Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category
Wednesday, September 9th, 2009
As if moved to do so by some subliminal suggestion from within my subconscious (perhaps the hedonistic, expensively-robed bastard with a cigarette holder who lives, repressed, in the decadent backdrop of my psyche), I was unable to counter the urge to stock up on some cool, late-summer spirits today; particularly of the foreign variety. Campari Italian liqueur sat almost glistening on the shelf, thanks to the recessed lighting of the liquor store (its luminescent quality was made stranger by the hail pounding the street outside, piling mounds of ice that fell so quickly they gave the impression of a strange, late summer snow). I knew I’d found my concoction.
In addition to its unique flavor served by itself (though the stinging bitterness of the herbs used in its creation tend to warrant ice, orange, or even soda water), Campari is a unique aperitif that doubles as (you might have guessed) a bitter for a variety of fine Italian cocktails. One such favorite is the Venetian Spritz.
Tuesday, September 1st, 2009
Ahh, what better way to enjoy the summer than with a fizzy and fruity beverage? The Mimosa has its beginnings in the early 1920′s in either England or France, depending on who you listen to. In 1921, the Buck’s Fizz was invented in an English club by the same name, while in 1925, the Mimosa was invented in a Paris hotel. The drinks are nearly identical, but occasionally call for different measures and the inclusion of grenadine on the part of the Buck’s Fizz. Regardless, the Fizzy Mimosa (as it shall now be known in this article) has been a staple of hot weather and weddings ever since. Indeed, the first time that I tried one, I was on the sun deck of a cruise ship off the coast of Belize, about to get in a morning game of ping pong with one of my mates. I had only recently become a fan of Champagne, after largely ignoring it in favor of stiffer spirits, and I was eager to try out this beverage (it was on special during this hour. $3 per glass!). Lo’ and behold, I loved it, and have partaken in it many times since.
Monday, August 31st, 2009
The Gin and Tonic is one of the most popular drinks in England, if not the world. According to The Free Library, as of 2008, about 11,379,000 cases of gin were sold by the major manufacturers. That equates to 26,171,700 gallons. This, of course, is not counting smaller bottles or bigger bottles. The case size in question is 9 liters. Imagine that… A gallon of gin for every man, woman, and child in the combined populations of Greece and Holland (well, technically, the gin would fall about a million gallons short. But who’s counting when we get to numbers that high?). According to the same source, roughly 80% of that gin is estimated to be consumed with tonic water, making that famous cocktail. That is about 20,937,360 gallons of gin that is going into gin and tonics around the world. Granted, this is a very small number when compared to vodka, where the Russian consumption alone is between 2 and 4 BILLION liters per year, or 1.05 billion gallons at the high estimate.
Monday, August 31st, 2009
After writing the Spirits of the Oval Office article, I realized that I had so much fun doing the research for it, that I wanted to continue writing a series of articles based on that topic. After a couple of weeks stewing on it, trying to figure out where exactly to go with it, I now present to you, the Sophisticated Elite, the next installment: Spirits of the British Empire, which will give us some insight into the drink preferences of some of the most influential and renowned political figures, past and present, of our cousins across the pond.
This list will start with the Queen Mum, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who lived from 1900 to 2002. She was the Queen of England during World War II, and Hitler once described her as being the most dangerous woman in Europe. Always a popular figure in Great Britain, she was well known for her love of gin. Her cocktail of choice was Gin and Dubonnet (according to sources, mixed 3:1, Dubonnet). Dubonnet is a French aperitif, otherwise known as an appetite stimulant. It is a combination of fermented wine, spices, and quinine.
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Queen Elizabeth II, who has been occupying the throne since 1952, is also a lover of gin. Her cocktail is a Gordon’s gin and tonic, with three slices of lemon. This takes me back to the second article that I wrote, ‘Hold The Lime,’ in which I argued in favor of substituting lemon for lime in vodka tonics. The present Queen of England opts not for the traditional garnish of a lime wedge, and instead goes heavy with three lemon wedges. It sounds delicious.
Sunday, August 30th, 2009
Over at the Everyday Drinkers website, Derrick Schommer has posted an excellent review of a variety of classy absinthe “dripping spoons” now available:
Beautiful Absinthe Spoons
“This article is getting a good amount of attention for such a simple topic,” Derrick told Culture of Spirits. “I’ve had a few people write me to thank me for the article (including those that sell the spoons and those that drink absinthe regularly).” Indeed, absinthe spoons are one of the unique accessories that make the proper serving of this potent spirit a pleasure to watch, a process which became popular during Victorian times. Famously known by its alter-ego, “The Green Fairy”, absinthe is known for having a bit of a “kick” due to its high alcoholic content (as much as 75% ABV). Typically flavored with anise, the spirit is created with a blend of herbs, including the flowers and leaves of Artemisia absinthium, more widely known as “grande wormwood”.
Having only recently been legalized for sale again in the United States, there exist a few local variants, particularly in the Appalachian Mountains (i.e. “bathtub absinthe”) which some have begun calling “The Green Goblin” for its unusual bite and bitter aftertaste. Frequent consumption is not recommended.
Sunday, August 30th, 2009
Alcohol dehydrogenase ADH5, a protein that breaks down alcohol we consume.
Generally, most people tend to prefer drinking in the evening. However, when considering a few particular factors, this has always seemed strange to me (reasons for which I’ll get to in a minute), although there are obvious reasons for it. For instance, most people work jobs early in the day, since “business hours” generally fall between 9AM and 5PM. Thus, the only part of the day most people are left any time to imbibe is in the evenings. This provides rational as to why most (but not all) roadblocks and license check points occur at night; there are statistically a greater number of people consuming alcohol later in the day, and especially after dark.
Of course, it is advised that if you consume alcoholic beverages, you should abstain from driving at all, lest the routine license check points you may encounter result in penalties that could include loss of your driver’s license. This is one primary reason I prefer having a drink earlier in the day; although I’m not suggesting here that people can avoid consequences of drinking and driving by simply doing it at an earlier hour. Instead, I’ve found that, as a full time journalist, when I can work it into my schedule to break for a nice cocktail while in town running errands (often limited to pedestrian travel while in the city anyway), the relaxing, refreshing quality of a single, well-prepared mixed drink is far more enjoyable in the daytime anyway. But why is this?
Wednesday, August 26th, 2009
A collection formerly owned by a late US whisky enthusiast, purported to be the largest and most varied collection of spirits yet to appear at auction, will be presented for bidding later this year by Bonhams Fine Art Auctioneers & Valuers. The extremely rare collection is said to contain close to 3,000 bottles of whisky.
Well-respected auctioneers of art, pictures, collectables and motor cars, Bonhams also employs a whisky specialist named Martin Green. In a statement released yesterday, Green told BBC News that in his more than 20 years of conducting whisky auctions, “this is the most exciting collection I have ever handled.”
The collection had formerly belonged to a California man named Willard Folsom, who spent 18 years gathering Scotch malts after reading a newspaper article about them in the popular American paper USA Today. According to the BBC report, Whisky from places ranging from Orkney to Speyside to the Lowlands is represented in the collection, including many commemorative bottles never to be released again by distillers. “The sale of the collection provides the opportunity to buy many collectables of the future,” Green says.
Folsom was a former United Airlines worker who toured Scotland with his family, building his collection as they traveled. He died last year at age 64. Although the whisky is to be auctioned by Bonhams in Edinburgh on November 18th of this year, there is a strong possibility that any remaining stock will be returned to the states and sold in New York, as well as in Hong Kong sometime in early 2010.
Thursday, August 20th, 2009
Although it is the most popular distilled spirit in Brazil, the majority of people here in the states know little about the strong South American beverage called Cachaça. In its native land, close to four million gallons of the stuff are consumed annually, with a minuscule one percent of its product shipped elsewhere in the world (mainly to Germany, of all places). Caipirinha, the most popular beverage containing Cachaça, also happens to be Brazil’s national cocktail, although Cachaça can be included in a variety of other excellent tropical cocktails. Therefore, as we ride out on the coattails of summer, I thought Culture of Spirits readers may enjoy learning about the most popular beverage that can be made using this most unique rum-like (and very potent) spirit.
Sunday, August 2nd, 2009
President Obama has garnered a lot of attention lately with the so-called ‘Beer Summit’ at the White House, between himself, Harvard professor Henry Gates Jr., and sergeant James Crowley of the Cambridge, Mass. Police Department. The story between these three is well documented by every major news outlet in the country, so rehashing it here seems redundant to me. My interest in this stems from the President using beer as the medium to sort out their differences, and that has caused me to do some research into other spirits of the Oval Office. What have been the preferred beverages of some of our notable Commanders in Chief?
George Washington (1789-1797) was regarded as the most successful whiskey producer in the country after his tenure of President was over. His Mount Vernon distillery produced 11,000 gallons of Rye Whiskey per year, but within a decade of his death, it fell into disrepair. Washington was also known to have dined and drank whiskey at Charleston, South Carolina’s famous McCrady’s Tavern in 1791, during his Southern Tour.
Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) is regarded today as one of the healthiest early American presidents, and also the foremost wine connoisseur to have ever held office. According to a letter to an inquiring doctor in 1819, he would drink 3 to 4 glasses of wine at dinner, but never a drop otherwise. He wrote that he did not drink ardent wines or spirits, and he would also water down his wine so as to weaken its effect on him.
Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) was born into a bourbon family; His father was a distillery hand at the site that Knob Creek bourbon is named after today (in a distillery that was owned by one of Daniel Boone‘s relatives, no less!). Reaching adult hood, he applied for and received a license to sell alcohol in Illinois, and went on to operate numerous taverns. Despite the taverns and a grocery store that sold primarily whiskey, his personal stance on alcohol was one of educated, responsible drinking in moderation. As for his personal tastes, it’s hard to figure out because he spent a good portion of his political career appeasing the Temperance group, which eventually evolved into the Prohibition group.
Sunday, August 2nd, 2009
Recently, Culture of Spirits writer Chris McCollum mentioned his affinity for vodka tonics, and how they are, essentially, “impossible to mess up.” Indeed, one part vodka blended with one part tonic water over ice is a fairly simple concoction to create, and reading this prompted me to look at a variety of the beverages I order when I visit a bar… and the ones I avoid like the plague for the very reason Chris states: many fine beverages are messed up in public bars.
Take for instance the Old Fashioned. At a very fine restaurant in Asheville, NC (which Chris and I happened to visit together this past Saturday night), I ordered an Old Fashioned some time ago. The lovely bartender asked what kind of bourbon I would prefer. I requested Makers Mark, and the gal proceeded to take a nice, rounded old fashioned glass and muddle an entire orange slice in the bottom, crushing not one, but two cherries with it. I was shocked and amazed; not only was the pleasant “sting” of the spirits being removed with an over-abundance of fruit juice (since a proper Old Fashioned recipe calls for merely the peel of the fruit, not the actual pulp), insult was added to injury as I watched her blend water with the ice and bourbon she added. I remember mixologist Robert Hess referring to a poorly made Old Fashioned as “swamp water”, and hereby move that the beverage I was made actually be given this name officially, so as to remove the actual drink I had ordered from any negative stigmas that may result from poor tastes. When properly made, no Old Fashioned cocktail could be compared to “swamp water”!