Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Julie White in New Cocktail Buzz Video: The Bird Nest { paired with deviled quail eggs }

Our friend actress Julie White is a sweetheart. She may not play them all the time (as her Tony-Award-winning turn as Diane, the Manolo-wearing Mephistophelean agent who will stop at nothing to make sure her most promising client rises to the top of the Hollywood food chain will confirm), but in real life, she is a food and champagne cocktail lover who wanted to be in our latest video. (Perhaps you’ve seen her judging the cuisine of Bobby Flay and Mario Batali on “Iron Chef America.” One of the secret ingredients was eggs. Little did she know she would be getting a whole lot more eggs at The Bird Nest—more on that later.)

When Julie returned to Brooklyn after a stint in L.A. (she played a flirty, boozy, politically incorrect business woman on the underrated “Cavemen”), she bought a new penthouse apartment that had three outdoor spaces (unheard of to most New Yorkers). Since she calls her place “The Bird Nest,” we thought a cocktail with that moniker was a no-brainer. But what to make it with? Julie loves light drinks, so champagne would make a perfect base. And adding a little blue curaçao not only adds a beautiful sky-blue hue, its light orange flavor is perfect with champagne. Top with a splash of silver tequila, place a half an orange slice on top, and you’ll be chirping and sipping, sipping and chirping.

But wait, there’s more. Deviled Quail Eggs! Yes, quail eggs. They are petite and perfect for an hors d’oeuvre. Easy to make, and easy for your guests to eat. So click here to watch the lovely and lively Julie White whip up some Deviled Quail Eggs with Steve, and then stir up trouble with some bubbly-laced Bird Nests with Paul, all on on our “Buzzed” page on our Web site, Cocktail Buzz.

photos © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Two Sublime Tastings: Yamazaki and Flor de Caña

We were very excited to be invited to two special lectures in the past few weeks for two very special spirits: Flor de Caña Rum and Yamazaki Whisky. At both lectures we were treated to tastings of several different spirits in each of the brands’ lines, as well as delicious appetizers created by the hosting establishments. Both put big smiles on our faces.

The ladies at Truth Be Told PR know how much we love Yamazaki whisky, so we were delighted when they invited us to a small sit-down lecture and dinner at the esteemed 21 Club in Midtown Manhattan. The dinner–lecture was held in the Remington Room (the exquisite Western art of Frederic Remington on every wall!), and the waiters brought the few guests profuse amounts of delicious short rib and potato appetizers, as well as mini crab cakes, and more. After chatting with Tanya Thomas form Truth Be Told, the lecture and tasting was conducted by Mike Miyamoto, Master Distiller from the House of Yamazaki in Japan. Mike, a handsome, venerable gentleman, with a wry sense of humor, spoke of the history of Suntory Yamazaki Distillery and the emergence of Japanese Whisky created to suit the discerning Japanese palate. He explained how each of the Yamazaki Single Malt whiskies is distilled and aged, explaining how the wood from each cask and the years required for the aging process give each whisky its distinct color, aroma, and flavor. He also gave us a tour of the Distillery, via a PowerPoint presentation, from obtaining the malt required to start the fermentation process (it’s cheaper to ship the malt from Scotland than it it to obtain it from Japan), through distillation, aging, blending, and finally bottling.

Mike Miyamoto, Yamazaki Master Distiller, with Paul, at 21.

Then the tasting began. Before the nine of us guests were three snifters of 12-year, 18-year, and 1993 Cask Strength (a very rare whisky not available in the U.S.). First we sipped the 12-year, which we are already familiar with having created two cocktails featuring the whisky (click for recipes for the Bank of Japan and the Tokyo Momo). We discovered it’s Mike’s favorite, and no wonder: its gold color, honey-vanilla aroma, and sweet spice finish (from aging in Japanese Oak) make it unique and excellent, mitigating the woody earthiness of most single malts. This whisky can be drunk with dinner, and some sushi and other Japanese appetizers were offered to us as we sipped and sipped. This 12-year is lighter and drier than the second tasting, the 18-year whisky. Sweeter, with a less prominent nose, its full body and flavors of cherry, honey, and toast paired perfectly with the rich chocolate torte that enticed us from the moment we walked into the room. The third tasting, and the pièce de résistence, was the Cask of Yamazaki 1993 “Heavily Peated Malt.” Only 554 bottles of this whisky, aged in American white oak, were produced. Bringing the deceptively light in color whisky to our noses, we instantly smelled the peaty smokiness, akin to the scent of magic marker and aged leather. One sip confirmed the nose; however, we, along with our beautiful and delightful tasting companion, food and drink writer Akiko Katayama, were surprised by its honey-blossom sweetness, which helped balance the leathery smoky flavors that permeated our palates. We all agreed that this was a special moment and were honored to have been a a part of the experience.

A week earlier was Ed Hamilton’s rum lecture, sponsored by USBG and Flor de Caña Rum, held at the Aspen Social Club. If you haven’t been to the Aspen Social Club (or its parent restaurant lounge Aspen), run, don’t walk. Its Colorado-Rockies-Chic interior has to be seen to be believed. Glass walls that allow you to look into seemingly endless rows of trees, a white-antler sculptured ceiling in the back, various seating and socializing areas with their own bars varying degrees of intimacy, it’s a place that makes you feel special. And Ed Hamilton, one of the world’s leading rum authorities, made us feel special. After the waitstaff handed us each a tangy, superb Daiquiri, and we were encouraged to gobble up polenta fries and gourmet quesadillas, we chatted with Ed before his PowerPoint lecture about his love for rum and his quest to find the world’s best rums. You should check out the Web site he curates called Ministry of Rum. It’s a fascinating compilation of lore, brands, profiles, forums, distillation processes—you name it—much of which he discussed during his lecture.

The tasting consisted of five Flor de Caña rums, each with its own distinct flavor, color, and age. First was Limón, a clean, bright 4-year rum blend with natural flavors to create a liqueur perfect for mixing your favorite rum cocktail, such as a Mojito. The second tasting was a personal favorite, the 7-year Gran Reserve Rum, full-bodied, mahogany-colored, and tasting of crème caramel. Its mouthfeel was silky, and it made us want to sip it for the rest of the evening, but we had three more to go. Third was the 4-year Gold Rum, another perfect mixer, with hints of vanilla in the nose, and a medium-bodied overall taste. Its golden hue will add a beautiful shimmer to your tiki drink. Fourth up was the 4-year Extra Dry White Rum, the only aged white rum on the market, that was used in the our meet-and-greet Daiquiri (which we downed a little too quickly, after which we had a Firecracker, made with the 7-year Gran Reserve, triple sec, lime juice, simple syrup, and chunks of watermelon, all shaken with some cayenne pepper for some zing zap kapow). The fifth and final tasting was of the 18-year Centenario Gold, a smooth sipper with hints of nutty maple and caramel. This one makes for a great postprandial quaff.

Tastings are a perfect way to get to know a brand or spirit, especially those that are new to the market, rare, or expensive. We highly recommend both Yamazaki for all you scotch drinkers who want to try something unique, and the Flor de Caña rums, for their smoothness and adaptability. Cheers!

photos © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mixology Monday XXXIII: Gay Caballero, or Infused with Walnuts

The Jack Twist . . . a sweet, nutty Cowboy drink.

As bartenders, bar chefs, mixologists—call us anything you’d like—we like to tinker. Something deep inside prevents us from ever being satisfied with settling for labeled distilled spirits. So what do we do? We strive to create flavors that excite, challenge, and hopefully satiate our ever-exploring palates by changing a spirit’s flavor profile. Like Byrd searching for the South Pole, we bravely face adversity as we taste-taste and mix old reliable spirits with a dash of this and a pinch of that, wait a few days (or weeks . . . or months), and blammo, we’ve created a liqueur.

Enter walnuts. Walnuts are one of our favorite nuts. They add a perfect complement to chocolate in a Toll House Cookie. Their marriage with bananas are a classic to-die-for component in many breads, desserts, and breakfast fare. Why not go all walnut on some whiskey such as Jack Daniel’s? After all, Jack is filtered through sugar maple charcoal. Perhaps maple and walnut would do the two-step with some tasty results. Well, after toasting some walnuts in the oven, and then infusing the darkly aromatic bits in some Jack for three days, the whiskey acquired a pleasant viscosity that made for a more pleasurable mouthfeel. Add some walnut liqueur and a little bit o’ dark brown sugar, shake it all up, and strain into a very receptive rocks glass, eager to feel the pulse of your waiting lips. Don’t forget to throw in a tiny twist of lemon, so it’ll kiss you with every sip.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the drink was named after the character in Brokeback Mountain, as portrayed by the inestimable Jake Gyllenhaal. Add a little bit of advocaat to the mix (about a 1/2 ounce), and you’ve got yourself a Jack Nasty.

Jack Twist
(created by Paul Zablocki, Cocktail Buzz)

2 ounces toasted walnut-infused Jack Daniel’s*
3/4 ounce walnut liqueur
1/2 tablespoon dark brown sugar
small lemon twist (about 1/2 inch)

Shake vigorously with ice for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled rocks glass. Garnish with the twist.

* Walnut-infused Jack Daniel’s
2 cups Jack Daniel’s whiskey
1/4 cup walnuts

Pour Jack Daniel’s into an airtight container. Toast walnuts in 350°F oven, or on stove top in skillet, for up to 12 minutes, careful not to burn (shake skillet occasionally). When walnuts have started to brown and you can smell their oils being released, remove from heat and add to Jack Daniel’s. Cover. Infuse for 4 days, shaking occasionally from day to day. After four days, strain Jack Daniel’s into a clean container, and discard walnuts.

photo © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz