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.

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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!

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“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

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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.

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

U.S. Distillery License #1

11932270_ml (1)Applejack, a type of brandy made from apple cider, was one of the most popular beverages in colonial America.  Applejack was historically made by a traditional method known as freeze distillation, involving leaving apple cider outside to freeze, and chipping off chunks of ice in order to concentrate the alcohol content.   The term applejack derives from jacking, a term for freeze distillation.

In 1780, soon after the American Revolution, the new nation’s first distillery permit – U.S. License #1 – was granted to a producer of apple brandy, Laird’s Distillery of Scobeyville, New Jersey.  Laird’s had been producing applejack since 1760 and supplied brandy to George Washington’s troops during the revolutionary war.  Laird’s applejack was later used as currency to pay road construction crews during the colonial period.  1933, Laird & Company was granted a federal license under the Prohibition Act to produce apple brandy for “medicinal purposes”, allowing the company to resume operations prior to repeal.

Applejack is still produced by Laird’s distillery, albeit using modern distillation methods.  The distillery is now located in Virginia near the source of their apples but the historic New Jersey site is still maintained for use in maturing and bottling the spirits. Laird’s Applejack is a blend of 35% apple brandy and 65% neutral spirits.

applejackThe company also produces Old Apple Brandy (aged for 7 ½ years), 12 year old rare apple brandy, and Laird’s Bottled-In-Bond Straight Apple Brandy (100 proof).  For many years Laird’s was the only producer of apple brandy in America, however, several other distillers in the United States, notably the Germain-Robin craft distillery in California, are now producing apple brandy.

Despite the history, the terms applejack and apple brandy are now used synonymously in the United States. Demand for apple brandy declined in the 1960s, but the spirit is seeing a renewed interest among mixologists.  The classic cocktail made with applejack is the “Jack Rose,” a blend of applejack, lemon juice, and grenadine.

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

Cheers to the Kir Royale!

Kir RoyaleIf you are looking for a festive cocktail to serve this holiday season, you can’t do much better than a Kir Royale.  The recipe is simple:  put one tablespoon of Crème de Cassis in the bottom of a flute, top up with Champagne and, if desired, garnish with a lemon twist. As you can probably imagine, there are dozens of variations on the classic recipe, and you can find versions of the Kir that include cranberries, frozen raspberries, Prosecco, and Chambord, among other things.

The Kir originated in the region of Burgundy. It is named after a local priest, Canon Félix Kir.  Canon Kir was a war hero of the French Resistance, and is remembered for helping 5,000 prisoners of war escape from the Nazis during World War II.  During the war, he was eventually captured by the Nazis, seriously wounded, and condemned to death; but despite it all, he managed to survive the war.

In 1945, Canon Kir was made a knight of the Légion d’honneur and, soon after, was elected the Mayor of the town of Dijon.  He remained the mayor of Dijon until his death in 1968.

Tribute to Mayor Kir

Tribute to Mayor Kir

Mayor Kir, like many people in Burgundy, enjoyed the local custom of combining two local products – a wine that we would call Bourgogne-Aligoté, and the locally produced liqueur known as Crème de Cassis de Dijon – into a refreshing aperitif.    The resulting drink was known as a blanc-cassis. Mayor Kir was a big fan of the beverage and was often seen in public drinking a blanc-cassis.

Mayor Kir, as you might imagine, was very popular in his community and very keen to support local products as well.  Thus, he lent his name to the drink mixing Bourgogne-Aligoté and Crème de Cassis de Dijon and soon people all over Burgundy were enjoying a Kir before dinner.

The combination of local flavors became so popular that it spread all over France, with several regional variations along the way.  The legend says that once the idea of the drink reached Paris, café society mixed their cassis with Champagne, and the Kir Royale was born.

À votre santé! 

Note:  It’s important to note that while Crème de Cassis is a generic product and made in many locations, “Crème de Cassis de Dijon” is a product specifically of Burgundy, made using “Noir de Bourgogne” black currants.

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

 

 

 

The Egg Nog Riots of 1826

egg nogPerhaps no other drink is as closely associated with the holidays as eggnog.  Beloved for several centuries, eggnog as a drink has stayed relatively the same over the years.  The ingredients are simple: eggs, cream or milk, spices (especially nutmeg), sugar, and alcohol.  However, this seemingly basic drink has a long and somewhat storied history.

Eggnog became a popular drink in England and the Colonies near the end of the 18th century.  Originating in England, it is believed to have begun as a derivation of a drink called posset, which was a hot drink made with eggs, milk, and ale or wine. Eggnog became a favorite among the English aristocracy, who were the only group that had regular access to milk and eggs in England at the time.  The English preferred their eggnog mixed with Sherry or Madeira.

In America, where food was more available, eggnog became a standard drink. As the American colonists had easy access to rum, it became the standard mixer for eggnog.  This led to the nickname of “grog” which was a term that would be applied to rum based drinks of many types, but came to regularly refer to eggnog.

Once the Revolutionary War began, rum was more difficult to obtain.  As a response, whiskey became the main alcoholic mixer for egg nog.  Once the war ended, a wider variety of alcohols were enjoyed.  George Washington’s recipe called not only for rum, but also for rye and sherry.

egg nog 2The Egg Nog Riots:  On an infamous Christmas Eve in 1826, ten West Point cadets smuggled eggs, milk, nutmeg, and two gallons of whiskey into their dormitory.  This was despite (or, perhaps, because of) the strict anti-alcohol polices of the academy. Led by future Confederate president Jefferson Davis, the cadets threw themselves an egg nog party.

As with most college parties, things soon got out of hand, and the revelers drew the attention of a teacher, Captain Ethan Allen Hitchcock.  Just as he arrived, Davis realized the trouble coming and shouted. “Put away the grog boys, Old Hitch is coming!”  Hitchcock attempted to end the party and return the cadets to their rooms.  The students rioted in response and the event led to the “Eggnog Riot” or “Grog Mutiny” which resulted in the largest expulsion of cadets in West Point’s history.

So this season, raise your whiskey and egg nog in celebration for the holidays, a new year, and the nineteen cadets who were expelled 187 years ago as a result of our favorite seasonal beverage.

For further reading see: “The Egg Nog Riot” Michelle Legro, Lapham’s Quarterly 

“The History of Eggnog” by Nanna Rognvaldardottir

Click here for the Maker’s Mark Recipe for Eggnog.

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Post authored by Ben Coffelt  – bcoffelt@societyofwineeducators.org

Grape Stems into Grappa

Grappa GlassSome say the name “Grappa” is based on the Italian town of Bassano del Grappa, located in Italy’s Veneto Region.  Others say it is based on the fact that the word grappa literally means “grape stalk” in Italian.

We may never know exactly where the word came from, or where grappa was first made, but we do know that grappa has been produced, as a by-product of the Italian winemaking trade, since the Middle Ages. Itinerant distillers used to travel from vineyard to vineyard, distilling the fresh pomace (called vinaccia in Italian) on the spot, and providing the vineyard workers with a raw, potent spirit to ward off the cold.

The tradition of vineyard distillation is no longer practiced, as the stems present in the pomace tend to produce a small amount of methanol, which is toxic and must be carefully removed during distillation. Thus, current Italian law does not allow distillation to take place at the winery; winemakers must bring their pomace to a distiller (or run their own operations, separate from the winery premises).  This change has actually help to transition the reputation of grappa from the “moonshine” of yesterday to the artisanal spirit of today.

Modern grappa is produced via column stills, pot stills or traditional steam distillation. Grappa is generally bottled at 40 to 45% alcohol by volume and may be produced from a single variety, known as a monovitigno, or, more commonly, from a mixed batch.  After distillation, grappa may be aged for several months in glass or other inert containers before distribution as a clear, unaged spirit.  Some grappas are oak aged and may be labeled with terms such as vecchio (old) or stravecchio (extra-old).

GrappaGrappa is often served as a digestif, or, as a caffè corretto (corrected coffee), with a shot of espresso. A variation of this is the resentin (“little rinser”), where the espresso is consumed first, followed by a swirl of grappa served in the same cup.

In the European Union, the term “grappa” is restricted to use for products produced in Italy, parts of Switzerland, or San Marino. However modern craft distillers in the United States and elsewhere, such as Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery and Clear Creek Distillery, are making artisanal pomace brandies labeled with the term “grappa.”

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

The Real Thing: Grenadine

tequila sunriseGrenadine:  it puts the sunrise in Tequila and turns simple rum-and-pineapple juice into a glamorous Mary Pickford. It sits on every back bar in the world, gleaming with an unnatural, almost nuclear-red glow.

It glows - unnaturally red – that is, if you buy store-bought Grenadine.  Like most bar mixers, Grenadine is mass produced and widely distributed.  You can probably pick up a bottle at your local grocery store, and your corner bar most likely orders it by the case.

But you might want to think twice before you pick up your next bottle of Trader Vic’s or Rose’s Grenadine.  A popular brand of commercial grenadine – let’s just say it represents just about all commercial grenadine products – lists the following ingredients on the label: high fructose corn syrup, water, citric acid, sodium citrate, sodium benzoate (preservative), RED 40, natural and artificial flavors, BLUE 1.

GrenadineGrenadine was originally made from pomegranate juice, sugar, and water, although black currants are just as likely to flavor today’s commercial versions. The name “Grenadine” originates from “grenade” – the French word for pomegranate.

Pomegranate syrup, which can be found in most Middle Eastern grocery stores (as well as Whole Foods Market), is made with pomegranate concentrate and sugar, and can serve as a decent substitute.

However, like many things to be found on the back bar, Grenadine is simple to make, and house made products are far superior to the mass-produced versions.   I’ve tried several recipes over the last few weeks, and have come up with my favorite version.

Try it for yourself – and let us know what you think!

Grenadine (The “Real Deal”)

Ingredients:

  • Pomegranate Juice1 cup Pomegranate Juice – fresh squeezed is best, but a good brand like “Pom” will work as well
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh Lemon Juice
  • 4 drops Orange Flower Water
  • Optional:  1 tablespoon Pomegranate Molasses

Technique:

  1. Heat the pomegranate juice until steam rises from the surface; do not heat beyond this point – you want to turn the heat off before (of as soon as) you see any bubbles start to form.  Remove the pan from the heat.
  2. Add the sugar and stir.  Let the mixture sit for a few minutes, then stir again until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Add the lemon juice, orange flower water and optional pomegranate molasses.  Let the syrup cool to room temperature (about an hour) and transfer to a glass container with a tight-fitting lid.
  4. Stored in the refrigerator, your homemade grenadine will stay fresh for about a month.  If you would like to extend the life of your grenadine, try freezing a portion of it, or adding a few tablespoons of vodka to the cooled syrup.

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

 

Vodka, Meet Oak

starkaHere’s something that sounds new:  Oak-Aged Vodka! Sure enough, cutting-edge spirits producers such as Absolut, Adnams, and Bendistillery are producing Oak-Aged Vodkas that are flying off the shelves. However, like so many things, it seems to be a case of “everything old is new again!”

Starka, perhaps the “original” Oak-Aged Vodka, has been produced in Poland and Lithuania since at least the 15th century, when the region was known as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  By the 1800’s, Starka was the favorite potent drink of area, beloved by both the gentry and the commonfolk alike.

Tradition held that upon the birth of a child, the father of the house would place a large quantity of homemade sprits into an empty oak barrel, seal the barrel with beeswax and bury it in the ground, where it aged until the child’s wedding day.

By the late 1800’s, various companies in the area, which by this time was divided into Imperial Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, began to mass produce Oak-Aged Vodka.  The vodka became widely known as Starka;  a term that  referred to the aging process and, alternatively, meant “old woman!”

StarkaStarka production continued after World War I, which ended foreign rule over both Poland and Lithuania, and all throughout the post-World War II era when Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union.  During this time, liquor production in Poland was nationalized, but production of Starka, mostly as a high-end export product, continued uninterrupted.

Currently, only Polish Starka is considered “true Starka.” It is now produced by only one Polish Company,  Polmos Szczecin. Polmos Szczecin Starka is produced from natural Rye Vodka aged in oak barrels with a small addition of apple leaves and lime leaves.  The product is offered in various age classes ranging from 5 years to over 50 years old.  Their oldest product dates back to 1947.  In addition, there are a number of companies in Lithuania, Bulgaria, Russia, and Latvia producing what is considered to be “Starka-style Vodka” produced mainly from neutral spirits and herbal tinctures.

As for the modern era, Oak-Aged Vodka seems to be catching on.  The well-known Swedish Vodka producer Absolut has recently launched an oak-aged product called “Absolut Amber,” named after the color the vodka takes on due to oak influence.  According to their website, Absolut Amber is aged in a combination of French, Hungarian, and American (ex-Bourbon) barrels for about six months. The aged vodka is then blended with “macerated spirits” (spirits soaked in wood chips) so that it touches a total of 8 types of wood before being bottled.  Absolut Amber is slowly making its way to the American market; it has been launched into the U.S. but is currently only available at airports.

Various reviews on the Absolut Website use the following words to describe Absolut Amber:  “rich, mellow, oaky flavor, smooth, vanilla, coconut, deep amber color, smoky aroma, spicy, allspice, dried orange peel.”  One reviewer said it was “not quite like a whisky but a step above vodka.” Very interesting!

What is even more interesting to me is the very creative array of Amber-based cocktails to be found on the Absolut Amber Website, such as the “Absolut Amber Nectar” which combines the spirit with apple juice, honey, and a twist of orange.

Other distilleries are producing oak-aged vodkas as well. Adnams Distillery in the U.K. produces a “North Cove Oak Aged Vodka.” The Adnams  Distillery product is made from barley-based vodka and is aged in a mixture of French and American Oak.  Alas, it does not seem to be available in the U.S.

Closer to home, the Bendistillery in Oregon ages its Crater Lake Vodka “briefly in New American Oak.” This gives the vodka a “spring water character” and a bit of vanilla-nutmeg spiciness. Click here  for a list of stores that carry Crater Lake Vodka in the U.S.

Vodka, meet oak – its 1525 all over again!

For more information:

Polmos Szczecin

Absolute Amber

Adnam’s North Cove Oak-Aged Vodka

Bendistillery

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