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Month: October 2016

American Whiskey: A Natural Born Leader

American Whiskey: A Natural Born Leader

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We are ready to move into the world of “brown” liquor today, and what better place to start than with American Whiskey, which is like the brilliant leader who can stand on his own, but who also recognizes that he can shine even more when he surrounds himself with other talented people. Whiskey is the featured ingredient in so many classic cocktails, like the Old-fashioned, the Manhatten, and the Sazerac to name a few, but it can also be served neat or on the rocks. When it’s paired together with other spirits in a drink like the Manhatten, those secondary ingredients enhance the flavor of the whiskey and take things to a whole new level. These ingredients can also be changed to give the cocktail a totally different flavor profile which you’ll see in today’s recipe for my take on a Manhatten for the fall season. Before we get to that let’s talk very simply about the different types of whiskey made here in America.

Bourbon is a whiskey that must be made from at least 51% corn (the other 49% can be other grains) and it cannot have any else added to it other than water. If the bourbon is to be labeled as “straight bourbon” then it must be aged in charred new-oak barrels for at least 2 years. It does not have to come from Kentucky (although many bourbons do), but it does have to come from the United States. There are a number of distilleries right here in the Philadelphia area, some of which are going to be featured during the Philly Craft Spirits Week which kicks off this Thursday. Bourbon will generally have a sweeter and softer flavor than rye whiskey; think of the difference between rye bread and corn bread and you’ll begin to get the idea. Some bourbons are smooth like Buffalo Trace and Bulleit, where others have a very distinctive bite to them like Widow Jane, which is distilled in Brooklyn.

Rye whiskey must be made from 51% rye grain and, once again, it cannot have any other additive besides water. If it’s going to be labeled as “straight rye” then it must be aged for 2 years in charred new-oak barrels as well. Rye has a sharper and spicier flavor profile than bourbon and it is the whiskey featured in the Manhatten. Old Overholt, Redemption, Rittenhouse, and Bulleit are all excellent choices for your bar at home and are also reasonably priced. I’ll be using Dad’s Hat in my Manhatten today because it’s distilled here in Philadelphia.

Wheat whiskeys like Maker’s Mark substitute wheat grain for rye and all the same restrictions apply.

It can take a while to find what your favorite bourbon or rye whiskey is going to be. Sometimes it may vary depending upon what drink you’ll be using it in. A cocktail made with citrus or fruit might need a softer whiskey, while one with a minimal amount of ingredients in it like an Old-fashioned might require a whiskey that’s a bit more assertive. Tasting (side by side if possible) is always your best way to quickly learn what you do and don’t like.

We’ll close today out with my Autumn in Manhatten recipe. I’m using Dad’s Hat rye, Punt e Mes sweet vermouth, Velvet Falernum, and 2 dashes of Jack Rudy’s aromatic bitters. I’ll admit that the Velvet Falernum is a bit of an odd ingredient to find in in a whiskey cocktail, but I love the way its sweet spice drop flavor works with the spiciness of the rye whisky, and plays against the bitterness of the Punt E Mes.

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Autumn in Manhatten 

2 1/2 oz Dad’s Hat rye whiskey
1/2 oz Punt E Mes Sweet Vermouth*
1/4 oz Velvet Falernum
2 dashes Jack Rudy Aromatic bitters

Place all ingredients into a mixing glass and add ice. Stir until well chilled and strain into an old-fashioned glass with ice or into a cocktail glass without ice. Garnish with a Luxardo or Woodford Reserve cherry. Enjoy!

See you all tomorrow when we’ll be talking about another whiskey cocktail for fall: a Bourbon Cider Smash!

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Friday Musings: Who was your Terrible Love?

Friday Musings: Who was your Terrible Love?

terriblelove2For our final cocktail of Tequila/Mezcal week here on the blog, I decided to splurge and buy a bottle of the Del Maguey Chichicapa so I could make the fabulous cocktail from Death & Co. called Terrible Love. I had made it once before, but I didn’t have the mezcal on hand that day so I substituted tequila instead. I remember thinking that it was incredible with the tequila; I couldn’t wait to see what it would be like with the Chichicapa. Whenever I make cocktails, I gather together all my ingredients and equipment in what’s become a kind of ritual for me. It gets me in the right zone and that’s where I need to be to make them as precisely as possible. As I was getting things ready today my mind began to wander, and I started thinking about what the name of this drink actually means. This is the Friday Musings post, after all.

So how do we define the idea of terrible love when it seems like a contradiction in terms? How can anything to do with love ever be terrible? I wondered if it was a figure of speech that I wasn’t familiar with, much like “mad love,” and was it possible to interchange the two terms. If you’re a Breaking Bad fan you might remember when Skinny Pete says to Jesse, “you know I have mad love for you…” I asked my sons what they thought about swapping out the two phrases and expressing such endearments to their friends. Their answer was an emphatic no. My youngest (the Long Island Ice Tea guy), put it this way, “No way I’d ever find myself saying ‘dude, you know I have terrrrible love for you.'”  I think I’m inclined to agree with him.

So is it a love then that’s bad for us? We’ve all certainly had those and hopefully we were able to escape relatively unscathed. Or how about a love that just can’t happen, for whatever reason? Now that’s a bit harder to walk away from and we often spend a long time thinking about what could have been. Or is it the love that leaves us heartbroken? That’s the worst one of all, the one you carry around with you forever… Maybe one of us is the unfortunate soul who has had a combination of all three with one person: the Trifecta of Terrible Love. It makes my heart hurt just thinking about it. Of course all those inspirational quotes on Instagram and Facebook would have us look at things a bit differently. Isn’t it true that sometimes these terrible loves help us get to a better place, one we could never have arrived at on our own? I believe that’s true, although it’s not always easy to see at the time. I’m sure we can all look back on relationships in our lives that were extremely painful to leave behind, yet they really did help us to grow into the next version of ourselves.

Phil Ward, the Death & Co. bartender who created this drink, was probably not going in this particular direction, but I like to think that great cocktails, much like great books, inspire us to be introspective and to think about the course our lives have taken. This is especially true after you’ve had more than one, right? In any event, Terrible Love is a truly special cocktail. The Del Maguey Chichicapa is smoky and complex, the Suze is bittersweet and spicy, and the St. Germain is like burying your nose in honeysuckle on a summer’s day. These 3 ingredients combined together, along with a dash of orange bitters, become something that is both bewitching and unforgettable… in much the same way as terrible love.terriblelove1

Terrible Love from Death & Co. in NYC

1 1/2 oz Del Maguey Chichicapa Mezcal
3/4 oz Suze Saveur D’Autrefois liqueur
1/2 oz St. Germain
1 dash of Fee Brothers orange bitters
Grapefruit for garnishing

Place all the ingredients except for the grapefruit twist into a mixing glass and fill 2/3 full with ice. Stir with a long handled bar spoon until very cold (about 30 – 45 seconds). Strain using a julep strainer, and pour over 1 large ice cube in an old-fashioned glass. Enjoy!

Have a great weekend everyone! See you all on Monday!

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Barlogue: ROOT Restaurant and Wine Bar, Philadelphia, PA.

Barlogue: ROOT Restaurant and Wine Bar, Philadelphia, PA.

root1If you’ve been following me from the start you’ll remember a post in which I talked about having had a truly transformational Gin-tonic at ROOT Restaurant and Wine Bar in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia. I was there with my husband and we were sitting at the bar on a beautiful night in May. The large front windows were open to the street, the restaurant was full and busy, Fishtown was as crazy as ever, and I had the perfect drink sitting in front of me. The night was just getting started and suddenly I felt like it was going to be a great one. We’ve come back a number of times since that first night and I always feel that same positive vibe the minute we walk in. Do I have you wondering why? I hope so, because I’m dying to tell you.root2

Let’s start with the fact that every time we visit ROOT, we’re always greeted warmly and welcomed back by the hostesses (often by our first names). To me this sets the tone for the remainder of the experience you’ll have in any restaurant or bar. Then there’s the ambience of the space itself. The mid-century modern decor is gorgeous and perfectly on point from the patterned tile floor, to the sleek furnishings, the mirrors and lighting fixtures, the warm wood tones, and the overall color scheme. ROOT was just recently named one of Zagat’s Top Sexiest New Restaurants in Philly, and it’s certainly not hard to see why. In addition to the space being so sexy and gorgeous, it absolutely hums with the fluid efficiency of the wait staff, which is especially important because it’s not all that large. The floor is elevated in the back and the square bar is situated just off-center, making maximum use of the square footage and giving everything an open and airy feel. root3Once you’re comfortably seated at either a table or the bar, all attention turns to the beverage menu – my favorite moment of the night! On the cocktail list there are the 4 Gin-tonics, each with either Bluecoat or Beefeater gin and Fever Tree Mediterranean or Indian tonic water, depending on which combination you’ve chosen. These Gin-tonics are served over a minimal amount of ice in a smaller glass and have things like herbs, citrus, olives, and star anise built right into the drink. The aroma hits you as soon as you raise your glass and follows right through to your first sip and beyond. I had the opportunity to talk with Greg Root (who owns the restaurant along with chef Nick Kennedy) about the cocktails and wine selection. Root explained that each of the drinks on the menu is a subtle play on a classic. The Bourbon Sidecar swaps out cognac for whiskey, the Fishtown Mule brings in rhubarb bitters and grapefruit, the Furiosa is a fun spin on a Negroni with tequila and jalapeño syrup, and the Old-fashioned uses rum instead of the traditional bourbon. Each drink is measured with precision and care and it was abundantly clear that our bartenders, Aaron and Annie, took a great deal of pride in their craft, delivering cocktails that were consistently well-made from one to the next. I love the Furiosa (bottom right below) and my husband’s favorite is the Bourbon Sidecar (top right). To the left is, of course, the truly transformational Gin-tonic #1.

Since I was a wine educator before I became the Thirsty Camel, I was thrilled to hear Greg Root say that he wanted to create a wine list that is both fun and approachable, as well as one that always offers new and unusual selections like the Dry Scheurebe Pfeffingan from Germany. This is a wine that tastes something like a Riesling and one that I’d never had the chance to try before. It’s unfortunate that the wine list can often be the most intimidating part of a restaurant experience, but that is definitely not the case here at ROOT. There are brief descriptions that accompany the 20+ wines by the glass and the 33 by the bottle that give a clear idea of what each wine flavor profile is going to be. For example, the Bardolino is described as tasting like “strawberry jam, cinnamon and warm spices,” and the Baga Sidinio Desousa as “blackberries, mushrooms and leather.” If you order either of these wines then you know exactly what you can expect them to taste like. I have also found that the wait staff and the bartenders are both knowledgeable and helpful when it comes to choosing a wine, answering questions willingly and without the least bit of pretension.root6Not to be outdone by the beverage menu, the food menu at ROOT is just as exceptional. There are some smaller snacks that are a great way to get things started; pictured above are the mushroom croquetta and the fried chickpeas, both of which are outstanding. We have also enjoyed the warm olives, the anchovies, and the crispy potatoes with smoked paprika and aioli. There is also a selection of toasts, and options to build your own cheese and salumi board, another area where I found the wait staff to be extremely helpful. For the larger plates there are some hearty salad selections, 2 different burger options, pasta offerings like Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi with mushrooms, brown butter, and sage, and Black Cavatelli with rock shrimp, jalapeno, tomato, and scallions. We have had both of these pastas and they were excellent. There are nights when I dream about the Gnudi. My very favorite large plate is the Seafood a la Plancha with scallops, shrimp, squid, and lemon-aleppo vinaigrette, and my husband’s is the Spice Rubbed Lamb Chops with fingerling potatoes, lemon yogurt, and mint. Ahhh – just writing this post makes me wish I was at ROOT Restaurant right now. I know that I’ll be back very soon. Add it to your “must-go” restaurant list right away!

ROOT has a happy hour daily from Monday through Friday from 5-7 pm offering $5 snacks and toasts, $6 Sangria and wine specials, a $7 cheese and salumi plate, and $8 Gin-tonics. There is also a brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 10-2, and they’ve just added a series of 6 individual wine classes called Planet of the Grapes on Saturdays from 3-4:30 beginning on October 22nd. Click for more info.

ROOT Restaurant and Wine Bar    1206 Frankford Avenue    Philadelphia, PA    215-515-3452

See you all tomorrow when we’ll be making our final tequila/mezcal cocktail of the week: Terrible Love, another amazing drink from Death & Co in NYC.

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Naked and Famous in Philadelphia

Naked and Famous in Philadelphia

nakedandfamous2This past Saturday night we were out with friends at our very favorite spot in Philadelphia. I’m never disappointed there, and this weekend was no exception. What wowed me this time was an exchange I watched between one of the bartenders and a woman who happened to be sitting to the left of us. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to order and was trying to explain to him what she thought she might like. He listened, took it all in, and then asked, “Do you trust me?” Of course she answered yes. He exudes so much confidence and professionalism as a bartender that no other reply would make sense. As soon as he started pulling together the ingredients for the drink, I had an inkling as to what he was going to make. Sure enough he placed it down in front of her and said, “This is called Naked and Famous – it’s from the Death & Co. Modern Classic Cocktails book.” I think my heart skipped a beat. I had been planning to talk about this very cocktail on the blog this week and here I was with the chance to see it made by a truly great bartender! It couldn’t have been more perfect.

What originally intrigued me about this drink was its name, for starters, and the fact that in addition to mezcal, it contains 2 ingredients that I absolutely love: Aperol and Yellow Chartreuse. Add to that the fact that Joaquín Simó, the Death & Co. bartender who created this cocktail, describes it as “the bastard child born out of an illicit Oaxacan love affair between the classic Last Word and the Paper Plane,” both of which were drinks I had already made here at home. It was all too good to pass up! Aperol brings bittersweet oranges to the table, and Yellow Chartreuse contributes saffron, honey, and spice, both of which play against the smokiness of the mezcal. And it’s a gorgeous drink to look at. Death & Co. calls for Del Maguey Chichicapa Mezcal, but I only had the Del Maguey Vida on hand. The Chichicapa ia a bit pricey, but if you want to splurge, I’m in no position to judge. Have you seen my bar cabinet?nakedandfamous

Naked and Famous

3/4 oz Dey Maguey Vida Mezcal
3/4 oz Yellow Chartreuse
3/4 oz Aperol
3/4 fresh lime juice

Place all the ingredients in the bottom half of a shaker and then add your 1 large cube and 2 small. Shake for 15—20 seconds or until cold. If you don’t have any large format cubes on hand, then fill the shaker 2/3 full with regular ice. Double strain using a Hawthorne and a mesh strainer and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Enjoy!

Check back tomorrow for my Thursday Barlogue post about ROOT Restaurant in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia.

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Ancho Reyes and Tequila: Partners in crime in a La Bañera Cocktail.

Ancho Reyes and Tequila: Partners in crime in a La Bañera Cocktail.

labanera1For our second tequila cocktail of the week, I still wanted to use a tequila blanco, but I also wanted to introduce the idea of bringing another spirit into the mix. Every troublemaker needs a partner in crime! Even though tequila is known for distinctively grassy and funky characteristics, it still works well with most juices, and is an especially good match for grapefruit and pineapple. Spicy, smoky, and hot flavors are also a great fit; there are lots of cocktail recipes that call for jalapeño-infused tequilas or simple syrups. The same can be said for ginger. Keeping all of this mind, I was excited to come across a recipe from Food and Wine called La Bañera that had tequila blanco as its base spirit and Ancho Reyes, a liqueur made from dried ancho chile peppers, as a secondary spirit. Of course I had to find it right away, and when I did I quickly fell in love with its sweet smokiness. In addition to the spice and the heat, you’ll also pick up some cinnamon and chocolate flavors, as well as something herbal going on, all factors that make it work very well with tequila. When paired up with a reposado, it makes an excellent Ancho Old-fashioned. It would also work well with some of the darker rums we talked about last week. The Food and Wine recipe for La Bañera called for grapefruit and lime juices, but I substituted pineapple for the lime because I thought this cocktail needed just a little bit more body, and because I love the combination of tequila and pineapple together. Finally the sweetness in the drink comes from an agave syrup, which is nothing more than agave nectar dissolved in an equal amount of hot water.labanera2

La Bañera (from Food and Wine)

1 oz Epsolon Tequila Blanco*
1 oz Ancho Reyes Chile liqueur*
1/2 oz pineapple juice**
1/2 oz fresh ruby red grapefruit juice
1/4 oz agave syrup
Grapefruit wedge for garnishing

Place all the ingredients except the grapefruit wedge in the bottom half of a shaker and then add your 1 large cube and 2 small. If you don’t have the large format cubes on hand just fill the shaker 2/3 full with regular ice. Shake for 15—20 seconds or until cold. Double strain using a Hawthorne and a mesh strainer and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the grapefruit wedge. Enjoy!

*Both are available at most larger liquor stores.

**I used R.W. Knudsen pineapple juice which has no extra sugar. If you use a sweetened pineapple juice you might need to cut back on the agave syrup. 

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