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…

Corsair Artisan, Tenn-tucky’s Crazy Craft Distilling Kids

Continuing our tour of Tennessee whiskey country, we head on to the distillery that is the polar opposite of Jack Daniel’s monolithic magnificence…

Andrew Webber at Corsair Artisan Distillery is like a kid in a candy shop amidst his stills and barrels and grains. Five gallon barrels contain all kinds of experimental concoctions. Bottles line the shelves, filled with all manners of strange things. Lagered quinoa? Why not? Their biggest hits to date include a cocktail-friendly unaged rye whiskey and an American “single malt” featuring three varieties of smoked barley – one smoked with American cherry wood, one with Scottish peat, and one with German beachwood. A recent experimental batch steeped cacao hulls (not the bean, but the shell) in bourbon for an intensely nutty, dark chocolatey depth.

Corsair Artisan was basically the first micro-distillery to pop up once Tennessee’s distillery laws opened up, and they split up their operations between Nashville, Tennessee, and Bowling Green, Kentucky. It’s yet another untraditional choice that shows these guys aren’t afraid of doing things differently. The Nashville distillery and taproom sits in a gorgeously revitalized old Marathon Motorworks auto factory on the rough edges of downtown, industrial chic at its best. Old brick, doors large enough to fit a semi through, ghosts of production lines long gone.

Inside, the science lab mentality is in full effect. The beautiful old copper stills are tricked out with modern gadgets, mechanical eyes and agitators, to help manage the distillation. Even the barrels themselves are part of the experimentation – small barrels from Black Swan Cooperage feature staves with grooves and honeycomb shapes carved into them (inside the barrel) to allow for greater interaction between the spirit and the wood. Supposedly, 10 months in one of the 5 gallon barrels gives you a similar level of interaction as 15 years in a 52 gallon barrel. And for a nimble little distillery that likes to play with lots of things, that fast “aging” makes a big difference.

The guys at Corsair also have a brewer’s approach to the craft… they like playing with the mash, sourcing unusual grains, trying different roasts and smokes. There’s cherry-smoked barley, chocolate-roasted rye, red winter wheat, oatmeal, quinoa. It sounds like the bulk isle at a progressive natural foods store. But Corsair has proven they can make great things out of unusual grains.

There’s no “tour” per se at Corsair, but if you call them up and they have some free time, they’re more than happy to share the ins and outs of the distillery with interested fans. And the taproom, formerly occupied by Nashville’s Yazoo Brewing Company, is still a great place to grab a beer at the end of the day. Meanwhile, outside Nashville, you can find Corsair Artisan’s lineup of regular and seasonal craft products (there are lots of interesting rotating options, like Pumpkin Spice Moonshine!) at bars and liquor stores alike. Just call up your favorite place to see what they have in stock.

Corsair Artisan in images, continues below…

And while you’re here, also check out all the stops on our Tennessee whiskey tour.

Coming Soon: OMG Rye and More…

Industry events are a great way to get a feel for what’s “hot” (at least from a marketer’s perspective), and, if yesterday’s Quality Wine & Spirits “Holiday Show” is any indication, gin and rye are super hot. The “Holiday Show” is a showcase of the wines, spirits, and more that this great Georgia distributor carries (they are a distributor, so sell to liquor stores / bars / restaurants, not the public directly). The room was filled with wine from all over the world, and some of the very best artisan spirits available anywhere. It would be impossible to give a full account of all that was there, so I’ll try to share some of the highlights (and regrets of missing potential highlights) of what I tasted.

I walked in and was immediately greeted by two of my favorites – Eric Seed of Haus Alpenz, who has been instrumental in bringing some incredible vermouths and other rare spirits to the US (Dolin, Cocchi, Zucca, etc.); and David Perkins of High West Distillery in Utah, who has been doing some great things with rye and interesting whiskey blends.

I was really impressed with High West’s new (coming soon!) “Silver Whiskey OMG Pure Rye.” The OMG is actually a play on “Old MononGahela” – a river in western Pennsylvania which ran through the heart of America’s original whiskey country – and this unaged 100% rye (20 % malted, 80 % regular) is meant as a tribute to the old ways. What really hit me was the yeastiness on the nose, and I mean that in a very good way, that balanced out the spicy rye. Perkins made a point of sharing that there are three yeast strains that go into this, and also offered a taste of a test single yeast version as well that didn’t have the same complexity of the finished product. There’s a lot that goes into figuring out a whiskey like this, and the attention to the yeast blend is really interesting (to me at least!), especially given that an unaged whiskey doesn’t have the flavor of the barrel to fall back on. This is a Wow. Highly recommended. I also got another chance to taste their 21 year old rye which has been out for a while, and it is simply spectacular.

Back to Haus Alpenz, I love their Cocchi Vermouth, Barolo Chinato, and Americano, but passed on those to try something new – the Rothman & Winter Peach Liqueur from Austria. This joins Rothman & Winter’s Creme de Violette as a knockout cocktail ingredient for those seeking something unusual, and the Peach will be much more crowd friendly (the Creme de Violette is extremely SUPER floral). Great intensity of flavor.

Sticking to the row of spirits producers, I got to try a LOT and also passed up the chance to try a lot more that I would have loved to sample. There was simply too much. Some of the things I tried that were very impressive:

Pur Likor Blossom
, Elderberry Liqueur, Germany: for all you St. Germain fans, finally a worthy alternative, very expressive

Neisson Rhum Agricole Vieux Reserve Speciale, Martinique: crazy good aged rhum, a treat to try this

St. George Terroir Gin and Dry Rye Gin, California: two stellar and unique gins, the former is like a hike in Northern California, gaining its “terroir” from using local botanicals, and the latter is an intriguing bridge between gin and rye, aggressively spiced with juniper and the rye’s peppery notes

Small’s American Dry Gin: a new entry from the folks behind the wonderful Ransom Old Tom Gin, this one has a great, crisp spice profile made with a bit of raspberry!

I regret not having tried the Bas Armagnacs from Marie Duffau and Dartigalongue (how often does one get to try those risk free??) as well as the Chaffe Coeur Calvados (ditto).

On the wine side, I missed out on a lot, but just about all the wines from Jon David Headrick Selections were excellent, especially the Dosnon & Lepage Recolte Rose Champagne and the Claude Riffault Sancerre “Boucauds.” I somehow missed out on the Hirsch Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and the Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir; so it goes at a massive event like this.

I was happy to walk away after much swirling and spitting with at least a few things to seek out in the future, as well as an appreciation for all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes for these producers trying to get their products out into the hands and mouths of the people.

Photos of some of my favorites follow, including some great oysters and ridiculous TRUFFLE MAYO there to accompany the drinks. Thanks to Quality for the opportunity to taste:

Small Batch Goodness: 13th Colony, Georgia Craft Distillery

We here at Thirsty South are firm supporters of the “drink local” movement – be it beer, wine, spirits, or coffee (or tap water and cola for that matter!). The South obviously has a tremendously successful history with bourbon in Kentucky and whiskey in Tennessee, but recent years have seen the rise of the craft distillery movement in the South as well as some unique Southern takes on vodka and other spirits. Corsair Artisan comes to mind on the craft side, as does Firefly vodka on a more commercial scale. And for the past year or so, another craft producer has been building a following in Georgia with their Southern Vodka and Southern Gin: Thirteenth Colony Distillery out of Americus, Georgia.

Thirteenth Colony is a small batch producer, and has recently released a limited edition (only 400 cases made) 100% corn whiskey that is turning heads. The Thirteenth Colony Southern Corn Whiskey was aged in old oak barrels, and comes in at a healthy 95 proof. This combination of 100% corn, oak aging (though still relatively young), and the robust strength makes for a unique product that should help Thirteenth Colony further establish its credentials as a craft distillery worth keeping an eye on.  Not that they are an unknown quantity – their Southern Gin picked up a Gold Medal at the most recent Spirits International Prestige (SIP) Awards competition in San Diego, and the Southern Vodka claimed a bronze.

Listening to the folks behind Thirteenth Colony, one gets a very clear image of their mission: high quality, small batch spirits “made by friends for friends.” There is a unique camaraderie that infuses their brand, and they definitely wear their Southern sense-of-place on their sleeve, from the “Southern” branding on their gin, vodka and corn whiskey, to the mention on each label of being “Georgia’s only craft distillery.” And the “Thirteenth Colony” name, of course, refers to Georgia’s heritage from colonial times.

So, the big question is, how are their products? Will they make Georgia proud? The short answer is, “yes.” The Southern Corn Whiskey is noteworthy for its unique character. The Southern Gin is a serious pleaser, with a nice coriander presence. The Southern Vodka is an all-around solid vodka that will make any bar happy, though the least interesting of these three bottlings. We were fortunate to receive some samples for tasting, and here are our full notes:

Thirteenth Colony, Southern Corn Whiskey, 2010 Limited Release
95 Proof
Approx. $30 Retail
Tasting Date: November 4, 2010

Nice balance of mellow oak and light caramel on the nose. The mouthfeel is soft and full. The corn is noticeable in a good way, slight summery sweetness, and sets this apart from most other whiskeys. Interestingly, the oak fades to the back on the palate (vs. being prominent on the nose), so the oak aging was enough to impart some pleasant top notes without overtaking the flavor profile. It is fairly robust at 95 proof, but not unbalanced at all, with a nice touch of heat on an overall smooth finish. The color is a typical, light golden amber. Good Stuff* and definitely worth seeking out to experience a 100% corn whiskey with oak aging.

From the distillery: “Each bottle of Southern Corn Whiskey is numbered and signed. Our Limited Release Corn Whiskey will be a small quantity, released once per year in the fall, and when it is gone, it is gone for the year.  Our goal is to pursue unique, high quality spirits and have several in various stages of development and planning.”

Thirteenth Colony, Southern Gin
82.4 Proof
Approx. $17 Retail
Tasting Date: November 4, 2010

Prominent coriander on the nose, alongside refreshing lavender/floral and light juniper herbal notes. Mouthfeel manages to be both crisp and full, with nice viscosity. The coriander carries over to the palate, which veers towards invigorating “green” herbs, celery even, a touch of lime. A well rounded juniper gin, not too sharp, not too mellow. Citrus notes linger enticingly on the finish. Good Stuff* and highly recommended for gin fans looking for a Southern player to knock out the Brits.

Thirteenth Colony, Southern Vodka
80 Proof
Approx. $17 Retail
Tasting Date: November 4, 2010

A touch of cucumber and alcohol on the nose. Clean on the palate with hints of sharp citrus and peppery spice which mellow out on a finish that stays smooth while packing some heat. Minimal texture, straight and to the point. Good Stuff* – a solid vodka to displace the Absoluts of this world in any Southerner’s bar, but not as compelling as Thirteenth Colony’s other offerings.


* 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

Thirteenth Colony Distillery quote regarding their Corn Whiskey is from the excellent interview with Kent Cost, co-owner of the distillery, that appears in American Craft Spirits’ “Meet The Makers” series