Grand Marnier Signature Collection No. 2 – Raspberry Peach

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The good folks at Grand Marnier sent us their new Signature Collection, the smooth and delicious Raspberry Peach. The Signature Collection Series is a unique annual flavor offering from Grand Marnier featuring an all-natural fusion of fresh fruit ingredients and exotic orange essence, blended with premium Cognac. Here’s how they describe it: “The House of Marnier Lapostolle is proud to present our latest expression, Signature Collection No. 2 Raspberry peach. The natural flavors of succulent European raspberries and rare red peaches from Ardèche, in the South of France, are combined with world-renowned Grand Marnier, made from our exceptionally smooth Cognac and wild tropical Haitian oranges.”

It sounds incredible, and it totally lives up to the hype. Just pour it into a cocktail glass with some ice and you have a delicious drink with a nice kick. It’s not too sweet or syrupy like some liqueurs and it makes for a great sipping drink. If you’re a fan of Grand Marnier you have to try this, and we recommend it to anyone who enjoys spirits.

Here’s a punch recipe provided by Grand Marnier and created by mixologist George Carney that you can serve if you’re hosting a holiday party, though we like the Raspberry Peach so much we would serve it straight on the rocks:

GM Raspberry Peach Holiday Punch
2 quarts Grand Marnier Raspberry Peach
1 ½ cups cinnamon syrup
2 quarts water
1 quart lemon juice
1 quart overproof rum
4 oz apricot brandy
Combine all ingredients in a punch bowl and serve. Optional: freeze raspberries and pieces of peach in purified water and add to punch bowl.

For individual portions:
2 oz Grand Marnier Raspberry Peach
1/2 oz cinnamon syrup
2 oz spring water
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz overproof rum
1/8 oz apricot brandy
Combine all ingredients in a shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into a punch glass.

With the holidays coming, Grand Marnier Signature Collection No. 2 – Raspberry Peach is a great choice to bring to a party. It can also be a great gift for both men and women as the flavor will have broad appeal. Buy an extra one for your home bar!

  

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A chat with Steve Schneider of “Hey Bartender”

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Celebrity chefs are old news. Even so, the idea of a celebrity bartender will strike many people as odd, even if you use the increasingly popular term “mixologist.” Nevertheless, celebrity bartenders are well on their way.

29-year-old Steve Schneider isn’t remotely a household name, but that can change. He is clearly one of the world’s best known mixologists, with more than a little rock star flair. He also pretty much walks away with the new documentary, “Hey Bartender,” which opened in New York recently and began a slow nationwide roll-out in Southern California, Seattle, Denver, Columbus and elsewhere this past Friday.

Directed by Douglas Tirola (“All In: The Poker Movie”), the film is a charming, rough around the edges, information-rich treat for anyone who’s interested in the idea that cocktails might be more than a matter of pouring booze into a cup. Such famed cocktail mavens as Dale DeGroff and my personal favorite, David Wondrich, are featured, as are many of the nation’s best bartenders. Yet it’s Schneider who dominates the film with his journey from downtrodden former Marine – his career was cut short by a severely traumatic training accident – to the multiple-prize winning principal bartender of New York’s supremely acclaimed Employees Only bar.

It’s a bit much to call Schneider the Bruce Springsteen of bartenders, but his salt-of-the-earth, bridge-and-tunnel mixture of sincere pride and humility feels very familiar, and he does not lack for showmanship – he even sports a hammer that might remind some of a certain Norse thunder god. “Hey Bartender” captures the man’s skill, bravado, and iron-clad work ethic, but it doesn’t quite capture the generosity or enthusiasm that I encountered when I got to talk to him via coast-to-coast telephony not long ago.

Bullz-Eye: Congratulations. Everything seems to be going right. Aside from the movie, I understand you’ve won another contest.

Steve Schneider: Yeah, I just won a competition a couple of weeks ago in Chicago with Anthony Bourdain. It was fun. Anytime you get a chance to go to Chicago, it’s fun.

BE: By the way, I’m not sure. Exactly where are you from, originally?

SS: I was born in Bergen County, in Jersey.

BE: So you’re basically a Tri-State area boy.

SS: Yes, I am.

BE: Boy, I have so much to ask and I’m not sure what to start with.

SS: Let it ride, you know. Whatever you need.

BE: Okay, cool. It’s actually to the credit of the film, they don’t make a big deal about your hammer, but I think people want to know about the hammer anyways.

SS: It’s more of a symbol than it is a tool. I mean, it’s a great tool to use. It’s used to crush ice. We have a machine to do it. It’s good for a home bartender or a bar that’s a little slower. You can afford to put ice in a canvas bag and crush it and make juleps or swizzles or any other types of drink that require crushed ice to make it really cold.

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More Spirits for the Holidays

Booze is always an essential part of the holidays. People want to have fun this time of year, so naturally we love to enjoy some drinks and holiday cheer. Forbes recently did a survey on the subject and the results were pretty interesting.

Heavy Holiday Spender: More than three quarters of male respondents estimated that they spend more than $1,000 on alcohol during the holiday season!

Food or Booze? Holiday Indulgence Priorities: More than 70% of respondents revealed that if they had to cut down on either their holiday food or alcohol consumption, food would be the first to go.

Get the picture? People take their booze seriously this time of year, especially guys. That’s why we always include some liquor suggestions in our holiday gift guide in the “Guy Stuff” section.

If you’re throwing a party, the booze is critical. If you’re going to a party, you better not arrive empty handed. There’s nothing like a nice bottle of good stuff to make everyone happy. Also keep in mind that it’s always a great idea to have some special cocktails ready for a party, and you can get some great ideas, including holiday drinks, from our Drink of the Week series.

Here we’ve added some more suggestions for gift ideas and to stock a holiday party bar.

Smirnoff Whipped Cream and Fluffed Marshmallow

The first thing to consider is DON’T FORGET THE LADIES! Women like to drink as well, so make sure you have some special drinks available for them, particularly if you’re throwing your own party. One thing to consider is flavored vodka. Women love this stuff and you can make all sorts of cool cocktails. Smirnoff has come out with two very sweet options with their Whipped Cream and Fluffed Marshmallow flavors (see image to the right). This stuff tastes so good that you can easily drink it straight on the rocks. Pair them up with orange juice or orange pop and you’ll have a creamsicle for adults.

The key to your booze selection for a party is to have something for everyone, and these flavored vodkas are a great addition to any party.

Ron Abuelo’s Aged Rums

Everyone appreciates a good rum. It makes the setting even nicer when you’re partying in the tropics, and it makes a cold winter night a little warmer when you’re partying up north. Ron Abuelo rum produced entirely from estate-grown sugar cane in Panama by the family-owned Varela Hermanos. The company dates back to 1908 when Don José Varela established the first sugar mill in the recently-formed Republic of Panama, the San Isidro Sugar Mill. Almost 30 years later, Varela began the distillation of alcohol from their sugar cane crop in 1936. Currently run by the third generation, Varela Hermanos has approximately 1000 hectares of land devoted exclusively to the cultivation of sugar cane. Today, the range is composed of four authentic dark oak-aged rums: Añejo, 7 Años, 12 Años and the limited edition Ron Abuelo Centuria.

We tried the 7 Años rum with a nice cigar and loved it. Sip it straight or make up some killer cocktails. Either way this stuff is a great addition to you holiday bar.

Van Gogh BLUE

Everyone loves a good Martini, especially the ladies. So check out our article on Classic Drinks Every Guy Should Know How to Make and then pick up some Van Gogh BLUE vodka.

This is the world’s first vodka made from three international wheat sources (central France, southern Germany and Zeeland in Holland). Hand-crafted in Holland, this triple distilled, triple wheat vodka has an exceptionally smooth, polished taste with a neutral flavor full of subtle nuances from the three European grains. It’s a great gift idea for vodka lovers and it’s naturally a great addition to your holiday bar. The bottle also looks very cool and everyone will wan to try it! You’ll find vodka at every party, but it’s always cool to bring something new and interesting, so people will appreciate trying a new and interesting alternative.

So drink up, be safe and enjoy the holidays!

  

Spotlight on Booze: Gin

It’s lost some commercial ground to vodka over the decades, but the revival of interest in classic cocktails has given gin a boost lately. In any case, this venerable liquor remains the standard clear alcohol among serious cocktail aficionados, who strongly prefer its more complex flavor and swear it’s the only true main ingredient in a martini.

Gin is distilled from grain, usually wheat or rye, and starts out as a fairly plain spirit probably not so different from vodka. After that, “distilled gins” are then distilled a second time with various flavorings. That slightly perfume-like aroma you’ve noticed comes primarily from juniper berries. That’s only for starters, as gin manufacturers use a pretty vast assortment of herbs and other botanicals ranging from licorice root to grapefruit peels. Some ultra-cheap brands are “compound gins.” These gins are not redistilled, but simply have tiny infusions added — they’re basically gin-flavored alcohol.

Most modern gins are “dry” and manufactured in England; these gins legally may not contain any added sugar and that aids in the liquor’s superb mixability. As far as we can tell, however, there isn’t much predictable difference between “London dry, “extra dry,” and other similar designations. “Plymouth” gins technically only have to come from the coastal town, but they tend to have a somewhat more complex, pungent, and slightly sweeter flavor profile. Largely produced in Holland and Belgium, genever is a less strong gin variant popular in central Europe. With plenty of added sugar, you can still find very sweet “old Tom” gin if you look hard. Speaking of sweet, you’ve likely had a slurp or two or of “sloe gin,” actually a liqueur made with gin or cheaper neutral spirits mixed with sloe berries. Most brands of gin are between 84 and 92 proof (42-46 percent alcohol), but a number of less upscale mass market brands are available at 80 proof or even less.

Like all types of booze, gin is available in a number of price levels, but there’s not really any such thing as a super premium gin. While you can easily spend $150.00 or much more on a bottle of small batch bourbon or single malt Scotch, if you find a bottle of regular size bottle of gin selling for more than $50.00, you’re probably paying mostly for ultra-fancy packaging. Some of the best and/or most popular premium gins include Tanqueray Ten, Plymouth (a brand as well as style of gin), and Bombay Sapphire. Just as good or better, in our opinion, are the mid-priced premiums, available in some states at discounters like Costco, Bev-Mo and Trader Joe’s. These include Tanqueray, Bombay Dry Gin (less heavy on the perfumey juniper berries than Sapphire), and Hendricks, an increasingly popular Scottish gin we like quite a bit. A bit cheaper, still quite good, and very rich in “Mad Men”-style classic street cred, is Beefeater.

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Spotlight on Booze: Canadian Whisky

Make no mistake, this is not only your dad’s but also your grandfather’s whiskey. Depending on your age and where your family was during prohibition, it might even be your great-great-grandfather and/or grandmother’s whiskey. Say what you like about Canadian whisky, it’s stood the test of time.

Sometimes referred to, particularly in Canada, as rye despite the fact that it’s primarily made with corn spirits, Canadian whisky, unlike now resurgent American rye whiskey, never threatened to go away. Still, while some uninformed bartenders still think rye is just the name of a type of Jewish bread, it’s the rare bar that doesn’t stock Seagram’s V.O., Canadian Club, Crown Royal and often Black Velvet. Its the even rarer connoisseur or cocktail aficionado who will admit to being excited about them, with some liquor snobs deriding Canadian as “brown vodka.” Following their lead, younger drinkers who have taken to premium brands of bourbon and Scotch, have largely ignored it. That’s not to say unassuming Canadian Whisky has no fans among the cognoscenti. We kind of love it and no less an authority than cocktail historian David Wondrich suggests Canadian Club — a value-priced favorite of ours — as the perfect vehicle for an Old Fashioned, the most purist-friendly whiskey cocktail we know.

In any case, pop culture seems to be slowly becoming more aware of American rye whiskey’s almost-as-retro northern cousin. The 2008 primary elections saw Hillary Clinton swigging a much-discussed shot of Crown Royal, the very smooth Chivas Regal of Canadian. Though the label is angled so that the logo is just slightly out of our view, it’s clear that Canadian Club — first brewed by distilling legend Hiram Walker — is Donald Draper’s poison of choice on “Mad Men.” (In the first episode, newbie secretary Peggy Olson is informed that rye is the same as Canadian, and told it’s what her new boss drinks.) It also sure looks to be Canadian Club that washing up on the Jersey shore in HBO’s bootlegging themed early gangland drama, “Boardwalk Empire.” By law, Canadian whisky must be aged at least three years, though Canadian Club and Seagram’s V.O. are both aged for six

In fact, the popularity of Canadian whisky — which many insist must be spelled sans “e” — in the U.S. goes back to those dark days for everyone but gangsters between 1920 and 1933 when the sale and manufacture of liquor was illegal in the land of free and home of the brave, but thoroughly legal up north. Jewish-Canadian entrepreneur and liquor distributor Samuel Bronfman became wealthy and powerful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams by staying more or less on the right side of the law while doing business with the likes of Al Capone. He purchased Joseph E. Seagram’s and Sons and launched what became, for a time, a massive commercial and media empire. (It’s worth noting that the line’s flagship brand, Seagram’s 7 Crown, best known as the non-7-Up ingredient in a “7 and 7,” is not technically Canadian whisky. The U.S. version, at least, is bottled in Indiana and marketed as “an American whiskey,” whatever that is.)

Since it’s primarily blended and is generally not a very complex kind of a whiskey, it’s likely that Canadian will never have the cachet of bourbon, rye, or Scotch, but its hipness quotient may be improving slightly. Canadian Club has shrewdly played on its history with a series of attention-grabbing print ads with the slogan “Damn right, your dad drank it.” The ads alluded to the allegedly racy lifestyles of fathers of yore and used actual family photographs from Canadian Club employees.

As for cocktail and liquor aficionados, New York Times writer Robert Simonson blogged some time ago that his contacts in the gourmet and mixology worlds became obviously bored at the mere mention of Canadian whisky. However, Simonson’s April 2011 article details how there are real changes brewing in the world of Canadian booze. He specifically cites the highly acclaimed Forty Creek distillery and also attempts by better known makers of Canadian whiskey to brew blends that will appeal to drinkers used to the more complex flavors of today’s premium whiskeys.

Forty Creek does appear to be the most prevalent of the “new style” Canadian whisky manufacturers and we were able to pick up a bottle on sale at out local big-box beverage emporium. Our reaction was a bit mixed; we still think Canadian Club is more tasty and given its extremely low price, difficult to beat. Even so, we anxiously await the arrival of more and better Canadian whiskys. It’s time to see if our polite and funny friends to our north can create some premium whiskeys that will give some real competition to Kentucky and Tennessee, not to mention Scotland and Ireland.

  

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