Rum is one of those drinks that can vary wildly in taste and smoothness. Some of the best are so smooth and delicious they can be enjoyed neat – like brandy/cognac, sipped as a post-prandial libation or nightcap. One of the leaders in the rum game is Captain Morgan, and they make a dozen different varieties from spiced (love it!) to regular to tropical flavored and super-premium. Below are a couple of rums and a unique chile liqueur we just learned about.
Oakheart Spiced Rum from Bacardi is delicately but richly spiced and tastes utterly lovely all by itself, even without ice. In a recent blind taste test, results indicated Oakheart won out over Capt. Morgan, but of course, you must judge for yourself. Oakheart is a clear winner for our nightcap needs around here. Love the subtle layers of flavor and the gentle spicy warmth going down.
Uh, yeah. You can mix this with cola, but we think it’s a shame to drown all these flavors: “characteristics of oak barrel staves with the essence of bourbon or brandy, a hint of smoke from the charring process, background notes of dried fruit and heavy delivery of sweet creamy butterscotch. Notes of custard, maple and honey flavors[emphasis ours!] coat the tongue and [the drink] finishes with a touch of pepper.”
Havana Club Añejo Clasico Puerto Rican rumis a dark rum with oaky hints of vanilla and almond, along with fruity notes akin (think pineapple and apricot) with a robust and velvety finish. It’s really good in mixed drinks like the one in the recipe below. Perfect with a weekend brunch or a fireside session.
The 8th Day
1 ½ parts HAVANA CLUB Añejo Clásico Puerto Rican Rum
3 parts Chai tea
1 ¾ parts coconut milk
1 part simple syrup or 1 tbs white sugar
Method: Prepare Chai Tea. While the tea steeps, warm coconut milk over medium heat, do not boil. Combine ingredients in a high temperature resistant mixing glass, adding rum last and stir. Serve in an Irish Coffee Cup or preferred glass coffee cup, and garnish with a cinnamon stick.
And then there’s the unique Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur from Puebla, Mexico. It’s good for after-dinner or aperitif, depending on your mood and your menu. This has been a favorite around here since we received the review sample. Thick and creamy, dark amber color, heat and peppery flavors make this a unique experience for your tongue and nose. Maker’s notes say: “Pleasantly sweet, followed by chile with moderate heat and slight acidity. Hints of spices, tamarind, plum, cacao, apple and almonds then subtle notes of fine herbs. A pleasantly lingering pungent taste on the finish.” Works for us!
The company’s new tag line is especially meaningful in our world today. “Live generously and life will treat you royally.” In sending a sample for review, the company lived up to its motto by sending not only a bottle of the new vanilla-flavored Crown Royal to taste but also a bottle of the original Crown Royal. Each was nestled in a signature Crown Royal drawstring bag – one reading “One to keep” and the other “One to give.”
This kind of attitude in a business is admirable. We all know that corporations are in business to make a profit. So it stands out when a company takes a higher road in its advertising and then lives up to that position in other ways.
And if you like smooth sippin’ whiskey, you’re bound to love one or more of Crown Royal’s sophisticated blends. Get ’em at Binny’s or your favorite spirits merchant.
The spirits fates can be fickle. Remember the great vodka wars – Ketel One, Grey Goose, later Tito’s, etc. – “What does your vodka say about you?” Nowadays Cognac is the new favorite cocktail base for many bartenders and consumers. Sophisticated palates appreciate sipping it to enjoy the many subtle layers of flavors to be found in various iterations of the spirit, including in the gradations of VS, VSOP and XO.
Rémy Martin Cognac, for example – a name well-known among aficionados – recently set up pop-up “experiences” in major cities in the U.S., Chicago included. Titled “La Maison Rémy Martin,” the pop-up included 80 minutes of workshops and masterclasses in which consumers met and interacted with some of the world’s preeminent progressive thinkers from music, fashion, cuisine and art – for example, French Kinetic Artist Vincent Leroy who was commissioned to create a piece and to design the box featured at La Maison Rémy Martin experience. All the while participants learned about the process of making Cognac and got to blend their own. Cool, eh?
Curious about the new popularity of this spirit, we asked Mixologist Dan Rook of South Water Kitchen in Chicago a few questions about the phenomenon:
How would you explain the cocktail sensation going on in the U.S. today?
The cocktail Renaissance going on in this country lately has to do with the evolving tastes of the consumer. Nowadays people are much more informed about what they put into their bodies, even when it comes to cocktails. Many people now expect fresh juice in lieux of sour mix, all natural ingredients, and house-made custom recipes. It’s becoming the norm rather than the exception, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
What is it about Cognac that mixologists like and why is it becoming so attractive to cocktail lovers?
I think Cognac has always been attractive to cocktail lovers. Some of the best classic cocktails – Sidecar, Sazerac, and Vieux Carre’ – all call for Cognac. The more educated modern bartenders become about the history of the craft cocktail, the more often they’ll reach for a bottle of Cognac. Cognac is a form of brandy, and brandy has been a bedrock in cocktails for a long time.
Cognac is unique in that it is an appellation and can only be distilled in one specific place, using Ugni Blanc grapes from a handful of regions in France. That makes for a very specific flavor profile that can be mimicked, but not replicated. Of course, there is still some diversity within the variety of Cognacs, based on the terrior where the grapes are grown, how long it’s aged, etc. That exclusivity of region and production method is really what sets Cognac apart, providing bartenders with a unique flavor for their drinks that they cannot get anywhere else. One of my go-to premium mixing Cognac is D’USSÉ™ VSOP. It has a full-bodied, bold taste that’s versatile and adds a unique twist to classic drinks.
Are some generations more into this trend than others?
Younger generations today grew up with more options than ever before – particularly Millennials. Instant gratification is the norm now; everything is one Google search away. A side effect is that these tech-savvy consumers tend to be more aware of current options that help them make more-informed choices. As an example, we recently had an older woman come in for a Gimlet and specifically request Rose’s Lime juice – something we simply do not carry. I suggested she try it instead with fresh juice, and she was over the moon for it. For us as bartenders, it’s really about taking that first step with a guest without being pretentious.
Which cognac-based cocktail do you recommend for newbies to the spirit? Or does it matter – since expertly crafted cocktails sometimes mask the strength/sensations of the main spirit?
Rather than mask anything, expertly crafted cocktails should showcase the flavors of the main spirit in a balanced and appropriate way; that’s how I approach it. I think the perfect Cognac-based cocktail for a newbie would be the classic Sidecar. It’s very easy to make, very well balanced, and always seems to please. My go-to build for it is 2 oz D’USSÉ VSOP Cognac, 3/4 oz of fresh (always fresh) lemon juice, 3/4 oz of quality orange curacao, shaken, up, in a half sugar rimmed cocktail coupe.
Among classic cocktail recipes with Cognac, which are your 3 favorites:
My favorites are The Sidecar, Sazerac and Vieux Carre’, all of which pair well with the unique flavor profile ofD’USSÉ VSOP Cognac.
2 oz of D’USSÉ™ VSOP Cognac
1 part triple sec
3/4 oz of freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 oz of quality orange curacao
SERVE: Shake and strain all ingredients into a sugar-rimmed coupe glass. GARNISH: Lemon peel and a sugared rim. TIP: To create a unique take on the Sidecar, substitute the triple sec with ¾ part of Giffard Framboise to create the D’USSÉ™ Framboise Sidecar.
1 ½ oz D’USSÉ™ VSOP Cognac
¼ oz Absinthe
Half a tea spoon demerara sugar
Three dashes Peychauds Bitters
SERVE: Rinse a chilled old-fashioned glass with the absinthe, add crushed ice and set it aside. Stir the remaining ingredients over ice and set aside. Discard the ice and any excess absinthe from the prepared glass, and strain the drink into the glass. GARNISH: Lemon Peel.
1 part D’USSÉ™ VSOP Cognac
1 part rye whisky
1 part NOILLY PRAT® Rouge Sweet Vermouth Dash Peychaud’s Bitters
Dash Angostura® Bitters
½ part BENEDICTINE® Liqueur
SERVE: Combine all ingredients, stir and pour into a glass of choice. GARNISH: Lemon peel.
Every change of season is a good excuse to broaden your repertoire of wines and spirits. And, hey, it’s finally fall in Chicago (well, except for those 72-degree days). To warm yourself in cooler temps, consider these unique beverages to help you enjoy the glorious November weather: a fabulous red wine born of a partnersip, a cognac finished in bourbon casks, a plummy gin, a light prosecco (with punch recipe), and a ‘fiery’ red wine finished in whiskey barrels.
“Collaboration” ***** is an absolutely stunning red wine that we would happily drink with anything – from rich cheeses and hearty stews and roasts, to pork, sturdy fish like salmon and, well, just about anything. For serious red-wine lovers, it might even work as an aperitif with appetizers just because it’s so complex and rich and delicious. This wine is the remarkable result of a cooperative effort (thus, the name “Collaboration”) between Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants and Buena Vista Winery. And the catch is, you can’t buy it in stores, and you can only buy it online if you are a member of theCooper’s Hawk wine club.
Here’s what the winemakers have to say about it: “A rich, deep wine loaded with aromas of blackberry, blueberry, cherry, plum and baking spices, it has firm and well-rounded tannins and an exceptionally long finish that can stand up to any beef dish. Beautiful to drink now, it’s expected to age well for another four to six years.”
Jean-Charles Boisset, who added Buena Vista to the Boisset Collection in 2011, says Collaboration “makes the wine world vibrate and brings a transcendental vision to people’s emotional style, taste, and senses… This wine is about power and a vortex of energy that has never been felt before.” We actually don’t think that’s too strong a statement. Visit www.buenavistawinery.com.
Cooper’s Hawk is a unique combination of restaurant, winery, Napa-style tasting room, and artisanal retail market with 24 locations throughout Illinois, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, and Wisconsin more on the way next year. They partner with some of the best grape growers in the world to craft the highly praised Cooper’s Hawk wine collection. And they have a wine club that offers exclusive wines, events, and privileges. CEO/Founder Tim McEnery first opened the company in Orland Park, Illinois in 2005. Visit www.chwinery.com. Must be a wine club member to purchase Collaboration.
Martell Cognac, the oldest of the great cognac houses, recently announced the launch of Martell Blue Swift, the first-ever Martell VSOP finished in Kentucky Bourbon casks and packaged in a beautiful bottle. Engraved on the bottle, Martell’s iconic swift emblem represents the legend behind the brand. This bird is famous for flying exceptionally long distances, crossing the Atlantic Ocean twice a year, and the story goes that Jean Martell was guided by the flight of a swift on his original journey from the island of Jersey to Charente. Martell was the first to ship its cognac barrels from France to the United States and now, more than 230 years later, they’re still doing it. This new and unique Eau de Vie de Vin is a product that is born “When Cognac meets Bourbon.” SRP ~$50.
TuB Gin‘s Hoppy Plum gin. This unique hoppy, fruity gin with plum spirits came out on November 1 as a limited 4-month release from Peach Street Distillers, the folks known for using crisp, local ingredients in their spirits. And this one is a really special spirit that starts out with their renowned citrus-forward gin and is then married with Palisada Plum Eau de Vie and macerated Colorado hops. The end result is a hoppy, softly spiced spirit so smooth you could even drink it straight. If you do, the flavor explodes in your mouth and the aroma opens your nose, and the whole experience warms you, lifts your spirits and sets your tongue a-tingle. A great surprise gift for the spirit lover who likes to expand horizons.
Astoria Prosecco DOC is a classic brand from Italy that comes in a cut-glass bottle that’s lovely enough you might even want to re-use it. Semi-dry with a crisp taste and generous bubbles, you’ll notice pear, apple and floral notes. It’s a light, easy-to-drink wine for a toast or to pair with appetizers or a light main dish or even with desserts. And if you’re still grilling – it’s not snowing yet, right? – whether it’s burgers, steak, chicken or fish, consider this flavorful punch from Astoria Wines. It combines their Prosecco DOC with lemonade and just a few other ingredients. It’ll let you and your guests hang onto the feeling of summer. SRP varies ~$8 to $12.
Lemonade Prosecco Punch
4-6 cups prepared Lemonade
1/3 cup citrus vodka (regular is fine, too)
1 pint blackberries (or your favorite berry), frozen
3 sprigs fresh mint
1 750ml bottle Astoria Prosecco DOC, chilled
Stir lemonade and vodka in a gallon pitcher or punch bowl. Add berries and mint. Let the berries macerate for an hour or more. The longer it sits, the more the blackberries and mint infuse the flavor. Add the Prosecco, stir gently and serve over ice. Store leftovers tightly covered in refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Crafted in California and put up in bottles emblazoned with a raging-flames-inferno label, each batch of Apothic Inferno undergoes a time-intensive, barrel-aging process. The barrels – cut, shaped, and bound by steel before being charred with flames – were first used to age whiskey for a few years prior to becoming the home of Apothic’s new red blend. Some palates may find the strong whiskey “soul” of the resulting red challenging; others may embrace it wholeheartedly. If you’re one of the latter, order some soon as quantities are limited. In any case, try it with a hearty meat dish and some whole grain bread to stand up to the flavor. Check for it in your favorite restaurants in Chicago. SRP ~$16.
It’s officially open: The Rabbit Hole bar and restaurant, 1208 N. Wells St., right off Division St. in Old Town. It’s a small storefront with a roomy interior and a stage for live music. The walls, painted to make you feel like you’re following the White Rabbit down the hole in Alice in Wonderland, and the many craft and draft beers, whimsical cocktails and wines are an invitation for you to go ahead and fall in.
On opening night they had a live band for karaoke. Seriously. If you are a wannabe singer, singing with real musicians behind you and the words in front of you has to be – as the saying goes – the most fun you can have with your clothes on. And on top of that, they serve elevated bar food that includes sharable appetizers, hearty salads, “grabbers” (otherwise known as meat-heavy platters), and an assortment of sides. Chicken Wings come with your choice of house buffalo, shogun sweet chili, Chef Diablo’s habanero or pomegranate BBQ, served with tri-colored carrots, jicama, house made ranch or bleu cheese. Other items: marinated Steakhouse Minis, The 1951 Burger, Queen of Hearts salad, and Jabberwock Angus Sliders. Try starting with Candied Slab Bacon – thick cut, Applewood smoked slab bacon, grilled and glazed with maple syrup.
And what fun that they have games – like large-scale Pictionary – you can play with your friends any and every night of the week. The Rabbit Hole has set a goal to become the new favorite go-to spot for everyone in the ‘hood. It’s certainly off to a grand start.
Craft and draft beers include 24 beer taps and a host of canned and bottled brews. Cocktails by beverage director Carlos Guerra have memorable monikers like the smoky White Rabbit on a Dirty Mule with Mezcal, ginger beer, lime juice, Jägermeister, and grapefruit juice, or the delicate yet complex Tweedle Rum with rum, rye, coffee vermouth, coconut, Fernet Dogma and cinnamon, to name just two.
A sports-friendly bar, with ten large screen TVs, it also serves as a distinctive backdrop for the viewing of any game. Live Band Karaoke on Wednesday evenings beginning at 9pm.
The Kimpton Gray Hotel, 122 W. Monroe St. at LaSalle, is the newest upscale lodging option in the heart of the Chicago Loop’s legal and financial district. Located on the second floor, the lobby – known as “The Living Room” – welcomes guests with coffee, tea and muffins in the morning and wine and cheese receptions each evening. Naturally, the Wi-Fi is free. The huge arched windows, framed with floor-to-ceiling black velvet draperies with gold headers, let in natural light and spotlight views of bustling Monroe and LaSalle Streets.
Just off the lobby guests can join locals for lunch, dinner, drinks and more in the bar and restaurant Vol. 39, so named because it refers to the legal volumes that fill the bookcases surrounding the eating area. Handsome lighting and luxurious seating arrangements are perfect for intimate meetings, whether business or pleasure.
The new hotel is the dramatic result of a complete rehabilitation of the former New York Life Insurance building, originally built in 1894. A sweeping marble staircase leads from the entrance to the second floor lobby – graced with the sound of a jazz quartet at the grand opening. Many of the hallways in the 15 floors are still lined with the original marble. At the grand opening designers made dramatic use of lighting – electric, multi-colored, candles, spots and more – to showcase decorations and finishes. A large section of the meeting room space was strikingly decorated with candles and complementary yet completely different items to hold candles and flowers.
Besides Volume 39, guests and locals can select breakfast, lunch or dinner available at Steadfast, the restaurant and bar located at 120 W. Monroe and situated within the main floor of The Kimpton Gray. Its menus offer unique items like duck liver mousse crostini and a laminated brioche sandwich with Serano ham, Manchego, quail egg and caviar.
The presidential suite was beautifully appointed with sleek modern fixtures in a gray/white/black theme and was, well, presidential in its grandeur – easy to picture a president relaxing there. Other size rooms and suites were equally handsome though somewhat smaller, of course. On the 15th floor the rooftop restaurant/bar BOLEO offers a menu with a South American flair and a comfortable place to take in some unique views of downtown. The grand opening featured a hot-tempo video/DJ combo and soulful trumpet by Kafele playing along.
Elegant. Understated. Service-oriented. Kimpton always does a great job. And now The Gray is a new top pick among the Chicago Loop’s eat-drink-and-stay choices.
We have relatives who live in Louisville, KY so we’re happy to give the city a little boost here. Check out a few points of interest.
Spirits Boom: The bourbon continues to flow in Possibility City. Angel’s Envy’s downtown distillery will open this fall; in addition, moonshine purveyors Lucky and Kentucky Peerlesshave begun distilling their spirits in downtown Louisville.
A Neighborhood for Everyone: Whether it’s bar hopping in Nulu, savoring culinary creations in Butchertown or taking in Germantown’s deep European ties, there’s distinct character waiting to be discovered in each of the city’s many neighborhoods.
Refreshed Museums: The Speed Art Museum reopened this year, debuting a new building and expanded exhibits following a $50 million renovation. The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft also reopened recently, offering an in-depth look at the region’s folk art.
BOURBON, BLUEGRASS & BASEBALL. Binny’s Lincoln Park is hosting an evening of Kentucky-themed cocktails and Southern-inspired hors d’oeuvres tonight, with live bluegrass music by Hickory Vaught and Bourbon education from expert Bernie Lubbers, Heaven Hill Global Whiskey Ambassador. The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience and the Louisville Slugger Museum will also be in attendance, providing a series of experiences for guests.
Binny’s Beverage Depot
1720 N. Marcey St. Thursday, September 8, 2016 5 to 8 p.m.
Eat at a gourmet restaurant any day between today, Thursday August 17 and Sunday August 21, select a Charlie-Trotter-inspired menu item, and know that proceeds will benefit the Pillars of Excellence Mentor Program of The Trotter Project, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that seeks to inspire, train, and provide opportunities for aspiring chefs and hospitality professionals.
Special thanks to United Airlines, the official airline partner of The Trotter Project that will donate $1 for every Choice Menu Bistro on Board item sold on all domestic flights, August 17-21, 2016.
Stay up to date with menus and new restaurant additions to Charlie Trotter Day: follow @TrotterProjecton Twitter and @TheTrotterProject on Instagram, LIKE us on Facebook, and join the conversation with #CharlieTrotterDay. And go visit one of these fine restaurants in the city:
Ampersand Wine Bar
Appellation Wine Bar & Restaurant
Goddess and the Baker
GT Fish & Oyster
The Lobby at The Peninsula Chicago
MK the Restaurant
Swift & Sons
Yusho Hyde Park
Yusho Logan Square * All restaurants are in Chicago
Heard about the “Dry January” campaign in the UK? The idea is to go a month with no alcohol and see how you feel. Some data indicate people tend to drink less, then, over the following six months. Others say there’s no evidence it changes anything.
Those who choose to forego alcohol or indulge only sparingly have always been hampered by a lack of sophisticated drink alternatives. Club soda with a lime is okay, but it gets boring fast. Most flavored club sodas have a distinctly unpleasant metallic and fake taste. And some diet soda sweeteners are under severe scrutiny. So what’s a non- or light-imbiber to do?
A newcomer to the market known as Cascade Ice Water sparkling beverages sent some samples recently. The brand comes in 30 lightly carbonated flavors, all of which are sodium, sugar, caffeine and gluten free. The zero-calorie flavored sparkling variety is made with 1% fruit juice and, honestly, we would love to know how they manage to make the aroma of fresh apples greet your nose when you open the McIntosh Apple. Seriously, it’s reminiscent of standing in the cellar-temperature apple shack we used to trek out to every October in Cleveland, Ohio to see the magnificent fall colors and buy apples.
And how do they get the Strawberry-Orange-Mango to smell and taste like that when the only fruit-related ingredient is pear juice? These guys clearly have some blending magic tricks under their cloaks. By the way, if you’re still drinking red wine, mix some into that Strawberry-Orange-Mango water and you’ve got yourself instant sangria.
The flavors in this line are lightly sweetened with sucralose, an artificial sweetener considered safe by the FDA. We found it refreshing, not too sweet and at the same time affording some unique flavor sensations. And then we happily realized we’d consumed no sugar or caffeine and hadn’t been dosed with aspartame (said to contribute to cancer, stroke and other risks).
Another variety of Cascade Ice is its zero-calorie organic sparkling fruit waters. These are lightly carbonated and contain no sugar, caffeine or artificial sweeteners of any kind. Ingredients in the organic waters include only purified water, carbonation and essences from fruit oils and extracts. We were truly surprised and delighted by the clean, fresh, non-fake taste of the flavors of the samples of this variety. Talk about healthy alternatives!
Cascade Ice’s zero-calorie fruit sparkling waters are made with small amounts of various fruit juices as well as a few traditional long-name ingredients like potassium benzoate (a preservative) and artificial colors. The zero-cal organic water comes in a multitude of mixed fruit flavors like blueberry-acai-pomegranate, coconut-mango, pink grapefruit, raspberry lemonade and 15 others, but keep in mind, these are not sweet. They’re nice-flavored sparkling waters made with organic fruit essences.
And if you want a regular soda that’s just sweet and fizzy without any artificial sweeteners, check out Zevia, soda sweetened with all-natural stevia. It comes in a bunch of flavors. The only ones we’ve tried were black cherry and ginger ale. The black cherry was too strong and too sweet for us, but we like the ginger ale for just plain sipping.
Parties, feasts, holidays and more celebrations. It’s always good to have something special to enjoy before, with or after your meal – especially this time of year. Below are a few ideas we highly recommend.
A beautiful wine from Sicily is sure to please the dry-red-wine-loving souls with a place in your heart or your holiday plans. I was recently able to sample Morgante and Mandrarossa, two delightful wines from Sicily with Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) designations. These two fine dry red DOC wines make perfect complements to meals, at home or eating out in a restaurant. The Mandrarossa is fresher (more acidic) and the Morgante smoother and deeper. Read more about these two Sicilia DOC wines here.
Whatever wine you choose from Sicily, make sure it has the DOC label so you know it’s made with the careful growing conditions and the attention to detail that are required to earn that designation. Read more at http://winesofsicily.com/.
And how about something truly unique? We’re hearing more and more about this spirit distilled from Peru’s national spirit, Pisco. Portón is an even finer distillation of that spirit into a colorless brandy that mixes beautifully with rich drinks like eggnog and/or gives a shot of sweet complexity to other creamy spirits such as SomruS or Irish cream liqueurs.
Pisco can boast what only a handful of other spirits enjoy: a Denomination of Origin. That means all pisco must be made in vineyards along the south western coast of Peru and must be distilled from any of eight specific aromatic and non-aromatic grape varietals under the strictest of guidelines. Just for fun this holiday, try making this elegant creamy recipe: CASPIROLETA with Pisco Portón.