Bitters and Bittered

bittersCocktail bitters reside in a class by themselves. Essentially, cocktail bitters are aromatics and flavoring extracts that have been macerated in neutral spirits. Cocktail bitters are so intensely concentrated as not to be considered potable on their own—or, as the official phrasing has it, “Not for singular consumption.”

 

Most cocktail bitters are botanicals in a neutral spirit base, although, while uncommon, it is possible to produce bitters with a glycerin base. In the United States, cocktail bitters are considered “food extracts” and are therefore regulated by the Food and Drug Administration rather than by the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB) or other alcohol-regulating agencies. Thus, they have wider distribution than wines and spirits, including in most food and grocery stores.

 

Cocktail bitters began, much like many other spirit groups, as medicinal and restorative tonics created by infusing botanicals in alcohol in order to extract their (presumed or actual) health benefits. One of the most prevalent forms of bittering agents used was Peruvian cinchona bark, also called quinine, which became popular as part of the potions used to treat malaria and tropical fevers. Other common bittering botanicals were used as well, and many are still in use today, such as caffeine, hops, gentian, and burdock root, as well as many other forms of herbs, roots, leaves, barks, and spices.

 

Flowering Gentian

Flowering Gentian

Some of these medicinal elixirs were favored as refreshing beverages, while others remained in highly concentrated form as tonics. In many cases, the tonics came to be used to flavor other beverages, as in the gin and tonic, pink gins, and other such drinks, where a dash of bittering agents was called for to liven the drink. Bitters were so much a part of beverage culture that the earliest definition of a cocktail included a bittering agent. To be exact, the definition, formulated in 1806, listed “spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitter.”

 

Outside of FDA regulations regarding use of certain approved foodstuffs, there is no limit or regulation on what may constitute a recipe for cocktail bitters; thus, much is left up to the discretion and whim of the creator. Cocktail bitters have found a new popularity, and there are many unique, creative products on the market today. Two of the most “classic” brands are Angostura Bitters and Peychaud’s Bitters: 

 

Angostura Bitters: The most well-known of the cocktail bitters began with the House of Angostura. Angostura Bitters were created as a medical concoction in 1824 by Dr. Johann Siegert, a doctor in Simón Bolivar’s Venezuelan army. It was named after the town of Angostura (later, Ciudad Bolivar), although, oddly enough, the recipe did not contain the local angostura bark as an ingredient, even though other bitters did. The House of Angostura later relocated to Port of Spain

Photo of “Angostura bitters 003" by Gryffindor

Photo of “Angostura bitters 003″ by Gryffindor

in Trinidad, where it resides today. The company also owns and operates rum distilleries on the island, both for the Angostura brand and by general contract for several others. Readily recognizable with its bright yellow cap and oversize paper label, Angostura is easily the world’s dominant brand of bitters.

 

Peychaud’s Bitters: Peychaud’s Bitters were invented by the Haitian Creole Antoine Amédée

Peychaud in his apothecary shop in New Orleans, circa 1830. The concoction was originally designed to go in his powerful spirit libations said to be served in dainty eggcups known by the French term coquetiers (a possible explanation for the origin of our term “cocktail”). This is a savory, exotic style of bitters with highly lifted aromatics. Peychaud’s Bitters are an integral part of the original recipe for the Sazerac cocktail.

 

As a pleasant side effect of the current cocktail renaissance, the bitters market is exploding with

artisan and local versions of cocktail bitters, with more entering the market each day. Fee Brothers, Regan’s #6 Orange Bitters, Bittermen’s, the Bitter Truth, Bittercube, Basement Bitters, and Bar Keep Bitters are among the many artisan-produced bitters available today. A plethora of flavors are also being produced; one can find bitters based on fennel, lavender, grapefruit, rhubarb, dandelion, molé, pineapple, apple, curry, and Jamaican jerk seasoning.

 

The creativity for bitters, it seems, knows no bounds.

Cocktail bitters, bittered spirits, vermouth, quinquinas, and Americanos are all topics that receive new and expanded coverage in our 2015 edition of the Certified Specialist of Spirits Study Guide…due out by January!

Click here to return to the SWE Homepage.

The Gin is In on Tuesday Night!

The Gin is INJust a reminder that tomorrow – Tuesday, November 18th - at 7:00 pm central time, we’ll be offering up a SWEbinar on Gin. After all, there’s been a Gin Lane, a gin craze, and a Gin Act – and now, there’s a Gin SWEbinar called “The Gin in IN!”

If you are a cocktail enthusiast, a CSS student, or just a serious fan of the Martini, this session is for you! Join “Miss Jane” Nickles, CSS, CWE, for a look at the legendary history, the fascinating production, and – most importantly – the delicious consumption of gin!

SWE’s SWEbinar series is unique in that it is offered free-of-charge, and open to the public! We also try to accomodate all schedules by offering sessions on weekdays and weekends, as well as daytime and evening hours. If you have a topic you would like to see addressed, or a time-of-day that would work for you, please let our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles know via email at jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

 

Sorry to shock you, but the history of Gin is somewhat scandalous!

Sorry to shock you, but the history of Gin is somewhat scandalous!

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. There is no need to register in advance. Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few hours before the scheduled date.

When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but its still a good idea to log on early!

  • If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time (just click on the link).
  • If you are having any trouble with your Adobe Connect connection, please see our SWEbinar Trouble-shooting page.

 Link: Tuesday, November 18, 7:00 pm central timeThe  Gin is In!  presented by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE (Link will go “live” a few hours before the scheduled date/time.) 

If you have any questions, please contact Jane Nickles: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here for the 2014 – 2015 SWEbinar Calendar

The Bartender’s Handshake

Fig 10-7 different brands of fernetThe beverage world abounds with spirit amari (bittered spirits), which may be classified as aperitifs, which are generally served in diluted forms as cocktails to stimulate the appetite, or as digestifs, which are often served in more concentrated forms to enhance digestion after a meal.

These amari contain botanicals with carminative properties intended to lessen gastric discomfort after rich meals. Just ask a bartender, a wine student, or a serious foodie you will hear them tell you its true: they work! Botanicals known for their carminative properties include angelica, aniseed, basil, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, ginger, hops, nutmeg, parsley, and sage.

One of the most popular Spirit amari is Fernet Branca. Fernet Branca was invented in Milan in 1845 by Bernardino Branca. It soon became famous worldwide and led to the founding of the Fratelli Branca Distillery.

Archives of the Boston Public Library

Archives of the Boston Public Library

Fernet has recently become quite popular in the United States as both a beverage and a hangover cure, but its popularity long precedes the craft cocktail scene. So popular is it among industry professionals that a shot of Fernet Branca has been called the “bartender’s handshake.”

In Prohibition-era San Francisco, fernet was legally consumed on the grounds of being “medicinal.” San Franciscans still drink it—over 30% of the fernet consumed throughout the entire United States is consumed in San Francisco.

Argentina consumes more fernet than any other nation. The beverage’s popularity is reflected in the fact that a leading  Cuarteto (an upbeat, popular dance-hall music genre) song is “Fernet con Cola.” 

The secret recipe for Fernet Branca is reportedly known by only one person, Niccolò Branca, the current president of the Fratelli Branca Distillery. It is said that Niccolò personally measures out the flavorings for each production run.

Fernet ValleyThe Branca brand, while definitely one of the better-known, is not the only producer of fernet. Fernet is actually a type of herbal-based bitter that is made by other producers, as well. Many Italian companies, including Luxardo, Cinzano, and Martini & Rossi, produce fernet. Fernet is produced internationally, as well, such as in Mexico, where the popular Fernet-Vallet is made.

Each brand of fernet has its own secret combination of herbs and botanicals. However, a good fernet is likely to include myrrh and saffron, both known for their “disgestivo” and antioxidant properties. Other ingredients rumored to be included are linden, galangal, peppermint oil, sage, bay leaves, gentian root, St. John’s wort, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and bitter orange.

Fernet Branca, as well as other versions of Italian spirit armai, French spirit amer, and various types of vermouth, quinquina, and americano that will be covered in the new 2015 edition of the Certified Specialist of Spirits study guide…to be released in January, 2015!

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here to return to the SWE Homepage.

“For everything good, Mezcal…for everything bad, the same”

Agave Americana

Agave Americana

Technically, tequila is a mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila.

As any good student of spirits should know, tequila is a specific type of mezcal, produced according the the strict rules of the Norma Oficial Mexicana (“Official Standard of Mexico,” often abbreviated as “NOM”), from the aguamiel of the blue agave plant (agave tequilana weber). Production of tequila centers around the Mexican state of Jalisco, put portions of the nearby states of Tamaulipas, Guanajuato, Nayarit, and Michoacán are approved for the production of tequila as well.

But we were speaking of mezcal…

The production of products bottled as mezcal is centered around the state of Oaxaca. The state of Oaxaca is a prime growing area for the preferred base material for mezcal – a variety of agave known as agave americana, often referred to as maguey. In addition to maguey, twenty-eight other varieties of agave may be used in the production of mezcal, with the most common being agave potatorum and agave salmiana.

Oaxacans love their mezcal, as they should. A popular saying in the region is “para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien también” (“For everything bad, mezcal; for everything good, the same”)

Mezcal derives its name from a Nahuatl Indian word, mexcalmetl, which loosely translates as “agave plant.” Mezcal often has a “smokier” or “earthier” aroma than tequila, in part because of the varieties of agave used, but also because of the tradition of cooking the piñas in earth-covered pits. Grinding methods vary, and mezcal producers commonly use agave fibers in the fermentation must to add character.

Santo Domingo Church in Oaxaca

Santo Domingo Church in Oaxaca

While most mezcals are produced using 100% agave, the distiller may also add various fruits and herbs to the must during the fermentation process. Thus, mezcal is produced in an almost infinite number of local variations. Mezcal may be labeled reposado or añejo, depending on the length of time it spends in cask, but many are bottled without cask aging. There is also a variant of mezcal called mezcal de olla. In this type, the must is distilled in a clay pot, called an olla, with a vapor-condensing coil attached to the cover.

While many people think they have bought or seen a bottle of tequila with a worm in it, they are mistaken, as the “worm in the bottle” is instead found only in some variations of mezcal, specifically those produced in the state of Oaxaca. The origin of the worm in the bottle is considered an old-fashioned way of certifying the strength of alcohol: if the worm decayed there was too little alcohol to preserve it; if the worm stayed intact there was sufficient alcohol for drinking.

The mezcal worm is actually the larva of one of the two moths that live on the agave plant. There are two types of worms: the red, gusano rojo, which thrives in the root of the plant, and the white or gold, gusano de oro, which is found on the leaves. Today, the worms are bred commercially for inclusion in mezcal. Although the worm is used as a marketing strategy, top-quality mezcal is generally not bottled with a worm.

A shot of mezcal with sal de gusano

A shot of mezcal with sal de gusano

The traditional way to drink mezcal is straight, sipped slowly and savored. Mezcal is sometimes accompanied by orange slices and “sal de gusano,” a Oaxacan salt blended with the ground larva of those famous gusano (worms). While it is difficult (and somewhat risky) to generalize about such things, the following flavors are often detected in mezcal: light smoke, nutty, caramel/brown sugar, floral, citrus, pumpkin, tropical fruit, dried fruit, green vegetal/celery, leathery/earthy.

As with many traditional beverages, mezcal has become part of the “craft cocktail culture,” and modern bartenders are creating smoky-yet-refreshing cocktail recipes using mezcal. Click here for a recipe, created by Scott Baird of Comal in Berkeley. Called The Palomaesque, this mezcal-based version of the classic Mexican cocktail, The Paloma, uses mezcal, grapefruit juice, lime juice, honey, and Cocchi Americano. Having just tried it myself, I can guarantee that it is delicious!

Guest Post: The Romance of Scotch Whisky

FiveToday we have a guest post from Spirits Educator Russ Kempton, CSS. Russ shares with  us some of what he learned about Scotch whisky during his five trips to Scotland!

Impersonal – that’s how I would describe most of the distilleries in the world.  However, the opposite is true for the distilleries located in Scotland. Do other regions and countries have long and just as distinguished history in producing distilled spirits? – Yes; but I feel that for the romance and the mythology, there are none like the Scotch whisky distilleries.

Rugged, rustic, and remote outposts describe most of Scotland’s distilleries in operation today, not one alike and all unique. Scotland’s unique, complicated, eco-system produces exceptional, tradition-rich whiskies. Due to this environment, Scotch whisky is among the most diverse spirits in the world.

Since the mid 1800’s, the debate among whisky drinkers has been which type of Scotch whisky is the complete spirit – single malts or blends? Single malts epitomize the distilleries signature as to what can be produced at a single distillery, while the blended whiskies style come from the vision of the Blending Houses.

OneTo be classified as a single malt Scotch, these requirements must be met; distilled from 100% malted barley, a product of one distillery, produced exclusively in Scotland, aged a minimum of 3 years in oak barrels, and placed into the bottle at no less than 80 proof or 40 alcohol by volume. Single Malt Scotch has three basic ingredients; malted barley, water and yeast with the color coming from the oak during maturation.

Blended Scotch will come from whisky produced at many distilleries with the majority (average 60%) being distilled from various grains such as unmalted barley, maize, and wheat. The grain whisky in the blend must be aged a minimum of three years and aged to the label year, if the blend carries an age. The remainder of the blend will contain, on average, approximately 35 to 40 single malts.

Blended Scotch of higher quality and price will carry a higher concentration of single malts in the blend. Blends on the opposite end of the scale will carry more grain bringing the quality and price down. The blender wants their whisky to be consistent for their loyal consumers. For this reason, they strive to produce a whisky which has a distinguishable quality and characteristic.

FourMany Scotch whisky distilleries are located in the mountains or glens, near rivers, lochs, or along the coast. The four seasons and weather in the areas will affect the barley, fermentation, distillation, and maturation at the distillery. During maturation the oak barrels and casks “breathe” the local air simply because the barrels are watertight but not air tight. For example, whisky aged in warehouses by the sea will pick up definite maritime qualities, therefore affecting the finished whisky and giving it the signature from that specific region.

There are five steps to a finished product: malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation, and maturation.

MALTING: Barley is germinated during this step, converting the starches into fermentable sugars. It is then arrested by drying the barley in a kiln, usually over a peat fire, for 24 – 36 hours.  The longer in the kiln, the more smoke influence in the finished product. Peat is simply decomposed plant life, usually heather. Before being used in the kiln, the peat is pressed and dried.

MASHING: The dried grain, now known as malt, is milled into a coarse flour called grist. The grist is then mixed with hot water in a mash-tun where the conversion of starch into sugar is completed. This sugary liquid is now known as wort. The wort is next transferred into huge vats (washbacks) for fermentation.

FthreeERMENTATION: Yeast (unique to each distillery) is added to wort.  The sugars in the wort are converted into a low-proof alcohol known as wash.  This process takes 48 – 72 hours (average), some distilleries fermentation cycles are lower or higher.

DISTILLATION: The Wash is put in copper pot stills and distilled twice. The first distillation is the wash still with the spirit vaporizing, condensing to produce low wines. The second distillation in the spirit still consists of three cuts; only the middle- the heart- of the run is pure enough for maturation. The usable spirit is called “new make spirit” and sent on for maturation.

MATURATION: The new make spirit is aged in oak barrels or casks for a minimum of three years and starts to pick up its color and flavor profile. A ten-year maturation or longer period is typical for single malts of high quality. During aging, 1% – 3% of the spirit will evaporate each year; this is simply known as the “angel’s share”. Oak barrels or casks play a significant role during maturation; as much as 60% of the whisky’s flavor comes from the wood influence. Some distilleries use only sherry casks in their maturation process; however the vast majority will use used bourbon or Tennessee whiskey barrels since bourbon and Tennessee whiskey can only be produced in new charred oak barrels.

TwoThe Scots in the whisky industry are highly dedicated to their heritage, passionate about quality and committed to excellence.  All of this magic is fused from three basic ingredients, time, place, and environment.

Slainte Mhath! (pronounced Slan-Je-Va) – meaning “good health to yours” in Gaelic.

Russ Kempton, CSS, is a Distilled Spirits Educator conducting spirits education, training, seminars, tastings, events, dinners, and consulting throughout the United States. He also holds the Certificate of Expertise in the Sales & Service of Scotch Whisky, received in Edinburgh on one of his 5 journeys to Scotland.

Click here to return to the SWE Homepage.

 

Guest Post: Traveling in time at Château De Laubade Armagnac

IMG_0241Today we have a guest post from Hoke Harden, CSS, CWE. Hoke is well-known to SWE members as one of the contributors to the original CSS Study Guide and a popular (and highly-rated) conference speaker. Hoke invites us to travel back in time with a visit to Château de Laubade in Armagnac, and taste France’s oldest brandy, made by time-honored traditions now codified into law.

Located in the departement of Gers in the Gascogne region of south-west France, situated in the verdant rolling foothills of the Midi-Pyrénées, Armagnac hews to the old ways to make a unique rustic and earthy brandy celebrated the world over.

Brandy began here on the many small family farms dotted across the landscape. Thrifty landholders naturally cultivated wine grapes amongst their other crops so good, basic drinking wine could grace their tables. Eventually, the wine found its way into brandy—although most of the farms were too modest to have their own distillery and each year they waited until a local distiller could hitch up his portable still and take it to each farm for custom distillation.

Thus custom and tradition created an agreement on basic methods of brandy production, but allowed, even encouraged, a fiercely independent style by each small-batch producer, since most of the brandy would remain for family consumption, unlike its famous northern neighbor, Cognac, which was focused primarily on commercial exports. Today, the commercial houses of Armagnac remain fairly small concerns, with each having its own way of doing things, but all bound by the officiating body of the Bureau National Interprofessionel du Armagnac.

IMG_0242Château De Laubade, located in the tiny village of Sorbets in the Bas-Armagnac AOC, is a storybook picture of a place, with its gated entrance, sturdy round tower and ancient mottled brick buildings leading to a fanciful Normandy-style chateau from 1870 perched on a hill to view the sweeping expanse of vineyards in the valley below.

These well-tended vineyards are essential, for only they are used for Château De Laubade’s Armagnacs. After the upheavals of phylloxera and oidium that devastated French vineyards, Armagnac recovered and settled in with several approved varieties, but at Laubade, only the four key varieties are allowed: Ugni Blanc, known in Italy as Trebbiano, a workhorse grape;  Folle Blanche, a delicate and floral variety that is susceptible to rot and difficult to farm; Baco Blanc, a French-American hybrid cross between Folle Blanche and Noah intended to give the character of Folle Blanche without the problems; and Columbard, which in this terroir provides impressively spicy and herbal characters to the blend.

Each year the varieties are harvested, fermented, distilled and barreled individually, to be aged and blended by the master distiller into the various Armagnacs the estate produces.

Originally, all distillation in Armagnac was done in a pot-and-column continuous copper still , an alembic Armagnacais, so only one distillation was required to gain sufficient alcohol strength and clarity. Today, any type of distillation is permissible; most distillers use the traditional method, others use the alembic double-distillation approach, depending upon style preferences.

IMG_0240Another traditional touch comes in with the choice of barrel. The Armagnacais traditionally prefer initial aging, from six months to a year, in a local black oak heavy in tannin from the nearby forest of Monlezun, then transferring the eau-de-vie to lighter, finer-grained, and older, more subtle toasted oak barrels from such sources as Limousin and Tronçais for continued but more elegant development.

The minimum aging to be designated Armagnac is one year, but most are blends of much, much older brandies to create the various VSOP, Reserve, XO, Hors d’Age and other well-matured designations.  Armagnac has also continued the tradition of maintaining single-vintage and single-variety releases, with the proviso that any single-vintage must be a minimum of ten years in barrel prior to release.

To maintain blending stocks, and to retard the loss of precious alcohol through evaporation in barrel, when a brandy has gained all it can from the barrel, it is racked into large bulbular glass demi-johns, which are then placed in the most revered cellar location, referred to as Le Paradis—Paradise.  These will be doled out in miniscule amounts and used judiciously to enhance new blends with added depth and nuance.

In one of the more remarkable tastings I have been fortunate enough to enjoy, a master distiller at Chateau de Laubade took me through three levels of sampling.

IMG_0246First, he provided four samples of eau-de-vie from the 2013 vintage which had received no barrel treatment: Ugni Blanc, Baco Blanc, Folle Blanche and Columbard. The differences among the ‘naked’ eau-de-vies were immediate, impressive and actually somewhat startling. The Ugni Blanc was lean, tight, mineral, and tartly, astringently acidic. The Baco was the reverse of that coin, rich, earthy, full in the mouth and expansive. The Folle Blanche was wonderfully floral, light, and bright and lively.  And the Columbard was impressively spicy and tangy and strong with herbal coriander-seed aromas.  Even from this rough and undeveloped primal state, one could easily see the wide range of possibilities a blending could take in the hands of a master.

For the second step, the master distiller brought out four more wines—again, the four basic varieties, but this time they were individually barrel-aged samples: an Ugni Blanc and Baco Blanc from the 1994 Vintage, a Columbard from the 1995 vintage, and a Folle Blanche from 2001.

Again, the differences were immediate and amazing. The mature Ugni Blanc had become forceful and deeply colored, but had maintained that almost steely intensity and structure it showed originally. The Baco, on the other hand, had become even richer, more rounded, and significantly more earthy, with an umami-mushroom undertone. The Columbard had deepened and strengthened its herbal-spice focus, tightened its structure, and had become one of the most singularly expressive Columbards I had ever experienced. And the Folle Blanche had developed a lacy, fruit-floral elegance and airiness that was lovely to linger over.  Again, one could consider the infinite possibilities of mingling these creatures into a master blend.

IMG_0258For the last stage of the tasting we strolled over to the chateau and in the midst of the lavishly decorated sitting room, overlooking the vineyards, I was offered my choices of a dazzling array of bottles from the offerings of Château De Laubade.  While wishing I had the fortitude to taste each and every one of these precious mahogany brandies, I restrained myself—with difficulty–to only a few select choices:  an XO with 15 to 25 years of age; an XO l”Intemporel No. 5 with 25-50 years; a vintage 1990; a vintage 1983; and as a finale, a vintage 1942, a brandy I simply could not resist.

The import of the previous tastings varietal tastings became evident , for with these armagnacs I could discern the contribution of the varietal characters as well as the resonance and depth that maturity brought to the marriage.  The firm linear structure of Ugni Blanc was enhanced by Baco’s warm, earthy richness, with the spice-lash of Columbard coming up from below and the lacy aromatics of Folle Blanche wafting above, and all coming together in the center with four made one and sum magnificently greater than parts.

In the two XO’s, differences of age showed clearly. The younger  XO was lighter, brighter, with more citrus and flower and orchard fruit shining clearly, only beginning to show the tinges of oncoming maturity along the edges. The older No. 5 Intemporel, with obvious and welcome richness from Baco, was profoundly deep and brooding, redolent of dried orange peel, savory mince, and prunes vying with old leather, cocoa, and baking spices, and lingered for the longest time.

IMG_0257The 1990 Laubade, a worthy reminder of the worldwide excellence of that vintage, was still bright and lively with apricot fruit, laced with firm acids, and showing the ability to age gracefully for many, many years.  Again, the striking elements of structure, earthiness, spice and flower were all present. Think of the 1990 as an Audrey Hepburn Armagnac: always young, always charming, teasing, enticing and never out of style.

The 1983 Laubade was more abundant, with more heft and weight and substance, with the feeling it was just now beginning to hit its prime. The foundation of Ugni and Baco were clearly there, with the Baco deepening and mellowing, yet, oddly enough, allowing more room for the spicy-herbal Columbard and faint floral perfume of Folle Blanche to “fill in the spaces” seamlessly, showing the pure mastery of the blender’s art coupled with the seasoning of age.

The 1942 Laubade was a quiet work of art, a gentle, soft, round, warm delight. Initially a bit tentative, it warmed and expanded in the mouth, and the post-nasal aromatics effulgently stimulated the senses. There is something profound in a brandy that bridges the years, that connects you to a time before you were born and like an old film or photo album calls up glimpses of things you never experienced.

In 1942 France had been ignominiously conquered by archenemy Germany, had the heart of its country occupied, with the pitiful remainder shoved into Vichy. The devastating war was flaring even higher, spreading all over the world.  Times were still difficult in Gascony but the land endured, as did the people, and there was even guarded optimism for a brighter future. Grapes still had to be harvested, wine made, brandy distilled.

IMG_0262This Armagnac was a sign of that future; made in hard times, perhaps it would be consumed in far better times. Such is the cloaked power of a well-made brandy, made reverent with age.  And such is the power of Château De Laubade Armagnac that 70 years later the brandy remained vibrant and alive – while the distant past was only dull regret and faded memory.

About the author: An enthusiastic lover of wine and spirits, Mr. Harden left a career in academia to follow his other muse for the last 27 years, trekking around the world to the great producing regions. Recently referred to as a veritable walking omnibus of wine and spirits knowledge, he has experienced every possible facet of the world of wine and spirits as a retailer, restaurateur, bartender, buyer, wholesaler, supplier, marketer, critic, writer, competition judge and an educator. He is currently with Elixir Vitae Wine & Spirits Consultants, a member of the Society of Wine Educators, Wine & Spirits Instructor at Mt. Hood Community College, and a Master Instructor with the French Wine Academy.

Click here to return to the SWE Homepage.

Glass and Bottle of Suze

SuzeSuze, a lightly sweet type of bittered liqueur, was created in Paris in 1889 by a distiller named Fernand Moureaux.  While Suze has long been popular in Europe as an aperitif and mixer, it has just become available on the American Market.

The original recipe for Suze called for wild gentian root harvested from the mountains of the Jura and Auvergne regions of France.  Other ingredients in this highly aromatic, bright yellow liqueur include vanilla, dried wildflowers, fennel, bitter oranges, and honey.

Now produced by Pernod Ricard, Suze is among the top selling aperitifs in France.  The fame and reputation of Suze received quite a boost in 1912 when it was featured in the painting “Verre et bouteille de Suze” (Glass and Bottle of Suze) by Pablo Picasso.

The painting, actually a collage, incorporates bits of newspaper, wallpaper, and construction paper to portray (some art critics say “suggest”) a liquor bottle with a label, a glass, an ashtray, and a lit cigarette. These all rest on a blue table in front of a wall covered with diamond-patterned wallpaper and pieces of newspaper.

glass and bottle of suzeThese elements all represent the popular daily Parisian routine of reading the paper while smoking and drinking in a café; however, at the same time, the newspaper articles themselves tell of the terrifying events of the First Balkan War. Many art critics believe these elements represent the juxtaposition of the simple pleasures, as well as the horrors, of modern life.

If you would rather concentrate on life’s pleasures, try a White Negroni – 2 parts gin, 1 part Suze, and 1 part White Vermouth shaken and strained over ice, garnished with a lemon twist.

“Verre et bouteille de Suze” (Glass and Bottle of Suze) by Pablo Picasso is currently on display at the Kemper Art Museum in St. Louis. Click here to read about the painting in the museum’s archives.

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

SWEbinars Get Spirited!

whiskeyBy popular demand!

Here’s one for the cocktail crowd! Starting in April we will be offering Spirits SWEbinars designed for CSS (Certified Specialist of Spirits) Exam prep.  These sessions, covering  the material in the CSS Study guide and beyond, will be of interest to any spirits professional, mixologist,  wine lover, wine professional, or spirits enthusiast!

Our first “Spirited SWEbinar” will be offered on April 11, 2014 at 12 noon (central time). The topic will be Whisky (Chapter 4 in the CSS Study Guide).

We are pleased and honored to have Barry Wiss, CSS, CWE as our presenter for this session.  Barry is the Vice President of Trade Relations for Trinchero Family Estates and serves as the Second Vice President on SWE’s Board of Directors.

We’ll also be continuing with our CSW review sessions, and offering other Spirited SWEbinars in the future – click here for more information on our SWEbinars!

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

“Dr. Zwack, das ist ein Unicum!”

zwackProduced in Budapest, Hungary; Unicum is a bold, bitter liqueur created using over 40 different botanicals. Unicum was invented in 1790 by Dr. József Zwack, Royal Physician to the Hungarian Court, in order to settle the stomach of Emperor Joseph II, then the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Hungary.

The beverage is said to have received its name when Emperor Joseph proclaimed, “Dr. Zwack, das ist ein Unicum!” meaning the drink was “rather unique!”

In 1840, the Doctor’s son, József Junior, founded J. Zwack & Partners, the first Hungarian liqueur manufacturer. Soon, J. Zwack & Partners was one of the leading distilleries in Eastern Europe, producing over 200 varieties of spirits and liqueurs and exporting them all over the world.  The distillery was handed down through the generations of the family and successfully operated until the facility was completely destroyed during World War II.

After the war, in 1948, the distillery was seized from the Zwack family and nationalized by the Communist regime.  János and Péter Zwack, the grandson and great-grandson of the founder, escaped the country with the original Zwack recipe.  Another grandson, Béla, remained behind to give the regime a “fake” Zwack recipe and became a regular factory worker.

Zwack PosterMeanwhile, János and Péter migrated to the United States and settled in the Bronx.  Péter worked diligently in the liquor trade and entered into an agreement with the Jim Beam Company to produce and distribute products under the Zwack name.

In 1988, one year before the fall of the communist regime, Péter returned to Hungary in 1988 and repurchased the Zwack production facility from the state.  By 1990, the production of the original Zwack formula and many other products resumed in Budapest.

The Zwack Company has since recovered its position as the leading distillery of Eastern Europe and is now run by the sixth generation of the Zwack family.

Click here to visit the Zwack Website

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Plymouth Gin

Photo by Gernot Keller

Photo by Gernot Keller

In the late 1700′s, at the time the London Dry Gin style was becoming wildly popular,  distillers in other English cities developed their own styles of gin as well.  Plymouth, Bristol, Warrington, and Norwich all had their unique styles. Plymouth Gin, produced since 1793, is the only one of these historic gins still produced today.

The building which was to become the Plymouth Gin distillery was originally a Dominican Monastery inhabited by an order known as the Black Friars. In 1536, at the time of the Reformation, the Monastery was dissolved and the building was put to other uses, including a debtor’s prison and a meeting place.  Legend has it that the Plymouth pilgrims who sailed to America aboard the Mayflower spent their last night in England here in 1620. The next morning, they made the short walk down to the harbor, ready to set sail to America and found a “new” Plymouth. The Mayflower ship forms a part of Plymouth Gin’s trademark label today.

In 1697, the building became the Black Friar’s Distillery.  Part of the distillery is housed in what was once the rectory of the monastery and retains a hull-shaped timber roof built in 1431.  This makes it one of the oldest buildings in Plymouth and a protected national monument.  With records of a “mault-house” on the premises dating to 1697, the distillery also claims to be the oldest working gin distillery in the world. The distinctive Plymouth Gin began to be produced in 1793, not long after the business became known as “Coates & Company.”

plymouth ginIn 1896, Plymouth Gin was mentioned in what is considered to be the first documented recipe for the drink that would become known as the dry martini. The recipe, under the name “Marguerite Cocktail,” appeared in a book published by the Excelsior Publishing House in New York known as “Stuart’s Fancy Drinks & How to Mix Them,” by Thomas Stuart.  Plymouth Gin is listed as the key ingredient, along with “French Vermouth and a dash of orange bitters.”

Plymouth Gin, still produced in England, has been awarded a Protected Geographical Indication by the European Union.  The PGI technically pertains to any gin distilled in Plymouth, although the Black Friar’s Distillery is the only distillery currently operating in the town. The style of Plymouth Gin is crystal-clear color in color with a full-bodied texture, fruity aromas and a very aromatic juniper berry profile.

For more information, visit the Plymouth Gin website.

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org