Thursday, December 17, 2015

Obscure Holiday Cocktail Tasting, Vol. 7

Happy holidays! My friends and I recently had our long-running obscure holiday cocktail party - the 7th annual gathering (insert many exclamation points here). It really does blow my mind - in a warm fuzzy way - that I've been living in one place (that I love) having this same themed holiday party with the same group of people (that I love) for seven years now. 

We started with obscure holiday cocktails (Vol. 1), meaning historic holiday cocktails, but as you can imagine, we pretty quickly exhausted available recipes. Then we switched to holiday cocktails, but predictably those turn out to be pretty terrible, relying on green liqueurs and a lot of peppermint flavor. 

We finally evolved into creating original cocktails for the event, and it's here that we've seen the most success. This year, all of the drinks were hits. 

We started with a light sparkler, perfect for a party - easy to make and light on the alcohol. It's a riff on a Kir Royale with St. Germaine (an elderflower liqueur), sparkling wine, and hibiscus flowers. Jay of Finest Kind Modifiers & Mixers made it, so it contains a splash of his green tea hibiscus concentrate (available in Portland at Vena's Fizz House and Whole Foods). 

St. Germaine liqueur
club soda
dried hibiscus flower in syrup

Dawn made the Christmas Rose, a riff on a drink served at The Honey Paw. It contains a rose liqueur, adding a subtle floral taste, which complimented the Bombay Sapphire. 

Christmas Rose

2 oz Bombay Sapphire Gin
3/4 oz La Quintinye Dry Vermouth
1/2 oz Combier Rose Liqueur
Thin lemon peel (coat the rim of the glass then add to drink)

Prof. A's drink was thoughtfully sourced, using as many local ingredients as he could find, as is his usual approach.

He used honey from his beehives down in York County, which in 2013 made a lighter, brighter flavored honey and went well with the Cocchi Americano and the sweetness that aging imparts to the gin. 

Maine Craft Distilling Sprigge ("barrel-rested" gin)
Blue Current Sake
A little bit of Cocchi Americano
lemon juice
Flower bitters

R. made a cocktail using Genever from her and S.'s trip to the Netherlands this year. R. reported that most of her attempts to use it in a cocktail tasted like "poop," so she ended up with a fruity cocktail that hid the Genever's flavor. 

The "You can't taste the Genever" cocktail

pineapple juice
dash of orange bitters
splash of Tonic

Garnish with a cherry and an umbrella. 

My drink was a replica of the Whiskey Paramour that A. and I enjoyed during our visit to The Velveteen Habit in Ogunquit. It's smoky from the Scotch, but the citrus juice and liqueur mediate the flavors and meld nicely. 

The Whiskey Paramour

1.5 oz Laphroaig Scotch whiskey
3/4 oz Rhum Clement
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz Royal Rose Jasmine simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake, strain into coupe. Garnish with a dried orange slice or twist. 

Of course, all of the cocktails had expert cheese pairings from S. who slings cheese at Whole Foods. She's leading a cheese and beer class with Allagash next Tuesday if you're looking for holiday advice.  

See the recaps of volumes 3, 4, 5, and my punch from last year for our other winning holiday cocktail recipes. And most of all, enjoy your holiday!! 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Happy Hour at Roustabout

Ed. note: Roustabout is now closed. Drifters Wife now operates in the space.

My East End neighborhood is hoppin' now - with the addition of Oxbow, Maine and Loire, Terlingua, and now Roustabout, the bottom of Munjoy Hill has become quite the destination for eating and drinking. 

I've fallen out of my habit of making every new restaurant's opening night - Professor A. and I were on quite the tear there in 2014. So even though it's been open for a month now, I hadn't made it down to the neighborhood's new Italian restaurant. 

But I went earlier this week for their happy hour - Tuesday through Friday from 4-6pm and again late night from 10pm-12am. The specials feature $5 red and white wines, a $5 cocktail, and a $3 beer. Happy hour snacks are inexpensive too - there were 5 dishes for $5 each. 

The restaurant is surprisingly large for Portland and decked out in a jaunty nautical theme. I was instantly won over when the server placed our napkins on the table with nautical flags printed on them (the red and yellow triangles fit together in a square is the symbol for "O"). 

The special cocktail was a Sazerac and while I was tempted by the Painkiller and the Pamlico on the regular cocktail menu, I can't resist a deal, so I went with a Sazerac. 

We ordered snacks: the ricotta and pepperonata, chicken liver, and marinated mushrooms, only passing up a panini and chips and dip. The chicken liver was my favorite, with salty fried capers a nice contrast to the rich, smooth liver spread. We needed more crackers to finish off our hearty portion. 

The marinated mushrooms seemed to be full of love 'em or hate 'em flavors - very tangy from the vinegar and full of smoked paprika (a friend told me). The combination was intriguing, and I kept returning to the dish, not sure if I was in the "love" or "not-for-me" camp. 

The hearty snacks sufficed for dinner, so under the guise of "just looking," I accepted a dessert menu. I ended up ordering a panna cotta topped with candied fennel and crumbled biscotti. The panna cotta reminded me of the cream top on my yogurt - smooth and rich. White candied fennel certainly isn't for everyone, I like its strange flavors and the crunch the biscotti added. 

The restaurant began to fill as we enjoyed our happy hour, even though it was early in the week. It seems as though everyone is excited to check out the new place. The service was friendly and relaxed, since we were clearly in no hurry and enjoying our drinks and food. 

The dinner menu is a bit pricer than happy hour, of course. I enjoyed the lasagna, garlic bread, Caesar salad, and tiramisu at the pop-up dinner Tandem Coffee hosted a few months ago and have likewise heard good things about the rest of the menu.

But happy hour is a nice way (my favorite way!) to try a restaurant without dropping a pretty penny. I'm a huge fan of the drinks-and-snacks approach. Check out nautical Roustabout for your next happy hour - it feels particularly festive at the holidays!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Rare Bourbon Tasting at TIQA

I went to a Bourbon tasting at TIQA two weeks ago, after giving a book talk at a retirement community in York (where I was regaled with drinking stories from the adorable elderly crowd). The event was held in a private room at TIQA, past their large dining room, and was set up much like a beer festival. The only misstep was that all the high-end Bourbons were at one table all together and so a big line formed. But that gave me plenty of time to talk to people I probably wouldn't have otherwise while waiting.  

The featured Bourbons were all from Sazerac and Jim Beam - I know there's many listed above, but check out this family tree of Bourbon from the King's County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining and you can see that, despite the variety, they're all from two parent companies. 

I tried five tasting pours, knowing I couldn't handle much more than that - props to anyone who was able to make it through all 19 available. 

I started with the Maker's 46, described in the tasting notes provided as aged in barrels with seared French oak staves with intense flavors and complex notes of vanilla and caramel. The "46" comes from the original trial number which the distiller aged a bit longer. 

Selections from the Beam, Inc. family
Still not willing to brave the line for the high-end stuff, I turned to the neighboring table for some Eagle Rare 10 year. My intention was to compare it to the 17 year at the other table, but once I got to the front of the line, I just went for the Pappy (obviously). The 10 year was drier than the Maker's 46 with a richer flavor. 

I snagged a sample of the Blanton's Single Barrel to sip while in line, enjoying its sweet, citrusy taste. It's really interesting how wide the flavors within the world of Bourbon can be. 

The Pappies

Pappy Van Winkle has quite the following, making its bottles hard to find, so I was excited to try the 20 year. Fortunately (for my wallet), the extra years made it a bit too richly flavored for me, and I enjoyed the 12 year more. (The 10 year is bottled at cask strength, and I've found that the higher alcohol content isn't for me). 

While I'm not sure of these Bourbons' availability here in the state (check Maine Spirits for availability or ask your liquor store to order you a bottle), I do know that TIQA has the remainders of these bottles -- including the Pappys -- on their shelves. So while supplies last, you can catch some of these fine Bourbons at TIQA's bar, in addition to their regular selection (which includes Nikka, a Japanese whiskey). 

Bourbon selection at TIQA - photo provided by TIQA

I attended this event as a guest of TIQA's. I did not receive any compensation for this post, and the opinions and copy contained wherein are mine.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Preview of Rhum Tiki Bar at Bramhall

Last Tuesday was the much-anticipated tiki party at Bramhall, acting as a preview of Rhum, the new tiki bar from the owners of Bramhall and Nosh. I hope you were able to make it, because it was a blast. Bramhall is the perfect place for a subterranean tiki party on a cold, rainy December night. 

If you couldn't come, no worries, Rhum will be open early next year, which will be the perfect time to cozy up and enjoy some tropical drinks and amazing seafood snacks. 

The party started with a special ladies-only rum tasting for the women of the Portland Spirits Society. Kevin Clarke, the liquor rep, led us through a tasting of four aged Mt. Gay rums: Eclipse, Black Barrel, Extra Old, and 1703. They ran the gamut from smooth and sippable, smoky and Bourbon-like, and spicy and strong. 

My favorite was the Black Barrel, a blend of rums made with a pot and column still and aged in charred Bourbon oak barrels. (If you're into nerdy rum talk, I think this is an interesting review of the rum, getting at the changing trends within the industry.)

We were treated to a preview of the menu during the reception - starting with a great spread of cheese and charcuterie. Next came the Two Island Creek oysters, stacked on a silver sea turtle tower filled with crushed ice, then bites of Mahogany clam ceviche with avocado, tomato, and tortilla chips, resembling guacamole.

My favorite was the hamachi crudo, small spoons filled with squares of fish, daikon radish, and apple and a sesame vinaigrette. The tender pork spare riblets, served over slaw, were a hit, as were the toasts covered with chicken liver pâté and a tamarind shallot chutney.

Once our pre-party was over, the place was packed and the tiki drinks began to flow. I tried a frozen painkiller (rum, coconut, pineapple, nutmeg) that was delicious. Others enjoyed mai tais, jungle birds, and fogcutters, all topped with orchids, plastic monkeys, and other festive tiki decorations. The party surely went late into the night, but after we chatted our friends, we slipped away to enjoy more snacks at nearby Boda.

Many thanks go to the team at Bramhall and Rhum for organizing this event. Rhum is definitely my most-anticipated opening of 2016!