink and some pork buns.  Good times.

Before the party...

The Andaz Hotel home base across the street:

Once the festivities had begun:

Wall-to-wall people and drinks:

Friday, May 11, 2012

Manhattan Cocktail Classic 2012

Greetings all!  I know it has been ages since I posted anything, but the good news is that this weekend should be a flurry of activity as I am once again heading down to New York for the 2012 Manhattan Cocktail Classic!    Many of the events are sold out, but if you'd like to partake or see just see what the excitement is about, check out their website at  The event opens tonight with an openning gala at the New York Public Library and continues on through Tuesday with a variety of events ranging from seminars to bar crawls, and featuring some of the country's best bartenders and cocktail and spirits experts.  If you'd like to follow along with some of the goings on, I'll be posting some daily roundups of my experiences here, and will also be adding the occassional photo and micro-post on @raisedspirits on twitter.  Cheers!

Photo Credit: Virginia Rollison, courtesy of