Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tasting Notes - Don Julio Reposado

(In case you're unfamiliar, this is what deliciousness in a bottle looks like.)
It's been awhile since I've uploaded anything, hasn't it? Apologies for that folks. I've been beyond sick for the past couple of weeks. But, on the bright side, the illness finally seems to be lifting. Now that I'm starting to feel better, I've edited and uploaded a Tasting Notes video of Don Julio Reposado.

Setting the stage; Don Julio is my favorite brand of Blanco Tequila - at least, my favorite so far. I'm not very well versed in aged Tequilas, but the Reposado definitely holds up to the expectations implied with the Don Julio name. The Reposado is barrel aged for 8 to 11 months in American bourbon barrels. Tequila s a premium Mezcal, but in recent years it's separated itself from Mezcal as a category of spirits. To be considered Tequila, a Mezcal must be 100% fermented from Blue Agave, and produced in the state of Tequila, Mexico.


In appearance Don Julio Reposado is amber, and has a syrup-like texture. On the nose is vanilla, with various spices and a baked cake like quality. On the palette, maple, black pepper, licorice, smoke.  The black pepper is not pungent, and the smoke builds over time. There is a hint of chives in the aftertaste, as well as an earthy aroma; I would not say that the chive smell is a high point, considering the dessert-like quality during the rest of the tasting.


Don Julio Reposado Reviewed by Thomas Goodine on Apr 16 . Dessert-like, vanilla, maple. Don Julio Reposado is an aged Tequila, aged in American bourbon barrels for 8 to 11 months. On the nose is vanilla and other spices giving a baked caked aroma. The barrel aging has imparted a palette of maple, licorice, and smoke. There are also Blanco Tequila qualities such as black pepper, earthiness, and chives. The smoke builds over time and the black pepper is not pungent. Rating: 5

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Whistler vac-away; brought to you by Kokanee and Snowbus

(The only better start to a day, would be a full bottle of Lagavulin... Okay, okay. A lot of other
full bottles of whiskey would suffice as well.)
This past Saturday, I was fortunate to score two tickets to a Kokanee apres-series party at Whistler. The package included free transport to and from the event, lift tickets, discount cards for various restaurants in the village, and access to a VIP party. The interesting part, was of course the party.

See Also: Craft of the Everyman drink

Don't get me wrong though. We had an awesome morning in and around Whistler, and though we didn't put our lift tickets to much use - we left our snowboards at home, opting for a less active vacaway - we did take full advantage of discounted food in the village. We started at Longhorn, where we ingested some breakfast; but more importantly, we ordered our drinks. The waitress suggested a Bailey's Coffee and a Mimosa. While the girlfriend went with the Mimosa, I bravely (or not so bravely) opted for an Irish Coffee. Our drinks arrived, and while the Irish Coffee was more or less what you'd expect, I was pleasantly surprised to see my girlfriend's Mimosa come as a small bottle of Henkell Trocken and a side of OJ. Nice!

(Even an anti-smile spirits obsessor such as myself could not keep from smiling if I were in this same position.)
After browsing the various shops of Whistler village, and stopping into Starbucks, we continued on the theme of drinking the finest of what Whistler had to offer on this fine Saturday morni--- oh, wait, at this point it was afternoon.
Anyway, we made our way to Brewhouse where the lady ordered a Lifty Lager, while I went for something seasonal; a fortified ale served in a large snifter. The lager tasted a bit wheaty, and reminiscent of Whistler Brewery's Powder Mountain Lager, while the fortified ale was quite sweet, and boilermaker like. I like both the Powder lager and boilermakers, so both of these beers hit a note with me. We played pool while we drank, and discussed moving on to Crystal Lounge, where we had drank several times on our last trip to Whistler, and liked one of the waitresses, so thought we'd pop our head's in to say hello.

(This is basically what the entire party looked like.)
The waitress wasn't there when we arrived, but her shift started shortly after. In the mean time, my better half ordered a caesar - having not had one since we first started dating two years ago - and I stuck with the beer theme, ordering a personal favorite and special of the day at Crystal Lounge: the maple cream ale. We played Jenga while sipping on our drinks, and discussing the party to come. We were surprised to see the waitress from our last Whistler trip arrive, and give us a few eye glances that said "I know you", but when she awkwardly approached our table her look turned into a "I think I know you, but I don't know if I know you" glance. We laughed about it afterward, but finished up at the Crystal Lounge so that we could ascend the mountain for the party that awaited.

See Also: Coffee may disappear

The ride up the gondola was what you'd expect from a gondola ride. It was beautiful. On top of the mountain, we entered the roundhouse and took our seats in the Kokanee party. We got plenty of free beer, and listened to a local band play a bunch of oldies. It was fun, and some rowdier party-goers were dancing. I can't really say much more than that. A Kokanee party is more or less what you would expect it to be. A Kokanee party! The biggest upside to the party was that I won a free lift ticket in the random grand prize draw, which I'm fairly sure was the best prize that you could win in the draw. It felt like justice from all of the non-wins of Tim Hortin's Roll Up the Rim contest.

(A lonesome bottle of Kokanee.)
After the party, we took the gondola back down and got on the bus to return home. The bus ride was terrible as there were about four random party goers who were feeling rowdy - in the most annoying way possible. The lady working for the bus had to talk to them several times. I felt embarrassed for them, as it reminded me of when I used to take school bus rides on field trips while growing up. I felt even more embarrassed for them when I heard them ranting about how they were from Surrey. It somehow irks me to have stereotypes such as the Surrey Boys fall exactly where they are, but there you have it; another unfair stereotype with some grain of truth.

See Also: The Bottle Opener: "The Beer Details"

Luckily, looking back on it a few days later, the event as a whole was awesome, and in hindsight palm-faced Surrey Boys leave me with a somewhat comical story. Their chants of "Party! Party! Party!" and "Deaner! Deaner! Deaner!" (one of the "crew's" nickname) reminded me of larger than life teen and frat party movies. Of course, the reality is that they're a few drunk kids on a bus ride with a bunch of sleeping adults. Nevertheless! It's one of those things that I've already laughed over with my girlfriend, and suspect many "Remember the time when..." stories to follow.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Coffee may disappear



(Coffee is a key ingredient in a lot of alcoholic beverages.)

I recently watched a two and a half hour long podcast on coffee. The podcast was the Joe Rogan Experience, with guest Paul Giuliano. It was very enlightening and I suggest you watch it if you have any interest in coffee at all.

See Also: Whistler episode of 'The Bottle Opener'

One of the topics Joe's guest brought up several times was the diversity of the coffee plant. Now in an episode of The Bottle Opener I briefly explained that coffee was from the Middle East. This is wrong. Coffee originates from Ethiopia, but centuries ago humans brought it across the Red Sea to Yemen, where it was shipped out to the rest of the world from the port of Mocha. Virtually all mainstream coffee is a derivative of these plants from Mocha, and make up one or two percent of the total diversity of the coffee plant.

(I predict that Sony Vaios and independent coffee shops will be the hipster's new Macbook and Starbucks.)
So where is the rest of the coffee? Well, its in Ethiopia of course. Each area of Ethiopia is said to have its own varieties of coffee which make up a piece of that town's cultural identity. The coffee is incredibly diverse, with Paul explaining on the podcast that he has brought coffee from Irgachefe, which has a noticeable lemon-like odour. Lemon isn't exactly a quality that you'd normally associate with coffee, and yet there it is; a real thing.

See Also: Sciue Melville

The incredible diversity of this incredibly important plant is something that we may lose some day. There's an ongoing effort to conserve these plants, like many other at risk plants. The reality is that coffee is at risk of disappearing in future generations because of global warming and deforestation. Ethiopia is a tropical country, in which coffee evolved as a shrub living under the canopies of much larger trees. As the world heats up and loses more forests,  the coffee plant loses more of its natural habitat. With up to ninety nine percent of the genetic diversity in one small area of a country, the remaining coffee plants could be devastated by just one bad virus.




Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Canada, and craft spirits


(Inside The Liberty Distillery tasting room on Granville Island, Vancouver.)
Last December, I came across a job opportunity in Singapore, which tuned me into the world of craft spirits in a big way. Having already been a big fan of the craft beer movement, and being a fan of spirits in general, craft spirits were an obvious bridge between the two. While I know a considerable amount about the microdistilleries and their products in my own city, not having the wider knowledge of the craft spirits world outside of Vancouver may have been my biggest shortcoming. Tyler and Howard, the owners of the Secret Mermaid have help tuned me into that world in a big way.

See Also: Flavored Vodka

The craft spirits revolution really seemed to have hit Vancouver in 2013, taking steam near the end of the year, and into the New Year as several microdistilleries began popping up. The trend has existed in the states for considerably longer, however, and as well most of my readers are American. It's one of those things that the culture just seems to be responding to a bit slower here, but in all fairness this is a place where its more common to find people immediately washing shots of Patron down with Coca-cola chasers, than opting to enjoy the taste of the - rather expensive - premium product, neat.  I internally sigh each time it happens, but I can't blame them. Being brought up on bad spirits culture has done Canadians a disservice, and even the days of Canadians having special world renowned microbrews is being overshadowed by the craft beer movement (not that there aren't still amazing beers in Canada - it just seems to be less of an accomplishment than it once was). In a previous article I lamented my own preference for hi-balls in years past

(Buffalo Trace is one of the higher quality American spirits that you can easily buy in Canada.)
Those drinking whiskey neat in my earlier days behind the wood, always ordered with the suffixes "and coke" or "and ginger". Rye and coke neat, or perhaps pressed, seemed like the classiest way to drink Canadian Whiskey, and it possibly took me years of bartending before I heard of my first neat Crown. In my mind, this seemed like something for Scotch culture, or alcoholics. My own obsession with Manhattans eventually became the breaking point.

See Also: My first go at Buffalo Trace - a bartender flop

Since my humble beginnings as no-nothing Maritime Canadian who drinks Alpine, I've managed to familiarize myself with many of the popular names in craft spirits produced by my neighbours to the south. The unfortunate truth is that it can still be quite difficult to get most of these products in Canada.This is only further testament for why craft spirits are moving much slower here than in the south. It's a very niche community, giving heed to the small population and population density of Canada. We're simply producing a smaller fraction of craft spirits compared to the United States, and on top of that, there's the fact that spirits and wine don't carry all of the same social significance here compared to the States. Beer isn't only the drink of the Everyman here, but it also identifies our culture as Canadians; our most popular beer is even called Canadian. Perhaps being Canadian needs to be encapsulated somehow in spirits, the same way as in beer.

(Canada has a plethora of awesome microbreweries, like Bowen Island.)
There does seen to be an end to the untouchable rainbow, though. The niche community I'm part of seems to be growing, at least from my perspective. The obvious consequence of this is that spirits culture will grow as well.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Flavoured vodka


(A Russian Standard Martini. The Russian Standard for vodka, is absolutely no flavour.)
Vodka, in theory, is supposed to be flavourless (whether a flavourless vodka is even possible is arguable). Yet not too long ago we saw familiar brands such as Smirnoff, Absolut, and Stoli's put out a broad range of flavoured vodkas. You can find pretty much any flavour of vodka you can imagine. And it works because of an  easy excuse; the vodka we started with is still flavourless, but we added a flavour on top. This ridiculous notion is perhaps the first nail in the coffin for the idea of vodkas being flavourless.

See Also: State of the legal definition of vodka

Fast forward to the craft spirit movement, and you have a whole other beast. These spirits are somehow imagined to be different. They have complex aromas, which make them characteristically more like a gin. Yet that unmistakable vodka taste is still there - another clue that perhaps vodka does have taste, and odour. Several craft microdistilleries have also emulated the flavoured vodkas of the big brands, but producing more obscure flavours such as salmon. Predictably, long established brands even deep in the vodka belt, such as Chopin,  have also drawn inspiration from the craft movement. They've produced a broad line of different vodkas using methods such as less distillations and filtering steps. The products they've created are supposed to have a wide range of flavour outcomes. Even products from the same initial distillation batches can be grossly different depending on something as simple as how many times its been filtered.

(The Liberty Distillery on Granville Island, Vancouver, produces
Truth vodka with flavour qualities reminiscent of gin.)
In the midst of all this, there is somewhat of a differentiation between the craft and big brands here in North America. Yet, when I look at the wider scope of things, its much different in my mind than what the craft world has done with bourbon. While I myself am not a fan of the 'added flavour' vodkas of the big brands, I can't say that what they're doing is much different than the microdistilleries. On the same token, I find that the craft vodkas are more approachable, creative and classy. My perspective of large brand flavourings is that they're somewhere in the same boat with flavoured jelly beans. They're just supposed to be plain old fun.

That is, they don't seem to be about what the spirit is, but more about the candy coating.

 
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