Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Buvare: Gilded Cava Punch

It's awards show season!
On the Table Set we have been discussing how to gussy up your next plain ol' TV party into something to remember. This honey-kissed sparkling punch that I created for Homefries U would make a classy sipper for an Oscar party, or an upscale afternoon with Oscar the Grouch.

Listen to The Table Set: Stay Tuned

Gilded Cava Punch

1 pint Krupnik Honey Liqueur
1 cup Dolin Blanc Vermouth
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup rich simple syrup*
4 bottles Cava Brut
1 liter club soda
Fee Brothers Plum Bitters

In a pitcher, combine honey liqueur, vermouth, lemon juice, rich simple syrup and 10 dashes of bitters, cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours. To serve, pour the mixture over a large block of ice in a punch bowl and slowly add chilled Cava and club soda. Garnish with lemon wheels.
Serve in wine goblets.

*Rich Simple Syrup

1 cup demerara sugar
1/2 cup water

Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until a rich syrup develops. Remove from heat, cool, and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Buvare: Distillery Row

Portland is pretty sly.
Disguised as a sleepy town, the artisans there are often, sneakily, a few steps ahead. Especially in the booze department.
Let's not forget the liquid treasure produced by the vineyard-filled Oregon valleys surrounding Portland that shook up the American wine world, or where the craft beer movement established a formidable foundation.
Several years back, I visited Clear Creek Distillery in industrial NW Portland, at the time a refreshingly anomalous producer of eaux de vie, grappa and wine brandy. Nowadays, Portland has so many craft distilleries that they have their own district deemed Distillery Row and a passport to guide you through it. Clearly this is not something I would pass by. Listen up.

Aware that intoxication was a fair prediction for the afternoon, I opted for the distilleries within walking distance of each other. Unfortunately, due to tasting hours as well, that ruled out Stone Barn Brandyworks in SE's Brooklyn neighborhood. (Alas, something to look forward to for next time.)
And so we started out at Integrity Spirits, ready for the first stamp in our adorable passport (which cost $20, and waives tasting fees at all distilleries on the self-guided tour).

I was familiar with Integrity's Lovejoy Vodka, a beautifully designed bottle housing a lightly viscous vodka with hints of chamomile. Yummy.

The 12 Bridges Gin was my favorite, with a bright blend of herbs and spices reminiscent of Hendrick's (light juniper and that hint of cucumber).

The Hazelnut Vodka was a nutty punch to the palate, super tasty and roasty. Almost Nutella-like with cocoa character.

Next we sampled two batches of infused vodkas under the Sub Rosa label. The Tarragon was fresh and vegetal with licorice and pepper notes (a fun booze for cooking). The bright yellow Saffron was complex with lemony coriander, cumin, and pepper notes.

Integrity is famous for their Trillium Absinthe Supèrieure, Oregon’s first absinthe and one of the first in the US after it became legal. The 120 proof absinthe is intended to be diluted and sweetened per traditional ritual, which we prepared during the tasting. The result was one of the smoothest, most palatable absinthes I've enjoyed.

Next up was New Deal Distillery down the street. Known for their vodka, I was most impressed with the range of product New Deal presented. All exceptionally well-executed.

I was startled by the drinkability of New Deal Vodka. Smooth "sipping vodka" with clean botanicals and an easy finish. Even the 88, a traditional vodka distilled in copper stills, bottled at 88 proof. A piece of cake! A delicious piece of cake.

I got really excited when we moved to the handsome Gin No. 1 and Gin No. 3. A study for purists, these are two very different gins using juniper as the sole botanical. The first is a less-refined early-Dutch-style gin, cloudy, lightly yellow, and viscous. This is not a mixing gin, it is meant to be sipped neat and enjoyed. The latter, Gin No. 3 is bright and complex, shocking such a melange of flavors (pine, mint, citrus) could come purely from juniper berries. Absolutely delectable. This was a gin I needed to own (and do).

We tasted a lovely coffee liqueur and new ginger liqueur, but both were eclipsed by the Mud Puddle. Unlike most cloying chocolate-flavored liqueurs, here cacao is added to this spirit prior to distillation for a dry and subtle, rich after-dinner treat.
The brave of us finished off the tasting with a fiery shot of Hot Monkey, a piquant blend of five Southwestern chili peppers, lending just enough heat to keep you wanting more. Forget the bloody mary, this stuff is great on its own or with a splash of tropical fruit juice.

Overall I was most excited for our visit to House Spirits, which was the perfect place to finish off the increasingly galvanizing day.

Known for their Aviation Gin, the owners at House Spirits were more like hosts, and us their guests. They offered Aviation and Fever Tree tonics as we perused the shop before diving into the tasting. Their famous full-bodied, Dutch-style recipe blends juniper, cardamom, coriander, lavender, anise seed, sarsaparilla and dried sweet orange peel. This stuff is major.

A growing star among the ranks at House Spirits is their Krogstad Aquavit, an invigorating take on the traditional Scandinavian spirit lightly spiced with star anise and caraway seed. A chilled glass will warm even your winteriest nights!

We quickly moved to the big guns, the Limited Release Line. These small-batch specialty stunners range in production from a few cases to a few pallets, each apothecary bottle numbered.

We got to check out Gammal Krogstad, a barrel-aged version of the previous Aquavit, rested for 10 month in 3 barrels (a 53 gallon House Spirits whiskey barrel and two 30 gallon used House Spirits rum barrels). The blend of the three produced a honeyed grandfather to the crisp Aquavit, with deep amber resonant notes.

Then we tried the White Dog.
House Spirits White Dog un-aged whiskey (50% abv) is made from 100% malted barley and Oregon Bull Run water. Unlike moonshine, White Dog starts big and rich, with a malty nose, chewy mouthfeel, and insanely disparate flavors from white pepper to lemon peel, flower petal to Halloween candy. I shouted "WHOA" when I took my first taste, and "more?" after my second. This was my trophy bottle of the day, and if you can find it, recommend you buy it at once. You won't be sorry.

So yeah, we were pretty tanked by the end of the day. But all the better for wandering into random rose garden picnics.
I love you, Portland. Thank you for being so good to me. Until next time...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Buvare: Kask

When you have a hit on your hands, what comes next? For the folks at Grüner, the answer is open a badass, invitingly-pretentious downtown cocktail room around the corner.
Enter Kask. The kids love it. The product is immaculate. The space is... a mining den? Whatever, it's adorable. You'll love it.

Judah is a man about town. He knew the pretty bartender. He ordered off-menu. He asked for a Gunsmoke and she broke out the big matches.

After a few minutes smoking his inverted bucket glass, she filled it with Rittenhouse Rye, Gran Classico, Combier Rouge, bitters and burnt orange. It smelled like heaven. A burned-out, destitute version of heaven, anyway. Deeelicious.

I was wooed by the exotic odd-man-out on the menu, the High Desert Swizzle. This summer slow-burner paired Del Maguey Vida mezcal with strawberry shrub, lime, and demerara sugar. At first smoky with a vinegar punch, it finished fruity-bright and mellowly sweet. Dangerously addictive. And not unlike an agave-spiked Strawberry Kiwi Mister Misty (that's a good thing).

I was impressed with Kask, the sexiest drinking den in downtown Portland yet. Even if the chairs are borrowed from a kindergarten classroom, they bring us all that little bit closer...

1215 SW Alder St. Portland, OR 97205
Kask on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Croquer: Grüner

As soon as I moved away from Portland, something seemingly magical happened (coincidentally, I'm sure).
Everyone was raving. Long before the Alpine craze spread like wildfire, downtown Portland's Grüner was winning diners over with their "greener" (which grüner means in German) approach to goulash and spätzle. Perhaps it was my visit to Bavaria and the Austrian Alps in my formative years, but old-world Middle Europe is my soft spot. Upon my visit back to Portland, Grüner was at the very top of my list.

Brooke and I met up with Portland(-by-way-of-LA) transplant Anna of Banana Wonder for happy hour on Grüner's sidewalk patio, rumored to be one of the best happy hours in town. After one glance at the exceptionally reasonably-priced menu I understood why.

I couldn't deny the allure of the Aquabeet cocktail, with Krogstad aquavit, beet gastrique, and lemon juice. It was bright, earthy and refreshing. And strong!

The Dangerous Summer was a fitting choice for the day, which Brooke and Anna enjoyed, comprised of Appleton Jamaican White Rum, Maraska maraschino, raspberry syrup, lime, and flamed lemon. A little too easy to tipple...

Essentially, we ordered one of everything... Starting with the signature beet pickled hard-boiled eggs.

The duck liver mousse was forceful and pungent. We all sampled it silently, politely admitting later that we favored it least of the bunch.

On the other hand, the house-made liptauer cheese with radishes, celery and pretzel croutons could have come in a much larger crock, as we devoured it in seconds.

I insisted on the rabbit frankfurter, brioche bun & dill pickle relish, which was buttery and tasty. I wanted to order a second to get a larger bite, but wisely waited for everything else to come out first.

Anna is a bit of a pretzel freak, and I am right there with her. We were both disappointed not to see Grüner's on the happy hour offerings. Our server apologized as it only appears as a side on the dinner menu, but after some begging agreed to oblige our request. A curious braid, this pretzel was almost a baguette hybrid, but with good flavor and chewy crust/flesh ratio. Anna seemed to give it a thumbs up.

Gosh, we were still hungry. Time to call in the charcuterie — salami, spicy coppa, cornichons & mustard tided us over until the big sausage came.

It wouldn't be Alpine cuisine with bratwurst, and Grüner's is plump and delicious, covered in sauerkraut alongside sweet mustard. This is truly all I need, and a wise way to finish our Germanic snackage fest. We called for our check, which arrived in a gorgeous piece of literature on Weimar Culture. Had only they dropped that sooner, we may have left sated and smarter.

527 SW 12th Ave. Portland, OR 97205; 503.241.7163
Grüner on Urbanspoon