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kahlua_label__22824Let’s revisit a brief history of “the other” Mexican spirit, Kahlua.

1930: The Alvarez brothers harvest Arabica coffee beans from the fields of Coatepe, Veracruz, Mexico. They work with Señor Blanco, a local entrepreneur, to use their beans in a spirits recipe he was financially backing.

1936: Chemist Montalvo Lara uses the Alvarez brother’s coffee beans in a spirits base made from sugar cane to produce both syrup and rum. The final product is named Kahlúa, meaning “House of the Acolhua people” in the Veracruz Nahuatl language.

2014: Kahlúa is made in Mexico City at a Pernod Ricard owned factory. The beans are medium roasted and then cold brewed.  When bottled, natural vanilla flavoring and only a touch of caramel coloring is added to insure the same rich dark brown liquid goes into every bottle.

The two most iconic cocktails using Kahlua are the Black Russian and the White Russian.  I’d suggest making one of each and comparing while celebrating National Kahlua Day.

 

 

 

NowOpenSyracuseThe GSN offices are located in the exact geographical center of New York State, and if you’ve been following the weather you know that this winter has been brutal.  With not a single day above freezing and snowfall every day so far this February, the white stuff keeps piling higher and higher.  So, it was with a smile that we received an invitation to the grand opening of Margaritaville at the Destiny USA mall in Syracuse, NY to escape the cold and dreary landscape and pretend for a few hours that we really were in the Florida Keys.

Upon checking in at the hostess station, we were given a brief tour of the facilities and seated in one of the many areas for dining.  There are several rooms each with a slightly different atmosphere.  The restaurant takes up a whopping 10,000 square feet of prime retail space in one of the largest malls in the Northeast so they have a lot to work with.  The decor was bright and eye-catching, but lacked any sense of authenticity.  It would have been nice to see some real memorabilia displayed like a Jimmy Buffet autographed guitar or photographs.  The table where we were seated had a view of several tv monitors playing loops of Jimmy Buffet tailgate parties, concert footage and tanned, happy people partying in the sunshine.  It was a nice touch to remind us that winter won’t last forever, even in Syracuse.

SyracuseOur waitress was super friendly and upbeat, pointing out her personal favorites on the drinks menu and offering us insights into the training the company gives their employees.  Even though the restaurant had only been open for two weeks, she knew each and every menu item by heart.  We started things off with an Uptown Margarita and a Planters Punch.  The Margarita was tart, served on the rocks with a Gran Gala float.  It was just right.  The Planters Punch was less interesting, but did include the requisite dash of Angostura bitters.  Another positive aspect of the bar program is that they use fresh squeezed citrus in several of their drinks.

Drinks wwm copy 2We followed our drinks with some recommendations by our waitress.  We chose two appetizers; the Drunken Shrimp Skillet and a half order (by request) of the Volcano Nachos.  When they arrived, the nachos were more than sufficient for the two of us.  We made a dent in them, but could not finish the massive tower.  The tortilla chips were excellent and the cheese was generous.  Also, the inclusion of chili con carne made this a fairly hearty meal in itself.  But, the shrimp was the highlight.  The citrus butter sauce was absolutely stunning and the shrimp fresh, cooked to perfection and easily could have made for a fine entrée.  The flavors of the food went quite well with our tropical fruit based cocktails.

Drunken Shrimp Skillet 1 copy 2Next, we ordered a Zombie and a Bahama Mama.  The Zombie was tasty, but suffered from only using silver rum instead of the usual mix of light, gold and dark rums.  The Bahama Mama was fairly boozy with Margaritaville Spiced and Coconut Rum, Cruzan Aged Dark Rum, and crème de banana, but didn’t taste alcoholic in the least.  Oddly enough, the flavor seemed more akin to mango than anything else.  We followed up our meal with a shared order of the Fish Tacos.  The fish was seasoned and prepared just right, with the fried cod being even better than the grilled.  The accompanying side of rice was disappointing as it was obviously reheated and came in clumps, the black beans were bland, but the pico de gallo was lovely.

After our meal, we decided to hang out at the bar and talk with one of the bartenders.  The bar stools were all taken, but we stood near an empty corner and were greeted within seconds.  We had hoped to order a Hemingway Daiquiri, but were asked, “What’s that?”  So, we tried something easier.  “How about a Mai Tai?”  Again the response was “What’s that?”  So, we settled on a shot of Appleton VX and a Landshark draught.  In chatting with the bartender we learned that she had a fairly intense training program.  Forty hours of memorizing the cocktail menu and making drinks over and over in front of trainers until they knew them backwards and forwards.  They do all their mixed drinks free pour style with a count system of four per ounce.  My main chagrin was that she said she had been bartending for seven years at a number of bars and yet still didn’t know how to make some of the most basic tropical style drinks.  But then again, this a Syracuse; a beer town.

Before we left, we checked out the gift shop.  Yes, a gift shop at a restaurant.  But, remember, Margaritaville is supposed to be an experience in much the same way a theme park is.  There were plenty of Margaritaville shot and cocktail glasses with logos, beer mugs and bottle openers, but nothing beyond what you’d expect to find at any tourist trap.  It would have been nice if there were limited edition Jimmy Buffet items or authentic crafts from the Gulf Coast for sale.

All in all, the trip was pleasant, but seemed like the staff was still working out some kinks with seating and workflow. Perhaps by the summer, everything will fall into place and it will seem as if they really are bringing a piece of the Gulf Coast to Central New York.

Food: A-
Drinks: B
Atmosphere: C+
Service: B+

876c64385c226f3df90a6dbd0eb59307Proximo Spirits is launching a new ultra-luxury Tequila under its 1800 brand. 1800 Colección (40% abv) is a double-distilled añejo Tequila that is aged in charred French oak barrels for more than three years. Retailing at $2,000 apiece, each bottle is hand-numbered. Proximo partnered with Los Angeles-based artist Gary Baseman to design a sculptured pewter decanter that comes with each bottle of Colección. The decanter, which took nearly three years to create, is titled Sirena Del Deseo (Mermaid of Desire) and depicts a Mexican folk tale about a warrior who perishes in the sea in pursuit of a mermaid. Only 40 bottles of Colección are being released to retailers across the country.

3__36907_catNew Jersey-based Niche Import Co. is adding a new rum brand, Mezan, to its import portfolio. The Caribbean-sourced Mezan will include a range of three rums—Mezan Jamaica XO and two vintage rums, Jamaica Long Pond 2000 and Panama Variella 2004—each of which are rolling out across the U.S. Each of Mezan’s offerings is unsweetened, uncolored and only lightly filtered.

Platinka-vodka-bottle-100x300World Elite Spirits is extending distribution of its Platinka vodka brand into two new states—Florida and Kansas—beginning next month. Platinka ($20 a 750-ml.) is launching in Florida though BMC Imports and in Kansas through Handcrafted Wine, building on its existing presence in Minnesota and Tennessee. The brand is made in Belarus, distilled from 100% rye sourced from a single estate region of Bialowieza Forest in western Belarus.

Teeling-Single-Grain-Irish-WhiskeyIreland’s Teeling Whiskey Co. has extended its lineup with the launch of a new single grain offering. Made using a modern column distillation process, Teeling Single Grain is matured in California red wine barrels and bottled at 46% abv without chill filtration. According to Teeling Whiskey Co. founder Jack Teeling, the single grain launch is part of the group’s efforts to “drive the expansion of the Irish whiskey category through unique bottling and expressions.” Teeling Single Grain will be available nationwide, priced at $49.99 a 750-ml., and joins the Teeling Whiskey Co.’s flagship Irish whiskey, Single Malt, 21-year-old Single Malt, 26-year-old Single Malt and 30-year-old Single Malt entries.

bols_geneverLucas Bols has debuted a new single-barrel genever aged for six years, which will be sold in limited quantities in New York and online. Four hundred one-liter bottles of Bols Six-Year Aged Genever (42% abv) are being released at $46.99 each. The barrel-aging process imparts notes of vanilla, wood and spice to the herbaceous, juniper flavors of Bols Genever, the company says. Previous aged Bols Genever products have been crafted in French Limousine oak, while the latest offering was aged in American white oak casks.

indexSazerac Co.’s Taaka vodka has added Pineapple and Watermelon expressions to its existing 11-flavor range. Set to roll out this spring, both 30%-abv entries will be available nationwide, retailing at around $7.99 a 750-ml. In addition to Pineapple and Watermelon, Taaka’s existing flavored vodka lineup includes Cherry, Grape, Cake, Whipped Cream, Orange, Coconut, Peach, Red Berry, King Cake, Pink Lemonade and Fruit Punch offerings.

FNS_Syvä_wHallock, Minnesota-based craft distiller Far North Spirits has extended its lineup with the launch of Syvä Vodka and Gustaf Navy Strength Gin. Both handcrafted entries are made from AC Hazlet winter rye sourced from the distillery’s family farm, and distilled in copper pot stills. Billed as a London-style gin, Gustaf is bottled at 114 proof and features 11 botanicals, while Syvä is a charcoal-filtered vodka bottled at 90 proof. The pair will be available throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul market starting early next month. Along with Syvä and Gustaf, Far North’s craft spirits portfolio also includes Alander Spiced Rum, Roknar Rye Whiskey and Solveig Gin. The company’s spirits are distributed in Minnesota and North Dakota by Phillips Wine and Spirits and in New York and New Jersey by T. Edward Wines.

All information courtesy of Shanken News Daily

69d0d254b7bc1eb5dc9af1b0782ea373The middle of February is a perfect time to be drinking Margaritas.  Why?  Because the flavor instantly conjures up the feeling of warmth, sunshine, and good times.  So, why not make some tacos, burritos or enchiladas and a mess of Margaritas this Sunday for dinner?

The Margarita has been around for about 85 years and although there are several legends as to its creation, I’m of the opinion that it is what was previously known as a Tequila Daisy.  The word “daisy” translates into “Margarita” in Spanish.  Why a daisy?  It was yet another of those old-school terms for cocktails along the lines of fizzes, eye-openers, flips, crustas, etc…

Anyway, the great folks at Casa Noble Tequila asked me to come up with an original take on the venerable Margarita using their Crystal Tequila.  So, in keeping with the summer weather theme, I decided to break out the grill and see what I could come up with.  This recipe makes enough for a party, so make sure to invite over some friends when putting this together.

Pina Margarita (makes six cocktails)
Ingredients
1 medium pineapple (about 3 pounds)
6 oz Crystal Casa Noble
3 oz Cointreau
3 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
House-made saline solution*

First, peel the pineapple and cut it in half lengthwise.  Then cut the halves into 1/2 inch thick pieces.  Put them on a grill that’s been heated to about 400°F.  Grill uncovered about four minutes per side.  Then remove and let cool for 15 minutes.

Take three pieces of pineapple and muddle in a mixing tin.  Add 1 ounce of tequila, 1/2 ounce Cointreau and 1/2 ounce lime juice.  Fill with ice and shake until well chilled.  Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Add a dash (3-4 drops) of saline solution.  Garnish with a chunk of grilled pineapple and a lime wheel and serve.

Saline solution
Mix 1 tsp kosher salt and 1 tbl mineral water until dissolved.  Either use an eye-dropper to dispense or store in an empty bitters bottle.

JBF_AWARDS_MEDALLION-BLOG2015 Outstanding Bar Program

Anvil Bar & Refuge, Houston
Arnaud’s French 75 Bar, New Orleans
Bar Agricole, San Francisco
Barmini, Washington, D.C.
Butcher and the Rye, Pittsburgh
Cane & Table, New Orleans
Canon, Seattle
Clyde Common, Portland, OR
The Dead Rabbit, NYC
The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., Philadelphia
The Hawthorne, Boston
Kimball House, Decatur, GA
Maison Premiere, Brooklyn, NY
The Other Room, Lincoln, NE
The Patterson House, Nashville
Portland Hunt + Alpine Club, Portland, ME
Tørst, Brooklyn, NY
Trick Dog, San Francisco
The Varnish, Los Angeles
The Violet Hour, Chicago

2015 Outstanding Wine Program

A16, San Francisco
Addison at the Grand Del Mar, San Diego
Annie Gunn’s, Chesterfield, MO
A.O.C., Los Angeles
Bern’s Steak House, Tampa, FL
Casanova, Carmel, CA
Charleston, Baltimore
FIG, Charleston, SC
Hugo’s, Houston
Jory Restaurant at the Allison Inn & Spa, Newberg, OR
McCrady’s, Charleston, SC
Miller Union, Atlanta
Momofuku Ko, NYC
Press, St. Helena, CA
Sepia, Chicago
Spago, Beverly Hills, CA
La Toque, Napa, CA
Troquet, Boston
Wild Ginger, Seattle
Yono’s Restaurant, Albany, NY

2015 Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional

Derek Brown, Mockingbird Hill, Washington, D.C.
Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Milton, DE
Ron Cooper, Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal, Ranchos de Taos, NM
Mike Floyd, Nick Floyd, and Simon Floyd, Three Floyds Brewing, Munster, IN
Diane Flynt, Foggy Ridge Cider, Dugspur, VA
Jon Gasparini and Greg Lindgren, Rye on the Road, San Francisco
Steven Grubbs, Empire State South, Atlanta
Charles Joly, Crafthouse, Chicago
Jim Koch, The Boston Beer Company, Boston
Manfred Krankl, Sine Qua Non, Oak View, CA
Ted Lemon, Littorai Wines, Sebastopol, CA
Steve Matthiasson, Matthiasson Wines, Napa, CA
Rajat Parr, Mina Group, San Francisco
Tom Peters, Monk’s Café, Philadelphia
Eric Seed, Haus Alpenz, Edina, MN
Aldo Sohm, Zalto Glass, NYC
James Tidwell, Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas, Irving, TX
Rob Tod, Allagash Brewing Company, Portland, ME
Harlen Wheatley, Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY
Steve Wildy, Vetri Family, Philadelphia

IMG_7831-800One of the things I miss about traveling these days, are the chocolate mints that I would find on my hotel room pillow at the end of the day.  So, when I was challenged by Fratelli Branca to create a drink for National Chocolate Mint Day using Brancamenta, I jumped at the chance.
Brancamenta is the lesser known cousin to Fernet Branca.  Branca is heavily herbal, intense and is an acquired taste for most.  Menta on the other hand is nearer to creme de menthe, except that it is dark brown in color as opposed to green or clear.
In trying to recreate the flavor profile of milk chocolate and mint, I chose dark creme de cacao, heavy cream and Brancamenta for the recipe.  And as with the tiny treat of a small candy, I decided to make a shooter instead of a cocktail.  I think it’s a winner.

Cioccolato alla Menta Shooter
0.5 oz Dark creme de cacao
0.5 oz Brancamenta
0.25 oz heavy cream

Instructions: Carefully layer each ingredient in order over the back of a bar spoon into a shot glass.  When done properly, it should look like a miniature glass of Guinness stout.

IMG_7797-800This is a drink that hails back to The Savoy Cocktail Book compiled by Harry Craddock in 1930.  However, there are a few differences.  Here is the original recipe:

1 Dash Absinthe
1 Dash Angostura Bitters
1 1/2 oz Dry Gin
1 1/2 oz Caperitif

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass. Add a Cherry.

Now here is the version as published in the Mr. Boston Guide:

Cabaret Cocktail
1.5oz gin
0.5oz dry vermouth
0.25oz benedictine
2 dashes angostura bitters
Garnish: maraschino cherry

Stir with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.  Add cherry.

These really are two entirely different cocktails, even though they are both Martini variations.  Sadly, the original ingredient called Caperitif is no longer made.  It was a South African wine-based quinquina, similar to today’s Lillet Blanc.  Although it may make a comeback someday.  We’re seeing a lot of long forgotten vermouths back on the shelves these days.

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