10 puzzling new liquor products seen at WSWA

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) conference in Orlando, FL. It was my first time attending, and it was an eye-opener, to be sure.

I’d been warned ahead of time:  “It’s not a craft cocktail conference;” and “It’s not Tales of the Cocktail.” Which is is code for, “hey, liquor snob, don’t expect anyone to debate the merits of which vermouth is best in a Negroni.” Which is fine by me:  there’s a whole world out there beyond the speakeasy set.

But I wasn’t quite prepared for some of the products I’d find on the WSWA conference floor. Some have me outright baffled — why is there a need for cognac-flavored moonshine? and others have me scratching my head, but I can see the market. Take a look:

Penthouse flavored vodkas.

Penthouse-branded cherry-flavored vodkas infused with herbs intended to enhance libido, “for him” and “for her.” I learned later that the magazine has nothing to do with the product, by the way, it’s just a licensed brand.

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Sinfully THINN whiskey: There’s been a lot of hand-wringing in the media about how this is being marketed as a “diet whiskey” and isn’t that just awful. I have to be honest, no one said a peep to me about diet anything. Rather, they harped about how this is “light whiskey,” which is a new category no one has ever tried before. (C’mon, I can’t be the only one who remembers Kansas whiskey.) “It’s like white dog and we clean it up,” chirped the marketing rep. It tasted like vodka.

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Chilled Dills pickle flavored vodka! I liked this one – had me thinking Bloody Marys and Picklebacks.

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Jevo: Described as a “Keurig for jello shots.” It’s created by someone who has a background in technology rather than the hospitality industry. It has a big old electronic ad slapped on the front and they were already marketing this as a vehicle for Pinnacle flavored vodka. I suspect this is going to do very well. You can watch it in action here.

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It’s alcohol butterscotch pudding. IN A POUCH. “It’s like Go-Gurt for grown-ups,” I was told. 

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These are BuzzBallz. Premixed cocktails in ball-shaped cans. The container floats. The juice wasn’t bad, if a little sweet – they do both wine- and liquor-based versions. I can see this doing very well.

Cream liqueur in a sperm-shaped package. Tasteful, no?

Cream liqueur in a sperm-shaped package. Tasteful, no?

Vodka, in a bullet-shaped bottle.

Tequila, in a bullet-shaped bottle.

Vodka, in a grenade-shaped bottle. I just don't understand the weapons-hooch connection or why anyone thinks this is a good idea.

Vodka, in a grenade-shaped bottle. I just don’t understand the weapons-hooch connection or why anyone thinks this is a good idea.

And finally, presented without comment: Cognac-flavored Moonshine.

And finally, presented without comment: Cognac-flavored Moonshine.

A Tequila Sunrise for grown-ups

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The first mocktail I ever had was a Virgin Tequila Sunrise:  orange juice with a bit of grenadine poured on top for a dark-to-light effect, but no tequila. Around age 12, we’d order them non-stop at bar and bat mitzvahs, until the harassed bartender would pretend to run out of grenadine. (PS: no, I don’t count the Shirley Temple, which is not a “mock” drink – if anything, it’s the rum-soaked Shirley Temple Black that’s the “mock” version of the original).

Later on in college, the standard Tequila Sunrise was one of the first drinks I learned to order by name. It was fruity and it wasn’t beer, and that was all that mattered at that point in time, well before the craft cocktail movement brought better options even to college dive bars.

And that was probably the last time I sipped a Tequila Sunrise — until about a month ago. While researching this story for The Wall Street Journal about revitalized 1970s cocktails, I found my glass full of minty green Grasshoppers and vanilla-citrus Harvey Wallbangers. And this updated classic, which didn’t make it into the final article, but is worth making at home. It speaks volumes about how much has changed in recent decades:  non-mixto tequila, fresh-squeezed juices, and pomegranate juice or syrups instead of sugary fake grenadine. Finally – it’s a Tequila Sunrise you don’t have to be embarrassed to drink as a grown-up.

Tequila Sunrise

Created by Don Lee for Golden Cadillac

1 ½ ounces Siete Leguas Reposado Tequila

1 ounce Passion Fruit juice

1 ounce Orange Juice

1/2 ounce Pomegranate juice

In a cocktail shaker, combine the tequila, passion fruit and orange juices with ice. Shake vigorously, and strain into a Collins glass over pebbled ice. Gently pour the pomegranate juice over the rounded bowl of a spoon to “float” the juice over the top of the drink. Garnish with a half orange wheel.

10 cocktail and spirits trends for 2014

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It’s that time again…time to gaze into the old crystal ball and predict what we’ll all be drinking in the year ahead.  (I tried this last year as well – how did I do with my 2013 predictions?) So….here’s what might happen in 2014:

1. Fun will make a comeback at the bar. I suspect the goofy fun factor of places like Golden Cadillac (retro 70s) and Butterfly (retro 50s) will start making its way into the mainstream – like the way tiki used to be fun. It’s not a coincidence that cereal is now a hot (if silly) drink ingredient. After years of super-serious mixology, we’re ready for some fun and decadence again.

2. The Nordic food trend will spill over into cocktails. I’m waiting to see smoked hay and sea buckthorn in my glass.

3. The bartender will become obsolete. Okay, I’m exaggerating for effect. But in terms of format, definitely seeing more pre-batched kegged drinks (lookin’ at you, Derek Brown)  and bottled & canned & other “batched” cocktails – even high-end Ready-to-Drink cocktails that are actually worth drinking. And I’m not the only one who sees this trend on the horizon.

4. We’ll fortify our drinks with sherry and other fortified wines (but mostly sherry). Sherry cocktails in particular are ramping quickly. But port, Madeira and others are not far behind.

5. Low abv and even no abv drinks will go mainstream. I totally admit to lobbying for this trend. But I’m hearing more about lower proof drinks, and seeing better and more interesting low-alcohol and no-alcohol drinks on menus. I foresee this going mainstream this year.

6. We’ll find hard cider cocktails in our glasses. Buzz is building. I think I was too early with this one last year.

7. Flavored whiskey will continue to expand at a rapid-fire clip before burning out altogether. And – what the hell – I’m already calling flavored tequila as a trend for 2015.

8. We’ll develop a heated affection for Asia whiskeys:  some of the best products I’ve tasted this year have been whiskeys from Japan and – much to my surprise – Taiwan. Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are.

9. Consumers finally will wake up to coffee cocktails. Some of the craziest, most euphoric, no-holds-barred experiments I’m seeing now all seem to involve coffee-cocktail hybrids in some way. (I’m still thinking about the experimental cold brew coffee made with White Pike Whiskey seen at the Dizzy Fizz Holiday Spirits Bazaar a few weeks back – and that’s just the tip of the highly caffeinated iceberg.) I suspect we’re not quite there yet, since the coffee flavor still seems to dominate the drinks in a clumsy way- but man oh man, we’re getting closer to something wonderful.

10. Vodka will develop character.  Usually, vodka bores me. Most have been distilled and filtered to a very limp death. But lately, I’ve been seeing growth among new and interesting vodkas — no longer “odorless and flavorless.” Some have been single varietal vodkas, others (like Karlsson’s, for example), have introduced new vintages each year, reminding me of whiskey or wine. I predict that we’re about to see variety in vodka explode in coming months.

Okay, folks. Have a happy happy and a very merry. See you back here next year.

Happy National Tequila Day! The Highland Tequila Fling cocktail


In honor of National Tequila Day (don’t you love these “holidays”?) I’m re-blogging one of my favorite new tequila drinks: The Highland Tequila Fling.

A few notes on this elegant, spirit-forward sipper, which is a mash-up of a few different influences:

–First, this is a riff on the classic Highland cocktail (Scotch, sweet vermouth, orange bitters). But since this was a show about Spring cocktails, I wanted to showcase a lighter spirit. Since both Scotch and tequila have highlands and lowlands variations, a tequila-based Highland became my starting point.

–It didn’t hurt that I had on hand a really nice highlands tequila (Vida reposado). It has gentle vanilla and honeyed agave flavors that remind me a bit of a light Speyside whiskey. The stars were aligning for the drink.

–Last year, I sampled a (Scotch-based) “Highland Fling” cocktail at an event hosted by Compass Box. That drink, made by fab LUPEC lady Eryn Reece, was my favorite of the evening. Her secret ingredient? Tea-infused Dolin Blanc. That became another source of inspiration.

The Highland Tequila Fling

A sophisticated approach to tequila, loosely based on the classic Highland cocktail.

1 ½ ounces tequila reposado

1 ½ ounce chamomile-infused dry vermouth*

½ tsp agave nectar

1 dash Fee Bros peach bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass, with ice. Stir well for 20 seconds and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with orange peel knot.

*To make infused vermouth: dunk 4 chamomile tea bags in hot water, then remove and place the tea bags in 1 cup vermouth. Allow to steep for at least 5 minutes, then squeeze out any excess liquid and discard the tea bags. Makes enough for several drinks.

The drink you need for your 4th of July party: The Rosemary Refresher

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The Rosemary Refresher

photo credit: Teri Lyn Fisher

It’s possible that I may I love this drink a little too much. I made a batch for a book signing event on Saturday, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

A few random thoughts on this drink:

  • Although it was created to be a pitcher drink, if it’s going to sit out for longer than a few minutes before guests gulp it down in a thirsty frenzy, do not add ice! This drink is best when chilled, but loses all its oomph when it gets watered down. Mix it up and set it in a bottle or carafe, and pour it over ice to serve, if it’s going to sit for any length of time. (if serving right away, the pitcher method is just fine, though.)
  • If any rosemary syrup (and/or lime juice) is left over, refrigerate it and save it. Sunday night, I used this template to create an enjoyable Rosemary Daiquiri (though I used 2 oz white rum, not 2.5 oz aged rum). Tuesday night, I found inspiration here to make a rosemary-tinged gin Gimlet.
  • The rosemary sprig garnish is optional. But it makes the drink look really impressive.

The Rosemary Refresher

From Cocktails for a Crowd, by Kara Newman (Chronicle Books)

Serves 8
Total volume: 4 3/4 cups (without ice)

This sophisticated margarita variation is a wonderful thirst-quenching aperitif. The recipe makes a bit more rosemary-infused simple syrup than needed for the cocktails. Offer the leftover portion in a small pitcher for anyone who isn’t drinking alcohol so they can enjoy it mixed with club soda or ginger ale.

Rosemary Simple Syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
5 sprigs fresh rosemary

2 cups reposado tequila
1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
4 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
6 ounces rosemary-infused simple syrup
4 cups ice cubes
8 sprigs fresh rosemary, for garnish

To make the rosemary syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved. When the syrup starts to boil, lower the heat to maintain a simmer. Gently roll the rosemary between your hands to release some of the aromatic oils, then add it to the syrup. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then remove the rosemary sprigs and strain the syrup if need be. Stored in a covered container in the refrigerator, the syrup will keep for about 2 weeks.

To make the cocktails: In pitcher that holds at least 10 cups, combine the tequila, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and rosemary simple syrup and stir until thoroughly blended. Add the ice and stir well.

To serve, pour into rocks glasses and garnish each glass with a rosemary sprig.

Cocktail experiment: Sweet Broiled Lemon Margarita (by way of Tony Conigliaro)

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When I was in San Francisco a few weeks back, I popped into the awesome Omnivore Books and picked up a copy of Tony Conigliaro’s new book, Drinks.

It’s a really interesting book:  deeply scientific, with lots of rumination about concept drinks and recipes that most people can’t make at home unless they happen to have sous-vide equipment and malic acid on hand.

This is not one of those recipes.

Rather, this is from the “Culinary Skills” chapter (aka Chapter 2), one of the more accessible chapters in the book — although readers still will need to flip to the back of the book to learn techniques like say, how to make Grilled Lemon Juice.

Note:  Conigliaro’s recipe is called the “Grilled Lemon Margarita.” I used the broiler on my stove rather than an outdoor grill, so to my American mind the key ingredient is “Broiled Lemon Juice” — not “Grilled Lemon Juice.”

Semantics aside, Broiled Lemon Juice is worth the effort — it tempers the tartness found in uncooked lemon juice, and creates a lightly caramelized flavor and slightly thickened texture. Explains Conigliaro:  “Grilling the lemon relieves the fruit of its acid bite by caramelising the fructose and killing its vitamin C.”

Conigliaro rightly points out that the caramelized/caramelised lemon juice is a perfect match for the caramel and toffee notes found in reposado tequila. I also experimented with rye whiskey — also full of caramel and vanilla notes — and it was an equally harmonious match.

Home bartenders will find two hurdles in trying to make drinks from this otherwise fascinating book. First, there’s the molecular wizard hurdle — I don’t own a Superbag or a homogenizer, so in the recipe below I’ve adapted it using tools I have in my own kitchen. Second, he’s English, so recipes are given in milliliters (um, millilitres) instead of ounces, as American recipes use. So in effect, I’ve translated this recipe twice.

Take that as a hint:  make two drinks.

Sweet Broiled Lemon Margarita

adapted from Drinks, by Tony Conigliaro

Step 1: Make Broiled Lemon Juice

This makes about 1/4 cup lemon juice – enough for 2 drinks, with a little extra. (Conigliaro calls for 5 lemons; I cut this down.)

2 lemons, cut in half

Place lemons, cut side up, under a broiler. Grill under high heat until golden brown. (Note – Conigliaro calls for “medium heat.” My oven doesn’t have that setting. It took 12 minutes for the lemons to turn brown.)

Juice the broiled lemons. (Note – the lemons will be HOT. Allow them to cool first. Happily, the lemon halves will now juice as easily as if they’re made of butter.)

Strain using cheesecloth. (Conigliaro calls for a Superbag.)

Step 2: Make the cocktail

Ingredients

1 1/2 ounces reposado tequila

3/4 ounce broiled lemon juice

1/2 ounce triple sec

Sugar, for the rim

Combine all of the ingredients except the sugar in a cocktail shaker and shake with cubed ice.

Fine-strain and pour into a chilled coupette with a half sugar rim.

5/7/13:  UPDATE:  Apparently I’m not the only one translating measurements. An Americanized version of Conigliaro’s “Drinks” book will be published on July 16, under the name “The Cocktail Lab.”

4 things I’ve learned about…Reposado Tequila

Though I’m a little late with this one, the May 2012 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine included my review column on Reposado Tequila!  If you missed the issue on the newsstand, you can still view the digital format (subscribers only).  Here’s what I learned:

1. “I don’t drink reposado.” Can I tell you how many times I’ve heard that sentence? Not just from other cocktail enthusiasts, but also from bartenders and even from a tequila representative at a spirits conference. That last one in particular floored me. I fail to understand why reposado is falling through the cracks in the tequila floor. Sure, blanco is the least expensive, and therefore tends to be the default for Margaritas and other cocktails….but repo makes even better cocktails.

 2. Tequila makers are putting some amazingly beautiful bottles out there. (The stuff inside was pretty good too.)

3. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. The tequila category is HUGE. The 70+ tequilas that I reviewed last year weren’t eligible for re-review just yet. And yet…I STILL received over 30 repo tequila bottlings, almost all new to me.

4. I don’t quite know how to couch this last observation. This category seemed to yield the most…shall we say…homespun entries. Maybe I’ve just become too accustomed to dealing with PR reps and large spirits conglomerates. But it was eye-opening to receive an old-school box – not made out of cardboard and wrapped with packing tape—but fashioned from wood and secured with screws. Another box arrived that clearly had been re-used, as was the envelope inside with the former recipient’s name crossed off and mine scribbled on. There’s nothing wrong with this — but it was humbling reminder that tequila distilleries still include many small, family-run operations. And many of these yield wonderful tequilas. One of my favorites wasDon Roberto, one of the few 100% Mexican- and family-run tequila producers. Their 6-month-old repo seemed to burst with rich butterscotch flavors. ending with a lilt of fresh apples, pears, and light brush of black pepper.

Do you drink reposado? If you do, I’d love to hear about your favorite bottle, or your favorite cocktail made with repo tequila. And if not…I’d love to hear why not.  Since apparently, you’re not alone.