Saturday, September 28, 2013

Mojito Club at Willie's Steakhouse

After Mike and I visited the Vega Alta Tavern and a quick pitstop at Royal Dominican Cigar Shop (two doors down from Vega Alta Tavern), we decided to get some food and we went over to my good old fashioned local restaurant Willie's Steakhouse, 1832 Westchester Ave, New York, NY 10472 (718) 822-9697. We were stuffed after enjoying a "small" platter (which incidentally is rather large for a small. The large platter is gigantic) and a couple Dos Equis Amber beers. As per custom, I like to see what liquors they have on their shelves. On the rum shelf a bottle caught my eye.

At first I thought that I saw a bottle of Havana Club on the shelf. Now for those of you who don't know, Havana Club is one of the most famous of Cuban distilled rums that because of the embargo levied by the United States against Cuba is not available here in the United States. Now if you look at the picture of the Mojito Club bottle (further down below), it has a very similar logo to the Havana Club rum. My curiosity was piqued. I decided to look into this further.

I went to the website Mission Liquors and looked at the listing for the Mojito Club. Off the bat I see that it is "Made in Mexico Made with rum, lime, natural flavors & certified colors". I decided to look into it further. I found an article written by Larry Luxner entitled Mojito Club: everything's Cuban but the rum itself. from August 1, 2002. Here is how Luxner describes the Mojito Club:
Earlier this year, Pernod Ricard USA rolled out Mojito Club--a citrus-flavored, rum-based spirit distilled in Venezuela and bottled in Mexico.

Yet tourists who have been to Cuba will notice that the label on each bottle of Mojito Club--right down to the lettering, coloring and icon of its La Giraldilla logo--is nearly identical to that of Havana Club, which Pernod Ricard can't sell in the United States due to the embargo.

Mojito Club is already available on liquor-store shelves in New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore and South Florida. It retails for $13 per 750-milliliter bottle and also comes in 50-milliliter and one-liter sizes.

Pernod Ricard, which reported $4.5 billion in 2001 sales, says Mojito Club "takes its inspiration from one of Cuba's oldest drinks, the famed mojito cocktail," and that it expects "the recent Latin cultural sensation sweeping America" to boost sales considerably.

"Flavored rums continue to be one of the hottest categories in distilled spirits, while young, urban sophisticates across the country tout the mojito cocktail as the next big drink," hypes a press release written by New York-based Hunter Public Relations. "Mojito Club will further drive this booming trend, offering consumers a bottled embodiment of the passionate, sexy, free-willed Cuban experience."
Pernod-Ricard is the owner of many international brands including the Havana Club brand. Why can they sell this product here in the United States but not the Havana Club rum that this particular product seems inspired by? As per the article, the rum is made and distilled in Venezuela and bottled in Mexico. While the rum used in undoubtedly inspired by the original Cuban rum, it is not made nor bottled in Cuba, hence why it can be sold in the U.S.A.

I asked the bartender what she tought about the Mojito Club. She was unimpressed. As you would assume with any pre-mixed product sold over the counter, it did not stand up to an authentic mojito. Her assessment was good enough for me.

So that's all from my adventures in the Bronx on the night of the last home game for the 2013 New York Yankees. Back to my regularly scheduled post from the GMT Tavern.

Until Then Happy Drinking,
Sisco Vanilla

Friday, September 27, 2013

Biting Oranges

I know I said in my last post that I would continue to highlight the cocktails and food that I recently had at the GMT Tavern on Bleecker Street but a brief encounter I had last night inspired this post. Last night I attended the last Yankees home game of the season and had the honor of watching future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera throw his last pitches in Yankee pinstripes. Definitely a night for the ages. After the game we went over to the Vega Alta Tavern on 880 Gerard Avenue, Bronx, NY 10452 (718) 992-2445.

My friend Mike had a co-worker who was celebrating her birthday there and we decided to swing by there for a quick brew before going to get something to eat closer to my neighborhood. As we're sitting at a table, a few of the Yankee stadium workers came in and one of the ladies was holding an interesting looking tall can. I asked her what that was and she said it was a delicious drink that was better than Four Loko. She asked if I wanted to taste it. How could I say no. Actually, even if I wanted to say no, she didn't give me a choice. She poured a little into my commemorative Yankee cup. At that point what could I do. When in Rome...ummm When in the Bronx. Right?

It tasted like orange flavored malt liquor. This is really no different that what we used to do back in the day by mixing a wine cooler with a 40oz of Old E or St. Ides. At 12% Alc/Vol it is almost more than double the alcohol content of your average beer. So this sweet tasting concoction can pack quite wallop if you suck too many of them down.

This product is made by a Canadian company called Jaw Drop Coolers. On their website for the U.S. market they show three different flavors: The above mentioned Biting Orange, the Puckering Punch and Sucking Lemons. In Canada they also have the Licking Limes and Squeezing Melons flavors to accompany the lemon and punch coolers. Curiously they don't advertise the orange flavor. Guess that is all for us here to enjoy in the good old U.S.of A.

Now upon further investigation, I came across the If It's Hip, It's Here blogpost entitled Introducing Jaw Drop Coolers. Fun Flavored Alcoholic Beverages In Fabulously Designed Cans from April 12, 2013. In the post they show all the flavors available in this line and something about it is quite curious. Here is what they say:
Available in Canada:
•SUCKING LEMONS - 7% Vodka Cooler
•PUCKERING PUNCH - 7% Vodka Cooler
•**NEW** SQUEEZING MELONS - 7% Vodka Cooler
•**NEW** LICKING LIMES - 7% Vodka Cooler

Available in USA:
•SUCKING LEMONS - 12% Flavored Malt Beverage
•PUCKERING PUNCH - 12% Flavored Malt Beverage
•BITING ORANGES - 12% Flavored Malt Beverage
While the Canadians get 7% vodka coolers in their cans, we get 12% flavored malt liquor in ours. I wonder why. Is it a taste issue? Does malt liquor sell better here in the U.S.A. rather than in Canada? Do vodka coolers sell better Canada than here in the U.S.A.?

Surprisingly, I graciously declined to a second pour of her Biting Orange drink. I didn't want to deprive her of her delicious brew. I have one more post about last night's activites before returning to my regularly scheduled blogging. I'll put that post up tomorrow on the curiously labeled Mojito Club rum.

Until Then Happy Drinking,
Sisco Vanilla

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Southside at the GMT Tavern

A few weeks ago one of my regulars Joe who runs the Nitrate Stock website recently told me about possibly the only adult bar/pub on west Bleecker Street. Before I go into said bar/pub, I just wanted to let you gals and guys know what Nitrate Stock it. Nitrate Stock is a labor of love which entails the following:
This site (Nitrate Stock) will represent the best of repertory cinema in the five boroughs and as far as half an hour outside them, and all reachable by mass transit.
So if you're ever in the mood to explore the world of Repertory cinema in NYC, this is the man to know. Follow him on Twitter @NitrateStock, on his Facebook page Nitrate Stock and at the Nitrate Stock website. Back to the bar/pub. Thanks for the heads up Joe.

I decide to check out the bar/pub known as the GMT Tavern which is located at 142 Bleecker Street (corner of Laguardia Place), New York, NY 10012 (646) 863-3776. I was definitely not disappointed. Amid the frat bars that can be found a plenty on Bleecker Street, this bar is definitely one geared to adults who know how to drink to the point that their Twitter Page @GMTTavern refers to itself as being a "Straight Up, Grown Up Pub". Here is how their website describes itself:
The Greenwich Meantime Tavern (GMT) is a British styled tavern.

It was established in 2011 in the heart of Greenwich Village,
on the corner of the hustle and bustle of Bleecker St & LaGuardia Place
in New York City.

It has truly become the local's favorite, with our impressive selection of 36 draught beers poured through our state of the art beer system.

The draught beer line-up consists of imported English and European beers. We also serve some of the best local crafted beers.

Our cocktail list has been created by mixologist Nick van Tiel, which offers our customers some classic cocktails with a modern twist and some new delicious signature cocktails with fresh fruit and herbs made with precision and taste by our experienced bartenders.

Our menu is casual American with some traditional British fare, from Scotch eggs, fish & chips & the ploughman's lunch to our special blend of Kobe beef for the Meantime burger.

We serve lunch and dinner every day; On Sundays we serve brunch which includes the traditional British Sunday Roast with all the trimmings & Yorkshire puddings.

Our customers are diverse, from the beer connoisseur tasting the latest seasonal beer from local breweries, the conversationalist sitting around our communal tables discussing which wine they should choose and from which part of the world, colleagues meeting after work for our cocktail hour sipping on our classic cocktails, to Sundays and families enjoying brunch sitting in our sidewalk cafe watching the world go by.
I could tell by the vibe that was definitely not the scene for the beer pong frat set that many of the bars on West Bleecker Street can attract.

In terms of cocktails, GMT Tavern has a diverse cocktail list with names like the Hot Limey, The Brown Betty, London Buck and Penicillin. For my first taste I decided to have myself a cocktail known as The Southside:
The Southside
Plymouth Gin
Elderflower Liqueur
Lime Juice
Fresh Mint
I found this cocktail to be light and enjoyable. I loved how the blend of the lime and mint was perfectly balanced as to not overpower the other ingredients in the cocktail, which I find that lime and/or mint can do. It wasn't too sweet or too tart. It was just right.

On an aside, its funny how all of a sudden I've become a drinker of gin. Consider that I went close to 15+ years without having any gin. Why? Read this post to find out why Hendrick's Gin...My Return to Gin 15+ Years Later. And I have a few more gin post coming up. Guess you can teach an old dog some new tricks. ;)

The next post will be the second cocktail I had at the GMT Tavern called the GMT Punch.

Until Then Happy Drinking,
Sisco Vanilla

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sexy Sadie at Merc Bar

The second cocktail I endulged in while at Merc Bar (151 Mercer Street, NY NY) could be described as being the opposite to The Aviation cocktail that I profiled in my last post. Where the Aviator was pleasing and balanced, the next cocktail was higher up of the sweetness scale.

The cocktail called the Sexy Sadie called for a simple mix of vodka, elderflower, pear and blackcurrant liqueur. Blackcurrants are a shrub that is native to Europe and parts of Asia and most popularly used in various forms in Eastern Europe and Russia. The blackcurrants are used in the form of the Creme de Cassis that one would normally see grouped together with the schnapps behind the bar and often used in such popular cocktails as a Kir Royale (Creme de Cassis/Champagne) and a Cassis Orange (Creme de Cassis/Orange Juice).

For this cocktail, Merc Bar uses a brand known as Mathilde Cassis for this cocktail. Here is how Mathilde describes their Mathilde Cassis (aka Malthilde Blackcurrant):
Known since the 18th century as the "Elixir of Life" black currant liqueur is made in several regions of France, though some of the best black currants are to be found in Burgundy. The two varieties used to make Mathilde Cassis are the Noir de Bourgogne and the Blackdown. Noir de Bourgogne has excellent taste qualities and the reputation of being the best black currant to eat. Blackdown is a soft, sweet variety. A long steeping period ensures a perfect balance between alcohol and fruit.
The liqueur is relatively mild at 32 proof (16% alc/vol). Here is the ingredients for the cocktail known as the Sexy Sadie:
Sexy Sadie
Grey Goose Poire Vodka (though used regular Grey Goose)
Elderflower liqueur
Pear purée
Mathilde black currant liqueur
As I alluded to in my introduction, this cocktail (as compared to the Aviation cocktail) was higher up on the sweetness scale. I found this cocktail to be very aromatic and flavorful. The scent and flavors of the pear dominate the cocktail. It gives it a very fresh taste to the tongue. Though the cocktail book called for Grey Goose Poire Vodka, I think using the flagship Grey Goose Vodka keeps it very natural. I think using the Grey Goose Poire along with the pear purée would be overkill. As it is I think it is sweet enough. The blackcurrant liqueur was a nice touch both in favor and color as you can see in the picture. I think Momma San and my sister would like this one over the Aviator while I actually prefer the Aviator. While I like pears, the pear after taste of the Sexy is a bit much for me.

That was the last cocktail that I had at Merc Bar before heading out to work. For my next post, I visited a bar that one of my regulars claimed was probably the only real adult bar on the west side of Bleecker Street called GMT Tavern.

Until Then Happy Drinking,
Sisco Vanilla

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Aviaton at Merc Bar

A couple of days ago I had some time before work and decided to kill it with some exploration of SOHO. I came across Merc Bar which was located at 151 Mercer Street, NY NY 212-966-2727. Something about the open doors with the leather sofas in the front and the dimly lit bar in the back called out to me. Off inside I went.

The bar had five or six people sitting having varied cocktails while the bartender was prepping his station. I guess they just opened. I looked over the menu and a number of the cocktails had piqued my interest. The one that really stood out was a cocktail that I've been meaning to try for a while now: The Aviation. Why have I been meaning to try this cocktail for a while now? One of the main ingredients in this cocktail is Creme de Violette which until recently was not found in the United States. It is an aromatic liqueur that was re-introduced into the United States market by Rothman & Winter. Here is how they describe what Creme de Violette is:
For well over a century Crème de Violette has been an indispensible component to classic cocktails such as the Aviation and Blue Moon and champagne cocktail programs. This violet liqueur imparts a delicate floral nose and taste along with the stunning color of violets.

The Rothman & Winter Crème de Violette is produced from a careful maceration of Queen Charlotte and March Violets in "Weinbrand" (this distilled from grapes), with cane sugar added for sweetness. Over its three generations, Destillerie Purkhart has produced this liqueur by special request of its regional gastronomy customers. In these local markets, the buyer is most often the "Konditorei" who will use the Violette in special cakes and chocolates!
It is a very simple cocktail which according to Gary Regan in his article The Cocktailian: Creme de violette lifts Aviation to the moon:
As far as I know, the Aviation first appeared in print in the 1916 book "Recipes for Mixed Drinks," by New York barkeep Hugo R. Ensslin, but I don't really care for Ensslin's recipe. Two parts gin, one part lemon juice, and just a couple of dashes each of maraschino and creme de violette makes for a very sour drink indeed.
As how most Bartenders would do faced with a recipe they don't like, Regan went and changed it to his liking:
When I first got my hands on a bottle of creme de violette, I made myself an Aviation using three parts gin, and one part each of the liqueurs and the lemon juice. It worked very well, and the color - oh, the color. It's nothing short of glorious. To behold a cocktail that's almost gray, but tinged with the barest hint of violet, is as glorious as witnessing a September sunrise in Maine. Bring it to the lips and sip, don't gulp. This is truly one of the nectars of the gods. Stands head and torso above the Aviation sans violette.
Okie dokie. That's one helluva description. So what did I think of it? Here is the recipe based on the cocktail menu:
The Aviator
Fresh Lemon
Maraschino Liqueur
Creme de Violette
Brandied Cherry for Garnish
I'm going to assume that the cocktail used Bombay Dry Gin rather than Bombay Sapphire since the original recipe for the Aviation that is located on the Rothman & Winter website calls for Dry Gin. Since this was my first time tasting this cocktail I don't have anything to compare it to. I found it to be a very pleasing and balanced cocktail. The lemon juice, maraschino liqueur and creme de violette blend nicely and seem to compliment the dry gin who tends to be noticed near the end of the sip rather than at the forefront. The cocktail wasn't sweet in the least, closer to the tart side of the taste palate. To the nose it is a very aromatic cocktail with a slight hint of flowery scents, which I assume is from the creme de violette. The brandied cherry is an extra treat. It was simply delicious. Makes you wonder why bars continue to use those neon red cherries.

On a side note, if you want to make your own brandied cherries, check out the post by my friend Amanda Schuster Procrastinated and Befuddled Cocktail Cherries from the Alcohol Professor on how to make your own Brandied Cherries.

I'm on the hunt to try another Aviator to compare it with the Merc Bar's Aviator. Any suggestions on where I can have one?

My next will be on the second cocktail I had at the Merc Bar called the Sexy Sadie.

Until Then Happy Drinking,
Sisco Vanilla

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Akvavit aka Aquavit

I recently came into possession of some Akvavit (Aquavit) made by distillery Snälleröds Ångbränneri straight from Sweden courtesy of my co-worker Julia. She recently traveled to her homeland of Sweden and was very kind enough to bring me a sampler pack of organic Akvavit. Thanks bella!!!!! But what is Akvavit you may be asking yourself. Well, here we go on to Sweden.

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica online:
aquavit, also spelled Aquavite, or Akvavit, also called Snaps,  flavoured, distilled liquor, clear to pale yellow in colour, dry in flavour, and ranging in alcohol content from about 42 to 45 percent by volume. It is distilled from a fermented potato or grain mash, redistilled in the presence of flavouring agents, filtered with charcoal, and usually bottled without aging. Various aromatic flavourings are employed, usually including caraway or cumin seed; lemon or orange peel, cardamom, aniseed, and fennel also may be used.

The beverage, produced in the Scandinavian countries, derives its name from aqua vitae (Latin: “water of life”), applied originally to liquor distilled from wine, and was made from imported wine; the product therefore was highly expensive until Swedish soldiers learned to make aquavit from grain. In the 18th century the potato became an important raw material.

Swedish and Norwegian aquavits are sweet and spicy and of straw colour. Sweden is the largest producer, manufacturing about 20 brands. Norway’s production, comparatively low, includes Linie Aquavit, so called because it is shipped to Australia and back (across the Equator, or Line) in oak containers to produce mellow flavour. Finnish aquavit has a cinnamon flavour. The Danish product, also called snaps, is colourless, with a pronounced caraway flavour. One of the best known Danish types is Ålborg akvavit, named for a small town in Jutland, on Denmark’s northern coast. The only brand exported from Denmark, it is produced by Danish Distilleries, a private organization granted the sole right to produce alcohol and yeast since 1927 under a monopoly of the Danish government.

In both the Scandinavian countries and northern Germany, aquavit is usually served chilled and unmixed, in small glasses, and is usually accompanied by appetizers or sandwiches; it is the traditional accompaniment to a smorgasbord.

This particular brand of Akvavit is made by a distillery called Snälleröds Ångbränneri which was founded in 1901 and was producing Akvavit until it was forced to close down in 1971. Twenty years later, Snälleröds Ångbränneri would be reborn under Eric Berntson. Describes the reason for restarting the Snälleröds Ångbränneri distillery:
Our philosophy is that we will create original and traditional products. We want to make a good craft from foundations and the best way to take advantage of our culture. In hundratalsår, Sweden has made ​​flavored schnapps, and we want to take advantage of that knowledge. Snälleröds not hanging on temporary trends without investing in good basic goods and careful development of our qualitative schnapps. 

When we develop a new product and we'll start with me and Leif Nerhammar sit down at the kitchen table here on Snälleröds. I bounce ideas with Leif, he says what we can do in practice and did not. Then we test the idea. Leif makes test products then we test them together here on the farm's fitting room. There is an old kitchen on the farm. 

Today Snälleröds Ångbränneri Ltd a family run organic snaps producer. It is developing new products for both the Swedish and international markets. Berntson Brands AB in Stockholm are dealers in Sweden and is in charge of distribution and sales
The sampler is made up of five different bottles of organic aquavit. Here is how they are described from both the box and translated from the website:
Brännmästarens Akvavit
This Aquavit is the favorite of the distillery master, with caraway, anis, fennel and with a tone of sherry.

Bokhållarens Akvavit
A dry aquavit with fresh notes of citrus fruits. Delicious light green in color with anise, caraway and fennel in the bottom and fresh orange tones. Aquavit is one of the most popular schnaps both for Christmas, Easter, Midsummer and the crayfish season. An aromatic aquavit as an aperitif or digestive (before and after meal) is also in time. Our old bookeeper's favourite.

Mäskdrängens Akvavit
A crystal clear aquavit, the caraway is dominant. Mäskdrängens Aquavit has a distinct cumin and fennel aroma and hints of citrus and licorice. The taste gives a real sense aquavit, just as aquavit tasted in the past. A perfect spirit, neat or with food.

Herr Berntson Besk
Spices and herbs in a magic combination. A wormwood liquor with a smooth and elegant wormwood bitter, with a nice rounded sweetness. Snälleröds use Wormwood from Skåne North expanse Inge. Mr. Berntson Besk fits cooled as traditional snaps to herring and other Scandinavian dishes. Try it with spicy food.

Jungfruns Vårbrännvin
Elegant bitterness with a soft finish. The color is slightly green. A warm and örtigt brandy, with clear citrus. Jungfuns Vårbrännvin excellent match to our traditional helgmat at midsummer, Christmas and Easter Virgo is seasoned with classic aquavit spices with the addition of coriander and lemon. All is well rounded and spices pekoreras for a long time.
The Brännmästarens and Mäskdrängens Akvavits are 80 proof (40% alc/vol) while the Bokhållarens, Herr Berntson Besk and Jungfruns Vårbrännvin Akvavits are slightly lower at 76 proof (38% alc/vol). So the akvavit is currently chilling in the fridge and when I crack them open, I'll describe what I think about them.

Until Then, Skål and Happy Drinking,
Sisco Vanilla

Monday, September 2, 2013

Western Honey Pepper Whiskey

We recently started carrying Western Whiskey's Western Honey Pepper whiskey at the Bleecker Street Bar and I decided to find a way to make a cocktail with it. Don't know the Western Honey Whiskey? Well here is how it is described on the website:
Hot & Sweet

This remarkable Honey Pepper Whiskey starts off caressing your palate with Natural Clove Honey, yet it has a long and teasing chili pepper finish.

Honey Pepper is a hand-crafted artisanal whiskey is skillfully prepared in small batches to highlight the purity of superior natural ingredients.

The initial rich, full bodied Bourbon flavor is softened by smooth natural Honey and followed with a fiery yet subtle Pepper finish, dangerously soliciting your pallet for another shot.

Western Honey Pepper Whiskey has an initial rich, full-bodied bourbon profile with a firm undertone of oak and vanilla. This symphony complimented by the medley of Clover Honey and zesty, savory Chili Pepper make Western Honey Pepper a legend that awaits you.
I find that this whiskey compared favorably to let's say Honey Jack Daniels or Dewars Highland Honey Whisky though I do find it to be a bit sweet and thick for my palate. In putting together my cocktail, I was looking for something to cut the sweetness but not to cover up the flavor. Here's what I came up with after some trial and error:
1.5oz Western Honey Pepper Whiskey
Juice of 1/4 Lemon
Soda Water top

In a highball full of ice, build Western Honey Whiskey, juice from the lemon. Shake and top with soda water
I found the cocktail to be very light. The tartness of the lemon helped to bring out the peppery flavor of the whiskey and the sweetness of the honey on different parts of my tongue while the soda gave if a nice effervescent feel.

So feel free to come on in and have yourself one of these cocktails, some Western Honey Pepper Whiskey on the rocks or even straight up. Tell them I sent you. ;)

Until Then Happy Drinking,
Sisco Vanilla