Oct
01
2014

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Facundo Rums

The FACUNDO Rum Collection in CA This Fall

Article by Virginia Miller

As I was at first, you may get sidetracked by the brand Bacardi. But as just with any spirits house that may be known for churning out mass-produced spirits, particularly one like Bacardi that has been around for over 150 years formerly located in Cuba (with US headquarters based in Miami and international headquarters in Bermuda), they have a special selection of barrels aging for years.

In 2013 they released their The FACUNDO™ Rum Collection in tribute to Bacardi’s original master blender, Don Facundo Bacardi Masso, by his great-great grandson, Facundo L. Bacardi. The family decided to share some of their premium barrels in this collection which was conceptualized at their 150th anniversary party. It was released in Miami and NY last year (nowhere else in the world) and this fall in California. SF and LA are now the only other two cities in the world getting all four of these rare rums.

It wasn’t until I tasted the rums, however, that I experienced the uniqueness of them both for Bacardi and in the rum world. As you can see from the photo above (courtesy of FACUNDO Rum), these are luxury, sipping rums and the striking, thoughtfully designed bottles reflect this. Manny Oliver, the head master blender who has worked for Bacardi for nearly 40 years, was here in SF walking me through the rums, explaining that some of the 300 hand-selected barrels used in these blends, being over 20 years old, have lost so much “angels’ share” due to Caribbean heat that there’s as little as 5% of the rum left in the barrels, contributing to the scarcity of the liquid.

Hear are my thoughts on all four, which you can look for at rum bars like Smuggler’s Cove in SF and La Descarga in LA:

1. NEO™
Seeking to be a premium white sipping rum, NEO (meaning new) is a blend of rums aged up to eight years, then filtered (second charcoal mellowing) prior to blending to remove color, although there is still a gentle blond hue. It’s smooth but not flavorless. Almond and floral notes shine, the rum bright with fruity wood. It tasted clean and bracing in a Rum Old Fashioned.

2. EXIMO™
If forced to choose, EXIMO (meaning “to free” in Latin) may be my favorite of the 4, both in taste and its stately bottle designed to represent the sun’s rays. It’s a more medium-bodied dark rum — the only one in the Collection blended before aging in a barrel for 10 years. It’s layered and buttery, complex with earthy dark chocolate and a lingering nuttiness.

3. EXQUISITO™
EXQUISITO means exquisite and this was the most elegant and even softest of the four rums, though a dark rum. It’s a blend of rums aged seven years as well as some aged 23 years. The final blend is then finished in sherry casks, imparting sherry-like notes of raisins, spice and toasted nuts.

4. PARAISO™
PARAISO (meaning “paradise”) blends the Bacardi family’s oldest and finest barrels of rums aged up to 23 years, then blended, then rested in French XO Cognac casks, some more than 60 years old. The result is medium-bodied, refined rum that exhibits plenty of almond, oak, chocolate, toasted caramel and nuts.

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Sep
15
2014

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Lolo's new playing card cocktail menu

Lolo’s new playing card cocktail menu

My Top Drink Articles: September 1-15

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my numerous articles a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to some of this coverage here – you can follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily, or on my own @ThePerfectSpot via Twitter or Facebook.

Cocktails

LOLO’s artistic new PLAYING CARD COCKTAIL MENU

NOPA’s two cocktail menus within a cocktail menu

Cocktails on the new TRICK DOG MENU

Cocktailing in ALAMEDA

Spirits

ST. GEORGE RELEASES 3 NEW SPIRITS for Fall

Juice

My new cold press juice favorite, UPTOWN JUICE

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Sep
15
2014

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Photo Source: Ben Krantz

Photo Source: Ben Krantz

St. George Spirits Releases 3 New Spirits

Article by Virginia Miller [ran in Zagat SF on September 3, 2014]

We love our St. George Spirits. From the rock and roll attitude of their tasting room and tours in a WWII hangar housing their Alameda distillery (reservations for tours and tastings here) to their fantastic gins, brandies, whiskies, rum, absinthe, coffee liqueur and eaux de vie, they’ve been one of the great American distilleries since the 1980s. This fall ushers in three new releases, all limited edition and sure to go quickly, hitting local shelves and local bars September-October (the whiskey will be available within the next week or two, the brandy and rum not till mid-Oct.) Whether you’re a rum, whiskey or brandy fan, St. George has you covered.

1) St. George California Reserve Apple Brandy ($60)

15 different varieties of local NorCal apples go into this gorgeous sipping brandy based off a special apple brandy they did exclusively for NYC’s famed fine dining temple Eleven Madison Park a couple years ago. That was unaged and now it is aged. Nothing could be more appropriate for fall.

2) St. George Single Malt, Lot 14 ($80)

St. George continues to turn out wonderful whiskies, year-after-year. This time it’s round 14 — it’s one of our favorites of all their single malt releases. Master distiller Lance Winters started aging some of this whiskey 15 years ago in his early days at St. George and it’s blessed with a lingering elegance and subtle spice.

3) St. George California Reserve Rum ($80)

We’re big fans of St. George’s wonderfully funky California Agricole Rum, done in the French Martinique style of rum (or rhum) — which means made from fresh sugar cane juice instead of molasses, allowing the rum’s grassy, lively properties to shine. Their rum has been aged for 3 years in French oak barrels and the results still exhibit that bold funk with a generous touch of oak.

Where to Buy: K&L, Healthy Spirits, Cask, Plumpjack Noe, Bi-Rite, Jug Shop

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Mar
01
2014

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Two US Spirits Newcomers: Beet Spirit & Overproof Rum

Article and photos by Virginia Miller

(photo source: sidetrackdistillery.com)

(photo source: sidetrackdistillery.com)

Two standout new spirits of the year thus far? Here are two unusual US-made spirits that immediately drew me back for a second taste.

Bete from Sidetrack Distillery ($32.95/375 ml)
In my three trips to Seattle in seven months, a spirit that keeps impressing me with every sip is the uncategorizable Bete from Sidetrack Distillery in Kent, WA. The spirit is distilled from sugar beets and like the great beet cocktails I’ve had over the years, it’s vegetal, earthy, while simultaneously light and bright. Figuring out ways to use it in cocktails may seem initially daunting, but messing around at home, I find it plays beautifully with lime, lemon and other citrus, as well as vegetables like celery. A fascinating product, never has the essence of beets quite been captured like this.

High Ester Navy Style Rum from Lost Spirits Distillery ($45/375 ml)

(photo source: lostspirits.net)

(photo source: lostspirits.net)

Monterey’s Lost Spirits Distillery (from Distiller/Blender Bryan Davis, formerly making Leviathan peaty whiskey and an absinthe) is not far from my home of SF… but their new cask-strength, Navy-style rum (68% ABV) is an adventure hinting of far away islands and stormy seas.

Hardly what one might call an “elegant” rum – though it is well made – this high ester rum is robust, overproof and most importantly, memorable. Not as boozy as its ultra-high proof would suggest, its Grade A molasses-base ensures a dark, moody spirit with the kind of funk I adore in a rum, hence my first loyalty to agricole-style rums. This is not agricole, but it’s funky, alive, woody, laden with overripe fruit and licorice notes, produced in copper pot stills. There’s a wildness to the rum more exciting than dozens of American-made rums I’ve tried this year, or in any recent years.

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Feb
15
2014

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Cachaça: Primed For Mainstream?

In Conversation with Avuá Co-Founder
Nate Whitehouse

Article by Virginia Miller

Avuá Cachaça (pronounced ahv-wah kah-SHAH-sah) is spreading the cachaça gospel. Founders Nate Whitehouse, Pete Nevenglosky, and Mark Christou are key voices raising awareness of the complexities and range of Brazil’s beloved sugarcane spirit, best known as the base for the Caipirinha cocktail. Though it surged in popularity a few years back with major brands, the category never quite took deep root in US bars as a wide diversity of brands did not make it to the US.

 

Cachaça is primed for far greater exposure as Brazil hosts the 2014 FIFA World Cup this summer and the 2016 Summer Olympics, where the nation’s favorite drink will surely be consumed in copious amounts. Though the spirit has long been lumped in with rum, despite being considerably different, recently gaining its own official classification/category won’t immediately help bring it to the forefront of spirit drinkers’ minds. Education and greater access to the range of cachaça out there is still greatly needed.
(Photo credit: www.avuacachaca.com)

(Photo credit: www.avuacachaca.com)

I first tasted Avuá (the Portuguese word voar, meaning “to fly”) back at Tales of the Cocktail last summer, both the clean, fruit and floral notes of Prata (aged 12 months before bottling), and the 24-month aged Amburana, named after the wood it’s aged in, exhibiting savory vegetal notes alongside the soft caramel of the wood. I was immediately impressed by Avuá’s quality and complexity above other brands I’d previously tasted. Made from single-sourced cachaça, Distiller Katia Espírito Santo is one of few Brazilian female distillers who also grows all sugarcane used to make Avuá on her family farm, Fazenda da Quinta, in Carmo, roughly four hours north of Rio de Janeiro.

Talking cachaça, I recall pisco a few years ago. The Peruvian and Chilean grape-based spirit has long had a close connection with San Francisco where there have have been bars dedicated predominantly to pisco for years, even when most of the US didn’t know much about it. Pisco really didn’t place on the national cocktail consciousness until recent years when brands like Encanto upped the profile and quality of pisco and bar managers began to feature it more. In my visit to Peru last year making pisco in Ica and visiting cocktail bars around Lima, I was amazed at the diversity of ingredients mixed with pisco in cocktail menus often 50-deep, far beyond how it has been used in the US. Though the spirit has gained much more attention in recent years, there’s still unexplored worlds of its possibilities best represented in its home countries. I see similarities with cachaça.
In a recent conversation with co-founder Nate Whitehouse, I immediately caught his passion for Brazil and cachaça. There’s a growing US community of cachaça producers, importers and aficionados who are uniting to educate and share in a greater way than ever before. Whitehouse is working with cachaça expert Felipe Jannuzzi, who runs the extensive site, Mapa da Cachaca, to translate it article-by-article into English (English site here; more on Facebook).
(Photo source: https://www.facebook.com/mapadacachaca)

(Photo source: facebook.com/mapadacachaca)

Whitehouse compares the rise he hopes to see in the cachaça category to the way mezcal has captured the national cocktail scene. His hope is that as knowledge of the sugarcane spirit deepens, it will face a similar widespread growth. He talks of over 4000 registered cachaça producers in Brazil, but that actual estimates range from 7000 to more than 30,000 producers. With over 500 years of history, cachaça is one of the historic spirits of the world. It can be young, clean and cocktail-friendly or aged in a wide range of woods, resulting in elegant, sipping cachacas. Whitehouse describes these cachacas as embodying, “… a richness we’re not familiar with because of many of them have not come into the US market.”

Similarly, Brazilian bartenders mix cachaça with a wide range of fruits from the Amazon, punches are commonplace, and some infuse the spirit with Amazonian barks and other unusual ingredients. Alongside the revival of the dining scenes in Rio and Sao Paolo, the cocktail scene is thriving.

Inspiring views from Centro de Tecnologia in Cachaça in Brazil (photo source: Mapa da Cachaca https://www.facebook.com/mapadacachaca)

Inspiring views from Brazil’s Centro de Tecnologia in Cachaça (photo source: Mapa da Cachaca facebook.com/mapadacachaca)

The story of how lawyer-turned-entrepreneur Whitehouse fell in love with cachaça and Brazil is a good one, well told in 2012 in Gourmet. Whitehouse was inspired by famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, sharing with me Niemeyer’s most famous quote, a passage that inspires the ethos behind Avuá: “It’s not the right angle that attracts me, nor the straight line—stiff, inflexible, created by men. What really attracts me is the free, sensual curve. The curve I see on the sinuous course of our rivers, on the clouds in the sky, on your favorite woman’s body. The universe is entirely made of curves.”

While Avuá launched on the East Coast in NYC this fall and at a few choice spots here in San Francisco, its official rollout in California is right now: late February. In San Francisco, you can find it bars like Smuggler’s Cove, Lolinda, Absinthe, AQ, Wingtip, Local Edition, Laszlo, Penelope in Oakland, and more.

 

As I listen to bossa nova, which I’ve been crazy about since I was teen, while sipping Avuá cocktails I’ve made at home, I long for a visit to a few of Brazil’s many cachaça producers myself. Every time I get up close and personal with a spirit – particularly when I visit its home country and distilleries – I fall further in love with it and the people who make it. But until I get there, I’m grateful for people like Whitehouse and Jannuzzi who are working to share the best of what’s going on in Brazil here at home.
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Jul
15
2013

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Blackbird's Age of Sail

Blackbird’s Age of Sail

SF’s 7 Best Summer Rum Cocktails

Hi Lo's Bajan Rum Punch

Hi Lo’s Bajan Punch

Article and Photos by Virginia Miller

While any quality spirit should be enjoyed all year round, rum carries the island breezes of summer in its cane sugar and/or molasses nectar.

In honor of rum and summer, here are seven rum cocktails currently on menus around town… each one capturing the celebratory simplicity of the long days of summer.

——

A

Alembic’s 30-Day Notice

ALEMBIC’s 30-Day Notice ($11)

Alembic’s 30-Day Notice, a creation from the ever-gracious Danny Louie, ushers in summer in its vividly tart blend of Flor de Cana rum, lime juice and a house banana cordial, while Yellow Chartreuse and chili tincture add complexity and power.

BLACKBIRD’s Age of Sail ($10)

Proprietor Shawn Vergara experiments with different aged cocktails at Blackbird, the current offering being my favorite on the summer menu, a recipe from GM Matt Grippo. Age of Sail is a bracing rum cocktail, aged 4-6 weeks, smooth with El Dorado rum and Velvet Falernum, perked up by House Spirits coffee liqueur, Dolin Blanc white vermouth and housemade Teeccino (an herbal coffee) tincture. Bonus: as Blackbird hits its fourth anniversary over the next few weeks, they’ve refreshed the interior with a minor remodel and a new pool table.

Jasper's Koko Head

Jasper’s Koko Head

JASPER’S Koko Head ($10)

The Koko Head cocktail is quintessential Kevin Diedrich (Jasper’s Bar Manager): nodding to Hawaii, where Diedrich has roots, and exemplifying the gratifying layers often found in his creations. Named after a famed Hawaiian hiking trail, the foamy drink weaves Appleton Reserve Rum with lush Kalani Coconut Liqueur, is frothy with egg white, refreshed by a pour of Kona Brewing Koko Brown Ale, another Hawaii inclusion.

HI LO BBQ’s Bajan Rum Punch ($10)

Hi Lo BBQ’s Bar Manager Michael Lazar unearthed this layered rum punch from the Sugar Reef Cookbook, an East Village restaurant/bar that closed before its time in the early 1990’s. This lively refresher mixes rum and lime with a house nutmeg almond syrup, reminiscent of orgeat. The drink makes a playful partner with Hi Lo’s gourmet BBQ and Southern-influenced dishes.

Fifth Floor's Marooned in Kingston

Fifth Floor’s Marooned in Kingston

FIFTH FLOOR’s Marooned in Kingston ($13)

Fifth Floor Bar Manager Brian Means and Pastry Chef Francis Ang team up on some of Means’ thoughtful cocktails. Ang occasionally adds gelatin-like spheres exploding with flavor, resting on an absinthe spoon atop the cocktail. Currently, that cocktail is Marooned in Kingston, a nod to Jamaican rum (Appleton Reserve), mixed with ruby port, Velvet Falernum, and fresh lime juice.  The sphere encapsulates the flavor profile of a classic Daiquiri with Denizen rum, lime and sugar.

LOLINDA’s The Lone Palm ($10)

Lolinda's Lone Palm

Lolinda’s Lone Palm

Served up in a coupe glass, former Bar Manager Chris Lane’s (who is now at Alembic) creation, The Lone Palm, thankfully remains on Lolinda’s current menu. This vibrant cocktail shows off elegantly funky Smith & Cross Rum (which they then spice in-house), the acidity of lime, grapefruit and bitters balanced by honey.

NOVELA’s Huckleberry Finn ($11)

General Manager Alex Smith and Maven‘s Bar Manager Kate Bolton have created an all-around winning menu at new Novela. The rum crowd-pleaser is Huckleberry Finn, in keeping with the bar’s literary-named cocktails. Served long, it’s a refreshing mix of silky El Dorado 8 year rum, tart lemon juice and grapefruit marmalade, topped with Fever Tree Tonic. Once finished, it is tempting to order another.

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Jul
01
2013

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TWO SPIRITS to DRINK NOW: CALIFORNIA AGRICOLE & HIGH PROOF TEQUILA

Article & Photos by Virginia Miller

Perfect for summer cocktails (or neat pours), here are two new spirits I’m rather crazy about.

ST. GEORGE’S CALIFORNIA AGRICOLE RUM, $50

AgricoleRumIt’s back! Sporting a new label aligned with their gins, St. George Spirits released its California Agricole Rum this week. Formerly Agua Libre (first released in 2010), it’s no surprise, given that agricole is my favorite rum category, that I take to the grassy, funky elegance of St. George’s agricole. Most notably from the French Caribbean island of Martinique, this style of rum (or rhum) is made from fresh sugarcane juice rather than molasses, often notably earthy, vegetal and other flavor profiles I crave.

Keeping it local, St. George’s sugarcane is grown in SoCal’s Imperial Valley. Stalks are then pressed at their Alameda distillery in a sugarcane press, while the fresh-pressed cane juice is distilled (post-fermentation) in a 500-liter copper pot still.

Delight is not too keen a word to describe how I feel about seeing this rum back on the shelves and on bar menus. Lance Winters, Dave Smith and the incomparable St. George crew, prove that the refined umami funk of agricole needn’t merely come from the Caribbean. I’m proud to say this local agricole keeps up with quality Martinique rhums.

TAPATIO 110, $48

B110_Blanco110ProofTapatio tequilas are a pleasure (the bright and affordable blanco – $34, reposado – $38, and anejo – $44), distilled by the genuine Carlos Camarena of Mexico’s 75-year-old Tequila Tapatio and El Tesoro. Just released in the US? Possibly my favorite of the line: B110 Tequila Blanco (55% alc. by vol.), averaging 114 proof.

At 110 proof, it is less watered down, more intense than the basic blanco, yet does not feel “hot” or out of balance. Floral, spice notes, even hints of tea and earth, shine more vividly in the smooth B110. Distilled at La Alteña Distillery (alongside El Tesoro, Tequila Ocho, Charbay Tequila – the latter of which should be re-released later this year), Tapatio’s blue agave plants are 100% estate-grown. In conversation with renowned tequila experts, I’ve learned Carlos is the last producer left in Jalisco to own and source all plants from their estate rather than purchasing plants from growers. Carlos’ grandfather, Don Felipe, opened the distillery in 1937 in in the Arandas Highlands, although tequila distilling goes back in his family into the early 1800’s.

Ukiah Sour # 3

Ukiah Sour # 3

Distilled first in a stainless steel Alambique still, with a second run through a copper Alambique, then aged for 6 months in stainless steel, B110 is certainly a tequila-lovers’ tequila. It ups the ante in flavor for any classic tequila cocktail, from a Margarita to a Paloma.

In downtown Napa, Mercantile Social bar in the lobby of the Andaz hotel features local, craft spirits, including one of the best ways to try Tapatio (ask them to “perk it up” with B110 or enjoy with the standard Tapatio blanco): the Ukiah Sour #3, mixing Tapatio blanco with bay leaf syrup, lime and Tempus Fugit’s earthy, lush Crème de Cacao.

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Jun
01
2013

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NEW SPIRITS: Rum & Vermouth

Article and Photos by Virginia Miller

Here are a couple noteworthy products that crossed my desk in recent weeks…

MOUNT GAY BLACK BARREL RUM, $29.99 Mount-Gay-Black-Barrel-Rum
Barbados favorite, Mount Gay Rum, recently released Black Barrel Rum, a rum finished in charred bourbon oak casks.

For American whiskey lovers like myself, it makes for a fine marriage of bourbon and rum, balancing caramel-vanilla-sweet notes from sugar cane molasses and wood with subtle hints of pepper and spice. Barbados’ acclaimed water, naturally filtered through coral layers, is said to contribute to the smooth taste of the rum.

Its subtle elegance especially works given the value. It can double as a sipping rum and elevates cocktails, like a simple mix of Black Barrel, lime juice and St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram.

ATSBY VERMOUTH, $44 each armadillo
Atsby
is a newer artisanal vermouth out of Upstate NY. Atsby’s two, non-traditional vermouths are best enjoyed on their own.

Atsby Amberthorn is the lighter of the two, fresh and sweet with botanicals like French lavender, basil, Chinese anise, which intrigue though none dominate. It’s soft so a squeeze of lemon brightens it up.

Atsby Armadillo Cake (yes, there’s a story behind the name) makes a bit more of a statement with a dark caramel sweetness (from Indian Muscovado sugar) and complexity from cardamom and unusual botanicals like wild celery and Japanese shitake.

There’s little bitterness to either vermouths so they should both be approachable to a wide range of drinker. Though soft, they stand strong solo, but I have a harder time mixing them in cocktails as the unique botanical profiles of both aren’t an easy replacement in classic recipes. There’s a number of recipes on the website, though it’s the simpler ones that work better, like a twist on a classic Martinez using Bols Genever, the Armadillo vermouth, Maraschino Liquor, and Angostura bitters garnished with an orange peel strip.

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