Johnny Cocktail has been VERY busy!

There are many more posts to come so stay tuned. This Blog is getting ready to see quite the face lift!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Garofalo Artisan Liqueurs: A look into Virginia's Sweet Possibilities

In a Shot:  I recently had the opportunity to meet and sit down with aspiring liqueur artisan Dick Garofalo, talk about and taste his hot grain, fresh focused, inspiring work in progress and set up an agreement to make cocktails for his portfolio recipe book!

It's funny, as long as I've been in this industry of food and beverage, it never ceases to amaze me that the best part has to be the people you meet along the way.  I've made some really good and long lasting friends in this hustle and bustle of commitment, passion and servitude.  I cross paths with old associates like you wouldn't believe.  One of my current clients ends up being somebody who bar-tended at a place while I was managing the floor in a previous restaurant and this other GM used to visit me at the last bar I tended and while driving home today I spotted an old regular on the way home walking her dog.

I was out in DC as a guest of Scott Harris's recently promoting one of my cocktails originally made popular at Food Matters blending together his Catoctin Creek Mosby's Spirit, herbs, lime juice and cucumbers (He has affectionately adapted and renamed the Cool Hand Cuke!) for a privately invited group of aficionados, supporters and new found lovers alike.  There was one such gentleman in the crowd who was particularly interested by the fact that I have mixed beverages for the likes of restaurants and distillers alike and introduced himself as Dick Garofalo, creator of Garofalo Artisan Liqueurs.  After a very engaging conversation, we made and agreement to meet.

What will be an exchange of cocktails, tasting notes and this blog, Dick gave me an exclusive sit down and 375 ml samples of his entire line, plus a little something he created that is not intended for the market (Thank you again for the rosey spicey fruity 187 ml Falernum!   TNROM Rating - 9)

Dick originally worked for Xerox for quite some time and blames his wife for ending up on a walk where he stumbled across a walnut tree.  He begins telling her the story about a walnut liqueur his Grandmother made where upon they decided to go home and give it a try and with success plus three investors, the rest is history!  Now keep in note here folks, these are products not yet available on the market, so when you put an online search for the  Garofalo Artisan Liqueurs, know you heard it hear first!

So what are these liqueurs, whose humble beginnings began in the sanctuary of his own home? First of all, the products are organically produced (With the exception of his walnut and apricot labels).  All of them are made using a 190 proof neutral grain spirit and flavored with unique syrups, sometimes secret ingredients and distilled water.  They are not fortified with any other spirits and do not require refrigeration after opening (Warning:  Never freeze these drams or any liqueurs for that matter, EVER).  He's really put thought into his labeling, naming and marketing.  Garofalo translates to carnation, an overall theme in his labeling work.  Each label has been designed by an Italian artist with fun names and pictures usually depicting a young G.A.L. wearing red lipstick, red shoes and holding a cordial glass.  The ABV on these little treats range between 35% and 41% with a market price possibly between the $20-$35 mark.  Talk about hand crafted and small batch artisan work here, the guy literally throws picking parties to get help collecting the ingredients he needs to make this stuff!

Dick recommended that I keep a little club soda on the side line during my tasting and in support of my favorites, I went ahead with Q Soda.  Which, by the way, if you've never tried that product may I recommend it because it is a soda where bubbles never stop.  Big ones, little ones and a weight heavier than any other I've ever had, truly a great Vodka Soda enhancer in my humblest of opinions!  Anyway, back to GAL, using him as my guide, I arranged the products from driest to sweetest.  Because this was such a unique experience, I decided to rate my favorites from 1 the lowest, to 10 the highest.  Make it very clear that the reasons behind why I like or rate them each is incredibly unique and separate from one another.  (Also note that they are all rated above average!)

This label is subject to change before release.

Night Life Coffee Liqueur 30% ABV - A special blend made just for GAL from a Winchester, VA based coffee vendor and renowned by local VA chefs.  This bottle is currently seeing its third label.

Immediately opening the bottle the smell of coffee lingers in the room.  The color of this liqueur is exact to an aged Bermuda black rum.  When swirling it around the glass I notice how it doesn't appear to be syrupy at all, light weight, coats the glass like a nice white wine.  The first nose hits you hard with the aromas of freshly brewed dark roast and baker's raw dark chocolate.  A sharp grainy ethanol sings behind it clear as crystal with notes of toffee and raw vanilla pod.  The weight is more noticeable on the palate with mocha cappuccino coating the entire mouth with bitter cold black coffee being the lasting impression along with a slightly acidic and warming finish.   TNROM Rating - 8



Fuzzy is the name of the cat!
Fuzzy Apricot Liqueur 30% ABV - The choice of apricot used to make this liqueur is a Garofalo secret, though he has been experimenting with three other species! It is important to swish this bottle around a bit before serving because there is actual pectin sediment present in the bottle.

Bourbon, cloudy pale ale, orange marmalade in color.  When swirled, the legs stick to the walls of the glass and dissipate like rain water on a moving car windshield.  Wow!  Where's the brunch!?! This nose slaps you right over with over ripe apricots, candied almonds, buttery English muffins, breakfast jellies and orange creamsicles.  The body is syrupy with loads of bread, apricots, a touch of brown spice and even notes of corn on the cob (and dare I even say a peculiar note that reminds me of dried Elmers glue???) .  This is a very interesting and complex liqueur that is great by itself but has so many applications where using it as a substitute/addition to many a bourbon or rum based cocktail you won't go wrong I can promise you that!  TNROM Rating - 10

Bluesberry 35% ABV - Limited availability product made with blueberries courtesy of Chef Chris Edwards from Patowmack Farms.  This is the only bottle brought to me in a 275 ml size.



The color is close to a light Roy Rogers or POM juice.  When swirled it coats the glass thick and slides down slow.  Spicy cola, blueberry, cranberry, dark plum, black cherry and Martini & Rossi Rosso are the show pieces on the nose.  Very dense thickness here with a gritty baked blueberry compote I'd imagine that this alone with a squirt of lime and club soda would make an excellent summer cooler!  Another inspiration is to sub out all vermouth in cocktails and replace it with this for a subtle dark berry note that will compliment vodka, gin and whisky focused cocktails.  TNROM Rating -7.5


Limoncello 30% ABV - Made with traditional organic Sorrento lemons.  Sediment in this bottle so shake before serving.

The color looks exactly like cloudy fresh squeezed home made lemonade.  Without approaching the glass the room is already filled with the scent of fresh lemon zest.  A swirl coats the glass thick and firmly while the nose hits you with concentrated variations of lemon;  lemon peel, lemon juice, bitter lemon soda, lemon flavored hard candy and grain alcohol.  In the mouth the thick rich texture you want from a Limoncello hits you with a hard candy lemon head brick and has a very nice warm finish.  American Limoncello done precisely right.  Drink alone or sub out anything that calls for a .75 oz liqueur of any kind to really bring out a new perception on your favorite cocktail (i.e. good bye triple sec for your Cosmo, hello Garofalo!)  TNROM Rating - 9

Notice that this sample bottle has the label measurements on them accidentally.  A collector's item I do believe!!!

Orancello 30% ABV - Made using blood oranges and other well privately kept ingredients.  Shake a bit before serving due to natural sediment.

The color is exact to a cloudy homemade orange simple syrup.  Thick swirly legs that dissipate fairly quick.  The nose brings the notes of baked orange peel, house squeezed tangerine juice and just peeled orange slices with that signature grain burn in the back drop.  Rich and thick syrupy texture followed by fresh orange juice, hard candy and a subtle warm finish.  I feel very similar about this blend as I do to GAL's Limoncello.  This bottle, however, though the same ABV has a softer less warming finish which may be more approachable to many, though I enjoy the heat delivered by the aforementioned.  TNROM Rating - 9


 

Tart Cherry 35% ABV - Inspired by his Grandmother's brandied cherries, this one is made from Montmorency sour cherries.

The color is light copper gold, similar to a light french orange liqueur.  The legs are thick and steady.  Now, this is the first of the batch that smells so dry it could pass as an eux-du-vieux.  Aromas of Kirschwasser, green tea, caramel covered green apple, tart cherries and raw alcohol.  Bitter cherry, raw nuts, chocolate and Calvados on the palate all while the sweetness comes through in the end.  I would even go as far as to substitute brandy or whisky period for this in your favorite cocktail, it hits hard enough to give you a beautiful balance, not too sweet and not too strong with nice cherry notes along for the ride! TNROM Rating - 8.5



This is an older label as Ewing is missing his cordial glass!
Father Ewing 35% ABV - Named after an enigmatic educator of anthropology.  A secret blend of organic fruits and spices.

The color is golden amber waves, a lightly brewed green tea perhaps.  Now, when this one is swirled, where ever the legs go, they stick what could be an eternity!  Now this is more like it!  Very complex, the first thing that hits you is clove and stone fruit with very traceable characteristics of wasabi, cactus, cardamon, star anise, tarragon, fennel, mint, grated nutmeg, cinnamon stick, un-brewed tea leaves, white pepper, sea salt, rose water, raw nuts, cherry, apricot, grapefruit and other citrus juices.  The sweetness coats your mouth with a strong spicy cola nut finish.  To be honest, I would drink this by itself and probably would enjoy it more so that way than mixed in cocktails, though there are PLENTY of reasons to want to blend this into your favorite autumn mixer. TNROM Rating - 9.5



Francesca 41% ABV - A recipe that has been in the family for over 90 years.  Depending on walnut availability, it will be made available in a Spring (Green) and Fall (Red) version.  Dick gave me the fall version which is made with Wild Eastern Black Walnuts and select spices.  He made it very clear that this is no Nocino!  Which, by the way is a traditional, Northern Italian liqueur, made from infusing spirit (usually wine or vermouth) with unripened green walnuts and then sweetening it with simple syrup.

The sweetness from the bottle fumes around the room before I even get a chance to pour it!  Amber brown in color, could easily pass as an aged bourbon if it wasn't for the aromatics!  The legs coat thin and quick yet stick.  Nutty and spicy, again the aroma smells much like a really good cola.  Gold rum, filberts and chocolate are getting spanked by huge amounts of pumpkin pie spices with a buttery walnut crust.  The flavor is spicy and nutty, rich and syrupy with an enormous warmth that would make this a great substitute for bourbon or Irish whisky in your favorite cocktail (Honestly, you want a great drink?  Make a Manhattan, only use this as the bourbon and the tart cherry as the vermouth, add a squirt of lemon and some cherry or chocolate bitters???????  PLEASE) TNROM Rating - 10

I know this one has been long folks but before I reach my closing I need to give you a quick synopsis about the GAL line.  Grain alcohol is definitely the base of all the spirits tasted today.  Drier than most liqueurs made in the states, these are more similar to your favorite traditional French or Italian liqueurs (This is not your Arrow, Boston or Bols right here!) and the key is freshness and quality.  The product you pay for here can be consumed by itself or as a mixer/base for almost EVERY cocktail you love.  Take your favorite drink and sub out the liqueur for one of these and down the latter of the line try these as the base of your cocktail.  I promise you, you will have the best, fresh look on your favorite cocktail you've had in ages.

So I asked Dick if GAL has anything else currently in the works and he told me that he has been working on liqueurs using pluots and plums as well as a little alpine strawberry Frasdubois and even possible canned malt beverages for markets.  As for the stuff I just had the chance to enjoy?  With Virginia laws and politics, the only two hints I can give you are 1) to expect the Limoncello and Coffee liqueurs to arrive first, followed by tart cherry and the others 2) in due time my friends, in due time.

Be sure to click on this link and check out his home page with cocktails to follow shortly!



Cheers!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Scotch Reviews 1: Ardbeg 10 Year

In a Shot:  Big, smokey and filled with so much peat that the moss grows out of your mouth and evolves into an elaborate aggressive level of smoke that I would say it's for those seeking experience rather than those just enjoying a daily dram.

Ardbeg:  "The Ultimate Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 10 Years Old, Non-Chill Filtered 46% ABV"


I have been very neglectful to my fans and aim to change things around here.  For those of you who have not been up to part with things, Johnny Cocktail has become Johnny Wine Guy and is day and night wandering the streets of Alexandria looking for new people to try famous wines in the pop culture market and still educating folks about the balance and beauty of excellent service, craftsmanship and a genuine appreciation for all things good, small or large.  I have on back order at least ten blogs and would like to begin producing them for my fans.  I'm not only going to be back but I'm bringing that original rawness found in some of the older posts back for a while to get me quickly back into the game.

The Next Rounds on Me in its title states "A DOSSIER of all things drinks & drinking."  I aim to make that a fact.  From now on, if I happen to taste anything whatsoever, whether brief or expansive, I will now begin posting information and opinions about them.  I told you Scotch tastings were coming and boy oh boy have they come and gone.  I will elaborate on those later but for now, lets start with one I had the privilege of trying this past year, courtesy of my recently returned to the states friend Brad, who gave me this as a gift, knowing I was a lover of all things peat moss related, particular whisky!

Located in the Islay region of Scotland, the small (in size but not in popularity) island just south west of the Isle of Jura, was originally a refuge for Celtic monks escaping the raiding Nordsmen was the home of illicit distillers making their whisky a midst a rugged and rocky cove.  The location was abundant in soft water, fertile soil and of course, precious acres of peat moss.  Back in 1815, according to a small family of tenant farmers named MacDougall, this was a location to begin building a distillery.  Close by the site of the long-abandoned Tallant distillery and just a little farther south, lies Ardbeg, a distillery where by 1853 was the biggest producer on Islay and the center of a 200+ community.

This place was described beautifully by Whisky Aficionado Michael Jackson; "Islay does not seduce you like other islands.  Instead, it invades and takes possession of you.  Its constant wind carries a mix of sweet, salt-laden air, the whiff of the sea, the coconut aroma of hot gorse, a hint of peat smoke and bog myrtle, and the smell of just-spent fire on the beach.  All the notes you pick up in its malts are there, floating in the Atlantic Wind." - Just brilliant!

On a small note about this place, it was huge in the 1850's.  It ended up with a horrible reputation for being the peatiest and almost undrinkable beast for a time and was primarily used as fillings for blends. It ended up closing the year I was born (go figure) and by the early 90's it was only running to make unpeated "Kildalton" malt, Ardbeg eventually became dilapidated.   1997 was the year where Glenmorangie (Yes, light, non-peaty, easy drinking Highland Glenmorangie) resurrected the distillery and has become a bustling location.  Yes, it is still famous for being a "Peat Monster"

Ardbeg has been awarded the best distillery in the world, three times in a row.  It is unique in many ways.  For one, it's declared by many, the peatiest and smokiest Scotch in the world.  Typically most whiskies are chill-filtered and reduced to a strength of 40% ABV.  Ardbeg Ten Years Old, however, is non chill-filtered and has a strength of 46% ABV.


And boy is she is deceiving.  Ardbeg 10 Year Old truly looks light in presence, but has an oiliness from her fresh barley grain, slightly mustard yellow complexion that tells me that there is something darker and far more developed than anybody else her age.  It almost appears virgin olive oily without even allowing it to move.  The nose, reveals an intense level of peat moss, brine and smoke. 

It is best described as a beach fire put out by the sea itself and the smoke that arises from it, is the truest form of this dram.  In the mouth it is heavy and sharp, as the relatively moderate finish arrives, multiple layers of smoke and heat follow.  The heat finishes far quicker than the taste of oil and peat does, it truly feels as if this flavor, if you do not drink or eat anything else, will follow you for the rest of the day. 

It is aggressive, assertive, bold and a bruiser of a dram and I highly recommend it for anybody looking for an experience, but not for anybody looking for a casual libation.  It's definitely one of my favorite mass market Scotches.  I must give praise and thanks to Mr. Rainwater for giving me an opportunity to enjoy this specimen, it is a true experience of a spectacular whisky - I hope to explore more like this VERY soon.

We'll talk again soon y'all, this weekend I'm participating in a serious Rum tasting.  It will make quite the blog entry!

Cheers!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pinar Del Rio No 1. Exclusive Cigar Blend Gautier Cognac XO

Well, well well.

For a second there we probably all didn't think I was going to be inspired to do another round for quite some time.  The new position I've taken as a wine distributor for the Alexandria area has been both rewarding and fully involved.  The days are move far quicker and end much faster than anything I've ever done before.  Because of that, some very serious posts such as my scotch/rye/rum tastings and distillery & winery tours (not to mention all that experience I've obtained over at William Grant & Sons and Catoctin Creek) have fell way side.  I promise that these are not going to remain secret experiences and when things are less hectic (We are entering our craziest months  here between family and work from all who participate in my circle).  I will finally sit down and hit you with a barage of fun posts!

But I've got to say this.  Humungous toast to Barbie and Jeff whom were spectacular friends and patrons during my time behind bars at Food Matters.  I wish that could've lasted forever, but the outcome left me with many great friends, these two in particular have been some  of our largest supporters in our personal adventures, especially Mary and WishCraft.Org

A final farewell party catered by us left us with warm hearts, tears in our eyes and a bar not willing to travel down south, happily into my loving arms!  There generosity can't be left un noticed cause wait till you hear what' s in my wallet!  I got a lot of stuff ranging from your average smirnoff vodka to exciting amaretto's and drams from across sea's with names I can't even read to you, to some big gems.  I got a very nice reserve blend from Crown Royal, Bombay Saphire to unopened bottles of Patron, yum yum rums including pussers and 10 canes to the whole nine yards.  But the black diamond, the most exciting thing I've seen so far (Though I'm sure more to come), is an exclusive cigar blend XO Cognac by Pinar Del Rio.  Gautier.



I need to also quickly point out that when I first smelled and tasted this eaux-de-viex, the first thing I said was "this is really nice".  Upon a real proper nosing and tasting after excelling my first breath I remember thinking to myself "Man, this really reminds me of a mild cigar!", that's when I wanted to read further past the label, which says Cognac XO in black letters and was the only thing I retained upon reading it as I didn't recognise the name.  That first taste made me go, "Man, what is this stuff!" and damn near laughed allowed when I realised it was a cigar blend intended for pairing with smokes.   I tickled myself for what is developing into an admiral palate!  It smells and tastes of fruity, smoky and woody earth flavors concise with the exact same notes you'd find in a great cigar!



Very short (lol) breakdown and then tasting notes to follow:

Pinar Del Rio from the house of Gautier based in the 4th cru, Fins Bois, is named after the Cuban valley where the best tobacco leaves are harvested.  It's an XO Cognac crafted in particular from the eaux-de-vie in the Paradise Cellar of Maison Gautier especially for cigar aficionados.  Gautier was founded in 1755. The firm dates from around 1755 and was founded by Charles Gautier and remained in family hands until the 1970's.  It is now owned by the the Belvédère Group as of 2006.  XO, meaning Extra Old, is a classification stating that the youngest spirit in the blend is six years old.  Traditionally, however, they are closer to twenty years.  This one in particular has brandy as young as 15 years and as old as 60!  Because the quality of cognacs such as this are increasing and the age specifications are almost entirely by general practice exceeding those limits, as of April, 2016 the government plans to change the minimum year requirement for XO brandies to ten years.  And if you don't know, now you know!



The color is very similar to stained mahogany wood with an interesting green halo around its surface.  Red grape and dried cranberries come across the initial nose, followed by what reminds me of fresh tobacco leaf and woody smoke.  Fun caramel, orange candy and vanilla flavors join forces with fresh plank wood and BBQ mesquite.  The finish is very smooth and slightly creamy, covering the entire mouth.  The finish is the best part.  I almost never say this as I am huge on the nosing, I could smell a drink for ten minutes without even tasting it because I enjoy that part so much, but this stuff truly finishes with a very similar sensation as that first time you walk into a cigar shop and your nose is just hit with warming sensations  of smoke, leather, wood and fruit.  After oxidising for over a half hours time, I noticed considerable notes of banana and baked apple coming through with No. 2 pencil shavings and a spice rack prepped for autumn or winter.

As of this post, at auction price, a bottle like this goes for some where between 90 and 100 American dollars.

Again, thanks Barbie, Jeff and all of you whom have participated in supplying the quality products you find here on The Next Rounds on Me.  Expect more shortly!




Cheers!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

You Have Been Generous....But I am Thirsty, Where is my Next Round!!!!

To my fans, my patrons, my loyal and everyone else who simply supported me on the smallest and largest scale, I have so many nights glanced at my computer with hopes that I could spare enough brain matter to at the very least express the amount of change I've encountered since leaving my stage behind bar and in front of house at Food Matters.  

I will tell you this, it was a long process, a trying adventure and a few side gigs.  I thank Wish Craft, family, William Grant & Sons, Catoctin Creek and Lydia Allison from Houlihan's for generating enough business for me while stepping into the realm of wine sales.  I thank Montesquieu for their opportunities they presented to me and I highly recommend going to their website and ordering some wine through one of their reps at least once, because it's true, in a day's time I tried easily some of the best wines I ever had in my life with them.

I know work for Service Distributing Inc, one of the largest wine wholesalers in the NOVA area.  The company is a flagship pirate that boasts the big names and strategically I am in Alexandria!  The beauty is I now get to Food Mattters..........Everywhere!  It is a huge opportunity for me to move in this direction, as it is a challenge due to the particular criteria that is expected by those who run quality restaurants in the area.  I was raised by the Przystawik's regarding food and drink and continue that passion.  As a money maker and a business opportunity, I make it a point and pride to showcase quality product in locations such as MOMS Organic Market, The Winery Inc, Light Horse and Landini Brothers.  The same goal I seek to reach higher relationships with those who reside in the UnWined shops, Rick's/Sherwood/Fern St Gourmets and the mom and pop locations like Vaso's, Sapore and Pemas.  The products are known, well  known, but they acquire new wineries and vineyards every week, many of which practice eco-smart sustainability, are organic or were started out by a husband and wife combo like Catoctin Creek Distilleries (Or in my company, Whitehaven) and no matter how big some of these names get, there are many that started right here or nearby us and I'll sniff them all out very quickly, that I promise.  This company itself is family owned, has been for generations.  The owner and original salesman himself, Larry Buckner, invited my wife and I to his farm within the first week of working for him.  It's been down to Earth ever since.

I know it's been a long time.  I have a blueberry cocktail I held on to from Food Matters I plan to reveal some time, hopefully in season (Thus possibly, look for it next season!) as well as present possible cocktails of the month, if not, at the minimum, a review or description of something going on in the industry and hope that with patience, we all can enjoy a great drink together soon.  Thanks for my supporters whom many I have met along my current route, Jen/Wolf for the fun at Walker's Grill, Carla for continued support at Aditi's, Aparicio's for still hitting me up on the real, East Moon for the Chinese, Jeff at Fern for all the drinks, Brian at Bugsy's for the pizza, Daniel at El Paso /  Alfredo at Los Tios for the awesome Mexican food, Michael from Finn & Porter for the good Sushi, Johnny and Leah for the great apps and drink at Vaso's and those with the opportunities presented to me especially Steven's TJ Stones/Ramparts/Shooters for being so open as well as Ill Porto for the seminars, Jilson at Hilton ALX for theirs and the country clubs who have given me the opportunity to still pour and sell to the masses!  I should've started by thanking God and my Family - Thanks to all of you, see you for the next one!  (When did I suddenly win a gold globe award and start sharing my thank you speach????? HA!)

Love you all,

I promise I got a few more reviews, interviews and tastings up my sleeve!

Cheers!

Johnny Cocktail/Ambassador/Wine Rep

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Abita!


One of my last outings for William Grant & Sons lead me to a little outpost in DC called "Policy".  A happening and fun location on 14th Street in DC.  After completing my gig I sat by a table near the bar in their downstairs floor.  Here I was overlooking the bar menu, seeing what creative libations other bartenders are coming up with.  While doing so, over at the bar was a trio, two gentlemen and this one lady who kept saying "And it doesn't matter how many she's had before, she always exclaimed and went for a cheers FIRST ONE TODAY". 

Now, this may not mean anything to a lot of you, but when I tended bar at Food Matters there was this lady who sat center stage every night and whenever she had a drink (Wine: red & wet or an occasional sparkling wine) she would turn to her friends and anybody crossing her path and would shout "First one today!" in her purest Bostontonian accent.  So I interrupted these folks and explained to them that I never impose on anyone's personal conversations but I knew of a lady that did the same thing.  The girl stood there in shock and then said "Oh my gosh!  That's crazy!  Is she from Ireland?" I looked at her and said, "No, Boston".  This  lead to in depth with her associates.  Turned out I was speaking to a regional rep for Abita, a Louisiana based brewery named John and his newest hiree a guy straight from New Orleans named Chris.  They offered me a drink and since I was already waiting, and have issues turning down a boozey offering, accepted and John hands me a Purple Haze.  He asks me if I was familiar with Abita and the Purple Haze.  This triggered flashbacks to many a Turbo Dog I respond "Of course, anyone who knows any better has had Abita in their fridge at some point or another!" he in turn hands me his card and tells me "You'd be surprised".

I was first introduced to Abita a couple years ago while tending bar at Food Matters.  We featured a few of their drinks for a season, one of which was their Purple Haze Raspberry Wheat Beer.  An American style wheat beer that adds raspberry puree to it's small batch brewing process after filtration.  The final product is a Summer favorite in my humble opinion.

The head is thick and slightly off white.  Though dense in appearance, it does dissipate rather quickly.  The color is similar to many other unfiltered wheat beers; cloudy, burnt orange and copper.  The bottle claims it gives off a subtle purple hue.  If you are able to spot this phenomenon, good for you.  I simply do not see this, I'm sure, very delightful side effect.

What the Purple Haze brew does offer, is clean, crisp seasonable beer with a definitive subtlety.  This thing tastes like raspberries without being sweet or off balanced.  There is a great acidity backed by soft yeasty bread like notes entangled in a fruit basket of apples, bananas, oranges, lemons and of course, raspberries.  The choice of creating a lager style beer with a fresh berry puree using a great water source is brilliant in it's cleanliness.

You hear the words "raspberry" and "beer" as a selling point and you worry that there may be something there to make the drink too sweet, too rich or too intense to enjoy more than one of.  I promise you this, it's delicate and it's inviting.  It's a beer that is begging for your outdoor space.  It wants to be consumed with grilled chickens, light salads or spicy sea foods.  It's open minded though and it will completely enjoy itself with you plus a couple of your friends.

Thank you Giovanni for hooking me up with the samples.  You were always a sweetheart and you always came through with the extra treats.  Peace and love to you and your family - I wish you nothing but the best!



Cheers!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

GNV TO THE SEA - Four Roses: A Very Special Single Barrel

In a Shot:  During a private invitation to Gerry and Victoria's house, I am given a very unique Bourbon with a very special sentiment.



It's amazing who you come across in this business, simply by standing still.  It amazes me every time how people like Yoko will suddenly give me a bottle of Tombo Sochu (Delicious Japanese vodka) or when Jen gave me that bottle of Awamori (Lovingly called Snake Juice, spirit aged in a process using poisonous snakes).  Some of the most fascinating treats from them, I thank you for your love and support.  Then there are those who are home bread and homeward bound.  They present me not only with things from this country, but things that are only exclusive to regional aspects of our land.  It doesn't happen all the time, but every once in a while, something ironic/iconic like this happens.

A very exclusive, extremely unique and quite honestly personal dram, presented by a man who invited me into his house for a final sit down and drink before leaving under his guiding wing in his restaurant we all know has, since this post, locked it's doors indefinitely;  I present to you, the Four Roses Single Barrel Tasting Notes:

Drinking from a bottle Gerry Hebert gave me, sold exclusively at Schneider's of Capitol Hill (Fine wines & spirits) hand selected and bottled from Warehouse DS, with a 35% rye Mashbill / delicate fruity yeast:  February 18th 2011 (the month and day my wife Mary and I were married and held a reception in Gerry's restaurant only three years prior).  Aged 8 Years and 9 Months settling in at 100 proof.  A bottle (Number 2-4K) whom I'm sure Four Roses and quite possibly the Heberts had NO idea sang such poetry in our hearts and hearts.  So to you both, this Next Rounds on Me!

First glance the dram appears a burnt copper in color.

Strong ethanol at first reminding me of a hospital.  But allowing it to oxidise, simply nosing it over a span of ten minutes there are evolutionary changes.  With time to breath; Toasty oak and tart raspberry (Definitely found through the small amount of rye present and as affected by the choice of yeast), there are notes of dried dark red fruits and even canned peaches.  The mouth is coated with a warming hard candy flavor.  It takes it's time to finish, allowing it's spine tingling warmth to overwhelm the entire palate, though it sharply stings the sweet area of your taste buds.   A dusting of Hershey's milk chocolate and butter are overlapped by the expected flavors of caramel and an extra creamy vanilla.  Over time, the heat dissipates and the drink becomes remarkably smooth for a dram packing 50% ABV.

I've conducted this tasting under my usual circumstance.  A washed face, washed hands, blown nose with crackers eaten prior to the experience and lots of water  in between each section of the tasting.  This is my very formal way of creating my dossier of each drink I consume, but with Gerry and his wife Victoria, the experience was far more casual.


We enjoyed this dram prior to Gerry getting a knee surgery.  The man ate the most insane dinner and dessert that night, as if he would never be allowed to eat again, ever.  His plan was to polish off this entire bottle of single barrel by the stroke of midnight, after which if he consumed anything, would develop into a cocoon and hatch the next day a terrible Gremlin.  We sat in his living room listening to old tunes on the radio, Gerry was capable of calling out each and every band within the first 4 seconds of each song playing and we spoke about Cape May and the longevity of our relationships.  We spoke about folks in Cameron Station, Alexandria VA, a community that "rose" out off a military base that became it's own township, if you will.  We, the people of Food Matters became it's central hub.  It was experiences such as this and the times my wife and I spent at "GNV's" beach house in Cape May or the catering's to Gerry's office, or that time I went to the Masonic temple and Gerry was attempting to buy a trip (all for charity mind you) to some island or boat trip somewhere and he was up against one of America's homeland security top execs and lost "Hoping she simply just ran out of money!" from all the other bids she won.

It has been great times and Gerry's energy is something in his age, I strive for in the next five years!  He's been a father figure to me and a breath of fresh air.  I hope I've done him proud and I thank him for all that he's ever done for me.  Let this small tasting be my sentiment to him and Victoria, who helped mold me into the community supporter I am today.  I hope to make my mark as strong as I did in your community in the next place, wherever that may be.  Blessings and good times.  I say, thank you.


Cheers and with Love,

Johnny Cocktail

Monday, June 13, 2011

My FEWCumber Coolers at Food Matters

In a Shot:  A recap on the drink that caught the attention of few and ended up winning the hearts of many over four years and possibly counting.



“I think pickles are cucumbers that sold out. They sold their soul to the devil, and the devil is dill...”

- Annonymous 

 

I think whoever wrote this, clearly walked through a life of tunnel vision.  There is nothing more satisfying than the vinegary crunch of a damn fine pickle.  I agree that at some point, there simply isn't a more refreshing or practically advancing produce than the cucumber.  It is a fascinating being.  It originated in India, like a lot of our best ingredients and has the misconception of being a vegetable like the tomato.  Botanically speaking, if it grows with seeds within itself and from a flower, it is technically a fruit.  Please, reserve your arguments for the true hearted.  I consider it by fact a fruit and by practice one of my vegetables, so let's not get so hasty here.  Perhaps it was just the way I was raised!


Getting back to the point at hand though, THIS GUY WAS BIASED!!!!  The combination of fresh dill and cucumber prior to pickling is something of matchmaker game shows.  It is currently trendy, it was meant to be for this generation and those who witness it, when done right, applaud!  I came across such an inspiration from a Mixologist named Scottie in Rehoboth beach with my recently married wife, Mary, during one of several honey moons blessed to us from this amazing community, Cameron Station, Alexandria, during our courtship.  Thanks again to Carla B. and more importantly during this viral infestation, Pat S. and her family for leading us to their beach house!  The day I came home, the idea of using cucumbers and dill had to take place!  With that, eventually came a cocktail that comprised of Grey Goose vodka, fresh dill muddled into kosher salt, fresh lime juice as well as juiced cucumbers and a syrup made from raw cucumbers, I had created the summer/spring cocktail anthem without even truly knowing it!  I thank the Przystawik family for guiding me on the culinary process, sharing the true strengths of salt and acid.  Because of them, I consider that an integral part to my original balance and utilise it to make everything I consider, thus far.


"The beauty of this drink is that you not only get one of your daily vegetables, it's the fact that it helps to make your skin look better; and after two or three, it makes everybody else look better too!"

- Johnny Cocktail


Every month at Food Matters, their menu changed and with that, so did the cocktail.  None more requested nor remembered was this particular concoction though.  I had people asking me for recipes and calling me a saint or a doctor and on certain days that never included Sundays, a God.  I had no choice, but to bring it back, but I told everybody that I would change it so I could let my creative juices flow.  It became the flagship of my stable of cocktails.  In five years being at Food Matters, I created in some form, five of these fresh elixirs.  The first, now down in history with vodka and dill.  I once recreated it guest bartending for Hook restaurant in Georgetown, DC utilising Hendrick's Gin, a match far more superior in my humble opinion.


"It is the destiny of mint to be crushed."
- Waverley Lewis Root


Next year, I created a cucumber Mojito switching out the said herbs and spirit with rum and mint.  It was here, I tried making the drinks peeling the cucumber skin for both the juice and the syrup.  The outcome was far more brighter, light and cleaner.  It is now the staple when making these drinks.  This combination, strangely gave off a side effect flavor of jolly rancher sour apple hard candies!  One of my personal favorites.

 

 

"Miss Ainslie gathered a bit of rosemary, crushing it between her white fingers. 'See,' she said, 'some of us are like that, it takes a blow to find the sweetness in our souls.'"
Lavender and Old Lace
-Myrtle Reed (1874–1911)

 

For Catoctin Creek Distilleries of Loudon County I recreated the drink showcasing their Mosby's all natural and organic rye spirit with Rosemary, a drink the master distiller's described as a favorite and nicknamed themselves as the  "Cool Hand Cuke".  The major difference with this beverage is that the drink was served over rocks and should have a large sprig of rosemary next to the straw so that when one goes to sip it, it has that fresh Rosemary  wafting into your nostrils! 


“Some writers say the leaves are used for seasoning, but this statement seems odd, as all the green parts of the plant exhale a very strong odor of the wood-bug, whence the Greek name of the plant.”
— Vilmorin-Andrieux (on cilantro), from The Vegetable Garden (1885)


Let me quickly state that there simply are no descent quotes out there regarding Cilantro!  Moving on.  When the word got out that Food Matters was coming to a close, I selfishly thought about my cocktail specials and how I wouldn't be able to showcase them.  And so I figured I'd end this off where it blew up.  With cilantro fresh and in season, I created the Cucumber Cooler # 4.  A drink, yet again comprising of cucumber juice and syrup with lime.  This time the show stoppers are silver tequila, freshly muddled cilantro and a cilantro salt.  Consider it a perfect spin on the Margarita.  From this point on, now that I've covered all the basic clear spirits and my most favorite herbs (not to mention the temporary lack of a restaurant vessel) the future of #5 is mystic and challenging.  Wish me luck!

 

My 12th grade English teacher, Mrs. Pennington, once addressed the entire class reviewing papers stating "Boys and girls, one day, John Shope is going to write....SOMETHING."  Funny how it turned out to be a blog and a cocktail menu!  I want to thank every single person, whether faced or not who ever bought my Cucumber Cooler or ANY of my drinks; You made me unique and I knew I was doing something great because of the words you said and the memories you created.  I say this, I don't plan on stopping now so look out for Johnny Cocktail, I've got a feeling that this is only the beginning!


I know I say it more times than necessary but once again, thanks for all of the love and support.


Cheers to Adan Aparicio for all of the drawings he produced at Food Matters for the Cocktail Program.

 

Cheers!