Tag Archives: whisky

Europe Drinkie: Tippling my way through England, Scotland and France

22 Jun

My husband and I just returned from a whirlwind trip to France and the United Kingdom, where we visited countless cocktail bars and two distilleries. Here are some highlights:

LONDON

69 Colebrook Row

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe made a reservation for 10:00 p.m., but got there a little early and our table wasn’t ready. The space is quite small, so the hostess asked us to wait on the stairs that lead to the bathroom, and a server took our first drink order. When the drinks came, we sipped them while standing awkwardly on the steps. Fortunately, we were seated a couple minutes later.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy husband chose the Bloody Mary — which we noticed is common on London cocktail menus — and my friend Danielle selected the Serafin, mixing Calle 23 Tequila, pear liqueur, lime juice and Fever Tree ginger beer. I got the Vintage El Presidente, a blend of Havana Barrel Proof rum, Martini Rosso vermouth, Merlet triple sec and homemade grenadine that’s aged for six months.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor the next round, I ordered the Sirocco, made with flint-and-pink peppercorn vodka, sugar and grapefruit oils, and I really enjoyed the taste of clay complemented by sweetness, citrus and spice, with a dry finish. I finished off the night with an off-menu offering: the Orange Grove Fizz, blending gin, vanilla-orange blossom syrup, egg white and soda. My husband also tried the Prairie Oyster, a shooter comprising horseradish vodka, Oloroso Sherry, shallots, pepper sauce, celery salt and micro herbs, with a tomato “yolk.”

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Mark’s Bar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe stopped by Mark’s Bar, located below Hix restaurant, for a few drinks before catching comedian Stewart Lee at nearby Soho Theatre. The extensive menu features sections like Brit Pop (“Most modern cocktail bars want to replicate [the speakeasies of Prohibition]. We’d prefer to focus on the success of British cocktail culture in the 20th century…”) and Pomp & Circumstance (“The pomp and ceremony of time-old concoctions is tempered by the circumstance of modern values”). From the former category, I selected the Celebration, a blend of Havana Club Añejo 3-year-old rum, Beefeater London Dry gin, housemade redcurrant syrup and grapefruit juice, and the Hanky Panky, mixing Beefeater London Dry gin, Carpano Antica Formula vermouth, Fernet Branca amaro and orange zest. The second drink was served in a small cocktail glass, with a sidecar containing containing the remainder.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy husband ordered the Hix Oyster Ale, brewed by Palmers in Southwest England, and the Stiff Upper Lip (from the Pomp & Circumstance section), comprising green pea-infused Beefeater London Dry gin, Kamm & Sons ginseng spirit, Somerset cider vinegar, housemade quinine cordial and mint. A dispenser containing the infusion of gin and “Yorkshire caviar” stood on the back bar in all its glory.

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Experimental Cocktail Club

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the show, we headed to this Chinatown speakeasy, which is hidden behind a door with neither street number nor handle. Luckily, two nice gentlemen stood outside the entrance smoking cigarettes and showed us how to get inside. My husband again got a Bloody Mary, and I ordered the That’s What She Said, mixing lavender-infused Beefeater gin, lemon juice, jasmine syrup, Peychaud’s bitters, egg white and Perrier, but they were no longer serving it. So I instead selected the Loose Lips Sink Ships, made with pineapple-and-chipotle-infused Plantation 3 Star rum, Wray & Nephew rum, lime juice, cane syrup and saline solution.

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Artesian

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On our last night in London, we got a nightcap at this upscale hotel bar, which offered a menu of inventive cocktails in the form of a painter’s palette. I chose the “Adventurous” Above & Beyond, comprising Zacapa 23-year-old rum, 30-year-old Pedro Ximénez Sherry, fernet, banana and coffee. To my surprise, it came with a eucalyptus vapor-filled plastic pillow, which the server broke open and held to my face to inhale.

IMG_7135cropThe pillow also contained Guatemalan worry dolls, which should be placed beneath your pillow at night to take away your worries while you sleep. I’ve yet to try it, but will post an update if they work!

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Beefeater Distillery

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We also took a tour of the brand new Beefeater Distillery visitors center in London’s Kennington district, where the gin has been produced since 1958. We spent the first 30 minutes perusing an exhibit that highlights the history of gin and the Beefeater brand. Comprising informative videos, photographs, displays and reproductions of historical items, such as the the 18th century Old Tom gin dispenser. There were also areas showcasing different types of cocktail glasses and the evolution of Beefeater’s bottles since 1947.

Beefeater bottles

The second 30 minutes is a guided tour that includes a hands-on exploration of the botanicals used in the gin and an explanation of the production process. The actual distillery isn’t open to the public, but you can see the stills through windows built into the visitors center.

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After the tour, we enjoyed a complimentary gin and tonic (with lemon — the way I like it!) at the bar, followed by the opportunity to pick up some souvenirs in the gift shop. I took home a Beefeater tote bag and a bottle of Beefeater Summer gin, which is only available at the distillery.

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EDINBURGH

The Queens Arms

Before our dinner reservation at Cafe St. Honore — the best meal we had during the entire trip — we had a quick drink at this New Town dive, which features a whisky of the day and fun cocktails like the I Like Sherry Butts and I Cannot Lie. I ordered the Rum & Raisin Old Fashioned, comprising Pampero Aniversario rum and Pedro Ximénez Sherry, with a shot glass containing chocolate-covered raisins.

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Whiski Rooms 

We managed to catch last call at this Old Town bar, which serves more than 500 whiskies and has a retail component. I told the Canadian ex-pat bartender that I like Sherried whiskies, and he recommended that I try the Glendronach 18-year-old and the Aberlour 16-year-old. Both drams were delicious.

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Tullibardine Distillery

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Located in Blackford, about an hour drive from Edinburgh, the Tullibardine Distillery has been around in some form since 1488, when it was a brewery. The building was converted into a distillery in 1947 and is now owned by French wine and spirits group Picard Vins & Spiritueux, which also markets the Highland Queen brand. We chose the Connoisseur Tour, which features an in-depth guided tour of the distillery and warehouse, as well as tastings of four whiskies, paired with chocolate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur gracious guide Gavin explained every part of the distilling process, from the milling of the barley to the mashing and fermentation to the distilling, barreling and aging. We got to see each stage for ourselves, nose whisky straight from the barrels and taste the Sovereign, the 225 (finished in Sauternes casks), the 228 (finished in Burgundy casks) and the 25-year-old expressions. The experience was well worth the one-hour train ride to Bridge of Allan, followed by a 20-minute bus ride to Blackford.

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PARIS

Red House

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We only spent one night in Paris and ended up at this American-run cocktail bar in the the 11th Arrondissement on the Right Bank. It was surprisingly low-key for a Friday, but the drinks were top-notch. First I ordered the Red House Old Fashioned, mixing rye whiskey, pimento dram, Drambuie and cardamom.

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Then I capped off the night with the Sherry Cherie, comprising Amontillado Sherry, eau de tamarind, Prosecco and dry curaçao.

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Both drinks were amazing and made me feel right at home in a foreign country.

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A New York Drinkie–Style New Year’s Eve

29 Dec

Are you looking for a place to ring in 2012, but don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars for a crappy open bar, cheap “Champagne” and lukewarm nibbles?  Don’t fret—some of my favorite bars in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens are hosting parties that are either free or worth that $100+ cover. Here’s New York Drinkie’s NYE round-up.

Masquerade New Year’s Eve at Huckleberry Bar

This costumed bash in East Williamsburg features free admission and complimentary hors d’oeuvres. The cozy outdoor garden will be dotted with heat lamps, and DJ Benny B is slated to spin classic soul and funk, reggae, rock, pop, ’80s, house and dance music all night. Masks are not required, but wearing one certainly makes everything more fun.

Prix-Fixe Dinner and Dance Party at Manhattan Inn

Greenpoint’s classic cocktail haven presents a $40 four-course food menu between 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. that includes such items as pan-seared scallops, basil pesto agnolotti pasta, molten chocolate cake and a glass of Champagne. Smokin’ Billy Slater provides piano tunes during dinner service, followed by a DJ set by Romantically Uninvolved, which comprises members of Neon Indian, Ego Puppets and Pretty Good Dance Moves.

New Year’s Eve at Night Of Joy

Serving simple yet delicious drinks in a colorful and kitschy setting that recalls the early 20th century, Williamsburg’s Night of Joy is celebrating the new year with the musical stylings of DJ Sadguitarius, aka Ben Goldwasser of MGMT. The free fête also features complimentary Reyka vodka from 11:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

A Punchy New Year’s Eve at 1534

Jacques restaurant’s underground cocktail lair is offering a five-hour open bar of French Colonial­–themed concoctions and an unlimited supply of its special New Year’s Punch, along with hot hors d’oeuvres from the upstairs kitchen.  With handcrafted drinks and a prime Nolita location, this soirée is the priciest, starting at $125 per person. There’s also an option sans open bar for $50 per person, including a complimentary Champagne toast and chocolate-covered strawberries at midnight. DJ Cazual (aka Fame Jenkins) brings the jams.

New Year’s Eve at Louis 649

This Alphabet City drinks den has a killer deal for NYE: a five-hour open bar with passed hors d’oeuvres from 9:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. and a Champagne toast at midnight—all for $75 in advance ($95 at the door, which is still a steal). Plus, the Evan Schwam Quartet plays live swing jazz ’til closing.

Moulin Rouge New Year’s Eve at Apotheke

Chinatown’s cocktail mecca pays homage to 19th century French decadence with burlesque performances and free-flowing absinthe, as well as an open bar from 9:00 p.m. to midnight and a Champagne toast. Tickets are $100 in advance or $125 at the door.

New Year’s Eve at Dutch Kills

For revelers partying in Queens, this Long Island City mixology lounge is your best bet. Enjoy the bar’s $8 happy hour menu of classic-style cocktails, including the Whiskey Fix, the Daiquiri No. 1 and the Moscow Mule, and $4 beers. The free celebration also features a Champagne toast at midnight.

Cheers to more cocktail adventures in 2012!

© 2011 Amber Drea and New York Drinkie. Unauthorized use or duplication of images and text without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts may be quoted, provided that clear credit is given to Amber Drea and New York Drinkie with links directing to the original content.

Chicago Drinkie: Achatz’s Aviary and Cantu’s iNG offer experimental experiences in the Windy City

10 Nov

Since the last time I was in Chicago, two cutting-edge venues opened right around the corner from each other in the West Loop area: The Aviary from Grant Achatz of Alinea—next to his aptly named Next restaurant—and iNG Restaurant from Homaro Cantu of Moto, which is also nearby. I scored a reservation for The Aviary at 8:00 and showed up early to try one of the famed “flavor changing cocktails” at iNG. I sat at a long red counter in the stark minimalist space and selected a Smoked Manhattan, made with Bulleit Bourbon, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters, with a rinse of Arbeg single malt Scotch, which is the “peatiest and smokiest of all the Islay malts,” according to the whisky’s website. The cocktail was indeed smoky.


My husband Jeb and my friend Kenan arrived, and we were handed the list of flavor changing cocktails, along with a bowl of cranberry cheddar popcorn. Head bartender Mario Catayong explained the concept behind this special menu: First, we sip our drinks to experience the original flavor, then we pop the “miracle berry” pill and let it dissolve, coating our mouths with the protein miraculin, which comes from a small African fruit.


The pill suppresses the tongue’s sour and bitter taste receptors, making the flavor of the cocktails change. To provide a sharp contrast, Mario gave us some lemon wedges, which tasted like hard lemon candy after taking the miracle berry pill. We ordered our cocktails, and Mario prepared the drinks in a laboratory-like room with a red porthole window.


I couldn’t decide between the Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie or the PB&J, but eventually opted for the latter. The cocktail featured Frangelico, rum, crème de cassis and vertjus (a tart green grape juice), served in a Martini glass with a rim of caramel and crushed peanuts. It was nutty and salty-sweet, but the flavor didn’t really change much after taking the miracle berry.


Kenan had the Skinny Margarita Under a Tequila Sunrise, which mixed Tequila, lime and orange juices—sans sugar—served with a “pipette” dropper. The sourness was definitely subdued, allowing the sweetness to come through.


After my friend Leah showed up, we sucked down our drinks and headed to The Aviary. Thankfully, the host was able to accommodate a last-minute addition to the party of three. I recognized the space from its old days as a bottle service-style nightclub called The Office. The current décor is a vast improvement, though it’s a little more “luxe hotel lobby” than “contemporary cocktail lounge” due to the high-backed booth seating, pewter upholstery and crystal chandeliers. No matter—we were there for the drinks, not the design. Instead of a bartender manning a bar, chefs prepare the cocktails in a kitchen that’s sectioned off by a steel fence.



The libation list is divided into two parts—à la carte cocktails and a three-course tasting menu. Since most of the drinks cost around $18, I went for the $45 prix-fixe (I’m always looking for a deal). The server delivered a complimentary round of amuse-bouche and glasses of water, each containing a single large ice shard—one of the more than 20 different types of ice used to cool and flavor the drinks. Our cocktails came out almost immediately. For my appetizer course, I chose the Quince, a light carbonated concoction of Pisco, quince juice and ginger syrup, served in a soda bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag. Leah selected the Chartreuse, which comprised three small servings of Green and Yellow Chartreuses mixed with blueberry, honeydew and pineapple juices and chilled with mint ice cubes, presented in a Chartreuse V.E.P. box on a bed of fresh herbs.


Kenan ordered the Oolong, which is a mixture of gin and pear brandy that’s heated in a two-tiered glass beaker over an open flame at the table, then steeped with tea, herbs, nuts and dried fruit. Science!


Jeb got the infamous In the Rocks, which is an Old Fashioned inside a sphere of ice that must be broken using a mini slingshot. (I would have taken a photo, but The Aviary doesn’t allow flash photography, so I had to sneak shots when the staff wasn’t looking.) My main course was the Peach, a bold blend of wheat whiskey, white Port, peach purée, maple syrup and sweet annie, served in a highball glass filled with tiny frozen Angostura balls.


For his second drink, Jeb opted for the Cranberry, made with 12-year-old Bourbon and cranberry ice cubes, topped with chervil foam. It was very pretty.


And finally, my dessert course was the sweet, fizzy Cream Soda, a “distilled” combo of aged rum, Licor 43, vanilla and vanilla ice—Ice Baby!


The bill totaled $136 (tip included)—well worth it, in my opinion. In fact, I’m going again in December!

© 2011 Amber Drea and New York Drinkie. Unauthorized use or duplication of images and text without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts may be quoted, provided that clear credit is given to Amber Drea and New York Drinkie with links directing to the original content.

Hidden History: The Rum House brings class from the past to Times Square

18 Apr

I rarely find myself trekking to Times Square for anything other than to fight the Christmas crowds at Toys R Us. However, my husband and I decided to head uptown to The Rum House at the Hotel Edison for a couple drinks after a dinner of shellfish and Champagne at The John Dory in Flatiron. Newly reopened by the gentlemen behind Ward III in Tribeca—a sultry den of bespoke cocktails that are created according to the customer’s tastes—the revamped lounge puts a strong emphasis on the spirit distilled from molasses or sugarcane.

The cocktail menu is divided into three sections: “Rum,” “Classics” and “House Originals.” The first category includes rum-based beverages like the Mojito and the Rum Old Fashioned. I started off with a refreshing drink called the Tortuga, which mixes Pampero aged rum, citrus, fresh ginger and cinnamon ($12), garnished with candied ginger.

My husband’s usual Manhattan fell under the “Classics” heading, which also lists standards like a traditional Bourbon Old Fashioned and a French 75/76 made with gin or vodka. The Rum House’s take on the Manhattan uses spicy Templeton rye whiskey ($14) for an extra kick.

The “House Originals” features more adventurous libations with names that evoke famous figures from old Hollywood and early-20th century artists. The Barrymore comprises Bruichladdich Scotch, Ramazzotti amaro and Yellow Chartreuse ($15), and the Diego Rivera combines Corazón Tequila, Meletti amaro, Bonal Gentiane-Quina aperitif, citrus and egg white ($11). For my second drink, I instead opted for one of my favorites—the Dark & Stormy—from the “Rum” section. The rich, gingery concoction offered an effervescent zing.

On a Saturday evening between 7 and 8 p.m., The Rum House was surprisingly quiet. There were a few other patrons, who seemed to be out-of-towners staying at the Hotel Edison. The vintage décor, including an upright piano, leather banquettes and a wagon wheel chandelier, enhanced the vintage vibe, and the quality of the drinks far outweighed the relatively low prices—especially for a tourist trap like Time Square. It’s a perfect pocket of solace surrounded by chaos, and you’d be hard-pressed to find better drinks in even the hippest New York City neighborhood.

© Amber Drea and New York Drinkie, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of images and text without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts may be used, provided that clear credit is given to Amber Drea and New York Drinkie with links directing to the original content.

Soul Mates: Booze finds its perfect match at Edible Manhattan’s mixer

30 Jan

Food paired with wine or beer is fairly common; less so is food paired with cocktails, the complexity of which can often dominate the dishes. However, if anyone knows how to bring together delicious drinks and bountiful bites, it’s Edible Manhattan, and the magazine’s Good Spirits event at (Le) Poisson Rouge in Washington Square Village definitely delivered. Restaurants and bars teamed up with spirits brands (and one wine) to showcase their best cuisine and cocktails, while foodies and drinkies swarmed throughout the two rooms, dutifully tasting every offering.

One thing’s certain: There was plenty of pig. I began my tour with Peels’ pork and beef sausage hot dog, topped with Brussels sprout slaw (yum!) and Bourbon cherry mustard, and washed it down with the Cherry Crush, comprising Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery’s American Fruits Sour Cherry Cordial, rehydrated cherries, star anise simple syrup, lime juice and a splash of club soda. The drink’s sweet and tangy cherry flavor perfectly complemented the savory sausage.

Next I tried Huckleberry Bar’s peanut butter and banana sandwich, consisting of peanut butter mousse, banana, peanuts, mayonnaise, salt and orange bitters on toasted white bread. It was like a grown-up version of my favorite after school snack, especially when accompanied by The New York Times, which mixed Death’s Door White Whisky, Amaro CioCiaro, Chelsea Brewing’s Imperial Stout and orange bitters. The crisp cocktail cut through the sandwich’s salty creaminess and cleansed the palate.

Huckleberry co-owner Andrew Boggs exhibited the tools of the trade.

I swung by the table of Long Island’s Wölffer Estate Vineyard for a taste of its 2008 Chardonnay, which had great acidity and balance with just a touch of oakiness, and a bite of cheddar polenta topped with crispy bacon and apple purée, courtesy of Jimmy’s 43.

Nearby, Fort Defiance served up deviled eggs, made with smoked black pepper and pickled mustard seeds, and the King Bee, which combined Darjeeling tea-infused Comb vodka—which is distilled from honey—with lemon, a dash of Benedictine liqueur and Prosecco. I love me some deviled eggs!

In the other room, Fette Sau had a spread of barbecued Duroc pork belly, matched with Compass Box’s The Peat Monster, a light and smoky blend of Islay and Highland Scotch whiskies. I’m usually not a fan of peaty whisky, but this one I could drink.

Next up was Palo Santo’s tostada de chicharrón (fried pork rind), topped with a spicy pineapple sauce and presented on a piece of newspaper, street food-style. The dish was paired with a mix of Nonino Chardonnay grappa and crushed pineapple, served in a chili salt-rimmed cup. I found the chunky concoction to be somewhat difficult to drink, and its astringent flavor overpowered the tostada—a rare miss of the night.

Macao Trading Co. delivered with its mushroom and truffle croquette and a tartare of bacalhau—Portuguese for “salted cod”—atop a slice of baguette. Providing a fragrant, citrusy complement, the Macao cocktail comprised lavender-infused St-Germain elderflower liqueur and a sugar cube soaked with lemon bitters, topped with dry Zardetto Prosecco.

Here’s the author, happy and buzzed, in front of a piece from Kate Casanova’s art exhibition “Spoils.” Very festive.

I headed back to the main room and hunted down Lani Kai, Julie Reiner’s new Hawaiian lounge, which served tasty kalua pork on a soft poi pancake and the Pacific Swizzle cocktail, mixing lime juice, passion fruit purée and Don Q Cristal rum that had been infused with rose hips, hibiscus and lemongrass.

Julie is one of New York City’s mover and shakers—she also co-owns Flatiron Lounge, Pegu Club and Clover Club.

The final pork dish of the night was Fonda’s pork in guajillo adobo over white rice, matched with a Ginger Margarita that blended Karma Tequila, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur and lime juice.

For dessert, Northern Spy Food Co. offered a decadent sticky winter pudding soaked with Tuthilltown Spirits’ Hudson Baby Bourbon hard sauce and served with nutmeg custard. The accompanying Tuthilltown Manhattan, made with Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey, further warmed my tummy.

To end the evening, I chased Tumbador Chocolate bonbons with a couple shots of Bache Gabrielsen Cognac. There were also Serendipitea and Dallis Coffee stations, but their drinks didn’t contain liquor, so why bother?

© Amber Drea and New York Drinkie, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of images and text without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts may be used, provided that clear credit is given to Amber Drea and New York Drinkie with links directing to the original content.