Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Visit to "the Darkside" - Evening with The Black Grouse

Last week I took a trip to the darkside and went to a scotch tasting.  Well, I guess it wasn't really a tasting but more of a cocktail competition as part of The Black Grouse's "Distinctive Bartender" tour.  The event was held at The Well, the bar next to The Forge on Miami Beach, and hosted by Baratunde Thurston, a standup comedian and director of digital at online funny news-maker, The Onion.

Three distinctive local bartenders were involved in the competition - Andres Aleman, John Lermayer, and Walid Hamid, the latter whom I recognized from spending time at Sra Martinez and The Lobby Bar at the W.  Here are a few of the cocktails these gents put out for the crowd, photos courtesy of The Black Grouse:

A Tippling Ballad by Andres Aleman
Smokey New York Sour by John Lermayer
The Grouse Dram by Walid Hamid

The Tippling Ballad had a strong coffee flavor thanks to the use of espresso infused honey and, not being a coffee drinker, that was too much for me.  There were a good number of fans for that one though.  The Smokey New York Sour was a good drink and I liked the way the splash of red wine added some fruit and played with the dryness of the scotch.  This drink and The Grouse Dram were tied for my second favorite drink of the night.  My favorite overall was The Scottish Mark by Walid Hamid.  He combined The Black Grouse, Yellow Chartreuse, and a little absinthe to make one pretty awesome cocktail.  It takes a lot for me to say that about a scotch cocktail but this drink was real good.

The Scottish Mark by Walid Hamid
Here's the winning recipe:

The Scottish Mark
1.5oz The Black Grouse
.75oz Yellow Chartreuse
.75oz Fresh-Squeezed Lemon and Lime Juice
.5oz Thyme Syrup
1 barspoon Absinthe

Mix together and shake all ingredients.  Strain into a snifter glass. 

Cheers!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Coming Soon: Frita Shop

Oye!  Got some pretty kickass news for ya today!  Local Miamians may recall Chef Alberto Cabrera and the badass Cobaya dinner he took us underground for back in November of last year.  Check out his resume.  The dude gets around and has worked with some great chefs throughout his career.  We chatted via text today and he let me know that he was leaving The Local, his gastropub concept in Coral Gables, and launching a new endeavor this summer...  Frita Shop!

Oh hell yeah!
I can imagine the Burger Beast fainting from the thought of getting his hands on frita at a brand new certified frita joint.  Alberto revealed minimal details.  What I can tell you is that he will be offering up these classic Cuban burgers along with liquid nitrogen shakes and that there will be originally be locations in Kendall and Westchester.  I imagine there will be other bites of awesomeness on the menu too.

Currently the website, www.fritashop.com, is in the final development stages and soon there will be Facebook and Twitter pages to follow to get the latest updates on Cabrera's new joint.  Alberto also let me know that inquiring minds and bellies can get a taste of Frita Shop next month inside the Grand Tasting tent at South Beach Wine and Food Festival.  Locations hope to open sometime in July.  Stay tuned for more info.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

On the Road: Five Horses Tavern, Sommerville, MA

Those who know me, know that I love bourbon whiskey.  You can find evidence of that on this blog as well.  I enjoy everything about it, from flavor to bite to it's history as a true American spirit.  When you have something you're passionate about, nothing is better than getting others fired up about it too.  Well, I'm proud to say that my own father is one of those whom I love sharing bourbon knowledge with and it's great to see our talks trickle down through his motley crew of buddies.  They've done a great job in guiding me to spots in the Boston area that have great bourbon lists when I've come home to visit.  Lately, they'd stumbled into (and out of) a great spot called Five Horses Tavern which is right in the Davis Square section of Sommerville, MA.  I was home for the holidays, so after taking a tour of Dad's latest conquest (the construction of a maintenance facility at the club where he sometimes plays golf and often groans of other golfers not filling in their divots) we picked up one of his partners in bourbon crime, Denny aka "Primo Photori" aka "The Guy with the Hollow Knee That Houses a Second Liver", and headed on down to check it out for lunch.

The lower bar at Five Horses Tavern
We arrived and anchored ourselves at the corner of the bar in the front lower section of the restaurant.  The bar was finished with a layer of copper plating that reminded me of the copper stills used by some distilleries to produce whiskey before it's aged in the barrel to become bourbon.  It was a nice touch.  As you can see in the photo above and on the whiskey menu here, they've got a pretty badass selection of whiskey with the widest selection being in the bourbon category.

Above the TV at the bar was this cool piece of chalk-drawn art that weaves and winds the names of their beer and whiskey offerings
Elijah Craig 12yr Bourbon
I was given the reigns to get us going and chose to start us out with one of my favorite value bourbons, Elijah Craig 12yr, while we took a look at the lunch menu.  They had those cool Japanese ice ball makers and Dad is real high on those now, so high that he just happened to receive one from Santa aka "himself" for Christmas.  Since it was relatively slow at the bar (making the ice balls can be somewhat troublesome), we each got one.  It was a nice touch and it totally worked out because the bartender hadn't got a chance to use the ice ball press yet.  She would get more than her fair share of education on this apparatus before we were done.
Pappy Van Winkle 20 year Bourbon
They had a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 20yr and that marked our 2nd bourbon of the day.  It was the holidays, ya know?  I was glad to get a taste of this one since it was gobbled up before I could get a bottle at Total Wine this year.  Pappy Van Winkle is made from a wheated mash recipe which means that, in addition to corn and malted barley, wheat grain is used rather than the more common rye grain.  Many agree with the notion that wheated bourbons get better with age and this 20 year old bourbon is a great example of that.  Fantastic stuff.  I'm 100% sure that this is my favorite bourbon of all time.  Ok, time for lunch.

The lunch menu looked great and that made it tough to choose what to eat.  In the end, I narrowed it down to their fried chicken sandwich or a selection of tacos.  On the bartender's recommendation I went with the pork belly taco, potato taco, and toro furioso (shortrib) taco with a side of tots for everyone to share.  Dad went with the grilled wings and Denny had the whitebean hummus and the buttermilk fried chicken tenders.  The food was great.  Dad housed his wings and Denny's fried chicken was such a large portion that some of it went home with him for a snack later on.  The pork belly taco was just ok.  I had to remove a ton of excess raw onion from it and the belly was slightly overdone and cut into a portion that made eating it a taco shell a bit awkward.  My shortrib taco and potato taco were both great though.  We also got a colossal portion of tater tots that lasted throughout the entire afternoon.  It was a bonus to have great food to serve as "base" for the whiskey we'd been imbibing on this afternoon voyage.
Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon

We'd planned on having three whiskeys and then heading on our way.  I was excited when I saw that they had Parker's Heritage on their list.  This year's release was finished in Cognac barrels and I'd heard it was some tasty juice.  That was to be the third pick, the final pick.  But Denny had read my post about Four Roses Single Barrel and wanted to give that a whirl so we bumped our intake from three to four.  Plus, there was still food to be finished.  I actually recall the decision going something like this...

Denny: "Hey, what about that Four Roses I read about on your blog?  We should try that one."
Dad: "Well, we said we would have three but, you know, four would be like the stations of the cross and it was just Christmas yesterday so it's only right..."
Me: "Hard to argue with that logic!"

Denny fell in love with the Four Roses so it was more than a worthy religious experiment.  The conversation continued and one of the owners came down to say hello.  We complimented him on his selection and then this happened...

Dad: "I'm thinking we do one more individual choice before the Parker's..."
Me: "So five?  Like the star of David in observance of the Hanukkah holiday?"
Denny: "I think I'd like to try that Elmer T. Lee that Steve was talking about earlier."
Dad: "Wait a minute...  The star of David has six points!"
Me: "Oh no way!"
*hearty laughter ensues*

Hancock's President's Reserve Bourbon

Dad decided on one of my favorites, Black Maple Hill, while Denny went with the aforementioned Elmer T. Lee.  I decided I'd try one I'd never had before and chose Hancock's President's Reserve, a single barrel bourbon produced by the Buffalo Trace distillery using its higher-rye mashbill.  This was a great call.  Really easy sippin' juice and I really loved the punch of the rye.  I made a mental note to pick up a bottle in the future for the home bar.
Whistlepig Straight Rye Whiskey

I don't know if it was the tacos kicking in or what but I felt surprisingly sober.  Then again, by this point we had been there for a good two and a half hours, paying little attention to the clock.  It was a Monday and a holiday so the schedule was clear except that we had to be home by 6pm for dinner with my sister and her in-laws.  We'd arrived at noon so we were cool.  Oh yeah, our laissez faire attitude was spread all over the corner of that bar, the copper plating just winking at us with approval.  And with that, someone (I think it was Denny because he was shining in the role of "enabler" for the afternoon) suggested Whistlepig Rye as our next feature for this afternoon American whiskey matinee.  Whistlepig Rye is a Canadian rye whiskey that is made from 100% rye and bottled in Vermont.  It's a product of the partnership between a former Maker's Mark Master Distiller and a former contestant on "The Apprentice".  I'd recently tried Whistlepig while on a business trip in Seattle and found it less than favorable with a nose of heavy leather and a leathery flavor to match but I felt there were a few variables that may have influenced the flavor and I wanted to give it another shot.  This time the rye grain shined through.  But still, this was no $70+ bottle of whiskey.  At least I wouldn't pay that asking price.  There are about 3 different rye whiskeys at half that price or under (Redemption Rye, Williet 3yr Rye, Jefferson's Rye) that I would recommend before Whistlepig.  This one is all dough, not enough show.

Parker's Heritage Collection, Cognac Finish

We finished off our glasses of Whistlepig and then a glass of water before heading into the grand finale - Parker's Heritage Collection.  Each year for the past five years, Heaven Hill distillery releases a limited edition whiskey under the Parker's Heritage Collection name.  The name comes from Parker Beam, of that Beam family, who along with his son, Craig, holds the title of Master Distiller at Heaven Hill.  This year's PHC release is a 10 year bourbon that is finished in Grande Champagne Cognac barrels from Frapin Cellars in France.  It is some awesome stuff.  I was a little afraid that the cognac finish might impart too much sweetness on this bourbon but it is barely noticeable, kinda like the dude who plays the triangle in a symphony orchestra.  You know he's there but he's mostly drowned out by the rest of the symphony.  Bourbon flavors were prevalent with vanilla, caramel, toffee, and dark cherry and then that tiny hint of cognac on the finish (it's hilarious how many entries on the "notepad" app on my phone contain bourbon tasting notes).  At 100 proof, I was surprised at how easy this one went down when sipped neat.  I loved it.  Currently seeking out a bottle to add to the home bar.

We indulged ourselves with yet another glass of water and more conversation with the barkeepers.  I think around the 3.5 hour mark was when we got a mini dose of reality...  Mum had texted Dad with some disapproval that we had not returned home yet.  Apparently we were supposed to help get ready for the dinner with my sister and her in-laws.  Hey, unless specific instructions are doled out in the morning there's no way any man is going to find that sort of common sense, especially when bourbon has clouded the common sense radar.  We made small talk for a bit, thanked the bar staff and the owner for their hospitality, and headed on our way.

Five Horses Tavern was a nice way to spend a holiday afternoon with good company, great food, and some excellent American Whiskey.  Dad was in the doghouse due to our "lunch" turning into a 4-hour escapade so I dropped him off before taking Denny home.  It was then that Dad thought it would be funny to play a prank based on him being in the doghouse not only for our tardiness but because Mum knew there was bourbon involved.  It was at this point that he delivered this gem and I'll end it at that hahahahaha...