Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category
Wednesday, October 28th, 2009
By Micah Hanks
Imagine if one could somehow travel back in time to the idealistic purity you’d hope to find in the Garden of Eden, capture the most luscious combination of flavors and fragrances available, and then bottle and distill them into an organic neutral spirit. Recently Culture of Spirits was treated to yet another offering in the fine (and pleasant to say, growing) world of organic and botanical spirits, and I’m glad to tell you that, yes, you can expect “Eden in a bottle” from the wonderful spirits being created by Square One Organic Spirits.
Having sampled three varieties of the delicious spirits these folks provide, I can tell you that not only do their neutral spirits offer a unique bit of color that is often missed with more expensive (typically flavorless) vodkas, but they also manage to do so without creating syrupy, colored liquids that look more appropriate lining the shelves of a coffee shop, rather than a classy bar. Indeed, the Square One spirits are subtle in color, and even mild in taste, offering simple, flavorful beverages without completely forsaking the neutrality one would hope for from a typical vodka. As Jordan Mackay of San Francisco’s Buzzed blog says, Square One Organics are “a spirit of character and not just a flavorless, odorless additive.”
Of all the spirits Square One provided us with (which included the pleasingly simple Square One Organic Original and Square One Cucumber, I must give my very highest endorsement to the lovely Square One Botanical, a rye-distilled spirit flavored with eight different botanical fruits, spices and herbs used for added character. “I mean, what does ‘Botanical’ taste like?” founder Allison Evanow says. “It doesn’t mix like a flavored vodka, nor is it a gin or an aquavit… it’s basically a new twist on what we think will be a new wave of spirits to come.”Indeed, although considered primarily a vodka, when paired alongside rums, gins, and other neutral spirits of similar value on the market, Square One has gone above and beyond, succeeding at providing something truly unique.
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.
Thursday, October 15th, 2009
It is often espoused at this website that many of the fine alcoholic beverages available today are so great-tasting due to the quality ingredients used in their creation. Thanks to new trends that involve the use of organic ingredients, “green” processing methods and incorporation of naturally grown herbs and botanicals into many modern spirits, these fine beverages not only taste great, but also promote overall health in many ways.
Recently Jovial King, founder and formulator of the Vermont-based company Urban Moonshine, was kind of enough to send Culture of Spirits a unique sampling of several fine organic bitters his family-owned company offers. Having tasted each of the varieties he sent us, it is my pleasure to give you an idea of what to expect from these masterfully-blended specialties.
Tuesday, October 6th, 2009
Nestled in a cozy corner of my liquor cabinet sits a tall bottle in an insulated black glove. Startling red letters adorn the glove, in an horror-inspired font: BLAVOD.
Black Vodka has become increasingly popular over the past couple years, and typically is only available in stores during the month of October, in order to allow people to prepare for Halloween. Many interesting looking concoctions can be created using this, such as the Halloween Screwdriver, in which you layer Black Vodka and orange juice, to give it the black and orange color scheme of Halloween.
As we all know, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of kinds of season beers, only available during certain parts of the year. Some of them are Wit Biers only available during the summer, special Pale Ales during the spring, Porters and Stouts during the winter, Pumpkin Ales, and most famous of all, Oktoberfest beers typically available during the autumn months.
However, spirits are usually year-round. Except for Black Vodka, the only mass-produced seasonal spirit that I am aware of. Granted, there’s nothing exceptionally special about it; It’s the same as regular vodka, but with black food coloring added to it. There’s a bit of a thrill though, this once a year bottled blend. For cocktail loving Halloween enthusiasts, it’s the perfect opportunity to start mixing unique looking beverages, without having to take a regular spirit and add your own food dye.
Right now, BLAVOD, the originator of Black Vodka, has pretty much cornered the North American market. However, Absolut is trying to make a run at them, by producing their Absolut Black. However, the price difference is the breaking point for me, as they both taste pretty much the same. BLAVOD runs at about $20 for a 750ml bottle, while Absolut is a bit pricier at closer to $30. So, BLAVOD has the market cornered in my opinion, until someone else comes along and competes with them on the price. The one thing Absolut has going for them, is that they offer 100 proof Black Vodka. This could make even more interesting cocktails, such as Flaming Jack o’ Lantern-style shots.
Most of the brands claim that the color alteration doesn’t do anything to the taste, however, some experts dispute this, saying there are indeed minute changes in the otherwise flavorless spirit. There could be something to this, as BLAVOD uses an herb extract to achieve it’s color, and this herb, known as Catechu, is sometimes used in medicines.
Starting over the next several days, we at Culture of Spirits are going to be doing our best, putting hours upon hours of research into creating cocktails for the Halloween season. Stay tuned!
Tuesday, September 29th, 2009
In MY neighborhood? It’s more likely than you think! A couple evenings ago, I was taking some folks out on a pub crawl, and we made our way into Thirsty Monk, the local Belgian craft brew bar. My customers were thrilled with the atmosphere and exotic selection, and as usual, I allowed them time to look at the menu and discuss their options before I scanned for my own choice. I gave two of them recommendations for Delirium Nocturnum and Tremens, while their friend chose a Stella. I took the menu in hand and scanned to the bottom where the rare beers were (some of them are only on draft in this particular bar for one week per year). One beer caught my eye immediately, and caused me to do a double take…
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.
Monday, September 7th, 2009
In order to live a more cultured and sophisticated lifestyle, one must do a bit of traveling, and while traveling, partake in the local delights of wherever one finds themselves. My travels this year have led me to Belize, Grand Cayman, and most importantly, Puerto Rico. In the past year, I have spent a grand total of nearly 6 weeks on the Island of Enchantment, where the national drink is rum. In fact, Puerto Rico is known as the Rum Capital of the World, and more than 80% of the rum consumed in the United States, comes from the island. The most popular of the many brands in Puerto Rico is Bacardi, which is distilled in Cataño, right across San Juan Bay from the apartment I stay at. Every time a cruise ship made port (which is fairly often, as Puerto Rico is also the cruise ship capital of the world), dozens, if not hundreds, of people lined up to take tours of the Bacardi factory.
For obvious reasons (it is delicious), I am a big fan of rum. My time in Puerto Rico was well spent, as I tried several of the most popular local brands, none of which seemed to actually be Bacardi. My favorite of the locals ended up being Don Q Cristal, a silver rum distilled in the city of Ponce on the south coast of the island. I brought a bottle back with me to the United States, and spent much time reflecting on why I did not bring an entire case. Don Q is not sold in my neck of the woods, so I’ve only used it sparingly, on special occasions. Tonight is one of those occasions, as I finally sit down to do a real taste test, to see if Bacardi can be dethroned as the King of Puerto Rican Rum.
Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009
Down along the Texas Gulf Coast, there is a sprawling, cosmopolitan metropolis known as Houston. Within the downtown district of the 600 square mile city, there is a tire store that has been converted into a bar, that now bears the name Anvil. I have never been to this particular bar, yet I read a very interesting article in the Houston Press yesterday that put this place in one of the top 10 bars in the country that I would like to visit. The staff at Anvil have put together a list of 100 essential beverages(most of them cocktails by definition) that they feel everyone should try at least once in their lifetime. I have tried many of these libations already, but there are numerous of which I’ve never even heard of. Anvil has issued out a card with the full list on the front and back, and every time a customer has partaken in one of these beverages, they cross it off his/her list. Even though I am unable to do this at Anvil, as I do live quite some distance from Houston, I CAN do it myself, and look to do so over a long period of time. For now, let’s look at some of the more interesting concoctions on this list, and some of the ones that I have already experienced.
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.
Thursday, June 25th, 2009
Recently I was treated to a viewing of the new film Beer Ya’ll by Curt and Will Arledge. The film’s motto is “Beer. Rock & Roll. North Carolina” (trust me, this describes it very effectively) and details the July 2008 trip seven friends made across North Carolina to tour 27 microbreweries and brewpubs, ranging from the mountains to the coast in a seat-less cargo van. “Beer Y’all follows their nine days of hanging out with brewers, partying at rock shows, and drinking many, many beers as they celebrate friendship, music, and a Southern microbrewing explosion,” their website states. But fortunately for those interested in craft-brewing, there is quite a bit more “meat on the bone” with regard to the way this film portrays the cultural aspects of the fine art of brewing beer, and in addition to learning a lot, those who view this film stand to gain a bit of worldly perspective that has been growing in the mountains and foothills of NC for the last few decades.