Drink of the Week: Bitters & Blonde

Bitters & Blonde.After kinda sorta creating four new classic cinema inspired cocktails, I’m definitely ready to take it easy this week with a cocktail that’s about as simple as cocktails get. It’s actually worse that that because I readily admit that this oh-so-easy recipe has been spoon-fed to me, along with some very nice photography and Papa Pilar’s rather exquisite Blonde Rum.

I’ve featured this outstanding new brand before but it deserves another go. It’s truly flavorful stuff, no mere mixer, with a delightful mega-hints of vanilla and molasses. It’s part of an exciting trend of new high-end rums, and we’ll be working with some more of those in the not very distant future.

In the meantime, just to show you I’m not entirely a tool of big premium booze, I’ll admit that I don’t think this week’s drink is necessarily the absolute best way to enjoy  Papa Pilar’s Blonde Rum. On the other hand, it’s a very nice way to enjoy it and perfect for the heat wave that’s engulfing Southern California as I write today’s post. If only it could fix my air conditioning.

Bitters & Blonde

1 1/2 ounces Papa Pilar’s Blonde Rum
3 ounces ginger beer
Angostura or other aromatic bitters
1 lime wedge (garnish)

Build this drink over plentiful crushed ice in a Tom Collins glass. Add the rum and the ginger beer and, if you feel the need, stir gently. (They’ll get together on their own even if you don’t.) Top with as much bitters as you think wise and stir no more. Toss in the lime wedge if you like.

You sip this cocktail through the bitters in the same you sip through the cream at the top of an Irish coffee. As you enjoy the icy concoction toast the fact that, while you might have to crush your own ice to follow this recipe strictly, at least you probably don’t have to buy it from an ice man like your great-grandpa had to.

****

As I alluded to just now, the only slightly tricky aspect of this drink is coming up with the crushed ice if, like me, you don’t have a crushed ice-maker and are making an aversion to blenders into your personal trademark. What works best for me these days is putting ice into a plastic bag and whacking it with a hammer-like implement of some sort…but not too hard. You don’t want to break the bag and send all the ice flying, which happens a great deal of the time if you’re not careful.

I tried Bitters & Blonde with a few different brands of ginger beer — a generally delicious product that also happens to be just as expensive as many brands of actual beer. All my attempts came out about the same regardless of the ginger beer though, and that’s because the bitters tend to dominate. In fact, I enjoyed my Bitters & Blonde more when I switched from uber-ubiquitous Angostura to Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters. I found it imparted an almost peppermint-like back taste that worked well with the rest of it.

Still, this drink might not be for you if you’re not mad about bitters. If you prefer a more subtle use of the stuff — and even if you don’t — may I suggest an Old Fashioned with the Papa Pilar Blonde?

Just muddle a teaspoon full of sugar (I used turbinado) with just a dash or two of bitters (Fee Brothers, I’d suggest) and an orange slice in a rocks glass. Next, add two teaspoons of soda water and lots of ice, and, finally 2 ounces of the Papa Pilar’s Blonde and stir. If you can go wrong with that one, I have no help for you.

  

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for content updates. Also, sign up for our email list for weekly updates and check us out on Google+ as well.

Empire Rockefeller Vodka

Vintage Rockefeller Vodka - Times Square Street

I love trying new spirits and discovering bottles that I can recommend to friends, but that rarely happens with vodka. Sure, there are subtle differences between premium vodkas and the volume brands that you can appreciate when drinking vodka straight, but it rarely makes a lasting impression.

That was not the case then I first tried Empire Rockefeller Vodka on the rocks. From the first sip I sensed something different and I wanted more. It starts with a very mild sweet taste which then gives way to a remarkably smooth and subtle finish. It’s really unlike any other vodka I’ve tried.

Empire Rockefeller Vodka came to market in 2012 but it builds on a heritage that goes back for generations in France. It is the only vodka in the world that is distilled six times in copper cognac kettles in the Cognac region of France which contributes to its unique qualities. The winter wheat used is grown organically in France and the water used in its production comes from pristine French springs, filtered through Champagne limestone. Taste it and you’ll experience why these details matter.

The vodka is produced and marketed by the Vintage Rockefeller Wine & Spirits Group which is committed to continuing the tradition of their French forefathers by bringing to market the finest champagnes, wines and spirits handcrafted in and imported from France. The company also produces F. Rockefeller and Sons Champagne, a vintage 2004 champagne, and Signature Rockefeller Cognac, consisting of three lines of fine French Cognac: VS, VSOP and XO.

New vodkas are springing up all the time with catchy and unique marketing plans. In that sense, Empire Rockefeller Vodka fits right in with an elegant logo and bottle that will look great on any bar. But this premium vodka lives up to its name and offers real quality that stands out. I rarely order vodka on the rocks when I’m out, but if Empire Rockefeller Vodka is on the shelf it now becomes one of my new, favorite options.

  

Vino Dei Fratelli offers a broad array of tasty Italian values

Lately, I’ve tasted quite a bit of Italian wine. The wines I’ve tasted recently represent a real cross section of what’s available from Italy — they’re all over the spectrum in terms of price points, grapes used and style. And at the end of the day that’s really a microcosm of what Italy produces, which is great variety. The Vino Dei Fratelli line features wines made all over Italy, and made by several families that vary by area. Basically each family specializes in making wines from varietals that are indigenous to their area. By sourcing from a host of family producers throughout Italy, Fratelli is able to offer genuine regional wines at reasonable price-points under one umbrella. Here’s a look at a handful of their newest releases that I feel represent very good values.

Vino Dei Fratelli 2011 Pinot Grigio – All of the fruit for this wine came from the Veneto region, and is 100 percent Pinot Grigio. Fermentation took place over a period of 20 days in stainless steel tanks. About 1,500 cases were produced and the suggested retail price is $12.99. Apple and yellow melon aromas are present on the nose of this Pinot Grigio. The palate shows off a continued parade of fruit characteristics with Yellow Delicious apple and bits of mango making their presence known. Lemon and tangerine zest, white pepper and a touch of Granny Smith apple are all in play on the crispy finish. This refreshing wine shows off fine varietal character for its price category. I found that this particular Pinot Grigio was at its best ice cold. It’s tasty all by itself but steps up when paired with light foods.

Vino Dei Fratelli 2011 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – The fruit for this wine came entirely from the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOCG region. It’s a 100 percent varietal wine. After harvesting and manual selection, the choice grapes were de-stemmed. Fermentation took place in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. Three months of bottle aging followed prior to release. About 1,500 cases of this wine were imported, and it has a suggested retail price of $11.99. Dark violet aromas lead the nose here along with interlaced red and black raspberry fruit characteristics. Sweet, fresh, black fig leads the juicy palate along with hints of blackberry and pepper spice. Montmorency cherry and dried date notes show up on the finish, along hints of rhubarb. This Montepulciano craves food and will work well with casual foods such as charcuterie, wings, simple pastas and the like.

Vino Dei Fratelli 2011 Primitivo – All of the fruit for this wine was sourced in the Southern Italian region of Puglia. It’s composed entirely of Primitivo which is a close relative to Zinfandel. Fermentation in a temperature-controlled environment took place over 15 days. Malolactic fermentation followed by aging in stainless steel tanks. About 1,500 cases of this wine were imported and it has a suggested retail price of $14.99. Fresh raspberry and blackberry aromas leap from the nose of this Primitivo. The charming palate of this wine is laced with continued blackberry, not to mention blueberry as well as red and black plum. Bits of earth and sweet chocolate emerge on the finish of this fruity, juicy and simply pleasing wine. Medium tannins and solid acid provide nice structure. This Primitivo is just a touch rustic in nature, which adds to its charm. It’ll work well with ribs, burgers, pulled pork or just about anything you pull off your grill or out of your smoker.

Vino Dei Fratelli 2011 Chianti – This 100 percent Sangiovese wine was produced from entirely Tuscan fruit. Temperature-controlled fermentation took place over 12 days, and aging in stainless steel occurred over 8 months. About 6,000 cases of this wine were made and it has a suggested retail price of $14.99. Leather, violets and tobacco aromas are all in evidence on the nose of this 2011 Chianti. Cherry flavors continue on the palate where they dominate things and are supported by underlying bits of dried wild strawberry. Pomegranate and a hint of dried red apple emerge on the finish, along with a tiny bit of black pepper. Firm acidy and medium tannins are present. This is a classic red sauce wine. Pair it with anything covered in a good Marinara or Bolognese, including a slice of Pizza on a Tuesday night, for a delightful match.

Italy as much (if not more) than any other country is food-obsessed. Part of that is a glass of wine with their meals. These four examples from Vino Dei Fratelli remind me of precisely the kinds of wine that Italians are drinking on a daily basis. These are well made, local offerings, aimed at youthful consumption. They’re also attractively priced for regular drinking. Look for these on the shelf at your local wine shop and take them home so that you can drink just the way regular Italians do every day.

Check out Gabe’s View for more wine reviews, and follow Gabe on Twitter!

  

Drink of the Week: Ward No. 5 (TCM Fest Salute #4)

Ward No. 5.You can make a case that the final drink inspired by some of the best films I was lucky enough to see at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival is easily the best of the batch — the rest of which you can see for yourself here, here, and here. I wouldn’t say, however, that it’s worthy of the film that inspired it. That’s only because the movie that inspired is so stratospherically its own thing that it stands out among other film classics. If I had to make a choice, I’d much rather you saw the movie than tried my drink. Fortunately, however, there’s no reason you can’t do both!

You can read a little bit about my impressions of “A Matter of Life and Death” from five years back in my review of a DVD set, “The Films of Michael Powell” (fortunately still available from Amazon for a reasonable price, and also as a DVD rental from Netflix). Suffice it to say the film was the personal favorite of an English filmmaker who was every bit the equal of such contemporaries as Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean. He famously befriended Martin Scorsese and married his editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, but his latter day influence extends far beyond that. The important thing is that he made film as a form of healing magic with a dash of wry, realistic humanism that was witty, occasionally sensual (but not quite sensuous), and nearly always as British as British could be — but he did so with the help of a brilliant WWII-era expat Hungarian screenwriter/producer named Emeric Pressburger.

In “A Matter of Life and Death” (alternately titled “Stairway to Heaven,” way pre-Led Zeppelin), a young poet and war-hero (David Niven) who really should have perished along with his plane, finds himself very literally on trial for his life and his love of a American radio operator (Kim Hunter) while undergoing post WWII-era neurosurgery. It all happens in Ward No. 5 and I thought that would be a fine name for a drink that revives the mind and the soul and won’t be too horrific for the body, either.

Ward No. 5

1 1/2 ounces Bombay Dry Gin
3/4 ounce fresh squeezed orange juice
3/4 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
3/4 ounce ginger liqueur (Dekuyper Mixologist Collection Ginger)
1 teaspoon grenadine (Master of Mixes)
1 pitted cherry (garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shake vigorously, and strain into a good size cocktail glass. Toast life, but also death — without one, you can’t really have the other.

****
Cocktail enthusiasts may suss out that this drink is a slight variation on the very coincidentally named Ward 8, a lesser known classic-era cocktail — a mite tart for my taste — that I covered back in ’11. I’ve replaced the North American whiskey of the original for supremely English gin but kept the life-giving fresh citrus juices. Shaving off half an ounce of hard booze, I’ve also added the healthy properties of ginger…okay, ginger liqueur, but the alcohol is needed to salve the mind, right?

It’s a refreshing concoction but fairly sensitive and delicate. I tried changing out the Bombay Dry Gin for a very good but more elaborately flavorful gin and it throw the balance off in a way I wasn’t sure about. I also tried the drink with only 1/2 an ounce each of the orange and lemon juices and that result let a bit more of the gin’s perfume through.

I went with a more refreshing and accessible take on Ward No. 5. I don’t know what effect using a different brand of ginger liqueur would have on this drink because I only had one around, but the brand I’m using is very tasty. I’m not saying that only because I got it free, though freebies always do taste that much sweeter.

All in all, in rather proud of Ward No. 5, but I’m humbled by the beautiful, funny and tragically delightful movie that inspired it. I’m also rather happy to present the scene that gave me the idea for this final TCM-esque beverage.

  

Drink of the Week: The Quiet Man (TCM Fest Salute #3)

This is part three of our salute to the TCM Classic Film Fest (see parts one and two here and here). This week, a quandary was solved by my realization that the annual double-act of drinking related arguable holidays, Derby Day and Cinco de Mayo, are just about upon us, though I’m afraid the Mexican-American holiday is going to get short shrift este año.

I was struggling with another drink when it occurred to me suddenly that the film I’d planned to cover the final week of my salute, John Ford’s ultimate two-fisted romantic comedy, “The Quiet Man,” was also perfect for the annual running of the Kentucky Derby. That’s because, like nearly all John Ford films, strong drink features prominently and there’s an exciting horse race scene, though it tends to overshadowed by the film’s legendary fistfight between leading man John Wayne and comic antagonist Victor McGlaglen.

Directed by America’s cinematic Shakespeare, John Ford, and written by his frequent undersung collaborator, the great Frank S. Nugent, “The Quiet Man” is a tale of a guilt-ridden Irish-American boxer (Wayne, of course) who escapes to the old sod after accidentally killing a man in the ring. He finds true love of a very feisty and sexy sort with a very feisty and sexy young clan matriarch (O’Hara, naturally). The twist is that, thanks to the selfishness of her thuggish older brother (McLaglen), he also finds that the only thing that will save his new marriage is practicing the not-at-all-so-sweet science of fisticuffs. It’s also a comedy, made back when you didn’t have to label a film a “dramedy” just because it has a few serious moments and a decent story.

Since the film is the ultimate celebration of the rather intimate connection between Ireland and the U.S., as well as between man and woman and fightin’ man and fightin’ man, a drink that unites the sweet whiskies of Ireland and the U.S.A. while packing a slow punch seems appropriate. It’s also appropriate to admit that absent or two very minor variations, it’s a total rip-off of the Derby Day classic, the Mint Julep. Still, I think it’s a maybe a nice change of pace.

The Quiet Man

1 1/2 ounces Old Fitzgerald Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Bottled in Bond)
1 1/2 ounces Bushmills
1 teaspoon super fine sugar
5-8 fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon (or maybe 1/2?) Campari or Aperol

Start with the sugar and mint leaves and, if you’re feeling quirky, the Campari or Aperol bittersweet liqueur. Muddle the mint leaves with the lightest of touches in the bottom of a rocks glass. Next, add your twin whiskeys, many smallish ice cubes and stir enough to really get things nice and icey.

As for our toast…let’s see, we’ve got John Wayne, horse racing, Maureen O’Hara, John Ford, the Marquis of Queensbury, Frank S. Nugent…Yeah, that’s it. Frank S. Nugent. It could be the first time a screenwriter who never became a director was toasted by the public, though it sure wouldn’t be the the first time a screenwriter got toasted.

****

I have to admit I don’t feel like I quite finished the job on this drink as far as the Campari or Aperol are concerned, which I added for a bittersweet edge. I was tempted to write that you could leave them out entirely, but I wasn’t too happy with that version, either. Try one, or the other, or maybe experiment with another liqueur choice of your own. I like this drink, but it’s a work in progress.

I feel a bit more satisfied with my choice of brands, which this week I’m making a part of the official recipe. Old Fitzgerald Bourbon definitely has the right Irish ring to it, and it’s also a wonderful, underrated product that you can actually afford. Moreover, the fact that it’s 100 proof ensures that a Quiet Man really will pack just a bit more punch than a standard julep.

As for Bushmills, I’m sure Jamesons or another Irish whiskey would do and I won’t even get into the silly “Bushmills is protestant whiskey” argument. In any case, “The Quiet Man” depicts an ecumenical mid-century Ireland where Roman Catholics and a tiny minority of  Church of Ireland believers get along quite famously.

Really, though, the surest way to ensure that you have a really good time with this drink is to actually enjoy it while watching the brilliant 2012 4k restoration of “The Quiet Man,” which you can do via Amazon or, right here below. I think springing for the HD version makes sense here. You’ll see.

  

Related Posts