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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Mixing up a cocktail of social media in Utah

Social media (the media, not the movie) are big in Salt Lake City, and just about everywhere else.  Today on Twitter, the Utah Mixologist noticed that Drink Me! magazine was having a holiday haiku contest on Facebook.  Now, when the Mixologist thinks “winter” and “cocktail” he usually thinks of Whiskey drinks (except perhaps when he thinks of the Hot Rum Toddy that he often makes for Mrs. Mixologist (medicinal use only)).   Great Whiskey drinks are not hard to think of (Manhattan, Sazerac, and Old Fashioned (a great looking drink for the winter holidays) come to mind), but the Manhattan had come first (of course) so he penned (well, typed) the following.  If this gets your creative juices flowing, write your own haiku and post it on Drink Me!’s wall. Comments are welcome.

“Drink me” said the note
on the frosty Manhattan.
Could it be a trap?

Last time I had one,
visions of Santa flooded…
overwhelmed my mind

What little red elf
had stirred, embittered, this drink?
Sweet, Dry, or Perfect?

And was it Bourbon
beckoning to me, or Rye?
Seductive(!) cherry.

Finally I thought
“the true meaning of Christmas,
Juicy red, lies there.”

Seizing the moment,
and the Manhattan, I drank…
“Hello,” said Santa.

Wishing for a sparkling holiday season? Sparkling wines under $20

December in Utah, and it’s time to get ready for the holidays and the champagne occasion of the year: New Year’s Eve.  Regular readers are aware that real (capital “C”) Champagne comes only from France.  The French discourage others from using the appellation “champagne” on their sparkling wines, and most of the quality wineries  comply, so many sparkling wines (bubbly for short) do not say “champagne” on the bottle, although a few do.  Unfortunately there aren’t any legitimate Champagnes available in the under $20 (for 750ml.) price range.  If you would like to learn more about Champagne, including the names of the big Champagne houses, check out the New York Times Champagne navigator page.  (Note: while the prices in this article are for Utah, readers in other locales should be able to find similar prices.)

For those Utahans who want to celebrate with some sparkling wine, the Utah Sate Liquor Store system has obliged us with a great selection of American sparkling wines for under $20 with some pretty good ones for under $10.   (Those of you who live in bigger markets should be able to buy all of the wines mentioned here.)  The Utah Mixologist loves champagne cocktails like the French 75 and the Kir Royale.  When cocktail recipes call for champagne, though, it’s usually more economical to use a good sparkling wine.  Drink your high quality Champagne (and high quality domestic bubblies) straight so you can appreciate them.  For champagne cocktails, there are some very good sparklers under $20 (or even $10, but not much) that are great for mixing.  Readers should always have a bottle or two of better quality champagne around for celebrations and several less expensive bottles for mixing.  If you have a spare fridge in the basement, keep it stocked.

This post will only recommend wines from makers that have had some of their sparkling wines score at least 85 or 90 points by some well known rating service like Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast.  Although quality will vary year to year with the vintage, etc., it’s safe to assume that these winemakers know what they are doing and will turn out a good product.  So while individual wines mentioned here may not have been rated (or not rated high enough to brag about), you will be buying a reliable product and not junk wine.

Under $20
Before we get into the real bargains, lets look at the bubblies that price out closer to $20. Domaine Chandon is a producer of highly rated bubbly in this price range.  Their Brut is on sale this month for $16, and their Blanc de Noirs and Chandon Riche Extra Dry, while not on sale, are very drinkable $19.  Rated only a couple of points lower is Mumm Napa’s Brut, on sale this month for $18.  In addition, Gloria Ferrer makes some excellent sparkling wines that are among my favorites.  Although not on sale this month (that’s a shame) their Blanc de Noirs ($18) and Brut ($17) have both been highly rated by multiple rating services. 

Around $10 and less
Korbel used to be the best of the budget bubblies, their Extra Dry has been rated respectably in the mid-eighties, but is not on sale this month (regular price $14.5); their Brut, however, is on sale ($10.5).  Domaine Ste Michelle has been giving Korbel some competition in their price range with a tasty Blanc de Blancs that also scored in the mid-eighties and is on sale for $11 this month.  An interesting contribution from France (but not a Champagne, it’s from the Savoie) is Trocadero Brut ($9).  Mrs. Mixologist is a Trocadero convert.  The real bargains in this price range, however, are some of the sparklers from Barefoot Bubbly.  Three Bubblies (Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay Brut, and Chardonnay Extra Dry) are all on sale for $8.  Wine Enthusiast gave one of their bubblies an 87 rating and a Top 100 Best Values award several years ago.  Barefoot Bubblies are a great value; the first time I tasted one I couldn’t believe the quality for the price.  Barefoot’s sparklers are very drinkable on their own, and are great in any champagne cocktail you might care to try.

Don’t forget to check out the sparkling slideshow.  If you have an affinity for some other bubbly (domestic or imported) that is available for under $20 (or close to it), please share the information with others by adding a comment to this post. Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Take a stroll with the Boulevardier cocktail

While reading a paper magazine (yes, there are still some around), the Utah Mixologist saw mention of the Boulevardier cocktail, a Negroni made with Whiskey.  Now that sounded interesting, or at least it does if you like Campari® Bitter liqueur (150 years old this year).  As the name implies, Campari is bitter and takes some getting used to, but once you do, it is well worth the effort.  The next step, as always, was to do some research on the web, where several sources mentioned the Boulevardier’s first appearance in print in 1927’s Barflies and Cocktails by Harry McElhone (of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris).

The classic Negroni is mixed at a 1:1:1 ratio, but what about a Boulevardier?  The ratio was definitely variable.  On Cocktail Concoctions, the well respected Paul Clarke used the 1:1:1 ratio with Bourbon or Rye whiskey.  In the meantime, Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh, writing for Imbibe! Magazine, advocated the 1.5:1:1 ratio using Bourbon, while the Cocktail Enthusiast cited a 1:1:1 ratio, but then admitted to preferring a 1.5:1:1 ratio, both with Bourbon.  Finally, Jay Hepburn on Oh Gosh!, an admitted Campari hater (well, that may be overstating it a bit), used Bourbon and was the outlier with a 2:1:1 ratio.

This mixologist experimented a bit and found that the 1:1:1 ratio played well with Ryes and spicier Bourbons like Buffalo Trace®, while the 1.5:1:1 ratio seemed to work a little better with less dominant Bourbons.  If your cocktail seems too bitter at first, be patient and don’t give up; your patience will be rewarded.  This is one recipe where you will want to experiment and see which ratio works best with your ingredients.  Please post your thoughts and results as a response to this article.

In case you are fresh out of Campari (CS# 064636), it is in general distribution in Utah.  If, however, your local Utah State Liquor Store is a small one, you might want to call ahead.  If you’re looking to upgrade your cocktail experience, you should try the Quady® Vya Sweet Vermouth (CS# 910764), but it’s in limited distribution so be sure to call ahead on the Vya.

Boulevardier Cocktail

1 oz. Campari® Bitter liqueur
1 oz. Quady® Vya Sweet Vermouth
1 oz. (or 1 ½ oz.) Bourbon or Rye Whiskey

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass half full of ice and stir briskly for 20-40 seconds.  Strain into an Old Fashioned glass half full of ice (or a pre-chilled cocktail glass if you prefer it up).  Twist a slice of orange peel (or lemon if you prefer) over the glass to release the oils, rub it around the rim, and then drop it in.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

What do Utah and Prohibition have in common? Repeal Day, December 5

The critically acclaimed HBO series, “Boardwalk Empire” follows the tribulations of gangsters active at the beginning of Prohibition (circa 1920).  Most Americans, including Utahans, “know” that it’s hard to get a drink in Utah, but are unaware of this state’s major contribution to cocktail culture in America: Repeal Day, December 5, 1933.  Prohibition is a good topic for the study of unintended consequences.  While the intent was to achieve worthy goals like less alcohol abuse and less abuse of women and children, and Prohibition did make some progress on these goals, it also contributed to the growth of organized crime and decreased respect for the law and the government.  Legend has it that one of Prohibitions positive contributions (perhaps the only lasting one) was an increased interest in cocktails and in cocktail recipes, mostly due to the poor quality of the booze that was available.  Ultimately, though, people came to believe that the bad outweighed the good and a movement to repeal prohibition gathered steam.  Repeal was a plank in the Democratic Party platform in 1932, and FDR promised to support repeal in his campaign.

Because Prohibition was implemented via constitutional amendment (the 18th), it could only be repealed via constitutional amendment (the 21st).  The 21st amendment was proposed by congress in February, 1933, and sent to the states for ratification.  Three quarters of the states had to ratify within seven years for the amendment to pass, but the deed was done in less than one.  Most constitutional amendments are ratified by state legislatures, but the 21st was to be ratified by state constitutional conventions.  This anomaly may be the reason why, over the objections of the LDS Church, which pointed out some of the good things prohibition had accomplished, on December 5, 1933, Utah became the 36th state (and the third state that day, thanks to being located in the Mountain time zone) to ratify the 21st Amendment, thus repealing prohibition.  So when you celebrate Repeal Day (you will, won’t you?), be sure to raise your cocktail glass in the direction of Utah (if you’re not already there) and drink a toast to the state that brought the Repeal of Prohibition to all America.

Noted cocktailian Jeffrey Morgenthaler has begun a movement to make Repeal Day a holiday, and why not? It is a happy day in American history, and it’s always nice to have a reason to celebrate.  Note: links have been provided to all sources used for this article.

Cocktail ingredients Utah update –December 2010

Things are looking up in the Utah DABC State Liquor Stores this month as far as Special Price Adjustments (SPA) go; there is a lot on sale for the December holidays.  These deals are great for gifts (given or received), or for stocking your bar.  (Note: there will soon be a separate post on pre-New Year’s price adjustments (actually available all December) on sparkling wines.) 

This month there is a variety of nice Gins marked down.  One of the best deals is Plymouth Gin (CS# 028795) marked down $5 from $25 to $20.  Other Gins with price adjustments include Hendrick’s, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, Beefeater, and even the surprisingly good, bargain Gin: New Amsterdam 1750ml for $23 (CS# 031473).  You can discover more for yourself by clicking through to the “SPA Product List” to open a price book in PDF format that shows all of the markdowns for the current month; then search on “gin”. 

There are plenty of Scotch Whiskies, including one of my favorite blends, Dewars Special Reserve 12 Year, marked down $3 to $29, and plenty of single malts for you Scotch lovers.  Loads of Bourbons are marked down, including bottles like Buffalo Trace and Evan Williams Single Barrel.  If you like sipping Rums, Appleton Estates XV is marked down (CS# 042006) is marked down from $20 to $17, and there are plenty of less notable Rums available.  If your taste runs to Cognacs, Brandies, or Liqueurs, they are well represented; be sure to check the price book.

Utah reader R. Schiffman (Brownbag) recently posted a comment reminding me about the Christmas items that may be found on the top shelf of the Utah State Stores. These gift packages usually contain a bottle of liquor and items like glasses or a shaker (Courvoisier even has a decanter for Cognac) for the same price as the bottle without the gift. Some of them are pretty nice, others might be a little tacky.  Shop early in the month for a better selection and buy one for a lazy relative to give you for Christmas.

Once again this month there does not appear to be much of interest along the lines of cocktail ingredients on clearance.  There are some Barbarossa Rums and White Horse Scotch, but nothing to excite a cocktailian.  If you see anything good at your local state store, post a response to this article.