Jun
15
2014

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Creative Asian-influenced cocktails from Danny Louie at brand new Chino in the Mission

Creative Asian-influenced cocktails from Danny Louie at brand new Chino in the Mission

My Top Drink Recommends: June 1-15

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my 15 articles/posts a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to just some of this coverage here – you can sign up for Zagat’s weekly newsletter for the Bay Area here and follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily.

As I have been for over a decade, I’m on the ground daily looking for early standouts at each new opening, while sharing underrated places and dishes you’ve seen me write about here at The Perfect Spot for years, and, of course, plenty of drink coverage (cocktails, wine, spirits, beer).

Spirits

4 NEW LOCAL SPIRITS from a rye and New Orleans-influenced coffee liqueur, to a California aperitif and a sloe gin

Cocktails

The 5 BEST MARGARITAS in San Francisco

6 early favorite cocktails from Bar Manager Danny Louie at CHINO

5 classic NEGRONIS to seek out in San Francisco

FIRST LOOK at THE INTERVAL at the Long Now Salon, complete with robot behind the bar and a Drinking Around the World menu (among 8 mini cocktail menus from Bar Manager Jennifer Colliau)

What to eat & drink at the new Paris-meets-NY chic hotel bar, THE EUROPEAN

NEGRONI WEEK Highlights

Coffee

Unsung Heroes: GRAFFEO COFFEE since 1935

Tea

Check out the new SAMOVAR: you’ve never had tea like this

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Jun
15
2014

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St. George's NOLA Coffee Liqueur (photo: Virginia Miller)

St. George’s NOLA Coffee Liqueur (photo: Virginia Miller)

6 New West Coast Spirits

Article by Virginia Miller; photos from brand websites except where noted

[Taken from my ZAGAT article on 4 New Local Spirits to Try, I have also added two additional recommended spirits, another one from California, and one from Oregon]:

In the scheme of quality spirits, each of these is fantastic. Even better, they’re all made locally from Sonoma to Mountain View. After all, we live in the region that pioneered the craft distilling movement back in the early ’80s at Germain-Robin (home of the first Cognac-quality brandies in the U.S.), St. George Spirits (where Jorg Rupf introduced European-style eaux de vie to the U.S.) and Anchor Distilling in SF (Where Fritz Maytag pioneered craft beer in the 60′s, then moved on to whiskies, genever and Junipero gin). In this rich tradition, come four new spirits, all released recently, utilizing local ingredients and talent.

1) Sonoma County Distilling Sonoma Rye Whiskey $62

Sonoma Rye1512 Spirits recently changed its name to Sonoma Country Distilling Company in tandem with Owner/Distiller Adam Spiegel’s expansion to a much larger Rohnert Park facility. What this means for you? More whiskey. Sonoma Rye Whiskey is the brand’s flagship whiskey made from 100% rye grain, ensuring robust spice and white pepper notes balanced by sweet caramel and oak. We appreciate the grain-to-glass processes and single-minded whiskey focus. Don’t miss their 2nd Chance Wheat Whiskey and West of Kentucky Bourbon either.
How to Drink It: Whiskey lovers are going to want to drink this neat or on the rocks. But the rye also makes a lovely Sazerac or Old Fashioned.
Where to Drink: They do it right in a cocktail at Alembic
Where to Buy: In SF at D&M, The Jug Shop, Healthy Spirits; at Ledgers in Berkeley

2) St. George NOLA Coffee Liqueur ($33)

In March, venerable distilling pioneer St. George Spirits, released NOLA Coffee Liqueur. The liqueur starts local with cold-brewed Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee beans roasted by Jewel Box Coffee Roasters, an up-and-comer in Oakland. St. George distiller Dave Smith cold-brews the coffee with their vodka base, adds distilled French chicory root, Madagascar vanilla and organic cane sugar. It’s like fresh, bracing, cold-brewed coffee – beautiful served neat, on ice, with cream. The liqueur is earthy and rich, with a whisper of sweet vanilla, and New Orleans spirit from the chicory.
How to Drink It: Sipping this spirit over ice transports us straight back to the hot, sultry streets of NOLA where we down chicory iced coffee as if it were water. It’s nearly as thirst-quenching but with a decided kick.
Where to Drink: The Lexington House in Los Gatos shows off the liqueur in this beautiful cocktail, Coffee & Cigarettes
Where to Buy: Order through K&L, Cask, or purchase directly at the distillery in Alameda

3) JARDESCA California Aperitiva $30

JardescaJust released a little over two weeks ago, this Sonoma-grown and blended apertif was created by SF bartender/Cantina owner, Duggan McDonnell, who is also behind Encanto Pisco. As with Encanto, JARDESCA is balanced and elegant, made with California grapes and 10 locally-grown herbs/botanicals. While you can consider it in the family of a lovely dry vermouth or European aperitif wines like Lillet, this is a unique, dry, crisp but also slightly sweet and floral, fortified white wine, evoking hints of peppermint and orange blossom.
How to Drink It: While you can certainly make lovely, light cocktails with it, we love it solo, served over ice.
Where to Drink: Absinthe, Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak, Clock Bar and the new Chubby Noodle Marina is featuring a JARDESCA infusion during its first month
Where to Buy: K&L, Little Vine in North Beach

4) Spirit Works Sloe Gin $38

SpiritWorks Sloe GinFrom husband/wife distilling team, Timo and Ashby Marshall, comes Spirit Works Distillery, opened last year in Sebastopol’s cool, forward-thinking The Barlow complex. They’re crafting gin, vodka, wheat and rye whiskies, but it’s their sloe gin that immediately began making waves. A berry-infused gin made from rosy sloe berries (in the plum family), traditional English sloe gins are often cloying, sweet and medicinal. But this is the best sloe gin we’ve tasted. And many others agree: Pay attention to how many local bars you’ll see stocking it. Made from wild sloe berries foraged in Timo’s native UK, the Marshall’s sloe gin maintains a bright berry sweetness balanced by dry, fresh acidity.
How to Drink It: It shines with tonic or in classic cocktails like a Sloe Gin Fizz
Where to Drink: Two Sisters Bar and Books in Hayes Valley, the new Zazu in The Barlow in Sebastopol
Where to Buy: D&M, Liquid Experience in Upper Haight

5) MARGERUM AMARO ($50)

Margerum AmaroMargerum Amaro is ideally timed for the amaro craze of recent years. California Central Coast (Buellton, to be specific) winemaker, Doug Margerum, developed a love for amari in trips to Italy and wanted to craft his own. With a Sangiovese base, its herbs and spices include parsley, sage, thyme, marjoram, lemon verbena, rosemary, dried orange peels, and local oak, for a fascinating sipper also lovely in cocktails, as Saison proved at their bar this winter.

6) CALISAYA ($30)

CalisayaFlorence, Italy, native, Andrea Loreto, lives in Eugene, Oregon, where he makes Calisaya liqueur, a sweet and subtly bitter liqueur. Bitter orange, gentle spice, floral, earthy and woody notes, and subtle bitterness from cinchona bark result in a pleasing entrant in the American amaro category.

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May
15
2014

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Kavalan Master Blender Ian Chang visiting from Taiwan

Kavalan Master Blender Ian Chang visiting from Taiwan

Bests from Whiskies of the World 2014

Article and Photos by Virginia Miller

Every year I look forward to Whiskies of the World (WoW) on the San Francisco Belle docked in the Bay, held this year on March 29. Although it is one of the big whisk(e)y events in the country (also in San Jose, Atlanta and Austin), it remains more intimate than others; packed, yes, but more like a big party than a corporate hotel space, with this year’s pour list for SF 9 pages deep.

City-facing view from the deck of SF Belle

City-facing view from the deck of SF Belle

Only-at-WoW-highlights include the rousing Bushmills Pipe & Drum Band walking through the festivities and the boat’s rooftop deck (with inspiring SF and Bay Bridge views) that doubles as a cigar lounge. Yes, one of the huge benefits of WoW over any other large whisk(e)y tasting event is the ability to smoke cigars, given away at the annual cigar and whiskies pairing class held on the deck.

Taste highlights are many, from bourbons and ryes to Japanese whisky and Scotch. I make a beeline for the few I haven’t tried so there are many “bests” I’ve tasted numerous times over the years, but for the sake of a few I have not shared with you before, I call out these three (I also loved Speyburn 25 year Scotch and High West’s limited edition Midwinter Night’s Dram):

LOST SPIRITS UMAMI from MONTEREY, CA

Lost Spirits Umami

Lost Spirits Umami

Lost Spirits makes some of the most unique spirits anywhere, including their ever-fascinating, experimental whiskies. I’m already nuts about their unique overproof room, which I told you about here. One thing I love about WoW is that small producers like this – in this case, a little operation in Monterey, CA – can be exposed at a large whisk(e)y event (they tend to be priced out of other such events). Pouring both their Leviathan whiskies at WoW, as well as the rum, it is their now already sold-out Umami Single Malt that blew my mind. I’ve never heard of any one doing anything like it.

Distiller Bryan Davis uses Canadian peat and locally-sourced barley in this whiskey … and salt water from the mighty Pacific ocean which he ferments with the whiskey, then ages in Oloroso sherry-seasoned French oak barrels. While this level of experimentation could easily go too far, Davis’ precise, scientific knowledge keeps it in balance. The result with Umami is a briny, salty (but not excessively so), smoky and robust whiskey. I can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.

KAVALAN SINGLE MALT from TAIWAN

Kavalan is the first whisky out of Taiwan, which can have a hotter, muggier climate than other famed whisk(e)y territories like Scotland, Ireland and Japan. But akin to Kentucky, the heat and moisture ensures a faster maturity and unique flavor profiles to the whiskies. I’ve tasted through the line three times, including at Whiskyfest 2013 last fall and this year’s WoW, as well as a recent dinner with Master Blender Ian Chang out visiting from Taiwan.

Balblair 1969 (photo source: Balblair website)

Balblair 1969 (photo source: Balblair website)

Because of the sweet vs. the dry aspects (I prefer a bit of the latter), I sometimes can be drawn to bourbon cask-aged Scotch more often then sherry cask (not counting the meaty spice of my beloved Mortlach 16 year Scotch). So it surprises me to find that my favorite of the Kavalan line is the Solist Single Cask Strength Sherry Cask ($117). I am a big fan of cask strength whiskies so that part adds up. Roughly 7 years of age, this whisky is fascinating, funky-but-elegant, nutty with spice and a long, uber dry finish.

Out of their seven whiskies, my other favorite is the utterly elegant, rare Kavalan Fino, also cask strength and going for roughly $450 per bottle. It is matured in fino sherry butts with no chill filtration, has already won numerous awards and is dry yet graced with subtle chocolate and citrus notes.

BALBLAIR 1969 from SCOTLAND
Since my travels in the Scottish Highlands, I fell in love with Balblair, particularly their younger 2000 and 2001 whiskies. I wrote about their 1975 Scotch from Whiskyfest 2013, but I love their 1969 even more. This rare, non chill-filtered treasure sells for 1300 pounds in the UK so it’s far beyond my reach, but thankfully WoW provided the opportunity to breathe in its complex spice, pear and toffee aromas, and to taste its layers banana, green apple, with whispers of smoke and toffee. A stunner.

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Apr
15
2014

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Westland First Peated-Virginia Miller

7 Washington Craft Spirits You Should Know

Article and Photos (unless otherwise noted) by Virginia Miller

Three Seattle visits in the past seven months centered around craft distillery and cocktail bar research means a few spirits have stood out among the dozens I’ve tasted from Washington state, most launched in recent years. Here are my top seven from the glut of craft distillers hitting the Washington market:

BroVo SPIRITS’ AMARO PROJECT

(photo source: brovospirits.com)

(photo source: brovospirits.com)

With “Lady & Mac Made Liquor” stated on each bottle, BroVo Spirits is an intriguing line of 17 amari (Italian herbal/bitter liqueurs) and counting, made by distiller/owner Mhairi Voelsgen and distiller Mac Kenney in collaboration with hand-selected bartenders from Seattle, San Francisco and Chicago, with Atlanta soon to be released. No two amaro are alike, varying dramatically with each bartender’s recipe, ranging from spiced to floral, complex to crowd-pleasing.

Of the 11 BroVo amari I’ve tasted, I find #11 from Jon Christiansen in Seattle to be the most classic in the Italian amaro sense: balanced, bitter, herbal and sweet. He uses damiana, marigold, grapefruit peel and vanilla bean in his well-rounded amaro. One of Chicago’s best bartenders, Mike Ryan, created the #14 recipe, a unique blend that includes chocolate, sarsaparilla, cinnamon and thyme notes. The San Francisco range is broad and refined: Amanda Womack’s (of Cask) delicate, floral # 8, Suzanne Miller’s (of Novela) Indian spiced beauty # 10, or Will Popko’s (of Hard Water) aromatic pineapple sage #9.

BETE from SIDETRACK DISTILLERY

(photo source: sidetrackdistillery.com)

(photo source: sidetrackdistillery.com)

A spirit that impresses 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.

WESTLAND DISTILLERY WHISKIES

Westland-Virginia MillerIn Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood, Westland‘s 13,000 sq. ft. distillery has been getting a lot of attention – for the dramatic space, yes – but most notably for the whiskies, which are easily among the stronger American whiskey releases in awhile.

It’s tough to choose a favorite, whether Deacon Seat Whiskey or their peated whiskies. American Single Malt Whiskey is made from a pale malt base grown in Washington, redolent of chocolate, caramel and coconut. First Peated American Single Malt Whiskey is a vatting of two separate new make spirits, the first a smoky mash of peated malt, the second is the WA pale malt which balances the peat with dried fruit and bright, spiced notes, the blend spending time in ex-Bourbon and Sherry casks.

EvenStar SHOCHU from SODO SPIRITS DISTILLERY

EvenStar Shochu-Virginia MillerOpened in 2009 as the first craft distillery license in Seattle proper, Sodo Spirits Distillery’s EvenStar Shochu at first glance sounds gimmicky: flavored shochu, starting with rosemary, their first product released in 2011. But one can actually taste the barley base in the shochu itself. Though a clean spirit, it is not flavorless. Eastern Washington-grown barley shines, and they use Koji mold spores from Japan, with no sugar or flavorings added. Whether rosemary, ginger or mint shochus, all are made with fresh macerated herbs and roots, so subtle as to be but a whisper. Chili shochu particularly stood out for its barley backbone and fresh, bright chili flavor.

HERITAGE DISTILLING CO.’s CASK CLUB GIN

Heritage Barrel Aged Gin-Virginia MillerHeritage Distilling Co.’s Cask Club offers members-only special releases: their Distillers Reserve 4 year gin stands out in the over-hyped barrel aged gin category. At a boozy cask strength (62.5% ABV), it’s a unique beauty that tastes like Christmas, treacle/syrup and spice, with a long, dry finish. While I’m not as big a fan of their regular gin release, this aged version boasts a memorable profile, a truly unique barrel aged gin.

SOUND SPIRITS’ AQUAVIT & OLD TOM GIN

Sound Spirits-Virginia MillerSound Spirits‘ Ebb + Flow Gin is a balanced gin, emphasizing both herbal and citrus notes. I enjoy this gin but am even more taken with Sound Spirits Aquavit, strong on the traditional caraway, dill, coriander, fennel, anise notes, all singing together in harmony. Likewise, their Old Tom Gin is exceptional in this category of 18th century-style gin, redolent of citrus/orange and cardamom tempered by a floral presence. While many aquavit and Old Tom gins I’ve tasted blend together (or can be downright bad), Sound stands out in both categories.

SAN JUAN ISLAND DISTILLERY’s MADRONE BRANDY

Madrone Brandy-Virginia MillerSuzy and Hawk Pingree, the husband/wife team behind San Juan Island Distillery, are an inspiring couple. In their 60′s, they’ve changed careers, pursuing a passion for Calvados/brandy and cider on San Juan Island where Hawk produces cider and Suzy distills a range of spirits from ingredients foraged on the island. Most of their spirits are available to purchase at the distillery only, so it’s all about experiencing the island’s resources in its natural setting.

I particularly enjoyed their madrone brandy ($85 at the distillery), made from blackberries, madrone bark and blossoms sourced on the island. It’s complex, an elegant brandy tinged with subtle bitter and spices.

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Mar
15
2014

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Rarities: 50 Year Old Scotch & 1950 Cognac

Article and photos by Virginia Miller

Photo courtesy of lastdropdistillers.com

When you get the rare chance to try 50 year old Scotch or Cognac, you do. When it’s a tasting with drink industry legends like James Espey, who is behind the creation of iconic brands like Bailey’s Irish Cream, Malibu Rum and even Johnnie Walker Blue, it’s an imperative. I enjoyed a rousing lunch at Hakkasan this week with James and Ben
Howkins of Royal Tokaji, one of the partners in his unique project, Last Drop Distillers.

With the tag line, “Before There is No More,” Espey and his three Last Drop business partners hunt for rare treasure: cellared casks, stored for decades undiscovered. They  release them in elegant, limited edition bottlings, and only in key markets: UK, US and China.

Tasting both the whisky and the Cognac, both coming with fascinating stories.

There’s only 388 bottles of this second edition/release of The Last Drop 50 Year Old Whisky (selling for about $4000 per bottle!), made from over 82 whiskies. They found three casks of this blend, forgotten in the back of a warehouse produced by many now-defunct distilleries around Scotland, married (blended) over 50 years ago.

This heaven of a whisky carries whispers of the enchanting country of Scotland in each sip. A woody, dried fruit and spice nose gives way to a taste that hints at the peat of Islay, alongside the balanced nuance of the Highlands. It’s rich, warm and unfolding, with a touch of water. It’s a privilege just to have tried this beauty.

Photo courtesy of lastdropdistillers.com

Photo courtesy of lastdropdistillers.com

Likewise, The Last Drop 1950 Fine Aged Cognac (selling for about $2800 per bottle) is revelatory. It’s story is romantic and inspired: they met a mother and daughter in the Cognac countryside, the mother 93 years old. She had distilled a Cognac when she was in her 30′s. Though much of what remained had evaporated, what survived was still shockingly lively, and the Last Drop boys bought up all her Cognac casks.

Aside from the unreal time I tasted 1805 and 1865 Cognacs with Salvatore Calabrese and Dale DeGroff during Tales of the Cocktail 2010, this is the best Cognac I’ve ever had. It’s shockingly fresh, clean and floral, yet retains the maturity and depth of a fine whisky, blessedly bottled at cask strength. It imparts a woody playfulness and welcome dryness.

More fun Espey facts: In June 2013, James received an O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire) from the Queen “for services to the Whisky Industry.” He is also founder of The Keepers of the Quaich, a leading international Whisky Society, and recently published a book on building and marketing your brand (you), no matter the industry, Making Your Marque.

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Mar
15
2014

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Tasting Old Blowhard & Barterhouse at Wingtip

Tasting Old Blowhard & Barterhouse at Wingtip

RARITIES: Two American Whiskies with Stitzel-Weller & Old Bernheim Ties

Article and photos by Virginia Miller

Ode to the mighty Stitzel-Weller distillery

Ode to the mighty Stitzel-Weller distillery

As common as they are, “limited” whisk(e)y releases may seem like a lot of hype. But American whiskey fans (such as myself) perked up when we heard about Diageo‘s Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Co. This new line of rare, essentially foraged or found whiskies, just launched with their first whiskies.

20 year Barterhouse and 26 year Old Blowhard bourbons were both found aging in the legendary Stitzel-Weller distillery (which stopped distilling in 1991-92), filled with “juice” from the older (circa 1980′s) and the newer Bernheim distillery (sold to Heaven Hill in the late ’90′s), then bottled for Orphan Barrel at George Dickel in Tennessee.

Tasting Barterhouse at Wingtip

Tasting Barterhouse at Wingtip

Future Orphan Barrel whiskey releases will likely be sourced from a number of defunct distilleries.

Having the Stitzel-Weller name associated calls loudly to American whiskey fans. Now nearly impossible to procure Pappy Van Winkle whiskies were once produced at Stitzel-Weller, but have, since its closure, been produced by Buffalo Trace. Like many American whiskey fans, I first got turned on to the possibilities in American whiskey years ago, thanks to Pappy… particularly the rye. What I first tasted was the Stitzel-Weller juice. I was reminded last year in Louisville of its superiority when a colleague pulled out bottles of old Pappy distilled at Stitzel-Weller and I was refreshed on what made me fall in love with it in the first place.

(photo source: Orphan Barrel Whiskies)

(photo source: Orphan Barrel Whiskey)

Any whiskies coming from Stitzel-Weller are a thrill for the whiskey aficionado. Given the rarity of these hand-selected barrels, bottles are pricey, although actually quite reasonable for rare, old, strictly allocated whiskies such as these.

I cleared my calendar for an Orphan Barrel trade and media tasting on March 3 at Wingtip. Though there are ultimately three initial bourbon releases, only sold in the US, the third, Rhetoric, will be released in the coming weeks. In keeping with the Bernheim formula, the mashbill of all three whiskies is 86% corn, 6% rye, 8% barley.

(photo source: Orphan Barrel Whiskey)

(photo source: Orphan Barrel Whiskey)

Barterhouse 20 year old (45.1% ABV – $75)
For 20 years of age, Barterhouse is surprisingly golden and young, with crisp green apple on the nose, and on the tongue, cereal, honeysuckle, warm woods, spices, and a slightly creamy mouthfeel.

Old Blowhard 26 year old (45.35% ABV – $150)
It was difficult to decide which of the two whiskies I liked more. While I loved the bright liveliness of the Barterhouse, I was smitten with the robust masculinity of the Old Blowhard (and it’s tongue-in-cheek name). Its bold, woody nose gives way to dark cherry, leather, tobacco, spice, toffee and toasted wood on the palate. Oak (and thus age) heavily dominates but it’s a pleasure nonetheless, begging for a comfy leather chair, roaring fireplace and a fine cigar.

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Oct
15
2013

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WHISKYFEST 2013

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Balblair 1975Another great year of whiskey, whisky and beyond (Cognac, gin, beer, etc.) at WhiskyFest San Francisco on September 27th at the SF Marriott Marquis  – a massive whisk(e)y tasting event featuring distillers and brand ambassadors from around the world, held only in SF, NY and Chicago annually.

I’ve been going six years straight (read about past years here), and while it seems like VIP hour pours aren’t as rare or extensive as even 4 years ago, there is still plenty for both novices and those who eat, sleep and breathe whiskies to discover. An expansive underground ballroom in the Marriott houses booths of over 300 whiskies with some of the world’s experts pouring them. As with every year I’ve gone (and longer), many of the bourbon legends of Kentucky were present, from members of the Beam family, to Wild Turkey’s Eddie and Jimmy Russell, to Jim Rutledge of Four Roses.

Parkers HeritageClasses are often more than just another seminar, particularly when led by hilariously engaging brand ambassadors and Scotsmen, Martin Daraz of Highland Park or Johnnie Mundell of Morrison Bowmore Distillers. There are informative sessions from across the world, like Kavalan Master Blender Ian Chang, talking Taiwanese whisky.

Erika Frey, of one of my favorite restaurants in Sonoma County, Campo Fina in Healdsburg, served three of her lovely Campo Fina cocktails featuring Famous Grouse whisky. The Ploughman was just what was needed in between serious whisk(e)y tasting: a refreshing palate cleanser showcasing the Scotch yet keeping it lively with lemon juice, Angostura bitters, and a vinegary pear shrub.

HakushuBesides the many classic and new whiskies I was happy to re-taste (oh, that peach-laden Bushmills 21 year Irish Whiskey! Bowmore’s fantastic 25 year Scotch! Buffalo Trace’s robust, new Stagg Jr., a fine stand-in for the fabulous but expensive and always sold-out George T. Stagg bourbon! Or gorgeous Taketsuru 21 year recently imported from Japan!), here were the top five, new-to-me tastes of this year’s WhiskyFest:

- Balblair 1975: During my last trip to Scotland, I fell in love with Balblair’s 1989 and especially the 2000 Scotch, bringing both home with me in my suitcase. What a treat it was this year to sample their full, layered, lush 1975 Scotch.
Stagg Jr- Hakushu Heavily Peated: The world’s great peated Japanese whisky just began importing their Heavily Peated Whisky to the US. As with the 12 year Hakushu and Japanese whisky in general, though utterly evocative of Scotch, even “heavily peated” is harmoniously balanced.
- Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope: Portions of sales fight ALS, which my whiskey hero, Parker Beam, was recently diagnosed with, and, as with every release in Parker’s line of impeccable American whiskies, Promise of Hope is another bold-yet-balanced whiskey.
- Glenfarclas Cask Strength Family Cask 1963: Though heavy on the wood and musky with age, it’s still a rare and memorable treat to be able to sample a spirit this old. It held complexity, spice, and warm wood tones in its rich, dark elixir.
- Angel’s Envy Cask Strength: With bourbon legend Lincoln Henderson’s recent passing last month, it’s even more poignant to taste Angel’s Envy Cask Strength bourbon. It’s a bracing, high strength version of the Henderson family’s lovely bourbon, and a fine tribute to Lincoln’s rich legacy, carried on by his son, Wes, and grandson, Kyle, who were both here interacting with attendees.

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Aug
01
2013

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Anchor Distilling's house and pool where I stopped in for a private Nikka whisky tasting

Stopping in at Anchor Distilling’s house for a private tasting of Nikka whisky

Unexpected Spirits at Tales of the Cocktail:
Gin Mezcal, African-influenced Vermouth, Rare Japanese & Irish Whiskies

Article and Photos by Virginia Miller

At Tales of the Cocktail (2013 highlights covered here), one can easily taste hundreds of spirits in a week (not that one should). Most of what I find in tasting rooms and at events I’ve already had before, but there’s the occasional new release or product that might not have been released nationally. Here are two standout newcomers – and a few more to be imported to the US:

PIERDE ALMAS +9 – Gin Mezcal

Piedre Almas - Virginia MillerPierde Almas‘ line of mezcals has been one of few to come along since the great Del Maguey was imported to the States by Ron Cooper years back to make a big impression on me. Fully smoky, well-balanced, memorable, Pierde Almas mezcals are consistently excellent, whether a young, clean Tobaziche, or floral, green Tobala, available to taste in the Indie Spirits That Rock event during Tales.

Enter the first mezcal gin in the world. Produced as a mezcal (double distilled, made from roasted agave), Pierde Almas infuses their Espadín mezcal with gin botanicals for 24 hours, then distills it a third time, each run in a small, 100-liter copper pot alembic still. Though the effect of added botanicals doesn’t improve upon the best mezcal by any means, what I appreciate about this release is experimentation in new territory.

Rather than being juniper heavy, juniper subtly coexists alongside eight other botanicals (coriander, star anise, fennel seed, orange peel, cassia bark, angelica root, orris root, nutmeg). The taste of +9 is unique: like a gin carrying the smokiness of mezcal, smoother from triple-distillation.

L’AFRIQUE VERMOUTH

L'Afrique Vermouth - Virginia MillerProduced by Hammer & Tongs in Portland, Oregon, L’Afrique was the standout vermouth I tasted in the fascinating New Vermouth tasting room. Alongside vermouths I’ve written about before, like Vya, Imbue, Atsby, I sampled newer lines like light-and-lovely Uncouth Vermouth.

While I savored the citrus crisp of Hammer and Tongs’ Sac’Résine Fine Vermouth, it is the West and North African botanicals of L’Afrique that stayed with me. Hearkening to classic Italian and French vermouths, this unique vermouth holds whispers of African spice in its rich, earthy, complex layers.

To-be-imported to the US

NIKKA JAPANESE WHISKIES

San Francisco-based Anchor Distilling imports Nikka whiskies from Japan. At a private house gathering, I sampled a few of their current (Yoichi 15 and Taketsuru 12 year) and upcoming releases, including the soft, tropical, vanilla wafer notes of Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky (distilled in a historic Coffey still), the floral, sherry cask influences of Miyagikyo 12 year, the gentle peat and dried fruit whispers of Taketsuru 21 year. My favorite of the six is one I tasted last year at the Anchor Distillery: Taketsuru 17 year, gorgeous with spice, toffee, and a nuttiness made more alluring with soft smoke.

IRISH WHISKIES

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Green & Yellow Spot Irish Whiskies

Not new but as of yet unavailable in the US, Green Spot (with its barely spice) and Yellow Spot (complex, toasted coffee and bright fruit notes) whiskies were poured at the invite-only Jameson House during Tales alongside bracingly beautiful Redbreast 12 year Cask Strength whiskey. Redbreast has long been my favorite Irish whiskey and the robust cask strength version ups the fruit and spice of Redbreast 12 year.

Enjoyed only when I’m in the UK and Ireland, I cannot wait for these to be available at home in the States. The crew pouring at the Jameson House still weren’t sure of dates but claimed the process is underway to finally bring these beauties to the States.

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