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GrenadineGrenadine was originally made from pomegranate juice, sugar, and water, although black currants are just as likely to flavor today’s commercial versions.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

Click here to return to the SWE Website

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

 

Best Selling Spirits in the World: 2013 Edition

What is the world drinkingThanks to  the good folks at Drinks International, we have a new ranking of the best-selling spirits brands in the world.  The products are fascinating…even a well-studied student of the Certified Specialist of Spirits Program might be surprised as to what people are drinking arouond the world.

Here is a list of the top-ten selling spirits in the world, with a bit of commentary for the curious:

1. Jinro Soju – There’s no mistake – Jinro Soju, produced in South Korea, is the best-selling spirit in the world.  In 2012, this clear, fresh soju sold 65.3 million 9-liter cases…that’s more than double the sales the of the product currently holding on to the number two spot.

2.  Emperador Brandy – Emperador Brandy, produced in the Philippines, has just about quadrupled its sales in the last few years.  Many people attribute this to a wildly successful advertising scheme that features images of success, affluence, and sophistication.

Tanduay_silver_LR3.  Smirnoff Vodka – Originally produced in the late 1890’s in Moscow, Smirnoff is now produced in several different countries, including the United States.

4.  Lotte Liquor BG Soju – Another South Korean Soju, Lotte Liquor BG Soju goes by the name “Chum-churum” in Korea.  The name means “like the first time” (“pure”) in Korean. As you can probably imagine, Lotte Liquor and Jinro are “arch rivals” in the  huge market for Soju.

5.  Ginebra San Miguel Gin – Produced in the Philippines, Ginebra San Miguel Gin is a “Dutch Style” gin made from a sugarcane spirit base and (of course) flavored with juniper.

6.  Bacardi Rum – Originally founded in Cuba but now known mostly for its flagship, crystal-clear Puerto Rican rum, Barcardi Rum is produced by the world’s largest privately-held, family-run liquor company in the world.

7.  Tanduay Asian Rum – Produced in the Philipines, Tanduay bills itself as “the original Asian Rum” and is made from sugarcane that can be traced back to “ancestral, wild canes” of sugar.

Whisky8.  McDowell’s No. 1 Whisky – A product of India, McDowell’s is marketed as a “Scotch-style Whisky,” meaning that the product is made from 100% grain (as opposed to some Indian whiskies, that are made partially or primarily from molasses.)

9.  Johnnie Walker Scotch Whisky – Originally known as Walker’s Kilmarnock Whisky, the Johnnie Walker brand was originally sold by John “Johnnie” Walker in his grocery store in Ayrshire, Scotland. The Johnnie Walker brand is now owned by Diageo.

10.  Pirassununga 51 Cachaça – Pirassununga 51 Cachaça is the market leader in Brazil for this popular liquor distilled from fermented sugar-cane juice.  Brazil’s national cocktail – the Capirinha, made with cachaça, sugar and lime – is beloved by Brazil’s 180 million people, and is growing on the rest of the world as well!  

You can download a full copy of the full report on the Drinks International Website…just click here!

Lillet. Kina Lillet.

Vespter MartiniFrom the book Casino Royale (Chapter 7), by Ian Fleming:

“A dry martini,” (Bond) said. “One.  In a deep champagne goblet.”

“Oui, monsieur.”

“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”

“Certainly, monsieur.” The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

“Gosh, that’s certainly a drink,” said Leiter.

Bond laughed. “When I’m…er…concentrating,” he explained, “I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.”

A few chapters later, Bond names the drink the Vesper Martini, in honor of Vesper Lynd, a Special Agent at M-16, who of course turns into a love interest, at least until it is revealed that she is a double agent.

While James Bond, double-agents, and strong cocktails might seem to be the key points of this story, as a true student of spirits, I am even more intrigued by the mention of Kina Lillet…so I decided to do a bit of detective work myself.

Lillet BlancLillet is a French aperitif that has been produced since 1872 in the town of Podensac, France, just south of Bordeaux. Lillet is based on Bordeaux wine that has been both aromatized (flavored with herbs) and fortified (strengthened with distilled spirits).  Lillet is made with the typical grape varieties of the region: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle for the Blanc; Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon for the Rouge and Rosé.

Lillet is approximately 85% wine, sweetened and fortified with various citrus liqueurs, flavored with orange peel, and aged in French oak barrels. Lillet also includes Cinchona bark from Peru, the “secret ingredient” that contains quinine, as is used in tonic water, thus making Lillet a “cousin” of Vermouth and technically an aperitif known as a quinquina.  Lillet actually contains very little quinine, and no other botanical flavorings besides citrus fruit, making it one of the mildest quinquinas in terms of both botanicals and flavor. Other brands of quinquina include Dubonnet, Cocchi Americano, and St. Raphaël.

The original Lillet, once known as Kina Lillet, was re-formulated in 1986 to make it a bit less bitter and a bit less sweet, is now known as “Lillet Blanc.” Lillet Blanc is a light, refreshing, fruity drink that is crisp, sweet, and somewhat floral. Lillet Blanc is popular as an aperitif in France, served chilled or on ice with a garnish of lemon, lime or orange.

Maison du Lillet now produces four versions of its product, including Lillet Blanc. Lillet Rouge, released in 1962, might remind you of the sweet, fruity red wine flavors of James BondLambrusco.  Lillet Rosé, released in 2012, has a grapefruit-edged bitterness and is the sweetest of the four products. Reserve Jean De Lillet 2009, vintage-dated and based on Sauternes, is the newest (and most expensive) product, released in 2013.

Aspiring mixologists who want to make an authentic Vesper Martini may want to use Cocchi Americano instead of Lillet Blanc in the recipe, as purists insist that Cocchi Americano is closer in taste and flavor to the original Kina Lillet, being stronger in quinine and therefore more bitter than today’s version of Lillet Blanc.  After all, you wouldn’t want to disappoint Mr. Bond.

Maison du Lillet – http://www.lillet.com/

 

Elderflowers, Moodiness, and Saint Germain

16567356_s[1]In Victorian England, ladies complaining of night sweats, headaches, or “moodiness” would often be given a glass of Elderflower Cordial.  Elderflowers were readily available, growing wild all over Europe, where they prefer sunny and dry locations, such as the foothills of the French Alps. The flowers are 100% edible, and have been appreciated for both their medicinal and culinary properties since Roman times!

The tradition of creating an Elderflower Cordial by steeping bunches of the freshly picked elderflowers with sugar and water goes back a long way, and is alive and well in modern day Paris.

St. Germain, produced since 1884, is an Elderflower liqueur produced in France.  As the story goes, the delicate elderflowers bloom for just a few short weeks every spring.  At the first sign of the blossoms, a small army of gatherers take to their bicycles and harvest the delicate flowers, transporting them via bicycle down from the hills to the St. Germain facility.

st-germain-liqueur-lgThe fresh flowers are immediately set to macerate, as they can lose their freshness in just a few short days. Knowing what we know about liqueurs, we can assume that the delicate flowers are infused in water before being mixed with sugar and spirits; however the producers of St. Germain choose to keep their exact production process a family secret.

In the spirit of journalistic integrity, the home office staff of SWE recently held a tasting of St. Germain. Here is our collective tasting note:

“Aromas of ripe pears, warm honey, luscious lychee, and a faint shadow of floral perfume and dried herbs.  Semi-sweet in taste with no rough edges, save for a playful bite of alcohol. Rich, luscious, and delicious.  Tropical fruit flavors followed by citrus, vanilla, and anise. Vaguely floral, with a lingering lemon peel finish.  Feels like sitting in a lemon grove as the sun sets, while rummaging through a box of old love letters, antique photos, and dried bouquets.”

elderflower_cordial-4959While St. Germain is delicious on its own, it has broad appeal as a flavoring for cocktails as well. Here’s a recipe for a “White Cosmopolitan” cocktail, featuring St. Germain. Try it for yourself and see….

White Cosmopolitan

  • 1 oz. Vodka
  • ½ oz. St. Germain
  • 3 Tablespoons White Cranberry Juice
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh Lime Juice

Shake well with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

 

In case you are wondering about the namesake of the liqueur, the historical character known as St. Germain is quite interesting.  There are many versions of his story, but one thing that appears to be a fact is that The Comte de Saint Germain, who was born in 1712 and died in 1784, was StGermain1784the son of Francis II Rákóczi, the Prince of Transylvania.  The wild stories surrounding St. Germain begin with the fact that Prince Francis openly claimed that his only son had passed away at the age of four; it was later learned that this was done in order to protect his son against persecution from the Hapsburg Dynasty. On his deathbed, the Prince revealed the true identity of his son. 

The Comte de Saint Germain, despite keeping his true royal identity a secret for much of his life, was fabulously wealthy, well educated, and enjoyed a good deal of prominence in the European high society of his time.  He was also, however, known for making up wild stories about himself, most likely to keep people guessing as to his true identity.  At times, he would claim to be 500 years old, to be the re-incarnation of William Shakespeare, to be a prophet, and to own a casket full of jewels. The story about the casket full of jewels may have well been true, as he was known to lavish a bevy of courtly ladies, include Madame Pompadour, with jewels and pearls. 

To this day, stories are told of the legendary abilities of St. Germain as an alchemist, a prophet, an enlightened master, and a sorcerer.

Who knows how much of the stories are true?  History does tell us that he was a close friend of King Louis XV, who kept him so close by his side at the palace in Versailles as to arose the jealously of other members of the royal court.  Let’s drink to that!

 

For more information and lots more recipes…. http://www.stgermain.fr/index2.php

 

 

The Sazerac: World’s First Cocktail

Guest Author Jade Helm, CSW, DWS takes us on a trip to New Orleans to try the World’s first cocktail…

Sazerac Cocktails.jpg[1]

World’s first cocktail…it’s quite a claim to fame! But that’s what they say about the Sazerac…

The creation of the Sazerac dates back to 1838 and is credited to Antoine Amedie Peychaud who owned an apothecary in New Orleans.  Peychaud liked to treat his friends to a mixture of Cognac and his special blend of bitters.  He served it in a little egg cup called a “coquetier” (pronounced “ko-k-tay”), and some say this lead to the word “cocktail.” This would indeed make the Sazerac the world’s first cocktail, and the cocktail a truly American invention.

The Sazerac has evolved over time, due in part to necessity.  When the phylloxera epidemic decimated the vineyards of Europe, Cognac was in short supply, so in 1873 American Rye Whiskey became the base spirit of the Sazerac. In the same year, absinthe was added to the recipe. This addition soon revealed its own set of limitations, as we all know how Absinthe’s reputation for causing hallucinations and mental illness caused it to be banned for a time.  However, that was not about to stop the party in New Orleans, and a rinse of Herbsaint replaced the Absinthe in the Sazerac.

Sazerac Bar.jpg[1]With all this folklore at stake, I decided to make a trek to New Orleans to try the Sazerac for myself – in the interest of history, of course! The Sazerac Bar seemed like the right place to start.  The Sazerac Bar is housed inside The Roosevelt Hotel New Orleans, just off Canal Street. Richly appointed with sparkling chandeliers and decadent golden hues this is the type of hotel that makes you at least want to visit the restroom just to have an excuse to look around.  Luckily the Sazerac Bar is just as inviting.  Honey colored walnut and dim lighting remind us of a time when men were men and…well, back to the drink.

While the modern “official” recipe uses Sazerac Rye Whiskey, The Sazerac Bar offers both a whiskey and Cognac version.  I tried them both side by side and am happy to report that I loved both renditions.  The Cognac version was smoother, fruitier, and seemed sweeter. The Peychaud’s Bitters gave the drink added flavors of orange, cardamom seed, and star anise. The rinse of Herbsaint added a hint of anise that seems to linger on the finish.  The version made with Rye Whiskey had a smoky rye flavor and more “bite.” Somehow the whiskey, bitters, and Herbsaint combined to give the drink the aroma of candied citrus peel and floral, honey-like flavors.   What’s not to love?

If you would like to try to make a Sazerac at home, click here for a copy of The official Sazerac Recipe, courtesy of The Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel.  Cheers!

Jade Profile PicGuest Author Jade Helm, CSW, DWS is a wine writer, educator, and consultant, as well as the primary author of the Tasting Pour Blog.  She enjoys helping people explore wines whether they are simply tasty and affordable for everyday enjoyment, or worthy of cellaring.  For those who want to understand wine in greater depth, Jade offers information about tasting terms, regions, wine making methods, and just about anything wine! You can find Jade on Facebook, Linkedin, or the Tasting Pour Blog.

 

Welcome to our Blog!

Red-Wine-DecanterWelcome to the first post of “Wine, Wit, and Wisdom,” the Official Blog of the Society of Wine Educators.

We hope to be your source for the latest news and events in the world of wine and spirits. We hope to be able to educate you a bit along the way as well!

Stay tuned as we build our new site…and if you’d like to submit an event, post a job opening, or flex your writing skills as a guest blogger, contact us at bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org anytime.

Cheers!

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