Johnny Cocktail has been VERY busy!

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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I was out in DC as a guest of Scott Harris's recently promoting one of my cocktails originally made popular at Food Matters blending together his Catoctin Creek Mosby's Spirit, herbs, lime juice and cucumbers (He has affectionately adapted and renamed the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!


1 comment:

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