Slane Irish Whiskey – a new go-to!

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Besides its beauty and historic value to Ireland, Slane Castle is known for two important things: being home to the distillery that makes its layered, balanced namesake Irish whiskey and for regularly bringing thousands of people together to enjoy soaring music concerts held on the Slane Castle grounds in Boyne Valley in County Meath, Ireland.

Slane Triple-Casked Irish Whiskey and music are fitting combination when you think about this: Making whiskey and creating music have a powerful common bond – they both seek a perfect balance. Each art/craft is constantly experimenting with components and layers to bring a harmonious new distillation/composition/performance into fruition.

And the good people at Slane know that an important Irish tradition it is to share your whiskey with others in a warm and welcoming atmosphere. They recently set up such an event at a charming Chicago speakeasy-type bar, Storyville, 712 N. Clark St., where the salty, deep-fried and other Cajun comfort foods served family-style are reminiscent of the best of New Orleans fare, and marry perfectly with Slane’s Triple-Casked Irish Whiskey and each of its components.

Representatives from Slane set up the intimate tasting experience and invited attendees to test their blending skills. Tastes of Slane Triple-Casked Irish Whiskey and of the distillations from each of the three barrels that make up the flagship brand’s flavor profile – which includes tasty notes of caramel, red fruits, baking spices, and toasted oat. The first distillation comes from a virgin oak cask – no other liquor aged in that one – American oak medium char milled wood. The second, called “Seasoned,” is from a lighter barrel like the type Jack Daniels is aged in. And the third taste is from a sherry cask. They all tasted delightful, but the combination – the “triple-casked” combo – was especially satisfying.

Savory beignets with crawfish sauce were perfect with the first sips of the whiskey itself, and then more sips of the three cask-fellows that make it up. Next sips were with a big plate of poutine fries covered in cheese and drizzled with sauce. More food followed – Cajun shrimp pasta, Muffeletta, Jambalaya… More whiskey sipping. And then: the blending contest. Attendees were challenged to be a blender and to approximate the taste of Slane flagship Irish whiskey. Using straws, tiny samples of each distillation were to be mixed until you got as close as you could to the original. (I was surprised and delighted to win the competition!)

You can find Slane in Chicago at Binny’s and many indie liquor stores. ~$25/750ml. For best sipping results: Create an intimate shared experience with friends/loved ones to enhance the pleasure. If you’re tasting by yourself, try lighting a baking spice candle…

P.S. In honor of the 40th anniversary of their first rock concert. the distillery has found the perfect balance for its new Slane “Special Edition” Irish Whiskey. In this expression you’ll find similarly complex flavors along with extra vanilla and a slightly higher ABV. Great in cocktails like Jitterbug and Irish coffee. But oh, it’s a sippin’ whiskey, too, for sure. ~$37/750ml. Availability is limited. Check with your favorite liquor dealer.

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Cognac makers expand their horizons

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Cognac is a favorite of ours. And it’s always fun and educational to learn about new expressions being brought to market. If this Forbes contributor’s got it right, the new rich in China are hot for ultra-premium Cognac, though perhaps surprisingly, the French don’t drink much of it. And for fun, here’s an Eater.com article that delves into the world of ultra-premium spirits.

Courvoisier supports Black-and-minority-owned small business

Happy to recognize the community-building work of Courvoisier® Cognac, the Most Awarded Cognac House*. The company recently awarded Genesis Bencivenga Sr., a small business owner based in Chicago, with a $25K grant at the Courvoisier Entrepreneurship Awards. 

Bencivenga (shown 3rd from left with the other Chicago prize finalists) is the co-founder of Lorenzo’s Frozen Pudding, a family-run and locally-sourced company that offers a variety of flavors including original Southern-style banana, Hawaiian pineapple, and strawberry.

The Courvoisier Entrepreneurship Awards, originally hosted by Maison Courvoisier and the Urban League of Greater Atlanta, awarded four small business owners in the Atlanta metropolitan area with monetary grants. Now they’ve done it in Chicago, where the four finalists of the pitching competition each received grants ranging from $5,000 to the $25,000 grand prize.

The Entrepreneurship Awards are part of Courvoisier’s Foundation 1828 platform, a $1 million initiative to back Black-owned and minority small businesses throughout the U.S. Courvoisier will continue Foundation 1828’s mission by hosting future pitch competitions in additional metropolitan cities this year.

Cognac from Bacardi

D’USSE is a new brand of cognac from the folks at Bacardi, where they make some awfully nice rums. The new cognac comes in two expressions:

  1. D’USSE V.S.O.P. Aged at least 4-1/2 years in French oak barrels (only 2 years is required to be designated cognac).  The flavor is bold and full-bodied, but also smooth and round. Woody notes backed by touches of cinnamon and floral notes, spices, almond and cinnamon. The finish delivers notes of honey and dried fruits. It’s definitely an authentic Cognac and can make any ordinary brandy look pale by comparison. ~$50
  2. D’USSE X.O. Uses the finest eau de vie and is aged at least ten years in French oak, yielding a highly complex blend. Sniff a fruity bouquet of succulent ripe blackberry, bright orange and dried apricot. On the palate taste hints of hazelnuts and nutmeg and then complex blends of apricot and orange with hints of wood and subtle warm spice. The X.O.’s unique bottle honors both classic and modern design and bears the Cross of Lorraine – a symbol of honor, courage and perseverance used by the French resistance during WWII. $230
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Three Rivers Rye. Heads up, whiskey lovers

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Did you know rye whiskey is the classic American distilled spirit? Starting in 1750, rye whiskey was for many years the main spirit for American imbibers. In 1810 Pennsyvania alone shipped 6.5 million gallons of rye to Kentucky’s 2.2 million gallons of bourbon. But soon after that, bourbon ascended to the pinnacle and rye descended to the bottom in popularity. Back then, according to this source, it gradually became what street drunks bought and consumed in paper bags. More cool pictures on their Cali Distillery Instagram page.

Cali Distillery Three Rivers Rye

Now, rye has risen again to its former levels of glory in the craft distilling revolution going on in the U.S. these days.

And Cali Distillery owners, experts at crafting many different spirits, have seen the future of whiskey and believe that rye is right up there near the top. Cali has developed a small stable of whiskey offerings, and Three Rivers Rye is the latest, meant as a tribute to the honored distilling process of this classic spirit.

Drink it straight (see next paragraph), or use this spirit to build a properly spicy Manhattan or a traditional Sazerac. Rye is a critical component in those and other mixed drinks, and Three Rivers Rye is definitely up to the challenge. Gives a richness and depth to these traditional go-to cocktails.

Best to drink savor Three Rivers slowly. Start with it neat for a few sips. Then add a single cube and let it begin to mellow the flavors together. Once that’s melted, enjoy again, or add another cube and continue sipping. Think about the history of the drink – and read all about it on Cali’s website – as you relax into the experience.

Cali Distillery’s Cask-Strength Riptide Rye is a powerful version of rye that’s great for true rye lovers. Just for fun, plan an evening with friends and try all of their whiskey expressions.

Cali Distillery whiskies
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The Dalmore 14 Scotch whisky – exclusively in Chicago

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To be labeled Scotch whisky your creation must be made in Scotland and be part of a broad category that embraces a wide array of flavors – from the smoked-peat versions from Islay and the Glenlivets of Speyside, to the Highland malt whiskies like those from The Dalmore.

What makes a great Scotch whisky? Time, more than anything else, says Gregg Glass, Master Whisky Maker & Blender at Whyte & Mackay. He came to Chicago recently to introduce the latest expression from The Dalmore distillery: The Dalmore 14 – a beautiful whisky with cocoa, candied citrus, nutty, and slight cinnamon flavors. It’s a new expression of how the Mackenzie family continues to exercise its passion for creating old-school Highland malt spirits in styles and flavors even non-expert consumers can really appreciate.

We Chicagoans are privileged to be the first – and right now, the only – place in the U.S. where you can buy this particular expression. Contact Binny’s for help buying a bottle of The Dalmore 14.

The Dalmore was a pioneer in using age statements to differentiate Scotch whiskies from each other – a new way to indicate quality. Generally, the longer a whisky is aged, the more complex and rich its flavor can become. The Dalmore sources its barley from right around the distillery, far north and east of Highland. Gregg says he grew up 5 miles from the distillery, so it’s like home for him. He talks about how barley varieties and water can change the ultimate flavor of whiskies, but it’s how the combination is aged that makes all the difference.

To start with, the first stuff right off the still is pure spirit  – theirs is clear in color with notes of citrus and cocoa and a staggering 68% alcohol content. You don’t want to drink this by itself. But it is the beginning of the journey to becoming a fine aged whisky. In fact, says Gregg, 60-80% of a whisky’s flavor comes from the type of casks used to age it and the time and conditions under which it matures.

Once they’ve distilled the pure spirit, they put it into bourbon casks that give touches of vanilla and honey. For The Dalmore 14, the next stop is hand-selected casks from Pedro Ximenez sherry. I can tell you for sure that the Old Fashioned cocktail they sampled for media, made with The Dalmore 12, was excellent – just a hint of sweetness, and the handsome chocolate truffle-on-a-pick that garnished it was a rich, creamy surprise. How did chocolate happen here?

The Distillery staff, Gregg said, receive from 60 to 600 items to assess each year from companies that want to pursue a partnership with them. Recently they found a company they quickly recognized shared The Dalmore philosophy of using the finest ingredients to make a superior product that’s then showcased with the finest packaging. And now they have a strong relationship with Vosges Haut-Chocolat, a Chicago company that makes extra-rich, creamy chocolate truffles – the dark chocolate and orange are remarkable and the pairing with the whisky is genius.

The chocolate makers went back and forth on which characteristics of the whisky they wanted to bring out in the truffles they include in The Dalmore 14 Collection. The only way for you to find out what they decided is to buy a bottle and a box and sit down with no agenda other than to taste and enjoy all that lusciousness blending together in your mouth.

And for a great place to pair your whisky with food, you can start by ordering your whisky at Momotaro in Chicago’s West Loop. Even if you didn’t already like Japanese cuisine, you’re likely to become a fan after eating here. Gregg’s team collaborated with the chefs at the restaurant to build the delicious Old Fashioned cocktail and to choose just the right dishes to go with the flight of Scotch whiskies. From the delicious sea-salted edamame, the salad of crisp baby greens with sparkling citrus dressing, and the generous cuts of very fresh sashimi, to the super-juicy grilled strip steak with crispy edges, they put on a feast worth indulging in. Altogether, some pairings are made in heaven. Enjoy.

The Dalmore 14 Pedro Jimenez Cask Aged Scotch whisky. ~$90.

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Siepi Chianti Classico wines shine

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Sieti Chianti Classico 2012 (photo: Mazzei Winery)

Luxury wines are in a category outside the experience of the average person in America, and perhaps in most countries. Chicago did get a chance back in 2021 to taste a few of these elegant wines, thanks to Palm Bay importers. Winemaker Francesco Mazzei brought some of his Siepi winery’s Chianti Classico treasures here to Chicago. The vertical tasting, with vintages from 2005 through 2012, was a remarkable experience..And I started this blog post a long time ago and never finished. So even though Acadia (see below) is closed, these wonderful wines are still worth writing about.

All the Siepi vintages were made with Merlot and Sangiovese grapes, yet all were different. He said Merlot is bigger than Sangiovese and produces less acid, but growing in the Chianti region of Tuscany it acquires the character of Chianti. He talked about the season and the harvest for each of the Siepi vintages – fascinating stories of battling frost, drought, storms and global warming rising temperatures.

Francesco said Mazzei’s farming is 99% organic because conditions naturally permit that, and their bigger concern is using sustainable growing practices. “It is about trust,” he said, “and respecting nature. Wines are moody.” Time and oxygen change wines as they age and, in Siepi’s case, makes for wonderful results. He said in a way, it’s unfair to compare vintages to each other since that is not the way people traditionally enjoy wine.

He also pointed out the difference between an intellectual versus a physiological appreciation of wine. Perhaps saying, in effect, people are moody, too. How and where and under what circumstances you taste a wine can have a powerful effect on how you perceive it.

The venue for the tasting was the former two-Michelin-starred Acadia Restaurant, 1629 S. Wabash, now closed, in an out-of-the-way area of South Loop.  I remember how remarkable the setting was: Flower boxes on stands marked the site of the restaurant (dinner-only service Tuesday through Sunday) on the otherwise-semi-empty street. Not promising, but once inside, you basked in the rich but sleek-and-simple decor. The cuisine, paired with three additional non-Siepi wines from Mazzei, was a delightful surprise. Sad to know this restaurant gem is no longer with us.

The green garlic/ramp soup was delicately flavorful, rich and creamy and served with flowers and flourish. Tasting the perfectly cooked farm egg yolk as it spilled over the truffled crispy potato basket was a distinct pleasure.  The wines paired beautifully with the dishes, and the service was unobtrusively excellent.

Read more about all the Siepi vintages here. Read about the many other Mazzei wines here, some as affordable as $15 (e.g., Belguardo Rose 2015 – light and easy to drink).

A couple of the standout Siepi vintages include:

Siepi 2007 – an outstanding vintage that produced excellent quality grapes, well-balanced with soft tannins and concentrated antioxidants and anothcyanins (which contribute to color and stability in a wine – good for aging).

Siepi 2011 – a difficult year with good rainfall but extreme heat and sun. Even the oak leaves were turning from green to brown in the summer.  The fight they put up ended up producing a lovely wine.

Siepi 2012 –  a challenging year with late frost and snow and a dry summer. Production overall was down by nearly 30%, but the quality is high with just a touch of sweetness. This is a good one to age if you have a cellar.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Instant no-work snack/dessert

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Sweet Loren’s makes cookie dough. They sent me some to tell you about. And I’m so happy they did.

Sweet Lorens cookie dough – EAT IT RAW!

First, and most importantly, they taste delicious! Second, check this out. All clean ingredients. No raw eggs – yes, it’s safe to eat raw! and that’s half the fun of it. You open the package and in it are four rolls of stuck-together dough balls. You break off as many as you want to bake, put them on a tray and bake. OR – even more exciting – you break off a 110-calorie ball (or half a ball if you just want a taste) and eat it right out of your hand. These doughs are so tasty, you may never actually bake them.

Exciting, too, is the fact that they keep well in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks and, as long as the package is not opened, they will keep a couple of months in there. I’m guessing that’s because there’s no dairy to spoil. And according to their discussion with a dietician, “Sweet Loren’s Cookie Dough products contain whole grain within their Gluten Free Flour Blend, so you are getting some vitamins and minerals.”

I’m a huge fan of their Oatmeal Cranberry dough. My granddaughter loves the texture of the chocolate chunks in the Fudgy Brownie double-chocolate dough. Mostly we don’t want to actually bake the cookies, though they’re very good when you do. It’s so easy to pull off a hunk and enjoy that luscious shot of sweetness and rich flavor. Just delicious. This is an idea whose time has come. Find it stores at certain Whole Foods, Jewel/Osco, Target and other stores.

Thanks, Sweet Loren’s. Your doughs are now going to be always in my fridge.

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Join the cast in #ARecipeforDisaster !

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Chicago Chef Rick Bayless – famous for his PBS television series Mexico: One Plate at a Time with Rick Bayless, and for his several iconic Chicago restaurants – has co-written with the creative team at Windy City Playhouse a super-energetic, immersive comedy about the passion, pitfalls and insanity of the restaurant business as lived out one evening at a fictitious joint called The Contumacious Pig.

It’s called #ARecipeforDisaster and it’s just rollicking good fun. Laughter. Serious action. Behind-the-scenes scheming. Good food.

Not giving away the menu, but the wild mushroom soup veloute-style was rich and utterly delicious. Well, the second version anyway. I won’t tell you what “accidentally” happens to the first version (which isn’t bad anyway). Unassuming, shy, insecure Sous Chef Julian is called upon to replace the Head Chef who’s disppeared this evening. He and the restaurant team go through one calamity and near-disaster after another as the Head Chef and the long-awaited whole pig continue to fail to show up, and then, yes, the Health Inspector, bumptious and slightly randy, unexpectedly comes to visit.

Rick is really good at playing the insecure, shy sous chef, stumbling from missed opportunity to mishap. The two extraordinarily conceited influencers that are part of the play openly express their hots for all the men as the two ladies loudly brag about their number of followers while wandering as if they own the place through the mock-up restaurant where you, as audience member, are yourself seated as a mock influencer. All the other actors are marvelously animated, and they make you feel their characters truly care about each other. Not surprisingly, there’s a happy ending to this fun farce.

Other food for the evening includes items like a creamy, fresh lemon pasta dish with freshly picked herbs (lemon verbena, parsley, cilantro, basil) and a magisterial dish of Potatoes Dauphinoise with a touch of Thai – a nice chance to see how Rick is reaching across the globe to incorporate new influences in his dishes.

Cash bar before the play. Then a little cocktail and two small wine pairings go with the food for the ticket price. Only a few chances left to enjoy this delight at the Windy City Playhouse above Petterino’s. Tickets here through April 24 on W, Th, F, Sa and Su.

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4 more winners from Dutton-Goldfield

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Now firmly ensconced in their new production facility, the folks at Dutton-Goldfield have been busy creating luscious super-premium and luxury wines – especially their elegant Pinot Noirs – in spite of the fires. They did stop production on 2020 Pinots from Sonoma due to smoke. but there are plenty of Pinots from their other vineyards. Below are highlights of three of their late-year 2018 Pinot Noirs and a bone-dry Riesling.

Seafrood lovers rejoice!

Meanwhile, if you’re in the area, near Sebastopol in California, call ahead for an appointment to check out their newly reopened tasting room and sample their unique Wine & Cheese Experience – a whole lineup of local cheeses paired perfectly with a variety of their wines. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

2018 Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir – Sonoma Mountain. Start with dusky aromas of Bing cherry, plum, and dried sage, and a perfume of dried purple flowers. As you let it rest and sip slowly, you’ll notice savory/sweet notes of rhubarb and beet, too. Let it fill your mouth with a robust and sultry experience that’ll remind you of the earth in which the grapes grow – the essence of terroir. Black cherry, spicy sandalwood and black tea mingle with tight, fine tannins. This powerful wine makes a fine cellar option. Alc 13.9% SRP ~$68.

2018 Dutton Ranch Emerald Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir – Green Valley of Russian River Valley. Juicy, plush blueberry fruit framed by sandalwood and lavender come across as opulent, but also have a fresh lift and energy in the nose. Rich blueberry, boysenberry, and black cherry fruits are carried on round but firm black tea tannins. The wine has a rich sweet fruitness that pairs beautifully with savory dishes like herbed pork or fowl, pasta with mushrooms and prosciutto, and cheeses like gruyere and Manchego. Alc 13.8% SRP ~$68.

2018 Deviate Pinot Noir – Sonoma Coast. This wine was first bottled in 2013, at the time the only deviation from the single-vineyard rule. Working with two separate vineyards with different grapes and growing seasons, Dutton-Goldfield created a winner and settled on the name. Notice the rich deep color of this striking and intense wine. Let your nose appreciate the aromas of wild berry preserves cloaked in cigar box spice with a touch of mushroom earthiness. Black cherry and black raspberries don’t overwhelm the fresh acidity. Taste the toffee and caramel on the bright and long finish. Perfect for cellaring. Go with dining pairings on the richer side to match the earthy qualities of the wine: braised pork with mushrooms, herb-rubbed game birds, or pasta with a pancetta and chestnut sauce. For cheeses, try a Gruyere or Taleggio. Alc 14.1% SRP ~$72.

2018 Chileno Valley Vineyard Riesling – Marin County. The long temperate growing season of 2018 let the grapes for this Riesling ripen for a longer time. As a result, lemon, lime, and honeydew melon aromas combine with floral accents to give this wine a textural quality. The bright tart sweet finish along with a touch of oyster shell minerality help this wine reach the typical style of a Riesling as it ages. Perfect with seafood, raw oysters and steamed clams, or spicy ratatouille. Drink it now for white peach and grapefruit fresh acidity, or let it mellow into apricot, lychee and earthy aromas and flavors. Alc 13.3% SRP ~$30.

If you love Pinot Noirs and bright, light wines, acquaint yourself with the sustainably grown grapes, the family-owned vineyards, the people and the dogs of Dutton-Goldfield. You are in for some fun and surprises and fabulous wines.

Twitter: @DuttonGoldfield
IG: @duttongoldfieldwinery

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Falling in love again…with Instant Pot!

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailRemember that old, old song by Marlene Dietrich? Yes, I’ve officially fallen in love again – with another kitchen appliance! Made a miraculous discovery in the last 6 months of pandemic isolation.

I adore roasted potatoes. Can’t make them in my small Chicago apartment oven unless it’s 5 to 10 degrees outside because the entire apartment gets nicely roasted, too. It’s normal for me to get overheated while cooking, but when the hot oven here is on for any length of time, I sweat profusely. Which is why I tend to wear sleeveless shirts all year ’round, right through the winters.

Anyway, my skilled-chef son-in-law and daughter gave me an Instant Pot Duo (henceforth herein called IP) for my birthday last February. I read the instruction book over several times and began to despair that I was ever going to “get it.” Then a friend suggested I look for a video on YouTube. Voila! I found – of all things – a guy who makes videos about cooking with an IP. The scales fell from my eyes at last!

The IP is a small-apartment-with-stove-with-crappy-insulation dweller’s dream come true. I remember my mother’s stovetop pressure cooker when I was a little kid. It always seemed incredibly mysterious, not to mention dangerous. I was probably 8 years old when my father patiently explained how the thing worked, but I never quite understood. And I don’t remember being all that impressed with the food that came out of it, either. But that’s another story.

Last night my son-in-law and daughter and I enjoyed an almost-entirely-IP-prepared 3-course dinner with a delicious bottle of Barolo and a lovely bottle of Dutton-Goldfield Chardonnay. More on that – and my new love affair – soon.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Lovin' how Chicago does it!