A Cocktail of Sorts: Sippin on Gin ‘n Jews

“Gin ‘n Jews.” This is a cocktail that is about as Southern as Santa Claus. It comes from a French Canadian cookbook from a couple guys in Montreal who have a thing for the food and wine of Burgundy… it’s a riff on the drink made popular by a prominent West Coast rapper… it features one ingredient closely linked to the Dutch and the British… and, most surprisingly, it features another ingredient known for its place on the table for the Jewish holiday of Passover. Whoever decided to bring Manischewitz into modern cocktail culture was either a genius, or a madman. Or maybe both. It deserves a place behind the bar at any fine cocktail establishment. (OK. I lie.)

Anyway, as you can see from the photo above, the recipe calls for gin, Manishewitz, lemon juice, and an egg white. Mix it up. Shake till frothy. Bang. Gin ‘n Jews.

I do admit to digging on some Manischewitz once a year or so, but even still, my expectations were not high. It’s a gimmick drink, for sure, but it turned out surprisingly well. The gin notes manage to bust through the juicy concord grape wine, and the freshly squeezed lemon juice brings a nice sharpness to it as well. Smooth, balanced, interesting. Even still, I felt it was missing something. I threw in a splash of Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, which did the trick. Maraschino and Manischewitz? A match made in the holy land. Who knew?

For the recipe, buy the book!¬†The Joe Beef “Cookbook of Sorts” is an awesome collection of stories, recipes, and guides to things like the top Canadian train itineraries. Seriously. And it also features the “Sausage Martini” with a Vienna sausage garnish, “The Raw Beef” cocktail which does indeed include raw beef, and a guide to making your own absinthe. We’re all in deep trouble if this gets into the wrong hands…

A White Elephant at The Gin Joint, Charleston

There was one primary cocktail destination (OK, and a few secondary destinations as well) on our recent visit to Charleston – The Gin Joint – and the experience did not disappoint. Their cocktail menu is creative, diverse and expansive. The feel is that of a comfortable, modern take on the speakeasy. The service is knowledgable and friendly. And the drinks are perfectly executed.

A local friend had recommended one particular cocktail that The Gin Joint is known for – their “White Elephant.” There’s no relation here to the White Elephant that features vodka and creme de cacao; owner/bartender Joe Raya informed us that this one is a twist on the classic Hemingway¬†daiquiri¬†which had its origins in 1930’s era Havana at one of Hemingway’s haunts, the El Floridita Bar. The twist in The Gin Joint’s drink is that it replaces white rum with a tequila blanco, and the name comes from Hemingway’s book titled “Hills Like White Elephants.” That book is set in Spain, but it’s the Mexican tequila that sets this drink apart – our version included Espolon Tequila Blanco, which lends an earthiness to the drink that balances the sweet citrus incredibly well. The other key ingredient is Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur – accept no substitutes!

Here you go, The Gin Joint’s recipe for a White Elephant, followed by some photos to give you a feel for this great little bar in Charleston, South Carolina.

The White Elephant
1.5 oz tequila blanco, such as Espolon
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
1/4 oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

Shake all ingredients well over crushed ice, strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with a Luxardo Maraschino cherry if desired.

High West Breaks Out Barreled Manhattans

As noted a few weeks back, the “barrel aged cocktail” craze is in high gear in bars across the country. Here in Atlanta, we recently tried the barrel aged Negroni at¬†Double Zero (delicious, if not quite as bracingly vibrant as its unaged counterpart). And, now, lucky shoppers can find a limited edition, barrel aged Manhattan on the shelves of fine spirits purveyors across the country.¬†High West Distillery of Utah is known for pushing boundaries (note their unique blended rye, bourbon/rye blend, “silver oat whiskey,” and the fact that their¬†proprietor, David¬†Perkins – raised in Georgia by the way, was awarded the 2011 Malt Advocate Pioneer of the Year Award). It’s no surprise that they’ve been a trailblazer for barrel aged cocktails by the bottle, starting last year with a special 100-day-aged “U.S. Grant Centennial Celebration Barreled Manhattan” and progressing to the the version now on store shelves with the moniker “The 36th Vote Barreled Manhattan.” “The 36th Vote” commemorates Utah’s decisive vote in the repeal of Prohibition, and the notion of a Manhattan as the appropriate drink to celebrate Prohibition’s repeal is entirely appropriate given its place in the classic, pre-Prohibition cocktail pantheon.

High West was kind enough to provide two samples of their Manhattan – the barreled version which can be found on store shelves, and an “unaged” version for comparison sake. “The 36th Vote” is a mix of 2 parts High West 95% rye whiskey, 1 part sweet vermouth, and a couple dashes of Angostura bitters per serving, which then spends somewhere between 90 and 120 days of aging time in a 2 year old, American oak, rye whiskey barrel. Perkins admitted that the vermouth used was not necessarily their first choice (Carpano Antica Formula anyone?), but due to federal regulations, had to be one that they could source wholesale in bulk.

The result is a¬†37 percent alcohol (74 proof), high quality Manhattan in a bottle. To test out the difference of the barrel aging, we tasted these samples first without any ice (I typically like mine shaken with ice and strained into a chilled glass, but many folks prefer stirred). The impact of the barrel aging is not unexpected – it mellows and mingles the flavors to produce a rounder, fuller cocktail (even vs. a version like the one that High West provided that has been pre-mixed and sitting in a bottle, rather than freshly made). With the unaged version, the sharp notes of the vermouth and bitters jump out on the nose, then linger prominently on the finish. With the aged version, there is a softer, more integrated nose, where the rye and the vermouth seem to snuggle up together,¬†rather¬†than posture against each other. It simply comes across as more integrated, more lush, more happily-wed. There are no obvious notes of the wood itself; rather, it’s that little bit of breathing time that the wood barrel provides that brings the drink into a slightly greater harmony. And “The 36th Vote” is exactly that – a beautifully harmonious take on the Manhattan.

Is the barrel aged cocktail in a bottle going to be the next big thing? I don’t think so. It’s just too darn easy to make a great Manhattan at home, not to mention the fact that experimenting with various ryes and various vermouths is a great way to learn what you like best. But “The 36th Vote” is worth experiencing, worth seeking out, to get a taste of time in the barrel, and to experience a uniquely different form of wedded bliss.

High West Distillery, The 36th Vote Barreled Manhattan
74 proof
Approx. $45 retail for a 750ml bottle
Tasting Date: June 7, 2011
Good Stuff ‚Äď a great way to experience the impact of barrel aging on a classic cocktail

Thirsty Scenes from the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival

The inaugural Atlanta Food and Wine Festival has been so expansive, so broad ranging, so diverse, that to even attempt to capture the totality of this festival in photos, words, video, memories is an overwhelming challenge. There has been an overflow of bourbon, cocktails, wine and beer, mostly with a focus on the very best of what the South has to offer. There has been a multitude of bites of food, whole hog goodness, pickled veggies, comfort food and creative craziness. Above all, there have been lots of fine folks who care passionately about the food and drink of the South. That was the reason for the festival.

My friend Broderick at SavoryExposure.com captured some of the amazing faces of the festival. I tended to focus on the bottles, glasses, and plates, so here, in some small way, is a very minor taste of the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival through the lens of my camera.

First up, the ridiculous bounty of fine things to drink. Our favorite bourbon – Pappy Van Winkle – was well represented. There was an amazing array of Madeira dating back to 1875 that simply blew my mind. “Moonshine” in many varieties made an appearance. And some Corsair experimental “cocoa hull bourbon” knocked my socks off.

Food “trucks” had their own dedicated area. Gotta love the old Airstream trailers. And the “legalize it” message takes on new meaning when it comes to the street food scene.

The stars inside the seminars included Kevin Gillespie (photo below: “Kevin Gillespie in 3 Variations”), Sean Brock, Linton Hopkins, Tyler Brown, and a poor little piggie.

And the tastes. Oh, the tastes. A few favorites hailed from the whole hog tent, but you can’t have a Southern food festival without pimento cheese and pickled eggs. Good stuff, y’all!

After all that, we’re already eager for what they can do with a second annual Atlanta Food and Wine Festival next year. Though first I need to recuperate from the past few days of over-abundant Southern goodness. While it was worth it, I think I need a vacation…

Barrel Aged Cocktails: Ready For Primetime?

Atlanta is finally seeing the barrel aged cocktail wave that has been sweeping the country over the past several months, as Iberian Pig in Decatur and sister restaurant Double Zero in Sandy Springs have rolled out barrel aged cocktails – the “Blackthorn” at Iberian Pig (gin, Dubonnet Rouge and Kirschwasser) and a Negroni at Double Zero (gin, Campari, sweet vermouth). Can it be coincidence that a restaurant by the name of Zero Zero in San Francisco also recently started serving barrel aged Negronis to much fanfare?

Barrel aging is, of course, a key ingredient in creating great bourbon, rye, Scotch, wine… and is seeing more and more use in beer as well. Its use in cocktails seems to be catching fire recently, especially in places like San Francisco and Portland and Chicago and New York, and now … Atlanta. The time in the barrel, as little as a thirty days for many of these cocktails, as many as thirty plus years for several coveted whiskies, imparts color and flavor from the wood and, often, from the spirit that was previously aged in that barrel. For cocktails, it clearly gives the ingredients time to meld, and for the lower alcohol elements (like vermouth) to oxidize and develop characteristics you wouldn’t normally find out of the bottle. See Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s blog for some interesting experiments you can even try at home (if you are adventurous and have a few hundred spare bucks to spend).

So… who has tried a barrel aged cocktail? How did you think it compared to its unaged version? Any other bars in the South doing interesting things with barrel aging? Let us know!