Friday, February 10, 2012

The Drink - A Special Occasion Dram

Well, I just turned another year older.  I had every intention of finishing the last of a 30 year old Islay malt that I have had hidden away for years. It is a real rarity and the price exploded shortly after I picked it up 15 years ago, so there is NO chance of replacing it. There's just enough for 2 people to sit and enjoy a full drink each.  I told my wife a few days prior, that we would be indulging in something really special, the last of an Ardbeg 30. I have a few industry buddies that are probably ready to kill me now, as I told them the bottle was finished years ago.  Well, the good news/bad news:  my birthday turned into a total bust and we never got to have THE drink. The baby came down with an ear infection, dinner out turned into sushi delivered, the kids went to bed late, we were exhausted, and the birthday boy was a little too crabby for that special dram. I know, you might argue that a crabby bust of a day NEEDED that dram, but I really wanted to be happy when I poured a drink like that.  So that drink awaits.
The birthday dram was however, far from a total loss.  Two nights prior, my wife and I were heading out to dinner and my folks were coming over to babysit. It just seemed like the time to pull out something really special, especially since dad was my first Whisky buddy.  Down to the library I went. The Islay malts just seemed too heavy for the night.  Perhaps something rich and malty without the smoke? Highland?  Speyside?  I started moving bottles out of the way and looking at the back of each row, where the treasures lie.  Ah, there it was, Highland Park 25!  What a perfect way to start my birthday weekend!  It had been years since I last tried it and it did not disappoint. HUGE rich and round. Lots of toasty oak notes and even a slight tannic dryness, but truly delicious.  There's enough left that I think that it might just become my new true special occasion bottle.
Of course, that Ardbeg 30 is still calling my name. But, my wife now has the cold that took out my big girl last week and smacked the baby yesterday.  I guess when we are all healthy, we'll have to finally finish it and have that belated birthday dram.m I like the sound of birthday celebrations lasting a week or two?,

Live To Eat, Love To Drink

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Drink - New Small Batch Bourbon

I was recently given a sample of the new colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel  Bourbon.  I was hoping for a quiet moment to try it and that arrived 2 days after it arrived.  My wife went out with a friend and I parked myself on the couch with some good music playing.
I hadn't seen tasting notes and thought I was sampling a 10 year old, but really wasn't sure.  The only info on my little 50 ml sample was 100 proof.  (It is 11 years and 7 months.)  The nose was big and complex.  The mouthfeel was thick and lush.  The flavors just kept coming!  There was only one other bourbon I've ever had that offered this range of fruit.  Was that blueberry? blackberry? apricot?  I could not quite put a name to it (maybe it was more than one of them?). Regardless, this whiskey is incredible!  It's sweet, spicy, fruity, balanced, and keeps you wanting more.  (probably a good thing all that I had at my disposal was 50ml!)
It does apparently come with a hefty little price tag of about $75, but supply is limited and if you are game, I can safely say that you will not be disappointed if you get the chance to sample it.
But wait, there's more! There are two more Taylor releases. There is "The Original Sour Mash" bottling (look for blue writing on the bottle.). Another huge deeply flavored bourbon with lush round notes. I didn't get to taste e two side by side, but it is also exquisite. And now, I hear there's the "Tornado Release.". Haven't had the pleasure of that one yet, but I'll let you know as soon as I do.
The E.H. Taylors are all from the Buffalo Trace family and I hope there will be a steady supply of these in the future and that it was not just a brief trio of experiments.

Live To Eat, Love To Drink!

The Drink - A Real Oldie

So I don't know about you, but I don't get invited to those tastings where rare old wines are poured. I have in recent years tasted a few from the mid seventies and while those were great, I have always dreamt of those really old wines I often read about.
Ok, so cut to 30-35 years ago.  I went to a neighborhood tag sale with my father. He stumbled upon a wine collector of sorts. The space he was moving to was apparently limited and he had to sell some of his collection. The only one of the bottles I remember anything about was this old Spanish red. It turned out to be from my uncle's birth year and the bottle was laid down for some future dinner/birthday celebration.  Sadly my aunt (my mother's sister) and my favorite uncle went through a rather bitter divorce and that bottle just sat waiting in the cellar. Every so often, my dad would mention it and always doubted whether it was even still good anymore and he just let it sit longer and longer. Somehow, a sealed bottle of potentially really old vinegar was much more attractive than an open bottle of vinegar. 
Well, my father just turned 76.  I had my folks, my sister and her husband and kids over for dinner. Paella and quail were on the menu.  My folks were bringing a few bottles from the cellar to enjoy. Mom apparently stumbled upon that bottle - Siglo Majestad 1941 - and decided the time was now. There was no changing her mind and I have to admit, I had been quite curious about that wine for decades.
It was time to get dinner going.  I figured the paella would take me a full hour out on the grill, so logic said to open the wine before I started to cook.  I cut the foil to discover a seemingly perfect cork. Could it still be good?  I then proceeded to have more problems removing a cork than ever before. Ok, perhaps there was a reason is bottle wanted to remain sealed?  But, there was no turning back. I managed to extract it many in pieces and decanted the wine.  It was not vinegar, but there was a definite funk, which I hoped and prayed would blow off and I headed out to the grill.  An hour later, the paella was done and I headed straight to the decanter to inspect. Someone already drinking?  Yes and the birthday boy was enjoying!  I poured myself a glass immediately and took a deep nose. The funk was gone and there was fruit!  My lord, 71 years and 3 moves of the wine cellar later and this wine was alive and well!!  The flavor profile was outside of my normal vocabulary, so I'll spare the lame attempts to describe the the wine in any real terms. The fruit had faded and was a bit raisiny and there were those "other" flavors, but the wine was not only drinkable, but quite enjoyable. I can't seam to find much of anything out about the wine other than the producer is still there...  No idea if, back at the start of WWII, this was a special,wine or just something decent. Either way, it was a true delight to drink something so old and different and truly from an another era.

Live To Eat, Love To Drink!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Chef and the Drink: Robert Burns Night

Well, there are those nights that really tell all. Not in terms of how much you eat or drink, but how devoted you are and how much fun can you have being that super fan or ├╝bergeek?
For me, Robert Burns night has  been that night for close to 15 years. A dear friend used to host a Burns Night party and they are darned near legendary.   He tired of being the perennial host, we found ourselves living in the burbs, and the time seemed right for a passing of the torch.  So last weekend, my wife and I found ourselves hosting our first Burns Night.  In case you don't know, it is a celebration of the birth of the famed Scottish poet Robert Burns. The evening always includes malt Whisky, the reading of some Burns' poetry, and ideally the eating of a haggis.  Yes, haggis!
Our friend always said "kilts suggested and tartan required."  Those first few years were a hoot with some of the most unique makeshift kilts anyone has ever seen:  women's skirts (worn by men), plaid flannel bed sheets wrapped around the waist, radically altered shirts (altered by men normally not so handy with a needle and thread), and even a simple pair of tartan boxers.  I have to confess that I was the bed sheet guy, but hey, we all had a blast playing Scotsman for a night and overindulging in Whisky and haggis.  Yes, the haggis only consisted of an organ or two but was stuffed back into the stomach and cooked fairly traditionally.  There were assorted readings of Burns poems and it was always a fitting tribute.  Eventually, a kilt was gifted to me and my look became much more authentic.  Our host and I learned more and more about Whisky and refused to serve lousy malts (there's just not enough time on this planet to waste it on cheap malt and to not share the good stuff with your friends.)  I even became the guy who read the Address to a Haggis.
Well now it was our turn. Most of our suburban friends are malt Whisky novices. Plenty of bourbon drinkers, but not so many malt drinkers.  We asked the same of our guests, "kilts or tartan please." Their performance on that front was a little weak, as there were only 3 kilted guests out of 21, but they did bring their enthusiasm to try some fine malts, hear 2 poems, including the infamous address to a haggis, and even their willingness to try my haggis. Yes, it was the first one I ever prepared. It did involve some heart and was baked as a loaf, but otherwise flavored traditionally.
As for the lineup of Whisky, I tried to make sure there was a little something for everyone:  Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban and Nectar D'Or, Glenlivet Nadura, Glenfiddich 15, Aberlour Abunadh, Glenfarclas 17, Highland Park 18, Springbank 15 (a gift from our former host) Bowmore Dusk, Darkest, and Dawn, Laphroaig 10, and Ardbeg 10. 
We did surprise quite a few guests by finding a Whisky that truly worked for them. My actress wife surprised our guests with her ability to read Burns and I think my rendition of To a Haggis floored them. After all, I had already read it for 10-12 years, if I haven't nailed it yet, I think it's long past the time to quit trying. 
It looks as though this will be the first of many a Burns Night in our little town. Next year, we'll enforce the dress code a little bit more and try to prevent all of those bourbon drinkers from shifting over towards the end of the night. Perhaps even an extra organ or two in the haggis!

No matter what, Live to Eat, Love to Drink!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

My New Whisky Library

About a year and a half ago, my wife and I moved to the burbs. I know, I know, say what you must about the burbs, but our reasons were sound and other than not loving riding the rails every day, the move has truly been worth it. I now have a real kitchen, a garden, fruitntrees, two grills, a turkey fryer, and a mancave!
I had a decent sized Manhattan apartment, but it was in no way big enough to house my spirits collection. It was everywhere! Seriously, bedroom closets, under the bed, the coat closet, behind the paperbacks... You should have heard the comments brought back to us by our realtor when we were trying to sell the place. But, in the burbs, there is in theory plenty of room for a good collection. I have to admit, I was a little shocked at just how easy it was to convince my wife that this fully finished room in our basement would make a perfect Whisky/library. The only problem is that it took about 18 months before I was finally able to make some time to build the bookcases and unpack both the books and the hooch. It was great to see my cookbooks unpacked and to see my old art books as well. Needless to say, unpacking the spirits almost brought me to tears. I forgot how many gems had been locked away for so long. Highland Park 25, a Pair of GM Ardbegs with Whisky from before Ardbeg had been mothballed. So many Islay gems, Lagavulin Distiller's, Caol Ila, more Bowmore than I realized I had, some even dating back to the painted bottles. Mortlach 16, Glenmo 18, Old Pultney 17, Dallas Dhu... Bourbon: a few Van Winkles, Stagg, Weller, Woodford, Hirsch, Ridgemont, Jeffersons...
Plenty of tequila, mezcal, grappa, gin, rye.
But, I had still been wondering about how easy it was to give up major storage space in exchange for, what can only be deemed a mancave. The room still has minor work to go, but when things finally took shape a few weeks ago, my wife turned to me and said "this would be a great place for to have the next "mommy's night.". Clearly, I have been set up! But wait! I do have the coolest mancave on the block!!! Much more to come as I finally crack some bottles and revisit some forgotten favorites.
Live To Eat, Love To Drink!

Forgive Me Reader

Forgive Me reader, for I have sinned. It has been entirely too long since my last post. No excuses, but have been traveling quite a bit for that job of mine and haven't had many chances to try new things.
Recent meal at home that I was quite proud of, as part of the progressive dinner party our town does: Winter Squash Soup with Porcini Syrup and Venison Meatballs. Magret Duck Breats with Grano "Risotto" with Root Vegetables and Miso/Merlot Sauce. The wines were nothing to write home about, but the food rocked!
A fun snack today : Duck Fat Popcorn. Needless to say, the duck fat came from the duck at last Saturday's dinner, but the popcorn was darned near an epiphany!

Beer: while on the road, rediscovered Leffe Blond. I forgot just how good it is.

Whisky: 2 new discoveries
Great King Street, from Compass Box. Generally, I never spend time on blended malts, as
they just always lack that oomph I feel you get from a good single malt. But, the reviews
on this made me think twice. This is by no means a big whisky, but really quite the
little blend! A lot of spice and a streak of vanilla. Good depth and balance. One of the
the better blends I've had in years. A whisky to make a malt drinker think twice and an
excellent way to introduce scotch to those who think they wouldn't like it. For me,
whisky never goes out of season, but for those of you who think there is a whisky season,
this is the whisky to drink out of season.

Talisker 25 year, 57.2 abv, 2005. I found this on sale at a price that seemed entirely
too good to be true well over a year ago. It got buried when I moved and was just
rediscovered when I finally unpacked my spirits collection. (OK, a little
embarrassed to admit that I had been trying to find it for the last three months
and couldn't find it!)
The Talisker smoke is unmistakable, but after 25 yrs, the smoke is not surprisingly
subdued. The bigger surprise is just how easy it is to drink without adding water.
the mouthfeel is quite viscous. It is from refill barrels, so the extended ageing
really doesn't overwhelm the spirit. With water added, a big hit of baker's splicers
shine through, as do several more layers of flavors. All the while, the smoke remains
gently in the background. A truly exquisite little dram! If you can find it, buy it!!

Bourbon: 2 more from the Buffalo Trace family.
William Laroue Weller. This is the fifth I've had in this once a year limited release.
I've yet to have one I didn't like and this is exquisite. Huge flavors that just keep
coming. It clearly has the flavor profile of a bourbon with some good age on it, but
the wood is not overwhelming and the whiskey is just inspiring. One of the better
wheated bourbons you'll come across.
George T. Stagg. Always the strongest bourbon released each year and always one of the
biggest and best. Also the fifth in this series that I have had and it is always
consistent. Big dark notes with chocolate always showing through. Surprising
drinkable straight at more than 140 proof and that is no joke and no small feat! The
good news is that when reduced to "normal" strength, the whiskey is still quite
complex. If you are at all hesitant of laying out $75 for a bottle, think about the
the fact at that strength, you are literally getting almost two bottles for the price
of one.
And speaking of Buffalo Trace, had the classic Buffalo Trace after work a few days ago with a coworker,who loves his Makers. It had been a good few months for me and I forgot just how good it is. He took one sip and said "wow, that is smooth!" and quickly downed it and had a second before I had to head out to catch bedtime with my little ones.

Live To Eat, Love To Drink!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Chef And The Drink - Surviving The Storm

Hurricane Irene.  What can I say?  They put the fear of God in us and sadly, some people are still dealing with her wrath. Before she came, there was a god deal of preparing that many of us undertook. Fearing that we would lose power at work, we cleared a few key things out of the freezer.  My big score was a large frozen octopus.  I had previously begged Chef Michael Psilakis into revealing some of the secrets of his octopus.  (See my previous entry "the suburbs" to learn more about him.)  I figured even without power, I could pull off his recipe, or at least, something close. His technique, which sadly, I will keep secret, as I do not have his approval to share with you, worked perfectly.  The octopus was meltingly tender and full of flavor.  I threw a quick marinade on it, and sure enough, the power went out right after it went into the fridge. But, it was destined for the grill in a few hours, so I had no concerns about it. Now without power, it was time to quickly rip through the fridge and assess what needed to be cooked or dealt with before it spoiled.  Way too many bell peppers - some went into salad, the rest hit the grill and became romesco sauce, which also went with chicken that would be cooked later.  We lit candles and set the table.  The octopus got a quick char on the grill.  (Yes, I am obsessed enough to grill in what had at that point been downgraded to a tropical storm.)  The octopus was too magically tender and too delicious to be a part of this storm.  The candlelight also made things feel a little too romantic!   The wine for the octopus, was the brand new "entwine" Pinot Grigio, which was ice cold and needed to be drunk before it warmed up.  It went perfectly with the lightly acidic marinade and the brininess of the octopus.  The power remained off for two days, as we awaited road repair, tree removal, and the power guys to work their magic.  There was plenty of go fish with my 5 year old, Scrabble with the adults, and cooking, eating, and drinking, but nothing quite as memorable as the octopus and entwine. Live To Eat, Love To Drink!