Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category
Monday, October 26th, 2009
By Micah Hanks
If you’re a recent visitor to the southernmost states through which the Blue Ridge Parkway runs, you will have noticed that the rough majority of the trees here in the Appalachian Mountains are taking their most golden hue. Nonetheless, the oak trees—a strange bunch in their own right—are just beginning to reach the brink of change, having held their summer green longer than most other species. It is within these oak trees that one of fall’s finest quarries, the gray squirrel, makes its home. Not only do squirrels live in oak trees, but the rich food source they provide also attracts deer, as well as a variety of other wild animals seeking food as the weather grows cold.
In addition to feeding season for many wild animals, in many parts of the country, the mid-to-late fall marks a special time of year for “foodies”; the time that wild game begins to become available at dinner parties that, unlike other times of the year, call for a special pairing of beverages to meet the unique meats being served.
Thursday, October 15th, 2009
By Christopher McCollum
Two evenings ago, Culture of Spirits writer Micah Hanks and I were tromping about around the Linville Gorge area, being recorded by a rather popular broadcasting network. This may end up being talked about more in the future, but for now, let’s just say that it was pretty fun. On the way up to the Gorge, we made a stop at the local liquor store in preparation for what would surely be an enjoyable evening. First things first, we made our way to the Bourbon section and spent several minutes pondering between Woodford Reserve, Jim Beam Black, Bulleit, Knob Creek, and Maker’s Mark.
In my opinion, Woodford tastes the finest, but that comes at a much steeper cost. So as the minutes ticked by, we debated cost versus enjoyment. Considering we were going to be spending our time at a hotel and obviously away from our personal bars, we would not be able to fully enjoy the cocktail experience. We were lacking bitters, garnishes, liqueurs, and even glasses. We knew were going to have to rely upon complimentary plastic cups and hotel ice. That meant we were going to be drinking it straight, unless we were able to grab a bottle of some rough mixer out of a vending machine.
We eventually settled upon the wax sealed bottle of Maker’s, and made our way to the register. My eye was caught by a promotional display at the end of the Liqueur aisle, and I immediately halted. I called Micah over, and showed him my wondrous discovery.
Friday, October 9th, 2009
Cocktail aficionado Robert Hess, described by Gary and Mardee Regan of Ardent Spirits as “a computer geek with a huge passion for all things cocktailian,” is arguably one of the leading proponents of a classy, sophisticated (but not snobbish) cocktail culture in America today. His recipes are flawless, his knowledge is endless, and his lucid insights and charming demeanor pour over ice almost as well as expensive bourbon.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that a gentleman of Hess’s caliber also orchestrates the likes of “The Chanticleer Society“, a nonprofit organization aimed at helping instill (or in this case, perhaps distill) in people a sense of appreciation for mixology as a respected culinary art unto itself.
“There is a rapidly growing appreciation for the culinary art of the cocktail,” Hess says. “We are seeing an increased interest in bartenders across the country to socialize and exchange recipes, research, tips, and opinions about drinks from the past, as well as new classically inspired creations they may be making. Many of these bartenders are drawing together into local bartender guilds to provide a formalized structure and communication network that their members can benefit from. Such a guild is rightly designed by, and for, bartenders. This however makes it difficult for the growing number of non-bartender cocktail enthusiasts to feel that they can play an active role in the study and advancement of the cocktail.”
Thus, enter the Chanticleer Society.
Monday, October 5th, 2009
Something that is particularly enjoyable for me about the arrival of cool weather and the colorful change in seasons is getting to visit beer tastings here in USA’s Beer City (East) that feature one of my favorite seasonals: the pumpkin ale.
After a fairly slow rise in popularity, there are now a good variety of these available on the market, ranging from those offered by smaller crafters across the country, to more mainstream companies like Blue Moon, who offers their own Harvest Moon pumpkin ale for purveyors of the pulpy punkin pour.
Recently, Culture of Spirits writer Christopher McCollum joined my girlfriend, my younger brother, and I in attending a generous sampling of different pumpkin beers at our neighborhood brew supply shop Hops and Vines. Among the beers Alex, Chris, and the gang supplied us with, we tried an 8.0% ABV imperial pumpkin ale made by Weyerbacher, cited as “the mother of all pumpkin ales.” Indeed, Weyerbacher’s brew is spicier, more caramelly, and offers a bit more pronounced pumpkin flavor than many of the others. “We have added lots of pumpkin along with Cinnamon, Nutmeg and a touch of cardamom and clove giving this beer a spicy, full-bodied flavor,” the company’s website states. “This truly is an Imperial Pumpkin Ale.” Indeed, this was one of the most interesting pumpkin beers I’ve tried to-date, but there were a variety of others that presented spicier, more fruit-filled (or rather, vegetable-filled, since pumpkins are in the squash family) surprises.
Tuesday, September 29th, 2009
Culture of Spirits author Chris McCollum and I have recently been visiting a host of fall-themed beer tastings, which include samplings of a variety of popular pumpkin ales and Octoberfest brews. Several times while visiting one of our favorite local brewery supply stores, Hops and Vines in Asheville, North Carolina, Chris and I had begun to notice the variety of craft breweries that feature paranormal themes on their labels.
Indeed, one of my favorite beers of all time is the seasonal Bigfoot Barleywine brewed by the Sierra Nevada Company in Chico, California (see image at right). However, on closer inspection, a sizable (and surprising) number of other brands carry imagery ranging from UFOs, Ghosts, and cryptozoological mysteries, to famous mystics like Rasputin, Nostradamus, and several other odd themes.
Therefore, just in time for Halloween, Culture of Spirits presents to you a list of some of our very favorite beers featuring strange, occult, or paranormal themes.
Saturday, September 26th, 2009
A well stocked bar. Bourbon, Rum, Brandy, Gin, Vodka, and plenty of liqueurs.
Two nights ago, a small get together of friends and colleagues gathered at the homestead of Culture of Spirits owner Micah Hanks for a cocktail party. Upon arrival, I was, as usual, impressed with Micah’s selection of everything; There was a platter of cheeses and sausages, a couple bowls of nuts, and one of a party mix. Chocolates and fine crackers were also available, in addition to the good music that filtered through the house. The liquor and liqueur selection was impressive to say the least, and I daresay that I’ve been in many bars that are not as well rounded as Micah’s collection. After everyone had arrived and settled in, the opening barrage of beverages was ordered, and the magnificent mixer of drinks got to work. First, a round of White Russians for some of the guests, and then The McCollum Fizz for a couple of us. Micah himself settled on Jim Beam Black over ice. After this opening salvo was finished, Micah set about giving us the itinerary for the evening, which included several classic cocktails such as the Martini, Sidecar, Cuba Libre, and Jack Rose.
Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009
It’s late summer, and in spite of the tropical environment here on the Isle of Palms in sunny South Carolina, Daiquiris have begun to finally lose a bit of their zest. I’ve spent the last several days indulging in the semi-sweet citrus concoctions, mixed with a healthy diet of jogging twice a day on the Atlantic shoreline, swimming during the hotter parts of the day. Leading such an unaffected lifestyle, cool cocktails comprise the later portions of most weekdays; thus, in a mild state of desperation, I decided to try and spice-up my beverages before fall arrived (and without having to resort to purchasing spiced rum). An attempt to do so led me to an almost forgotten aspect of mixology in my own extensive repertoire, resulting in both a tasty–and semi-historically accurate–mixed drink capable of ending most any business day with a light (sweet) kick: the Cuba Libre.
According to fairly recent legend, “¡Por Cuba Libre!” was the battle cry of the Cuba Liberation Army during the war of independence, which ended in 1878. An infamous collision involving the United States and Spain, the Spanish-American War, upon ending, provided a window by which Teddy Roosevelt and his “Rough Riders” could land for a brief excursion in Cuba. Most proponents of Daiquiri and Rum-and Cokes cite that one hot afternoon, a group of off-duty soldiers from the U.S. Signal Corps met in a bar in Old Havana. A young messenger by the name of Fausto Rodriguez would later recall how a captain came in and ordered Bacardi Gold blended with Coca-Cola (keep in mind, this soft drink wasn’t introduced to Cuba until 1900) on ice with a wedge of lime. The captain was said to have “drank the concoction with such pleasure that it sparked the interest of the soldiers around him.” Thus, the onlookers urged the bartender to mix a round of the captain’s new-found pleasure for them, too. “The Bacardi rum and Coke was an instant hit,” states the Bacardi website, and in honor of their recent battle cry, “¡Por Cuba Libre!”, the beverage was named thusly.
Monday, September 21st, 2009
Bartender Angelo Cammarata say’s he’s calling it quits; after more than seventy years serving fine mixed drinks at his bar in West View, PA, he may be the most deserving American to resign from the spirits business.
Known by various nicknames including “Camm” and “Ange,” Angelo has operated Cammarata’s, a two-room bar he shares with his sons John and Frank, for decades. In fact, he and his wife Marietta, 92, apparently lived in the second-floor apartment above it until several years ago.
To Cammarata, his job has been more than just a family business; he considers all his customers to be family. “We call them our family, our friends. We know them all. And they’re all good.”
Cammarata’s story is a fascinating one, if not legendary. For instance, within minutes after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Cammarata (then just 19) served a bottle of Fort Pitt beer to a customer in his father’s grocery store. At the time, a bottle of beer cost only ten cents! Save only a year and a half in service during World War II, he has continued serving patrons ever since, with Guinness World Records giving him the title of “longest-serving bartender” a decade ago, as well as induction into Jim Beam’s Bartender Hall of Fame. For a guy his age, it goes without saying: he’s got a lot of “spirit”.
Friday, September 11th, 2009
Last night while visiting a friend out in the boonies of Etowah, North Carolina, COS writer Christopher McCollum and I managed to catch up with our good friend Bob from the Netherlands. In addition to sharing many of our favorite vices of the alcoholic variety, Bob brought with him a variety of delicious Gouda cheeses, sausages, and candies, which provided the perfect victuals to enjoy along with the spirits we were sharing.
While Chris and I enjoyed our bourbon neat (reveling in the honey brown sweetness of the aged Kentucky whiskey), Bob sliced up a delicious cold Fijre Cervelaat sausage. It was a bit fatty, but in small quantities makes for a delightful treat, and complimented the bourbon very well. Before we had time to finish the delicious meats, Bob had brought out of the refrigerator two varieties of Gouda cheese: a Holland extra-belegen, as well as a variety infused with Kaas seeds, which provided a unique herby-flavor unlike much anything western audiences are used to. As the conversation drifted from our recent penchant for Campari here at Culture of Spirits, we began to discuss yet another clandestine European liqueur: Benedictine.
Wednesday, September 9th, 2009
To be a properly cultured member of society, it is imperative that you at least tolerate, if not love sport. Whether it be polo or soccer, baseball or boxing, it should be on the agenda of everyone to have a passing knowledge of the primaryentertainment genre in the world. You can’t go to a party and overhear a discussion about baseball, and decide to participate by commenting that the Brooklyn Dodgers are your favorite team. It is entirely possible that the crowd will give you an approving nod, if they take it to mean that you’re a lover of the classics (afterall, what member of the sophisticated elite is not?), but it is more likely that they will take it to mean that you haven’t paid attention to sports in 50 years (the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958). Therefore, I will assume it’s obvious that you understand this, and have also noticed that there is an integral link between sports and alcohol…