Thursday, March 27, 2014

Eating Omily: Cocktail Hour

Do you love a cold beer after a long day? How about a glass of wine (or, you know, paper cup in NYC) in the sunshine? A perfectly potent cocktail among friends? I do! I've been in the closet regarding my favourite hobby: Cocktail Enthusiast, for months, out of fear that it would be interpreted as 'blossoming alcoholic'. But it's not that; I don't love getting drunk, I just love booze! I love how a certain class of bugs+time+a distillery in certain cases, can turn the simplest of ingredients into something magical, and kaleidoscopic in it's mutability. I love how different types of drinks invite different kinds of energy: the pop of the cork in a bottle of sparkling wine always means a celebration, the viscous swirl of red wine in a glass means settling down and savoring, a huuuuuge mug of complex german beer means fun without pretensions, margaritas give everyone permission to get a little crazy, and a perfectly mixed manhattan with a house-preserved cherry at the bottom? Well, that means all is right with the world, no matter what kind of a day I've had!

And if you feel the same way about both booze, and eating local, you know where we have to go next: can you drink local??

Yes! Yes, you can, but I'll be honest: I'm never going to drink only local booze. Why? French wines, German beers, Mexican tequilas, Irish whiskeys...you get my point? Alcohol is one of the few things that Americans understand tastes different based on where it comes from. The soil the grapes grew in, the water the beer was brewed with, the climate the agave thrives in, all make a huge difference in terms of the taste, texture, and experience of the finished product. The people of Europe know this applies to everything, and it's why there are things like Parmesan cheese (cheese that is made in Parma), and Greek olive oil.

I think that respecting that you can't make real champagne outside of Champagne, France is true to the spirit of the locavore ethos, even if it means you can't drink local Champagne without shelling out for a big plane ticket.

That said, no matter where you live in the world, there are certain boozy specialities that are being made nearby, and this is especially true if you live in NYC. Go high five your friends, and then get ready for a run to your favourite liquor store. You are going to love this blog post!

Beer:

Brooklyn Brewery, anyone? Aside from picking up six packs at the bodega, you can grab this stuff on tap at tons of bars. I'll be honest: It's not my favourite; it always comes across a little skunky to me, but most people I know love it, so don't let that hold you back!

Six Point! Their Sweet Action is my jam: my go-to beer when I'm forgoing Guinness for something a little closer to home. They started canning their beers and distributing fairly recently, and rest assured, the husband and I are doing our part to keep that side of their business up and running.

Cider:

Oh, sure, you already knew you could buy a piping hot cup of cider to get you through your chilly spring day at the Farmer's Market, but how about a gallon jug of hard cider, rich with sediment from secondary fermentation taking place right in the jug? Wow! This is a very dry style, so if you're used to sweet appley ciders, this one may take some getting used to. And sit down, guys. Sorry to say, the season has passed on this one. Keep your eyes peeled this coming Autumn for the next batch.

Don't dispair, oh cider lovers! Instead, check out 1911 Spirits! All their spirits start as cider (more on that below), which means, yes, they offer cider! Their classic flavor is crisp and refreshing with a hint of apples, and citrus overtones. They also offer Light and Crisp, for a crisp (surprise, surprise), dry flavor, brewed in the style of American Colonial times. If your pallet ranges the other way, try the Sweet Apple variety. It's lower in alcohol, because less of the apple sugars were fermented into alcohol, meaning a sweeter, applyer cider for you. If you're feeling adventurous, don't forget about the blueberry, and raspberry varieties! Mmmm...perfect for a summer picnic! Don't forget your unbranded bottles, everyone! ;-)

Wine:
Get to your Farmer's Market! I recommend Wednesdays and Fridays if grapes that have died and gone to heaven are what you're after. The grapes that thrive on Long Island, and in the Finger Lakes region are primarily vitas labruska: the foxy grapes. You've tasted them before, but maybe not as wine. Think dark purple grape juice or jelly. And no, these wines are not as sweet as jelly! That sugar mostly gets fermented away. Check out reds, whites, sparkling wines, and yes, the occasional sweet dessert wine to grace your table. On Wednesdays, you can expand your horizons with blueberry, or dandelion wine, or home-made sherry vinegar.

Liqueurs:

You've probably already picked up on the explosion of locally made bitters invading Brooklyn's cocktail scene. If you haven't yet, let them invade a couple of your drinks. You won't be sorry! Thanks to a loophole in the alcohol law (designed to keep vanilla and other extracts on grocery store shelves), you can pick up bitters anywhere! Check out grocery stores that tend to stock organics, craft beers, or other, you know, hipster stuff.

Barrow's Intense Ginger Liqueur. This stuff? Seriously. So, so good. It's honest to God[dess] bottle-fermented ginger and sugar. It's sweet, but it packs a ginger punch that is amazing just mixed with seltzer over ice, or shaken up with dark, spiced rum in a martini glass. Go get a bottle.

Greenhook Ginsmiths has taken their artisanal gin, and added beach plums from Long Island, and turbanado sugar to craft a liqueur that you are going to love. Mix it with iced tea for the perfect respite from the coming mid-Summer heat! And then go give them a high five for choosing a local fruit, instead of, you know, waffles for flavoring their spirits. Because waffle-flavored vodka is a real thing, and I can't tell you how sad that makes me.

Fingerlakes Distillery is getting a mention further down for even more awesomeness, but for now, I offer you one word: maplejack. Yes. Applejack with maple syrup added. Don't ever leave me alone with a bottle of this. I may finish it. They also have more traditional cassis, cherry, and raspberry liqueurs, which sound like spectacular drinks to have around for your own enjoyment, as well as a comeback when a visiting relative complains about how strong and dry everything on your bar is. (Sissy!)

Vermouth is actually a fortified wine, and not a liqueur, but we tend to treat it as one, so I put it here anyway. It is essential for Manhattans, martinis, and other classic cocktails. There are different kinds: white, red, sweet, dry, and the kind you get will depend on what you want to do with it. And, yes, there are people making vermouth right here in NYC! Check out Uncouth Vermouth, made in Brooklyn, and  Atsby Vermouth, which boldly suggests you put down the cocktail shaker and enjoy it straight! Challenge accepted.

The Hard Stuff:

 Hudson Whiskey...yum. With awards like, "Best U.S. Artisan Distiller" under their belt (among others), and a roster of whiskeys that takes advantage of their newness on the scene, instead of lamenting the lack of aging-years they've accumulated, you'll want to pick up at least one bottle for your sipping pleasure! Neat, or on the rocks..?

Remember 1911 Spirits and their awesome ciders? Well, some of those ciders are distilled into fan-freakin'-tastic vodkas and gins. The result is a crisp, clean, and smooth flavor, with notes of vanilla, caramel, and fruit on the nose. Yes, yes, very nice, get out of my nose and into my mouth, please!

Tuthilltown Spirits also make use of New York's perfect apple-growing climate to produce, among other awesome stuff, a true apple vodka: vodka distilled from apple cider that retains some of that fabulous apple flavor for a spirit that's just right over ice if you're looking for something a little 'spirit forward'.

Kings County Distillery is the oldest continually operating distillery in New York City! It was founded in 2010. That's how young the industry is, which makes it all the more amazing that such delicious spirits are happening. Aside from being another award-winning distillery using Brooklyn ingenuity to overcome their young age to offer a superb (and superbly local!) bourbon, they also offer tours and tastings every Saturday from 2:30-5:30pm for $8! If you've ever wanted to meet me, just stake out that place.

Not going to lie: gin has always come in pretty close to the bottom of my preferred poison list, but after reading the about page for Brooklyn Gin, I'm wondering if it couldn't nose ahead of rum, and even scotch, into the top three! Hand-cracked juniper berries, and whole sliced citrus? Now that sounds like the beginning of a beautiful cocktail!

New York Distilling Company take their rye whiskey (Rye?? Be still my beating heart!) seriously. They're only offering a couple varieties of gin for now, because their rye hasn't had enough time to age yet. Oh man, this is worse than waiting for Lady Gaga's next album to drop! The good news is, you can stop by their still, too, on Saturdays and Sunday afternoons, with live music starting at 4:00! They have a full bar including their own gins of course, and other liquors to round things out, and a selection of craft beers if that's more your thing (although I have to ask...why are you there, then?)

You remember Greenhook Ginsmiths' super cool beach plum liqueur, right? If you like it, and I know you will, you'll want to try out the spirit it's based on: their American Dry Gin.

I really can't. Reading their list of spirits is making me drool. Find yourself something (anything!) from Fingerlakes Distilling, and get ready for whiskey bliss. Remember that preferred poison list I mentioned? Whiskey, Bourbon, and Rye are tied at the top. Mmmmm...and I didn't even get to the brandy and grappa! I cannot believe this stuff is being made on my side of the Atlantic, let alone a reasonable drive away!

Really, Harvest Spirits? Pear brandy? Genuine applejack?? Shut up. Just shut up. I'm already placing an online order. I really need to sample these apple vodkas. Vodka has always say firmly at the bottom of my preferred poison list, but if this stuff is half as good the descriptions make it sound, rum is going right out the window! (not literally...I do enjoy it mixed with Barrow's Intense Ginger Liqueur, and a mojito in July will always be one of my favorite drinks.)

Rest assured, this is by no means an exhaustive list! There are plenty more beers, wines, and other awesome boozy treats just waiting to be fallen in love with. With such a cornucopia of choice, the only other question is: where can you get all this stuff??

I just happen to live nearby an amazing liquor and wine store that specializes in curated picks in every price range, with a soft spot in it's heart for the home team. Let's hear it for the Juice Box! They also feature a punch card deal to help keep that bar stocked when it seems like the bourbon is drinking itself (happens to me all the time!). They're also happy to order in a bottle you were looking for that they don't have in stock, and e-mail or call you when it arrives! (Because after all, that rare specialty vodka won't actually drink itself...) Of course, if you don't live in or near Windsor Terrace, you're going to have to find your own incredible wine and liquor store. If the only ones in your vicinity are the kind that come equipped with bullet proof glass, and a less than stellar selection, no worries! A lot of the distilleries in particular can ship their product right to your door! Remember that all stores (and restaurants and bars) want to stock what their cliental wants to pay for, so don't hesitate to pipe up, and politely ask for more local selections wherever you are!

This post would not be complete without a shout out to 61 Local, an incredible bar right off the Bergen street stop on the F/G that serves ONLY local wine and beer, and features an incredible list of delicious choices! They also offer local soda and kombucha, and a selection of super tasty snacks and sandwiches for pork lovers and vegans alike. Check it out! It's a favourite of the husband's and mine, and another great place to catch a sighting of your favourite non-celebrity blogger! ;-)

Wow, with so many incredible ways to unwind after a long day, start off a party right, or, you know, just taste something amazing, the only thing left to say is, don't try to taste all this stuff at once!!

I told you you'd love this blog post!

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