Monday, July 31, 2017

Rant: Boring Restaurant Wine Lists

Ever had a Sparkling Muscadet?

Until this past weekend, I'd never tasted one and now I want to buy a case to put into my wine cellar. The Julien Braud La Bulle De L'Oueste Petillant Brut ($20/retail), a Sparkling Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, was thoroughly impressive, captivating me from the start with its alluring nose. Where did I find this gem? On the wine list at the Island Creek Oyster Bar in Burlington.

On Saturday, I had lunch at Island Creek with Andrew, my good friend and fellow wine lover, and we eagerly perused their extensive wine list. There were plenty of interesting choices on the list and we ultimately went with the Sparkling Muscadet. It sounded fascinating, neither of us had tasted one before and it was inexpensive, only $40/bottle. It turned out to be an excellent choice, and we even ordered a second bottle.

Laura Staley, who creates and curates their wine list, has done a fantastic job of choosing a diverse selection of wines, with plenty to intrigue any wine lover. New wines are added to the list at various times, so there is often something new and interesting to select when you dine there. It may actually take you a while to choose a wine from the list because so many selections will appeal to you.

I love dining at Island Creek for a number of reasons, from its delicious food to its excellent service, as well as the fact that they have such an interesting wine list. I am bothered by other restaurants, which might have tasty food and good service, but have boring wine lists. Frankly, I feel that a boring wine list at a restaurant is often a sign of laziness. It will hurt your business as well, as it will turn away wine lovers who might otherwise enjoy your restaurant but want some good wines with their meal. I have plenty of friends who more often than not choose to patronize a restaurant with a compelling wine list.

A boring wine list commonly contains the usual suspects, the large commercial wines that are well known to many. It is extremely easy to put together such a list, and your distributor could probably do the work for you and select such wines. There is no imagination or creativity invested in such a list. It seems to be guided more by mercenary motives, wines that you know the average consumer will easily buy. You certainly aren't designing a list that will appeal to more discerning wine lovers. You are catering to the masses, presenting plenty of safe options. Bah, what a waste!

It isn't difficult to make some changes so that your wine list will be more interesting. You can even keep many of those boring wines if you wish. You need to allocate at least part of your wine list to more intriguing and compelling wines. Yes, that takes a little more work, to find those type of wines, but it certainly isn't difficult. It does take a willingness to expand your vision, to take a chance on something different. However, it can pay off when avid wine lovers find something of interest on your list and decide to dine there because of those more interesting wines. And if your staff is well trained, they could sell those different wines to some of the average consumers too.

Restaurants will invest much time and effort into creating their food menu, selecting their decor, and choosing their employees. They should also spend some of that same time and effort in selecting a wine list too. Even if a list is small, you don't have to fill it only with the usual suspects. Don't take the lazy way out. Add some interesting wines to the list and help your restaurant. Or continue to lose potential customers who opt for restaurants with more intriguing wines on their list.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Sumiao Hunan Kitchen: An Impressive Beginning

"But in the West, Hunan cooking is often confused with Sichuan cooking. In China these two cuisines have very distinct characteristics. Whereas Sichuan is known for the hot and numbing sensation from dried chiles and Sichuan peppercorns, Hunan flavors are hot and sour from pickled chiles and pickled vegetables, made by letting brined fresh ingredients ferment naturally."
--Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees: Essential Techniques of Authentic Chinese Cooking by Kian Lam Kho

To begin, consider this fascinating bit of trivia concerning Hunan. In 1931, the Governor of the Hunan province banned the book Alice in Wonderland because of its talking animals. The Governor stated, "Animals should not use human language, and it is disastrous to put animals and human beings on the same level." I'm sure that ban would have applied to other children's books with talking animals too.

The mountainous province of Hunan is located in the southern central region of China, on the south bank of the Yangtze River. It is an agricultural treasure, producing about 40% of the total rice in China. Hunan cuisine, also called Xiang cuisine, is one of the Eight Great Traditions of Chinese cuisine and extends back at least to the 17th century. Hunan cuisine once was broken down into three primary styles, including Xiang River, Dongting Lake and Western Hunan. However, over time, Hunan cuisine has evolved, the three styles merging together and becoming a single contemporary Hunan style.

Hunan cuisine is often said to be hot and spicy, with a major use of many different types of chiles. During their winters, it is thought that chiles are beneficial to their health. There is a common saying: "Sichuan people don't fear hot food, Hunan people don't fear any degree of spiciness at all, and Guizhou people fear to eat food that isn't spicy." Chairman Mao Zedong, who was from Hunan, once said, "You can't be a revolutionary if you don't eat chilies."

However, Hunan cuisine is about far more than just spicy heat. First, there is a strong sour element, often from vinegar, in many of their spicy dishes. Second, the cuisine often can be very healthy, with seasonal ingredients, including fresh vegetables, herbs and seafood. Fermentation is also a significant element in their cuisine, sometimes helping to balance out any spicy heat. The important thing to know is that Hunan cuisine is far more diverse than just being spicy.

"Hunan, along with many other southern regions of China, is known for producing excellent cured bacon and ham, two prized ingredients that also often characterize Hunan flavor."
--Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees: Essential Techniques of Authentic Chinese Cooking by Kian Lam Kho

During the 1970s, a number of Chinese chefs, skilled in Hunan cuisine, came to the U.S., though they often adapted their recipes for American tastes. For example, one of the most famous dishes from that period is General Tso's Chicken, which is now a staple dish in many Chinese restaurants. You've probably tasted this dish before, and some of your may enjoy it. It most often consists of heavily battered and fried chicken pieces covered by a thick, sweet sauce. That common recipe though was specifically designed to appeal to an American palate.

Though there is some dispute as to its origin, one of the most popular stories states that the dish was created by Chef Peng Chang-Kuei, a Hunanese chef who worked as the presidential palace chef of the Nationalist Government in Taiwan. In 1953, U.S. Admiral Arthur W. Radford visited Taiwan, meeting with President Chiang Kai-Shek. Chef Peng decided to create some new dishes for an official banquet, creating General Tso's Chicken, which was named after a famous Qing dynasty general, Zuo Zongtang.

His version had a light batter on the chicken and was tart, garlicky and spicy though American versions would later become much sweeter dishes. Around 1971, a couple Chinese chefs came to New York and created their own versions of this dish, making it sweeter to appeal more to Americans. A year later, Chef Peng came to New York but his version, even though it was the original, was considered an inferior copy. So, the sweeter version, with a thicker batter, became the norm, beloved by many Americans.

Locally, you'll find a few Chinese restaurants offering some Hunanese dishes, but a new restaurant concentrating on Hunan cuisine opens today in Kendall Square in Cambridge, offering many traditional dishes, as well as some of their own innovative takes. Sumiao Hunan Kitchen is the creation of Sumiao Chen, a pharmacologist at Novartis as well as a restaurateur who was previously involved in opening the Feng-Shui restaurant chain. Sumiao, which is a Chinese word meaning “sketch", was born in Xiangtan, a city in Hunan which was also the birthplace of Mao Zedong, and she received culinary training at Le Cordon Bleu.

During this week, I visited the restaurant, as a media guest, during their soft opening as well as at last night's opening party. As such, I'm not going to provide a complete restaurant review but rather provide some of my initial impressions of the restaurant. Please note that as the restaurant has only officially opened today, you can probably expect some changes during the near future as they fine tune everything.

I had the opportunity to speak with Sumiao Chen, who I found to be personable and energetic, and learned that this restaurant is more than just an investment for her. There is clearly much passion within her, and she sees Sumiao Hunan as reflective of her cultural experiences over the past 25 years. It also is indicative of her love for her father, as the restaurant is decorated with some of his artwork. This is definitely a very personal endeavor for Sumiao. When I asked her about her favorite items on the menu, her excitement level elevated as she pointed out some of those dishes, such as the Mala Duck and Red-Braised Pork.

During the Opening Night party, there was a live band and Sumiao showed her joie de vivre as she danced with a number of staff and friends to the music.

It didn't end there as Sumiao even sang, in Chinese, with the band! When is the last time you saw a restaurant owner singing in their own restaurant?

The restaurant was designed to include multiple dining experiences, including: "...more traditional dining room seating in front of a fireplace, a bar that overlooks an expansive action kitchen, a polished lounge area that boasts a large communal table abstractly shaped in the form of an “S” and additional low-top options for a more intimate experience." It presents a casual and fun ambiance,  with lots of color, and large windows facing out into Kendall Square.

As I mentioned, the restaurant is decorated with several pieces of art. "The space is outfitted with four major artworks that celebrate the juxtaposition between history and modern day as well as Chen’s love and appreciation of art that has been nurtured since infancy. Chen – the daughter of one of China’s most celebrated painters and calligraphers, Peihua Chen – has thoughtfully selected pieces to exhibit the beauty and sophistication of the Hunanese culture. Among the works is a magnificently vibrant painting of a lotus flower by Peihua Chen, the flower of the Hunan province that represents rebirth, purity and self-awareness. In full circle just as her father gifted her the translated name of “Sketch” at birth, this painting was his final gift to his daughter before his passing on his only visit to the United States in 2000."

The drinks program at Sumaio has been designed by beverage consultant Richard Echeverria, and will be run by Paul Lamprey. Their drinks list includes 5 different Baijiu, a Chinese spirit which is actually the most popular spirit in the world. Baijiu has been produced in the Hunan region for a very long time though it has only been more recently that they have been making Baijiu which has become noteworthy. They also offer four different Baijiu cocktails, which are generally made with Hong Kong Baijiu, and you will rarely find that many Baijiu cocktails at any other local restaurant.

For more information on Baijiu, including reviews of the 5 Baijiu carried by Sumiao, please check out my prior post, which has links to all of my other Baijiu posts. And with World Baijiu Day coming up on August 9, Sumiao Hunan would be a great place to celebrate this holiday and learn more about this fascinating Chinese spirit.

The Drinks menu also has five Tiki Cocktails as well as five other Signature Cocktails (generally priced $12-$14). There are even four Mocktails, non-alcoholic drinks, which is great for the who don't want to imbibe but want something different to sip. The Wine list has about 13 options by the glass ($9-$10) with another 11 available just by the bottle. There is some good diversity on the list, better than many other Asian restaurants. The Sake list is short and generally unexciting, except they do carry a couple of Sakes from the local Dovetail Sake. I would like to see them add some more interesting Sakes to their list.

I've enjoyed all four of their Baijiu cocktails, noting that all of them had the prominent fruity and herbal flavors of Hong Kong Baijiu. The Schrodinger's Coupe ($14) is made with Baijiu, curaçao, grapefruit, lime and plum bitters. It's Baijiu taste was accompanied by some sour fruit flavors with a hint of grapefruit. It wasn't overly sweet and was a refreshing summer drink.

The Perpetual Motion ($14) is made with Baijiu, blood orange, lime, elderflower liqueur, and mint. It had more red fruit flavors, with enhanced aromatics and a touch of citrus. This cocktail was also refreshing, wasn't overly sweet, and was well balanced.

The Ice Cold Fusion ($14) is made with Baijiu, Cognac, triple sec and lemon. This might have been my favorite of their Baijiu cocktails, offering a bit more of a sour taste, enhanced by the flavors of the Cognac.

The Pyroclastic Punch ($14) is made with Baijiu, fruitlab hibiscus liqueur, passionfruit cordial and lemon. It was probably the sweetest of the four cocktails, though not overly so. It had deep berry flavors with nice aromatics.

The Maitai-Hunan Style ($12) is made with Bacardi White, Chairman's Reserve Spiced Rum, Curacao, Orgeat, mixed juices, and a dark rum float. It had a nice blend of tropical fruit flavors, was only mildly sweet, and the spice notes enhanced the taste. Another winning cocktail.

The Asian Atom ($12) is made with Bacardi white rum, Myers original dark rum, Apricot brandy, Mai Tai mix, mixed juices, and 151 float. It was a bit sweeter than the Mai Tai though it had a pleasant taste, especially a tropical accent.

The Sumiao Citrus ($6) is one of the Mocktails, made with white grapefruit juice, lemon, simple syrup, blood orange puree, and orange garnish. This was an interesting concoction, not overly sweet, and was quite refreshing. If you aren't drinking something alcoholic with your meal, then this would be a good option.

Much research and experimentation went into the development of their menu, including testing over 300 dishes. Some of the eliminated dishes required ingredients that weren't available locally while others weren't considered healthy enough for their concept. The chefs who will execute these dishes are Changchun Ji and Xinke Tan, and they have worked at restaurants including Nobu, Masa, Hakkasan and Hunan Manor.

Chef Changchun Ji came to the United States in the early 2000s when he accepted an offer to work as a chef at Masa in New York City. Since then, Chef Ji has since worked at distinguished restaurants such as Nobu Fifty Seven, Hakkasan in New York City and in Beverly Hills, Din Tai Fung, and Chengdu Impression before arriving in Cambridge to helm the kitchen at Sumiao Hunan Kitchen.

Chef Xinke Tan began his culinary career in 2000, working as a kitchen manager for Kaixuanmen Restaurant in Zhijiang, Hunan, China for six years. Moving to Munich for work in 2007, Chef Tan later returned to China, relocating to Xiangtan, Hunan, Sumiao’s hometown, in 2011 where he worked as executive chef at Jinyuan No. 1. An expert in Hunan cuisine and Chinese flavor profiles, Chef Tan arrived in the United States in 2012, working at a number of Hunan restaurants around America such as Hunan Taste in Baltimore, Hunan Manor in New York City as well as Dong Ting Chun Hunan Restaurant and King Fu Master in Los Angeles. Now back on the East Coast at Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, Chef Tan brings his expertise in Hunan cuisine to Kendall Square.

The base of Sumiao's Hunan's menu is contemporary Hunan style, with a few dishes from other Chinese culinary traditions. Their lunch and dinner menus will essentially remain unchanged while their weekend menu, which has more authentic Hunan dishes, and the Chef's special menu will change frequently, based on seasonally and the the availability of ingredients.

The initial dinner menu includes Soups (4 choices, $7-$8) and Appetizers (6 choices, $7-$12), from Sumiao Hot & Soup Soup to Garlic Calamari. The menu is then split between Vegetable and Meat & Fish, with dishes prepared in four different ways, including Hunan Wok, Steamed, Pan-Seared, and Stir-Fried (Vegetables $12-$18, Meat & Fish $14-$45). Try Hunan Wok Mountain Yams, Pan-Seared Cucumber with Shisho, or Stir Fried Skinny Broccoli. Or opt for Hunan Red-Braised Pork, Steamed Lava Fish, or Stir-Fried Beef on Fire. There is also a section for Grains, including Pancake, Noodle, Rice and Bao, with three options for each category, ranging from $10-$20. Check out the Hunan Roti Canai, Scallion Cold Noodles, Sanxiang Fried Rice or Jimmy's Crab Bao.

The Weekend menu is intended to present more authentic Hunanese dishes, and it will change from time to time. Currently, the menu has 6 additional options ($8-$28), such as Sea Jelly with Daikon Radish, House-Made Pickled Beans with Pork, House-Made La Rou with Mushrooms, and Pan-Seared Whole Wheat Dough.

The menu is certainly diverse, and many of the dishes will seem familiar to people, though you might find some dishes prepared differently than you are used to finding elsewhere. Prices seem reasonable based on the quality and quantity of the dishes. And everything I tasted was delicious.

The Spicy Crunchy Cucumber ($8), topped by a house sesame scallion sauce, wasn't overly spicy, though the heat does build up in your mouth, and had a nice crunch to it. It also seemed to work as a decent palate cleanser while enjoying some of the other dishes.

The Rustic Scallion Pancake ($12) was light and flaky, not oily, with a clean and compelling taste.

One of the highlights for me was the Mala Duck ($9), with an aged mala soy rub. The duck was tender and moist, with crisp skin, mild spice notes and lots of savory flavor. Beneath all the deletable slices of duck was a small pile of additional duck pieces, though there were some bones amidst those pieces.

The West Lake Beef Chowder ($8), made with parsley and egg whites, seems to be more of a soup than a chowder, reminding me in some ways of an egg drop soup with tender pieces of meat within it. The broth was savory and tasty, and the bowl is quite large, big enough for two people at least.

The Sumiao Fried Rice ($12), with eggs and soy sauce, is a relatively simple dish but very well done, tasting fresh and savory.

Jimmy's Crab Bao ($9), with pork and an aged vinegar chili dipping sauce, remind me of soup dumplings as they have a juicy interior so you must carefully bite into them so you don't lose all that delectable broth. These bao have a pleasing texture and each bite encompasses a tasty and complex blend of flavors. And the dipping sauce is an excellent enhancement to the bao.

The Sumiao Gyoza ($6) are home-made pork gyoza,  accompanied by a five spices dipping sauce. Like the bao, these gyoza have a nice texture, with a slight crunch due to the frying, and are filled with a light, meaty mix.

From the weekend menu, the Sumiao Shang Gan ($8) consists of rectangular pieces of bean curd with pork belly, green cayenne pepper, and garlic leaves, though initially I thought the greens were green beans. Though I'm not a big tofu fan, I enjoyed this dish, each tender piece of bean curd having soaked up the spicy and savory flavors of the dish. This is a spicy hot dish, the type of Hunan cuisine you hear about.

Also from the weekend menu, the Grandma's Pork ($15) has plenty of pork belly, with green cayenne pepper and garlic leaves. It was probably the spiciest of all the dishes I enjoyed, and was one of my favorites. The tender pork belly is salty and flavorful, enhanced by the heat of the pepper and the crunch of the garlic leaves. This is a fine example of Hunan cuisine.

I had to try their Stir-Fried General Tso Chicken ($16), with dried chili pepper, to see how it compared to the myriad versions available at so many Asian restaurants. Sumiao's version is based on the original recipe of Chef Peng though they have also made some modifications, adding in some Hunan elements, and thus creating their own unique version. I was thoroughly impressed with this dish, and it is probably the best version I've ever tasted. The chicken had a light, crunchy batter and the sauce was more savory, with mild spice and plenty of complexity. Highly recommended.

Some of the appetizers on their Opening Party night included Dessert Fish (and that is savory, not sweet), Fried Calamari and Lotus Meat Balls. Those scrumptious meatballs were made from pork, lotus root, egg, flour, corn starch, soda powder and black pepper. They had a great crunchy coating and a moist and savory taste within.

If you have room, they also have a small dessert menu, with about eight options ($8-$12), including Exotic Bomba, Green Tea Tiramisu, Chocolate Pistachio Souffle and Creme Brûlée.

Overall, this is an impressive beginning for Sumiao Hunan Kitchen and expect it will become a popular restaurant in Kendall Square. I will certainly return, to try more of the menu, and see how the restaurant develops over time. I highly recommend you check out the restaurant and experience for yourself their Hunanese cuisine, accompanied by a fine Baijiu cocktail. I wish Sumaio Chen and her whole team the best of luck in this endeavor.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) Big Night Entertainment Group Chef/Partner Kevin Long and the Empire Asian Restaurant & Lounge team invite guests to kick start their week with the newly-launched Kasai Monday Menu. Every Monday, Chef Kevin Long serves up the Kasai Monday Menu featuring Asian-inspired Bar Bites perfect for post-work snacking or pre-game grubbing.

The Kasai Monday Menu is available in the restaurant’s lounge area from 5pm-10pm and features six bar bites including Wings & Rings pairing of tempura onion rings and jalapeno honey glazed chicken wings; Bao Full of Bull slow braised boneless short rib, crispy bao, jalapeno, mirin pickles; Drunken Chicks on Fire crispy potato starch dusted chicken skewers, bourbon buffalo sauce, bourbon flame – three piece; Long End of the Stick Asian spice marinated beef tenderloin, skewed with bell pepper, sweet onion, Gojujang dipping sauce; Taco vs. Taco one spicy salmon and one spicy tuna wonton taco; and Sushi Cupcakes, Empire’s signature appetizer of broiled lobster and scallops in spicy garlic butter, placed in a sushi rice cup – two piece.

Guests can wash it all down with large-format cocktail specials from Bar Manager Nancy Nguyen that are perfect for sharing with friends like the Pineapple Mai Tai choice of Classic with Bacardi 8 or White Mai Tai with Ciroc Pineapple (serves two) and The Big Kahuna with Grey Goose, fresh watermelon punch, mint and ginger (serves four or more).

For reservations, please call 617-295-0001

2) The Mandarin Oriental, Boston announces the debut of Ceviche@MO, a pop-up tasting menu featuring a selection of fresh New England seafood. An inviting place to gather socially and unwind after a busy day in Back Bay, guests are able sit amongst the lobby’s exotic blonde wood paneling and enjoy a trio of house-made summer ceviche paired with an ombré of rosé, handpicked by sommelier, David Bérubé.

Available individually or as a tasting flight, Ceviche@MO will be served through August 31 in the hotel’s Lobby Lounge.

--SCALLOP CEVICHE ($16): avocado, red fresno pepper, yuzu, cilantro
--SHRIMP CEVICHE ($14): tomatillo, red onion, radish, lime juice, chive, parsley, chervil
--OCTOPUS CEVICHE ($18): sweet bell peppers, cherry tomato, tomato water, castelvetrano olives, parsley
--Glass of Rose $12-$16

3) The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce is proud to announce Cambridge’s newest Summer food festival, The Char & Bar Wars – a head-to-head battle between 30 of the hottest local restaurants and bars benefitting the Rindge School of Technical Arts Culinary Arts and Hospitality Program. On Wednesday, August 2, from 5pm-8pm, Food lovers will take the judge’s seat as they taste slider size burgers and sample cocktails prepared by popular local restaurants, battling to win the title of Best Classic Burger, Best Signature Burger, and Best Summer Cocktail.

Restaurants that will be throwing their hats in the ring include: Glass House, AC Bar and Lounge, Harvard Square Shake Shack, ArtBar Cambridge, Craigie On Main, The Automatic, Forage, Tasty Burger, Boston Burger Company, The Asgard, Atwood's Tavern, Atlantic Fish Co., La Fabrica Central, The Rising Bar, Rindge School of Technical Arts Culinary Program, Café Luna, Nubar and more!

WHERE: 50 Landsdowne Street, Cambridge
HOW: Tickets are available via Eventbrite for $45 and include unlimited sampling of food and drinks – a valid 21+ ID is required to receive the Bar War bracelet. To purchase tickets, visit

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Ron Navazos Palazzi Cask Strength Rum: Aged In Sherry Barrels

While sitting at the bar at Troquet, I thoroughly enjoyed a superb Lamb Burger Slider, topped with lamb bacon, goat cheese feta, and harissa. As I savored this burger, I spied an intriguing spirit on a shelf behind the bar, knowing I had to taste it. I'd previously tasted other spirits from this company but hadn't yet sampled this one. I didn't fight the urge and ordered a glass.

Jesus Barquin & Eduardo Oreja of Equipo Navazos, known for bottling exceptional Sherries, partnered with Nicolas Palazzi of PM Spirits to produce a series of Spanish spirits, including brandy, rum, grain whiskey and malt whiskey. Last month, I reviewed the Navazos Palazzi Malt Whiskey and found it to be "...elegant and compelling, unique and delicious, a well-balanced whiskey that will surprise and delight. My highest recommendation!" I had high expectations for their Ron Navazos Palazzi Cask Strength Rum ($100-$110) and wasn't disappointed in the least.

The alleged origin story behind this rum is intriguing, though not all of the details area readily available. It is claimed that Jesús Barquín and Nicolas Palazzi were visiting numerous bodegas in the Jerez region, seeking either Brandy or Sherry. At an unnamed bodega, they stumbled upon numerous barrels of rum, certainly nothing they expected to find. Through further research, they uncovered that the rum was made from 100% molasses and had been distilled in the Antilles, though the specific island is not mentioned.

Initially, the rum was aged in the Antilles for five years in first-fill bourbon barrels. It was then sent to the bodega in Spain, payment for some unknown transaction. The bodega transferred the rum into used Oloroso barrels, where it sat for more than ten years. Barquín and Palazzi acquired 32 casks of this rum so it is a finite spirit. They have chosen to bottle it unfiltered and at cask strength, 51.5 ABV,  releasing 1500 bottles a year until the rum is gone. Currently, it appears they have released bottles in 2013 and 2014.

The color of this rum was deep and dark, though with some translucence, reminding me in some ways of an aged Oloroso Sherry. Sniffing the contents of the glass, I was enamored with the complex aromas that wafted up, seducing my nose. There was fruit and spice, nuts and chocolate, and it was a pleasure just to sit and enjoy the aromas. On the palate, I was initially pleased with the relative dryness of the rum. It wasn't one of the prominent sweet rums but rather its sweetness was of a more subtle nature, with underlying caramel, vanilla and molasses flavors. And the complexity of the nose was duplicated on the palate, such a compelling melange of flavors that seemed to present something new each sip I took. There was a certain nutty and saline character that reminded me of Sherry, but also bright citrus and plum notes. There were plenty of spicy elements, with a backbone of umami, and hints of leather. Elegant and fascinating, this rum had a pleasing, lengthy finish.

Highly recommended! I'll be buying a bottle or two soon.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Rant: If There Is Any Doubt...

On this past Tuesday morning, while driving in Gloucester, famed Chef Barbara Lynch was involved in a motor vehicle accident, striking a parked car. The police arrived on the scene and Lynch failed sobriety tests and registered nearly twice the legal limit on a breathalyzer. She was subsequently arrested for operating under the influence of alcohol. Fortunately, no one was injured in the accident. It could have been much worse.

We will probably never know all the facts surrounding this incident. Most likely, Lynch will plead out to the charges, without the necessity of a trial. That is a very common occurrence in such incidents. We will probably never know how much alcohol Lynch consumed, and won't understand why she chose to drive after consuming all of that alcohol. Let us hope that this arrest is a wake-up call for Lynch, who won't ever drink and drive again.

Her arrest provides a fascinating cautionary tale for everyone who might consider drinking and driving. And it also provides a glimpse into the culinary world and the problem of substance abuse.

My own advice on drinking and driving is very simple.

If you've had too much alcohol to drink, if there is any doubt in your mind, don't drive.

Any questions?

This is an absolutely vital issue for everyone who enjoys alcohol of any type, from wine to beer, from Scotch to hard cider. During the summer, there are plenty of parties and barbecues, picnics and beach outings, and there is the potential for people to over indulge, to drink too much at these events. There is nothing wrong with that, and you can drink as much as you desire, as long as you give up your keys to someone who is sober.

As I've said multiple times before, and which I'll repeat year after year, "If there is any question, no matter how small, whether you are too intoxicated to drive, then don't. If your family or friends think you have had too much to drink, don't drive. Just don't. It is not worth the risk by any calculation." Err on the side of caution so that if you have any doubt of your capacity to drive, then please do not drive. Take a taxi or Uber, catch a ride with someone else, walk or sleep it off. Just don't drive!

Rationally, we all know the dangers of drinking and driving. We endanger our own lives as well as the lives of others. Every year, we hear multiple news reports about terrible auto accidents, some with fatalities, that occur because a driver was intoxicated. Families are torn apart, lives are ruined, and much more. Why don't we learn from all these incidents? Even if you don't get in an accident, you might get arrested for drunk driving, with all the attendant high costs, and not just economic. You might even end up in jail.

About 17,000 people are arrested for drunk driving in Massachusetts each year. That is a huge figure, showing that far too many people still don't understand that they should not drink and drive. Each time you drink and drive, you endanger yourself, your passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, and people in other vehicles. Let someone else drive you, whether it be a friend or family. Take an Uber or public transportation. Leave your car where it is parked as you can always pick it up the next day. You have plenty of options so there is absolutely no reason to drink and drive. Be responsible.

I don't want to lose any family or friends this year due to a drunk driving accident. I don't think anyone wants to lose their loved ones either. Your family and friends would rather you didn't drink and drive as they don't you to die in a terrible drunk driving accident. So please just don't!

As for the issue of substance abuse in the restaurant industry, that is an important topic for another time.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) Eastie’s latest newcomer, Cunard Tavern, is now be open for weekend brunch. Available every Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Cunard will offer brunch-goers an eclectic menu full of brunch classics and re-imagined, new interpretations of old favorites.

Ranging in price from $10 to $22, Chef Anthony Pino’s brunch menu will feature approachable, fun entrées including:
Elvis Sandwich (peanut butter, banana, and bacon in egg-dipped brioche and grilled)
Bacon and Egg Burger (Swiss, applewood-smoked bacon, over easy egg, fresh tomato, shredded lettuce, slice onion and chipotle hollandaise)
#BasicBreakfast (two eggs, cheesy hash browns, crispy applewood-smoked bacon, and toast)
Baked French Toast Casserole (baked brioche with seasonal fruit toppings and homemade whipped cream).
Lobster & Corn Salad roll (maine lobster and local corn in a buttered hotdog roll)

To complement its food menu, Cunard will offer guests a variety of handcrafted “adult beverages” including a Chili Verde Bloody, Mimosas, and an assortment of Bellinis made with various fresh purees.

2) On Tuesday, July 25, join Chris Schlesinger on The Automatic’s porch as he makes his famous Paella! Spanish style appetizers, seafood and pork paella and a whole lot of hospitality are going to be served homestyle out on the porch by Chris Schlesinger and The Automatic team.

Chris, a James Beard award-winning chef, founder of East Coast Grill and author of several books, opened The Automatic with his friend, legendary bartender Dave Cagle. “This is our first summer season out on the patio, so we figure we have to christen it with paella and rosé” says Chris.

It all started with a friendly paella competition over the charcoals at his summer home in Westport. Then Chris’ paella recipe was featured in The New York Times and it has become a summertime staple. Come with friends to cheer on “Old Man Schlesinger” as he cooks up his sacred summer dish. Toast the cook with The Automatic’s large format rosé! Make your reservations now, this will sell out.

Price: $35 per person, fixed price
Please call 617-714-5226 to make a Reservation

3) Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca Chef Mario LaPosta and his team invite guests to join them on Thursday, July 27 to explore the flavors of Puglia. Babbo Pizzeria will host an Italian wine dinner to explore the flavors of Puglia. Starting at 6 p.m., the evening will include a tasting of four different courses, along with wine pairings from the region.

The menu is as follows:
--Bruschetta with Burrata di Andria
--Cozze Gratinate
--Peperoncini Ripieni with Tuna
--Zensa Salento Fiano 2014
Orrecchiette, Pomodorini Secchi, Salsiccia, Broccoli Rabe
Li Veli 'Primerose' Negroamaro Rosato 2016
Parmigiana di Melanzane
Pietregiovani Primitivo 2013
Goat's Milk Ricotta Panna Cotta, Vincotto Biscuit, Fresh Figs
Babbo Limoncello

Tickets are $95 and can be purchased by logging onto

4) Tapestry in Fenway is hosting an Aloha Party featuring Hawaiian cuisine such as Hawaiian Pizza along with Spam and pineapple dishes, tiki drinks and live Island music performed by Big Party Orchestra.

The event is open to the public and will take place on Sunday, August 20th from 2pm until 8pm. There is a $5 cover charge at the door and there will be a cash bar.

5) The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce is proud to announce Cambridge’s newest Summer food festival, The Char & Bar Wars – a head-to-head battle between 30 of the hottest local restaurants and bars benefitting the Rindge School of Technical Arts Culinary Arts and Hospitality Program.

On Wednesday, August 2, from 5pm-8pm, food lovers will take the judge’s seat as they taste slider size burgers and sample cocktails prepared by popular local restaurants, battling to win the title of Best Classic Burger, Best Signature Burger, and Best Summer Cocktail. The event will take place at 50 Landsdowne Street, Cambridge.

Restaurants that will be throwing their hats in the ring include: Glass House, AC Bar and Lounge, Harvard Square Shake Shack, ArtBar Cambridge, Craigie on Main, The Automatic, Café Luna and more,

Tickets are available via Eventbrite for $45 and include unlimited sampling of food and drinks – a valid 21+ ID is required to receive the Bar War bracelet.

To purchase tickets, visit

6) On Monday, July 31, celebrated Chef Paul O’Connell from the legendary Chez Henri shares the secrets of his famous Cuban sandwich with The Automatic. The Automatic’s Dave Cagle and his team are honored to launch The Automatic’s new signature Cuban Sandwich – with the blessing of Chef Paul O’Connell.

We are thrilled that Chef Paul O’Connell is bringing back his famous Pork Butt!” says Dave Cagle. “We say it’s time to Stop The Madness!! He’s sharing his recipe, teaching us his tricks, and we will begin serving the classic Cuban Sandwich starting at 5pm on July 31. And then every night after that.” It will be The Automatic’s new signature sandwich.

To make reservations, please call The Automatic at 617-714-5226

7) Chef/Owner Lydia Shire – alongside executive chef Simon Restrepo and executive sous chef Alex Pineda – is debuting 25 new creations at Scampo that encapsulate the boldest and brightest flavors of summertime.

To whet your appetite, there are a series of new starter courses. In the “Handmade Breads” category, there is Crisped Lebanese Pita Bread with whipped white bean and anchovy, sumac and pistachio oil finished with grated, cured egg yolk ($15) and on the pizza side, there is a new Tiny Meatballs Pizza with jowl bacon, candele sauce and gremolata ($20) as well as a White Pizza with truffle cheese, sherried chanterelle and fig preserve ($25).

Other new starters include the summery Avocado Soup with a salt-baked prawn a la plancha and charred scallion crème fraiche ($17); Peekytoe Crab Salad on a lemony artichoke heart with red sorrel, lemon aioli and apple jelly cubes ($25); Maple Torched Foie Gras with sous-vide coffee butter and yellow raisin brioche ($26); the sharable Char-Grilled Lamb Shoulder Chops with whipped French feta mash (two for $22; three for $32); Tandoori Fired Large Sea Scallops on whipped white eggplant ($24); Spain’s Ibérico Ham with warm Portuguese custard tarts and shaved persimmon ($39); and, Heirloom Tomatoes with horseradish panna cotta, melon and pine nut puree ($16).

From the signature mozzarella bar, there is a trio of newcomers: Mozzarella with Prosciutto on grilled watermelon steak ($29); Mozzarella with Beef Sirloin Carpaccio with peppery red watercress and petit cracked black pepper arancini ($22); and, Burrata on olive oil-fried chestnut polenta with broiled Frog Hollow Farm’s organic peaches ($22).

New “Handmade Pasta e Risotti” offerings include the Delicate Three-Cheese Lasagna, a deconstructed creation filled with robiola cheese and topped with zucchini blossoms and truffle honey ($21); Sweet Potato Agnolotti with crisped pork belly and caramel ‘pulled’ roasted hazelnuts ($19/29); Beet Pappardelle with blue poppy seeds, white baby beets and black summer truffles ($18/28); and, Butter ‘Toasted’ Acquerello Risotto, from Piedmont, with summer’s soft shell lobster and ‘silver queen’ corn ($28).

The entrée-sized “Plates” also have undergone a full seasonal revamping, with Rare Tuna served with frites, crisped ‘black and white’ squid and curly parsley bagna cauda ($36); Roast Day Boat Nova Scotia Halibut with cockles and rouille of rolled gratin with the thinnest zucchini and summer squash ($38); Crisped Salmon with spiced laksa butter and micro citrus greens on steamed coconut milk jasmine rice ($34); Classic Brick Chicken with red chard gnocchi, Alabama white BBQ sauce and a fried pickle ($30); Heritage Red Wattle Pork Chop with an intense rum-raisin butter and French fried parsnips ($36); Scampo Duck with celery leaf and almond milk risotto finished with Sangue Morlacco dark cherry liquor gastrique ($35); Seared Darling Downs Wagyu Skirt Steak with ripe tomato and peach with a pistachio pesto ($38); Scaloppini of Tender Veal with king oyster mushrooms and young taleggio with farro grains and marsala wine ($36); and, Fish & Chips with apple cider-battered hake and lobster served with root chips and Tokyo tartar ($44).

For sides, diners now can round out their experience with new accompaniments like Grilled Corn & Corn Sformato with chipotle and chili-lime salt ($10) and Simon’s Incredible Dauphine Potatoes & Tempura Onion Rings ($10).

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

TasteCamp Maryland: Tenth Ward Distilling Company

"There was one mistake Baltimore never made. Baltimore, and the state of Maryland, never endorsed Prohibition. We were known as the wettest state, where beer and liquor was freely available before and after the Volstead Act's repeal in 1933."
--The Baltimore Sun, April 30, 2010

As I recently wrote, I attended TasteCamp 2017 in Maryland and during our weekend visit we sampled a number of local spirits. During our visit to McClintock Distilling Company, we also had the opportunity to taste some spirits from the Tenth Ward Distilling Company, and I found three of their products to be interesting, innovative and delicious.

The Tenth Ward Distilling Company, which opened in July 2016, is located at 508 East Church Street in Frederick, in a part of the city which was once known as the Tenth Ward. The distillery is owned by Monica Pearce and Kyle Pfalzer. Monica and Kyle are committed to environmental sustainability and also try to be as local as possible. For example, all of the grain they use is sourced relatively local, about 33 miles away, from the Ripon Lodge Farm in Rippon, West Virginia. In addition to providing the grains, the farm also malts their barley and rye, as well as smokes their corn.

The distillery's slogan is “Ward off ordinary,” which is a partial play off their name and also indicative of their objective to "push the limits with unconventional distilling and aging techniques while at the same time bringing back some historical and local aspects to our process." And based on the spirits I tasted, I see some of that unconventionality as well as homage to local history. They currently produce three spirits year-round, and a few others seasonally or as limited releases.

The Claude Countee Corn Whiskey ($28), produced year-round, is named after a famous Prohibition-era bootlegger from Frederick. The whiskey is made from a mashbill of 80% corn and 20% malted barley, and comes in at 95 proof. Though their website states this whiskey drinks similar to a peated Scotch or Mezcal, I feel that it is more like a smoky bourbon. You have the sweetness from the corn, enhanced by a prominent, but not overwhelming, smoky aspect. Sweet and smoky, it was quite tasty and smooth, despite the high alcohol content. This could be enjoyed on its own, though it would make for an excellent ingredient in a cocktail, maybe a smoky Manhattan.

The Lindsay Stunkle Rye Whiskey ($36), produced year-round, is also named after a famous Prohibition-era bootlegger from Frederick. This limited-release whiskey is made from a mashbill of 80% malted rye and 20% malted barley, and comes in at a whopping 120 proof. It is released twice a year, in June and November, and is intended for home aging. It is spicy and potent, enhanced by the addition of a little water, and will definitely appeal to rye lovers. There is complexity to its taste and a lengthy finish, and I would love to see this aged in the barrel for a number of years.

The most unique of their spirits was the White Caraway Rye ($36) which is made from a mashbill of 80% malted rye and 20% malted barley, and comes in at 95 proof. The spirit is mashed with caraway seed so it is intended to taste more like rye bread, though it may also remind you of Scandinavian Akvavit. I was captivated by the intriguing flavors of this spirit, as it certainly reminded me of spicy rye bread, with a hint of mint. Though you could drink this on its own, I think it would be best used in creating some fascinating cocktails.

Tenth Ward Distilling is producing some impressive and innovative spirits and there is much potential for the future. If you ever get to Maryland, seek out their spirits.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Rant: Stop Hoarding Your Wine

Four years ago, I visited southern Oregon and stopped at Abacela Winery for a tour, tasting and lunch. The winery has a strong affinity for Spanish grapes and in 1995, they planted the first Tempranillo in the Pacific Northwest. Over  a delightful lunch with Paella, the star wine was the 2005 Abacela Paramour ($90), made from Tempranillo and created in a Gran Reserva style. At that time, it was an impressive wine, though the winery suggested it should be cellared for several more years. I purchased a bottle to take home and placed it into my wine cellar, where it sat for four years.

Last week, for my birthday celebration, I finally opened that bottle, sharing it with family and friends. It was an amazing wine, loved by everyone who tasted it, and I certainly wish I had purchased more when I visited the winery. For my birthday, I wanted to open a special bottle and price wasn't an object. I realized that I might never enjoy this wine again, and that the price for the 2005 vintage had probably risen. I might have been able to sell it for a profit. However, I don't have a single regret that I opened the bottle.

In the end, it was just a wine, something to drink and share. I didn't view it as an investment vehicle, something to save until its value increased and then sold it off at a profit. I don't have a single bottle in my wine cellar that wouldn't open for some occasion. And I also don't let my special bottles sit in my cellar, waiting for the perfect occasion which never seems to arrive. Every bottle in my cellar is meant to be drank.

Too many people let their special wines sit in their cellars and never open them. They say that they are saving them for a special occasion, maybe a holiday, birthday, anniversary or other celebration, but they never actually get to opening them. Wines don't age forever. At some point, a wine will peak and then it will begin to decline. Do you want to drink your wines when they are on the decline? Will you wait until the wine is actually over the hill, if not dead?

You need to stop hoarding those wines and drink them. Commit to opening a special wine on your next celebration, even if you are only celebrating that it is Friday night. Sure, you could try to save those special wines, hoping they gain in value so that could you sell them some day. However, what do you really gain? And what will you do with the money you might earn from selling the wine?

Life is about experiences not objects. And the experience of sharing an expensive bottle of wine with good friends and family is priceless. I have good friends who understand that sentiment, and freely share their own special bottles on various occasions. They are all about the experience, worrying not about the price of the wine.

Stop hoarding your wines! Share them with family and friends and savor the experience. You won't regret it.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) The Painted Burro, the festive, upscale Mexican kitchen and tequila bar in the heart of Somerville’s Davis Square, is adding fajitas to their flavorful menu as part of Tex-Mex Mondays.

Fajitas that are in rotation include Carne Asada with Guajillo BBQ, Ranchero Chicken, Blackened Salmon, and Achiote Pork Loin and all come in a sizzling skillet with onions, peppers, grilled banana pepper, with a side of house made flour tortillas, chimichurri, lettuce, tres quesos, and pico de gallo.

Accompanying the rotating selection of tasty fajitas are fun featured drinks and $5 coronas, tecates, pacifico, modelo, and more.

To enjoy the Burro’s special fajita offerings, simply dine-in on any Monday and enjoy the two featured tacos in rotation that week.

2) TAMO Bistro + Bar at the Seaport Hotel is celebrating our favorite summer crustacean during the month of July by offering three lobster specials that will satisfy your cravings in the best possible way:

Lobster salad with corn, sea beans, and yellow pole beans ($19)
Lobster mac and cheese ($20)
Lobster “bake in a bag” with lobster, corn, mussels, and new potatoes ($30)

These specials will be offering in addition to the regular menu every day from 11:30am – midnight through the end of July.

3) Chef/Owner Christopher Coombs, Executive Chef Adrienne Mosier, Pastry Chef Shaun Velez, GM/Sommelier Jason Irving, and the rest of the Deuxave team invite guests to join them for a special mid-summer wine dinner.

On Tuesday, July 25th at 6:30 p.m., Deuxave will be hosting a four-course wine dinner featuring the wines of Central France’s Loire Valley alongside thoughtfully paired dishes.

The evening’s menu will include:
To begin:
Striped Bass Crudo with Shiro plums and sorrel paired with Marc Bredif, Vouvray, Loire, FR, 2015
Second course:
Local burrata with heirloom tomatoes, and summer herbs paired with Domaine Riffault, les Desmalets, Sancerre, Loire, FR, 2015
Third course:
Confit suckling pig with apricots, mustard greens, and garden flowers paired with Domaine du Clos de l’Elu, Magellan, Anjou, Loire, FR, 2013
Pineapple tatin with lychee mint salad and Coteaux de Layon ice cream paired with Clos de l’Elu, 1er Cru “Chaume”, Coteaux du Layon, Loire, FR, 2014

Cost: Tickets are $149 plus tax and gratuity
For reservations, please call (617) 517-5915.

4) On Tuesday, July 25th, at 6:30pm, Abe & Louie's, the Back Bay steakhouse, will host a decadent and delicious wine dinner featuring distinct vintages from Jordan Vineyards paired with a four course dinner by Chef Tindaro LoSurdo. Attendees will be joined by a very special guest that evening - legendary winemaker Rob Davis, who has been creating the Jordan vintages for over 40 years.

The Menu includes:
--Jordan Cuvée by Champagne AR Lenoble paired with East vs. West Coast oysters served with cucumber and wasabi mignonett
--2014 Jordan Winery Russian River Valley Chardonnay paired with sweet corn and duck confit spring rolls with pickled mango salsa
--1999, 2005 and 2013 Jordan Winery Cabernet Sauvignon paired with grilled prime ribeye served with salt roasted marble potatoes and honey roasted purple carrots
--Dessert wine paired with a sea salt and callebaut chocolate brownie sundae with luxardo cherry sauce

Cost: $165 per person, not including tax or gratuity.
Interested guests can make reservations by calling the restaurant at (617) 536-6300.

5) Debuting on Sunday, July 23rd, Chef Jason Santos’ Buttermilk & Bourbon will soon offer brunch service, with a taste of the Bayou, every Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Buttermilk & Bourbon, located at 160 Commonwealth Ave., will offer brunch-goers a taste of the Bayou in the heart of Boston’s Back Bay.

In addition to Buttermilk & Bourbon staples like its freshly fried beignets with vanilla bean mascarpone, warm honey-glazed biscuits, and deviled egg toast, the brunch menu will feature a variety of new, signature items. Menu highlights will include buttermilk biscuit and gravy with house-made sausage, smoked fontina, and chives; Anson Mills cream cheese grits with a slow-cooked egg, holy trinity, and scallions; peach-pecan perdu with vanilla bean mascarpone and Louisiana cane syrup; bananas foster pancakes with sweet walnuts and buttermilk whipped cream; and fresh crab benedict with hot Nashville hollandaise, Benton’s ham, and Stone & Skillet English muffin. Brunch dishes range in price from $7 to $22 and are accompanied by an assortment of a la carte sides ranging in price from $2.50 to $5.

To complement its food menu, Buttermilk & Bourbon's beverage menu will offer guests a variety of handcrafted signature cocktails; red and white wines; bubbles; and beers. Exclusively available for brunch, new, signature drinks will include a soft serve mimosa made with watermelon sorbet and champagne split; and a pitcher of hurricane made with Cruzan rum, passion fruit, pineapple, orange, lime, house simple, and grenadine.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

TasteCamp Maryland: McClintock Distilling Co.

Craft distilling is booming all across the country, and a significant number of these new, small producers are creating some delicious and interesting spirits, from whiskey to rum, gin to brandy. TasteCamp originated as a weekend-long immersion into lesser known wine regions, having visited areas including Long Island, the Finger Lakes, Quebec, Virginia, Niagara and Vermont. Over time, the concept of TasteCamp has evolved, so that not only do we explore wine, but we now also explore local beer, ciders, spirits, and food.

About 30 or so writers and wine industry people recently attended TasteCamp 2017, which was held in Maryland. Once again, we visited wineries, breweries and distilleries, sampling much of what Maryland has to offer, and I found much to enjoy. In downtown Frederick, one of our visits was to the McClintock Distilling Company, which only opened in December 2016. Despite its youth, I was impressed with their concept, objectives, and existing products. This is certainly a distillery with a bright future ahead of it.

In December 2014, the city of Frederick amended their city code and permitted small, craft distilleries to operate in the downtown area. Only a few distilleries have so far opened in Frederick but you'll likely see more in the near future. Tyler Hegamyer and Braeden Bumpers, who both graduated from Elon University, had an interest in producing spirits, and received some education and training in distillation at Cornell University and the American Distilling Institute.

On the site of an old mechanic's garage, they chose to open McClintock Distilling Company, which includes a distillery and tasting room. The distillery was named after McClintock Young, a famous inventor in the 19th century, who had over 100 patented inventions. With a passion for innovation, he also owned one of the first foundries in Frederick. And it is that passion for innovation which has inspired Tyler and Braeden.

The distillery uses only 100% certified organic ingredients and hopes to soon become a certified organic distillery. They currently use about 120 tons of grain annually, acquiring whole kernel grains from Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Ontario. Though they would like to use local grains, those grains still need to be organic and Perdue farms purchases most of the grain in Maryland. Their long term goal is to purchase as much local, organic grain as possible.

I was fascinated to learn that McClintock grinds all of their own grains, using a stone burr mill which once was used by an old bakery. They might be one of only two distilleries in the U.S. to use a stone burr mill. Also known as grist mills, they are able to grind grains into a fine flour which doesn't cause the grains to heat up, and also helps the flour maintain the flavor. This makes their distillery more unique, and could lead to a more flavorful end product. It also helps them keep quality control of every aspect of the process.

The milled grains pass directly into the mash tanks, which prevents oxidation. They have three fermenters, and the usual, full fermentation takes two days, using a proprietary distillers yeast. As they are very concerned with sustainability, and wish to be waste neutral, they use a closed loop cooling system, which reuses the water that chills the mash tanks. In addition, after fermentation, the spent grains are sent to local farms as pig food. I'm sure those are very happy pigs.

McClintock's stills, including a pot and column still, were created by Kothe Distilling, a renowned German company, and were made with lots of copper, which benefits distillation. On the left side, you can see their 1000 liter pot-column still.

Their column still has an attached Vapor Basket that allows them to better produce their gin, as they place all of the botanicals in the basket. This helps to better extract the flavors in those botanicals.

They currently have three products for sale, a Vodka, Gin and White Whiskey, and have been aging some of their spirits in 30 gallon barrels. They believe they will age their spirits for about 1-1.5 years before they are released for sale. For example, they have some used Hennessy Cognac barrels in which they are aging some of their gin. I had the chance to taste two barrel-samples, and they definitely show potential. I am very intrigued to see how they taste once the aging is complete.

The Epiphany Vodka ($28) is made from Northern Italian organic white wheat, and was double distilled and triple filtered. It has a relatively smooth and clean taste, with a hint of earthiness. Though you could probably drink this chilled, on its own, it probably would be best in a cocktail.  It was my least favorite of their three products, but it is still a good vodka.

The Forager Gin ($36) is a vapor infused New-World style gin using botanicals inspired by native herbs found in the Appalachian wilderness.

Here is the list of botanicals used to produce this gin. Quite an interesting combination. On the nose, there is a strong juniper aroma with subtle hints of other botanicals in the background. On the palate, the botanical mix is more balanced, and the complex melange of flavors delights the mouth. There are elements of fruit, mainly citrus, and floral flavors, with a sprinkle of spice elements. The gin should be served chilled, and would be delicious on its own, or used in cocktails. I'm not a huge fan of gin, as I find too many overdo it with the juniper flavors, but I really enjoyed the more balanced botanicals in this Forager Gin. Highly recommended.

The Maryland Heritage White Whiskey ($34) is made from a blend of about 80% Rye, with the rest being wheat and corn. It has a high rye content, intended to reflect the historic ryes from pre-prohibition Western Maryland distilleries. In addition, the whiskey was aged for about 24 hours in an oak barrel and is 84 proof. As a big Rye fan, this whiskey appealed to be, presenting with plenty of tasty, spicy notes, with a hint of sweetness from the corn. In general, it was smooth and easy-drinking, with only a touch of heat from the alcohol. This would be a nice choice in a Manhattan of other whiskey-based cocktail. Also highly recommended.

McClintock Distilling is on the right path, with passionate owners, who are trying to be sustainable, organic and produce quality spirits. Their initial products were impressive and I see great potential here, including with their aged spirits. I also feel they would be an excellent model for other craft distillers. If you ever get to Maryland, seek out their spirits. And if you have an interest in craft spirits, you should pay attention to what McClintock Distilling is doing.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Alpha Estate: More Greek Wines For Summer

"Where there is no wine, there is no love."

During the summer, it's best to have a variety of wines on hand, including some White, Red and Rosé.  Each has its place, pairing well with the different foods of summer, from fresh seafood to grilled burgers. Some of these wines will also do well on their own, offering a refreshing and delicious beverage while you sit outside, hanging with family and friends. Let me recommend three Greek wines, one of each wine type, for your summer needs.

Alpha Estateimported by Diamond Importersis located in the heart of the Amyndeon, a wine region in the Northwest of Greece. Their vineyards cover over 160 acres situated on a plateau around 2,000 feet above sea level. The winery is led by Angelo Iatridis, "...considered by many to be Greece's most promising winemaker." Alpha is also considered " of the most cutting edge producers in Greece and has established the most technologically advanced vineyards in the viticulture world." I received media samples of three of their wines, and each was delicious and interesting, and would be excellent for the summer, or any other season.

The 2016 Alpha Estate Rosé ($19.99) is made from 100% Xinomavro, which spent two months on the lees, and has a 13% ABV. With a bright pink color, this wine has a delightful fruity nose and on the palate, it is crisp, dry and fruity, with tasty flavors of strawberry and cherry and subtle floral notes. It has a medium-body, with a lengthy, satisfying finish. This is the type of Rosé I really enjoy, and it was a pleasure to enjoy poolside. It also paired very well with some grilled chorizo. This would certainly be a food-versatile wine, from oysters to burgers, roasted chicken to pizza. Though sipping it on its own, while relaxing poolside, is quite the pleasure as well.

The 2016 Alpha Malagouzia Turtles Vineyard ($15.99-$17.99) is made from 100% Malagouzia, a grape that was nearly extinct until being revived in the late 20th century. The Turtles Vineyards is a sub-region of the Amydeon, located at an altitude of about 660 meters, with northwestern orientation, facing Voras mountain. The wine was fermented in stainless steel, spent about two months on the lees and has a 13% ABV.

The wine has a yellowish-green color with an aromatic nose of herbs and tropical fruits. On the palate, it has an intriguing and complex melange of flavors, including spices, herbs and fruit. I could detect notes of citrus and melon, rosemary and mint. It was dry and elegant, with a pleasing acidity and a lingering finish. Each sip seemed to bring something new to my mouth and I was quite taken with it. This wine would go well with seafood, from haddock to shrimp. Or you could sit in the backyard on a summer evening, savoring each sip as you watch the stars.

The 2014 Alpha Xinomavro Hedgehog Vineyard ($19.99-$21.99) is made from 100% Xinomavro, from the Hedgehog Vineyard which is a sub-region of the Amydeon, located at an altitude of about 690 meters, with north orientation, facing Petron Lake and Voras mountain. The wine, with a 14.5% ABV, spent eight months on the lees and was aged for 12 months in French oak with an additional 12 months in the bottle.

It has a deep red color with an alluring nose of red and black fruits, accompanied by some spice notes. On the palate, it possesses a complex blend of flavors, including ripe plum, black cherry, raspberry, vanilla, pepper and other spices. The tannins are well integrated, it has a nice acidity, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. This is an excellent wine for grilled meats, including burgers, ribs, and steaks. It would probably also work with roasted chicken, salmon, and pizza. On a summer evening, with a cool breeze in the air, you could sip this on its own, and think of the grilling delights you enjoyed earlier.

I often recommend people drink Greek wine and you should explore my Ten Reasons To Drink Greek Wine, which I hope will motivate you to explore the diversity and wonders of Greek wines. All three of these wines from Alpha Estate would be excellent choices to start your sampling of Greek wines.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Rant: Wine Tastings Without Passion

Importers/distributors often conduct wine tastings at various wine stores, trying to garner interest in their wines, with the ultimate goal of selling more wine. I've attended many of these tastings, and was even at one yesterday afternoon. Yesterday's importer/distributor, who offered five Georgian wines for sampling, possessed a deep passion for the wines and region, and his passion was more than evident as he presented his wines to many different consumers.

Because of his passion, he excited the consumers about his wines and sold a good number of those wines. Without that passion, the tasting would have been far less successful, and could have even been a bust. I've been at those tastings too, where the importer/distributor is just going through the motions, a passionless stance, where it almost seems the importer/distributor would rather be elsewhere. Consumers notice and tend to avoid the tasting table, or if they do taste the wines don't get as excited about them. Less wines get sold.

Wine tastings are one of the best ways to get consumers interested in different wines, those they might not have purchased on their own, unwilling to take a risk on an unknown. However, those different wines also need a passionate advocate to inform and persuade consumers on the reasons they should taste and enjoy those different wines. If a importer/distributor has an unsuccessful wine tasting, maybe they should first consider whether their presenter showcased a passion for the wines or not. And if the presenter lacked that passion, it is time to choose another presenter.

When I work at the wine shop, I often see how my passion for certain wines appeals to consumers, causing them to take a chance on a wine they might never have tasted before. I've had customers eavesdrop on me describing a wine to another customer, and be so intrigued by my passion, they then ask to buy that same wine. That wouldn't happen if I was passionless in my advocacy for the wine.

Obviously, the importance of passion applies in many other fields as well, from food to books. As consumers, we understand how we are attracted to those salespeople who possess passion, who excite us about their products. Wine shops need to support passionate importer/distributors, and inform the non-passionate ones that they need to step up their game.