Four ATL cocktail recipes you need right now

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 4.41.53 PMTime to pimp my work over on Creative Loafing Atlanta – where you can now find recipes for four quite-excellent, surely-iconic Atlanta cocktails… plus a bit of background from the fine barkeeps who created the drinks. These four fine drinks are:

Greg Best’s Southern Cola

Julian Goglia’s Goonies Never Say Die!

Jerry Slater’s Bufala Negra

T. Fable Jeon’s Unsung Hiro

Get the full store HERE—–> (that means click) AND MORE in Creative Loafing‘s Cocktail Issue. 

 

 

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FEW Spirits: A few quick notes

FEW_spirits

FEW Spirits, out of the great city of Chicago (well, Evanston, to be exact), has won boatloads of awards and received a good bit of acclaim as one of America’s leading craft distillers. Their rye whiskey was awarded Whisky Advocate’s Craft Whiskey of the Year in 2013, and their bourbon and barrel-aged gin join the rye with gold medals from the Beverage Testing Institute (if awards are your kinda thing). This spring, FEW expanded their distribution to include Georgia (and a few other states, they’re now up to 20 plus Washington D.C., and a handful of countries outside the U.S.), and sent me a few samples to get to know them better. Having spent a good amount of time in Chicago previously, I was well aware of FEW, but it was good to revisit their four main products.

The coolest thing about FEW is that they really make an effort to keep their production locally rooted – sourcing as much of their grains as possible from within 100 miles of the distillery, where they do all the fermentation, distillation, aging and bottling on-site. They famously grow the Cascade hops used in their American Gin in founder/distiller Paul Hletko’s own backyard. Herewith, some quick thoughts on their two primary whiskeys (one bourbon, one rye) and two primary gins (one regular, one barrel-aged). The rye, in particular, stands out to me as an excellent craft spirit worth seeking out. Oh, and don’t you love those photos up above? They come courtesy of FEW’s website, which also features a number of cocktail recipes for each spirit when you’re ready to play.

FEW_American_Gin1FEW American Gin
80 proof, Approx. $40 retail
Thirsty South Rating: Good Stuff* 

Interestingly, FEW’s American Gin is made from a wheated bourbon mash (70% corn, 20% wheat, 10% malted barley), with an intentional focus on the grains. They also include Cascade hops in the botanical blend and whole vanilla beans, plus more typical gin botanicals like juniper, bitter orange and lemon peel. Mild at first, with notes that may have you thinking … “vodka?” … before some interesting hints of green lemongrass and waxy vanilla seep in. Again, it’s mild when you first taste it, but you can pick up the subtle presence of the corn and grains, then a lingering acidic tingle with a juniper base finally jumps in on the lovely finish. This one grew on me and benefits from some air – and will do nicely in cocktails that call for a mild-mannered gin or as an introductory offer to any gin-averse friends.

FEW_Barrel_Gin1FEW Barrel Gin
93 proof, Approx. $50 retail
Thirsty South Rating: Good Stuff (approaching Excellent)*

FEW’s Barrel Gin actually uses a more neutral base than the American Gin (distilled to a higher proof and thus less grain presence coming through), and is also flavored with different botanicals to better harmonize with the barrel-aging. It goes roughly  6 to 9 months in a combo of new oak and FEW’s used bourbon and rye barrels. With just a whiff, this is much more intriguing than the American Gin, and – to me at least – you get both more of a gin/juniper presence AND the effects of the barrel also emerge in notes of warm sandalwood. Also on the nose, there’s a bit of lemon Pledge (in a good way!) and tropical fruit… think grilled pineapple. Sipping the aged gin also shows a nice layering of flavor, fairly rich and lush, with a lovely waft of floral notes coming in and out. The wood remains in the background, warm but subtle, and again the finish has a nice lingering juniper character that really shines.

FEW_Bourbon_WhiskeyFEW Bourbon Whiskey
93 proof, Approx. $50 retail
Thirsty South Rating: Fair* 

FEW’s bourbon mash bill is 70% corn, 20% rye, 10%  malted barley, and is fermented with a beer yeast that FEW says helps bring out some spice notes. No age statement, but it’s generally between two and three years. Give this a bit of air, too, to fully open up. The nose is quite nice, with some maple syrup, sawdust, and plenty of corn silk and that malt presence. Sipping, though, it comes across very young, in a not entirely pleasant way if you’re not a fan of young whiskies. I have a feeling this would really benefit from another couple years in the barrel, but as it stands, would have a hard time choosing this over much cheaper bourbons from larger distillers.

FEW_Rye_Whiskey1FEW Rye Whiskey
93 proof, Approx. $65 retail
Thirsty South Rating: Excellent*

The rye mashbill is 70% rye, 20% corn, 10% malted barley, and is fermented with a Loire Valley wine yeast that FEW says brings out fruity notes. The nose on this rye is super interesting, some cinnamon, deep juicy plum, clove and baking spice swirling around in a heady ethereal way. There’s a fascinating richness to it that is almost moving into Port territory. Sipping neat, more complexity still, a deep grape quality, a touch of sharp mint, and a background buzz of Christmas spice that builds on the finish. I’d love to see this one with a bit more barrel time as well (it’s also under four years), but it’s in a great place. My favorite of all the four FEW spirits tasted.

UPDATE (8/18/2015): Someone had asked what FEW’s barrel approach was on the bourbon and rye, so here’s a response from FEW’s PR manager, Jason Horn: “We’re actually using a mix of barrel sizes from quarter-cask up to the standard 53-gallon barrels. Paul blends different size casks of different ages together to get the flavor he’s looking for. In recent years, we’ve been moving toward a higher and higher proportion of the 53-gallon barrels, but it is still a mix.”

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* Thirsty South Rating Scale:

Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

Full Disclosure: Tasting samples provided by FEW.

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Plantation Stiggins’ Fancy Pineapple Rum

Plantation Rum Pineapple

What the what is David Wondrich up to? The celebrated drinks historian, punch enthusiast, and beard-grower has teamed up again with Alexandre Gabriel of Maison Ferrand (owner of Plantation Rum, and previous partner with Wondrich on Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac and Dry Curacao) to… well, to do something involving pineapple and rum. Before you read the rest of this, let’s take a quick multiple choice quiz. A pre-quiz, if you will.

Plantation Stiggins’ Fancy Pineapple Rum is:

a) A blend of Trinidad brown rums matured in young bourbon casks, infused with Queen Victoria pineapples for three months, and further mixed with a distillate of macerated pineapple rinds and white rum (“a bright pineapple essence to blend with the lushness of the infused rum”) before a final rest in the barrel

b) A drink inspired by the favorite tipple of one Reverend Stiggins, who was a character in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers 

c) A “liquid thank you” to the members of the apprentice program at Tales of the Cocktail (an annual bar and spirits industry event held in New Orleans)

d) A throwback to original pineapple rum recipes found in the 1824 English Journal of Patent and Inventions, and the 1844 Journal of Agricultural Society

e) All of the above

If you guessed a), you are absolutely right, but I could say the same thing for every other choice. Yes, the true and astonishing answer is that Plantation 1824 Pineapple Rum is all of those crazy things. Thank you Messrs. Wondrich and Gabriel.

Plantation Rum PineappleThis stuff is crazy, and wonderful, and absurd, and absolutely worth seeking out. It was initially planned as a 1000 bottle limited run, focused on the insider crowds attending Tales of the Cocktail last year, but the reception has apparently stoked the flames to extend the run of Pineapple Rum. I was lucky enough to pick up a bottle at H&F Bottle Shop (though I paid $38, a good bit above what other national retailers like K&L carry it for) before it quickly left their premises.

The first thing you’ll notice if you get your hands on a bottle is that Wondrich, ever the writer/historian, has packed the label with all kinds of stories and background (in fact, the label was the source for the above quiz). A quick read will inform you that Dickens’ Reverend Stiggins, “preferred to take his ‘warm’ (i.e., with a splash of boiling water), with three lumps of sugar to the tumbler.”  This is where Reverend Stiggins and I part ways, as this Plantation Rum requires no water, nor sugar. Here are the notes…

Plantation Rum PineapplePlantation Stiggins’ Fancy Pineapple Rum
Artisanal Caribbean Rum Infused with Pineapple Barks, AKA Rich Plantation Original Dark Rum infused with Victorian Pineapple, Stiggins’ Fancy 1824 Recipe
80 Proof, Approx. $30-$40 Retail
Tasting Dates: July 21 – 23, 2015
Thirsty South Rating: Excellent*

At first glance, this is clearly rum of the dark variety, in this case a lovely shade on the amber side of mahogany  – not that that tells you much, but we know it is both aged and infused (btw, a great name for a band or movie – “aged and infused”).

Taking it in neat, wow… there are the typical dark rum notes of molasses, toffee and deep honey on the nose, but a pineapple-petrol blast then pours forth, a little banana, a hint of clove, a graham cracker-like toasty note, a touch of vanilla from the barrel. Fascinating stuff, powerful without hitting you over the heard or being too blunt/obvious.

Sipping, lush is the word. Sweet tropical fruit (but again, there’s an elegance to it) that starts rich and ripe, then goes clean and crisp in the mid-palate, then shifts again to a long pleasantly warm, rich finish. The pineapple is there, but it’s also kind of hiding in plain sight behind the dark rum itself – once you know to look for it, it’s totally obvious, but if you had no idea what you were getting into, you might guess all sorts of tropical fruit were playing a part in this. It’s a fabulous sipper all by itself – don’t even bother with a cube of ice unless the summer heat suggests it.

And speaking of heat, I tried Reverend Stiggins’ preferred path of serving it warm, with a splash of boiling water (and then additional sugar). First, the hot water… if it’s winter time (or you’re in foggy London) and/or you’re nursing a cold or a sore throat, this is a lovely idea. The hot water smooths out the rum even further, turning it into a sweet, soothing elixir that is sure to cure any ills. But, please, leave out the additional sugar, which just as surely may lead to a rotten tooth or possibly even diabetes.

Beyond sipping neat, this stuff is made for adventurous cocktail exploration. I’ve seen a few interesting recipes passing around online – using it as the base for an Old Fashioned variation, or really using it anywhere a more tropical side of dark rum or even bourbon would make sense. Me? I have a hard time doing anything other than enjoying every single sip right from the bottle.

Click through the photos to read the stories on the labels: 
Plantation Rum PineapplePlantation Rum PineapplePlantation Rum Pineapple

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* Thirsty South Rating Scale:

Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

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Pikesville Rye and Rittenhouse Rye: Review and Tasting Notes

Pikesville Rye Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey

Here’s the big news first – Heaven Hill has a new rye whiskey out that’s essentially an older, higher proof version of the beloved Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond. This new one is six years old (at least) and 110 proof, rather than four years old and 100 proof. Wow, what’s not to love about that? Heaven Hill has time and time again put their amazing bank of great, aged whiskey to excellent use, and there’s no reason to think this won’t be another home run along the lines of the their Elijah Craig barrel proof releases.

DSC_1129Where this gets a bit confusing, though, is with the label. This new rye is not a Rittenhouse – rather, it is called Pikesville. Pikesville is also the name used on a younger (three year), lower proof (80), regional rye brand from Heaven Hill. Both of these Pikesville whiskeys share roots going back to a Maryland brand that originated way back in the 1890’s and was acquired by Heaven Hill in 1982. Neither of these Pikesville whiskeys should have anything to do with Rittenhouse Rye. But they do. Got all that?

Heaven Hill is careful to make clear that they produce Pikesville in Kentucky. And remember how I said this was essentially an older, higher proof Rittenhouse? Sure enough, Heaven Hill has confirmed that Pikesville (a self-proclaimed Maryland-style rye) and Rittenhouse (a self-proclaimed Pennsylvania-style rye) are indeed the same mash bill (51% rye, 39% corn, 10% malted barley). So it goes… as long as they taste good, who am I to quibble with the distinctions between a Maryland-style and Pennsylvania-style when they’re both actually made in Kentucky and are essentially siblings of each other?

The new Pikesville rye has started rolling out in select markets, and will be seeing national distribution this fall. Rather than just taste it on its own, I decided to do a side by side with the Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond. While Rittenhouse doesn’t carry an age statement, word is that it’s basically four year old whiskey, so the Pikesville has roughly two years of extra time in the barrel on it. Heaven Hill has also said that Pikesville’s barrels have been carefully chosen from a more specific section of the rick houses than what Rittenhouse is pulling from. So here we go – a four year old, Pennsylvania-style rye and six year old Maryland-style rye, both made in Kentucky – head to head.

DSC_1136Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond Straight Rye Whiskey
100 Proof, Approx. $24 Retail
Tasting Dates: June 15 – July 17, 2015
Thirsty South Rating: Good Stuff 

First off, I want to point out that this is the Rittenhouse that was distilled by Heaven Hill (D.S.P. KY 1 for all you whiskey geeks) – not the older version that was distilled by Brown-Forman. Rittenhouse has long been a favorite for rye-based cocktails, especially when you can find one for $20 (it has crept up to the mid-$20s in most retailers).

On the nose, there’s some honey and butterscotch, but it’s buried beneath green wood, a cinnamon edge, a hint of vanilla. Neat, you get a rush of heat, then some dark brown sugar, a bit of rum raisin, dark cocoa powder, assertive rye spice, and a rich syrupy (but tingly) finish. This is no minty/super-herbal rye – it wears it’s hefty corn presence prominently and wears it well. A cube of ice rounds out the Rittenhouse nicely and helps balance the spicy edge and the dark, sweet core. But really, this rye is on the beast-end of the spectrum – it’s a bit too powerful for its own good when drinking neat, but works wonders when paired with lighter ingredients in cocktails like a Manhattan.

DSC_1131Pikesville Straight Rye Whiskey
110 Proof, Approx. $50 Retail
Tasting Dates: June 15 – July 17, 2015
Thirsty South Rating: Excellent 

The color here vs. the Rittenhouse is quite similar, maybe a bit darker for the Pikesville, but both a pleasing copper hue. Dang, right away on the nose, you get a lot more nuance, a lot more character, a lot more… intrigue. Despite the higher proof, the nose comes across more integrated, less heat. There are waves of honey and brown sugar and vanilla – typical bourbon notes – but the rye presence keeps the sweetness in check, weaving in and out with subdued floral notes, warm cedar wood, dark cocoa-coated almonds (funny enough, I’ve gotten a similar note from the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof – is there something going on in those Heaven Hill barrels?).

Sipped neat, the Pikesville continues to show the benefits of those two years in the barrel. The spice level perks up – sharp jabs of nutmeg and clove and cinnamon, again the warm wood, and those cocoa-coated almonds playing out over a long warm finish. Over ice, even nicer, still sharp. A touch of water also helps bring out the depths of flavor. You do get the commonalities with the Rittenhouse (Maryland vs. Pennsylvania, be damned) – and, again, this is clearly not a rye of the heavy-mint/dill variety.

Verdict: So the extra few years and 10 points of proof on the Pikesville are indeed beneficial. I’m still more likely to use Pikesville for a Manhattan than to sip neat, which makes it a pricey option to amp up a drink, but whether in a cocktail or sipping over ice, Pikesville offers a solid upgrade over the already-very-solid Rittenhouse Rye. The Maryland vs. Pennsylvania semantics don’t bother me at all – they’re both good drinks, made by a good distiller, and competitively priced. I’m betting the Pikesville will not be an easy one to track down, so if you do see a bottle and you’re a rye fan, do give it a shot.

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* Thirsty South Rating Scale:

Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

Full Disclosure: Tasting sample of Pikesville provided by Heaven Hill.

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Kikusui Funaguchi: Can Do Sake

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Ahhhh, sake. I’ll be honest – I know next to nothing about the stuff, other than the fact that I need to get to know it better. That said, one sake I’ve really been blown away by every time I’ve had over the past few years has been the canned sake from Japanese brewer Kikusui (interesting how the craft-sake-in-cans thing in Japan parallels the craft-beer-in-cans thing here in the states). Their most commonly found version – the yellow can – is the base Kikusui Funaguchi Honjozo Nama-sake. It’s joined by a longer-aged and more “refined” version in red; plus a once-a-year, freshly-harvested version in green. They’re all pretty spectacular – with a common backbone of lush, floral, tropical fruit – but there are enough distinctions among the three to make a side by side tasting really interesting. If you’re lucky enough to come across a can(s), these Kikusuis are a great way to explore distinctive sake at a low tariff – they’re typically $6-$10 retail depending on the type, and each can (at 19% alcohol) makes a nice serving for two people.

Kikusui Funaguchi SakeKikusui dates back to 1881 in the sake business – which makes them a youngster among Japan’s many historic sake brewers. The name Funaguchi is, as far as I can tell,  a trademarked name meant to communicate “raw sake on tap”- reinforcing the fact that this is a nama-sake – unpasteurized. Honjozo is a term that specifies level of refinement – typically 30% of the rice polished away (whereas more refined ginjo has at least 40% polished away, and the daiginjo at least 50%). The fresh harvest green can gets the designation shinmai, and the red (aged one year) is actually a ginjo rather than a honjozo, but still a nama-sake. Got all that?

Actually, Kikusui has some good detail on their website that helps explain each of these three varieties. First, though, here’s what they have to say about what makes their sake special:

The KIKUSUI brewery is located in Shibata City towards the northern end of Niigata. One defining characteristic of this area is the abundance of groundwater sources carring the clear, pristine water from the melted snow. The snow that falls on the Iide mountain range, which rise over 2,000 meters above sea level becomes perfect soft water. One of the key ingredients for Sake brewing is water and here there is an abundance of pure soft water. We at KIKUSUI feel blessed to be in an area so ideally suited for Sake brewing.

Niigata Prefecture is one of Japan’s largest food producers. In particular, “Koshihikari”, a brand of premium rice grown in Niigata, has been Japan’s most popular brand of rice for many years. Each grain is round and plump and when cooked is sticky with a pleasant texture. It has a delicate sweetness and fragrance when freshly cooked and is well known for its pleasant flavor after it has cooled. The flavor of this rice, like Sake, stems from the abundance of pristine water from the mountain snowmelt.

Kikusui FunaguchiSounds good to me, and there’s no doubt that the water and rice Kikusui use come together to make a beautiful drink. Let’s start with yellow, which, according to Kikusui was “Japan’s first nama-sake over 40 years ago.” Like Kikusui’s notes say, the stuff is full bodied, lush in both taste and feel. There are notes of mango and papaya, and a general funkiness that hints at yeast and grain. Remarkable stuff. And at 19% alcohol (Kikusui calls it “un-diluted” as opposed to other sakes that typically clock in at 15%), this sake packs a punch. And, yes, be sure to serve it cold. I like it straight out of the can – which may be sacrilege, I have no idea – but it just feels right.

Kikusui Funaguchi SakeAs for the aged version, in the distinctive red can, you can tell right away when you open this up that there is something different going on. The nose is both more smoothed out but also more intense, and when you taste it, you get a similar blend of smoothness and depth. The fruit is a bit darker – more plum than papaya – with a musky, honey undertone. The grain, too, comes through more strongly, more toasty. It’s hard to know exactly what the aging contributes vs. the more refined rice, and the family resemblance to the yellow can is unmistakable, but the aged version definitely kicks things up a notch.

Kikusui Funaguchi Shinmai Sake Green CanIn the opposite direction, the shinmai “sake nouveau” (groan, did they actually just call it that?? kinda 1990’s, no?), also bears that family resemblance, though with more of a unique twist. It’s frankly a bit harsher at first, the alcohol less integrated. The fruit is crisper – think green apple and honeydew (is the green can subliminally putting those thoughts into my mind? I don’t think so… but maybe). You do get the grain and the yeast still, and the body is still full and fairly lush, but it’s more settled underneath the fresh, crisp fruit. The shinmai only comes out once a year, so it’s a bit harder to find. Here in Atlanta, it hit in spring, using the rice that was harvested last fall. Frankly, it’s my least favorite of the three given the more prominent alcohol notes, but it’s still a fascinating drink, especially side by side with the other Kikusui cans.

Luckily, Kikusui in general is not that hard to find. In Atlanta, I’ve found it at Hop City, Le Caveau, and Buford Highway Farmers Market, and it very well may be at several of the top liquor stores as well. Next time you see a can, pick one up – it’s sure to get you in the mood to learn more about sake.

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