Friday, April 10, 2009

Flatiron Lounge's spring menu

April 7

I was messing around on Facebook when I saw that Damon Dyer was online. I hadn't seen or talked to him in a long while so I asked him what nights he worked Flatiron Lounge. I was due for a visit to the joint as well as to stop by and say hi to Damon.

My timing couldn't have been any better, because Damon told me that the new spring menu would be debuting on Tuesday. This worked out great, I was going to be (sort of ) in the neighborhood anyway, since I was going to sneak into the School of Visual Arts to listen to one of my favorite artists give a lecture.

So after I was done feeling thoroughly uncool and old surrounded by art school kids, being star struck by how cool and awesome my favorite artist and totally embarrassing myself by tripping over my words and mumbling my way to having my shoes signed (they were the only things I had on me that could be signed), I needed a drink.

I made a quick jaunt from SVA to Flatiron Lounge. I waved hello to Damon over the heads of people sitting at the bar.

"So are these new like spring new or new like new new," I asked over the tops of heads as I stood on the tips of my toes.

"Both," Damon shouted back over the heads. "I got the recipes like two hours ago."

I looked over the menu and immediately saw there were a bunch of spring-welcoming ingredients and flavors like strawberry, rhubarb, cucumber, honeydew and white peach.

For example, the Beijing Peach sounds like a light, floral drink with its combination of vodka, pearls of jasmine and white peach.

I wanted to start off with the Imperial Daiquiri (white rum, lime, rhubarb and strawberries), but Damon said that was sadly the only one I could not have because there was no rhubarb. So I amended my order to the One Inch Punch.

The menu listed a blend of rums, youngberry, fresh grapefruit and lemon as the drinks ingredient. It also said "spiced with abit of velvet and a bit of tiki." I didn't pay good attention to any this latter part, but you should in light of the following realization.

So the drink was really light and refreshing. I could see someone easily sipping it in the middle of a hot and humid summer, just as much as I could see someone enjoying it in the early warmth of spring. But there was something. Something familiar about it.

The more I thought about it, the more it crept up on me. It reminded me of...ginseng tea? Sweet, yet kind of like an herbal tea. And if anyone's ever had ginseng tea or nibbled on a bit of ginseng, you know the spicy herby flavor I'm trying to discuss.

But first things first, I asked Damon what the blend of rums was, and he answered it was aged Barbados and light Jamaican rums in the drink. Good to know. What is this youngberry business?

"Think of a flavor profile that's something like raspberries and blackberries," Damon said.

OK, now for the last question. What is this mystery ginseng-like flavor going on in this drink. It's something I can't put my finger on.

"That's exactly what we's falernum."

Ooooh, the "velvet" was velvet falernum. Though I was surprised because in this drink the falernum took on a totally different flavor personality.

Speaking of mystery complex flavors, I tried out the Gypsy Dancer, a concoction of Damon's featured on the spring menu.

The ingredients list was deceptively simple: rye, Benedictine, yellow chartreuse and lemon.

Damon said that the drink was an equal parts drink that's very loosely related to the last word.

The result is a drink that tastes like you're drinking two different drinks at the same time. As you take the sip, the initial flavors and smells that stand out to you are lemon and sweet, making it like the usual cocktail with citrus and almost reminiscent of lemonade or lemon drink. However, as soon as the liquid touches your tongue, the drink itself transforms so that you feel like you're drinking a spirits-based drink.

I was chatting with bartender Adam Ramsey, I'd forgotten where we met, but he remembered that Alex Day had introduced us before. He was telling me about Phil Ward's new tequila joint that was in the works when I realized I had to cut myself off at just two drinks due to it being a school night. I reluctantly got up, promising Adam I'd stop by again sometime to finish up the others I didn't get a chance to try.

Learning about shochu with the Tippling Bros.

March 31

Louis 649 hosts regular Tuesday Night Tastings with different spirits and brands. Paul Tanguay and Tad Carducci of the Tippling Bros. were hosting their mini lecture of sorts on the topic of shochu.

Paul started off by explaining that the kanji used for sake is the kanji for alcohol and can be also pronounced shu or chu.

"Sho" means to burn or to concentrate, so the word "shochu" means something like "burned alcohol," so it's talking about distillation.

In creating sugars necessary to ferment and create alcohol, whether the end product will be shochu or sake, koji is used.

For a shochu to be considered a Honkaku shochu, Paul explained that the list of ingredients that could be used was limited. Rice, barley or sweet potato could be used. In sweet potato it's harder to propagate koji, so the koji is mixed with rice to create a rice mash first, then mixed with the sweet potato. Dates also fell into this group of approved base ingredients, though dates aren't a native fruit.

Paul talked about how regional temperature and climate affected alcohol production in Japan. Paul pointed out that Kyushu is well known for shochu, with Kagoshima prefecture on the island of Kyushu is famous for shochu production. Temperature in particular affects rates of fermentation. In the more northern regions, the sake is crisper, but in warmer climes like in Kyushu, super fast fermentation makes sake almost undrinkable. So put the stuff in a still and distill, and what do you get? Shochu.

So, one of the questions of the evening was, why is shochu not vodka? Paul explained that it wasn't the distillation that set shochu apart, but the use of koji in the fermentation process. As someone mentioned, the koji acts similarly as flor in sherry. And there are koji of different types that can produce different affects in drinks.

Paul said that since 1972, sake sales have been going down in Japan because it's considered an old man's drink while shochu's gained considerably popularity. And not just in Japan. Paul pointed out that shochu is only second to vodka as one of the world's best-selling spirits.

Shochu can be aged and there's no real age limit to it, but Paul said that one producer told him that shochu can't be aged past three years. So where's all the aged shochu? It's a matter of whiskey producers having a tight grip on aging and coloring.

For the tasting we got to try a barley shochu, then a sweet potato shochu, and finally a detsu shochu.

As we tried the sweet potato, Simon Ford asked if something like sweet vermouth would go with it.

"No..." Tad said, but then after a beat he added, "...but that's not entirely true."

Tad said that it can work, but there isn't that much of a complexity or bitterness for the shochu to stand up against the vermouth, so it can be used more as a base.

Tad went on to say as he worked with barley and rice shochu he played around with it until finding that the classic vodka model drinks work. He also reocmmended pisco-based drinks because, "If you think about it, there are pisco-esque qualities."

Tad further explained that when working from existing recipes or combination, they have to be tailored for shochu because of the spirit's more delicate nature. For example, if a drink would ask for 1.5oz, up it to 2 oz.

I agreed with that statement and also found it interesting how you could really taste the base ingredient in the shochu. The sweet potato one really did taste like sweet potato.

After we tasted the shochu, we got to drink a cocktail created by Tad called Blind Date in Manhattan. The drink is based on the Manhattan and uses date shochu.

Blind Date in Manhattan
date shochu
Maraschino liqueur
sweet vermouth
lemon peel

Events I cannot go to: Gin-soaked get togethers

Sometimes, things are out of my control and there are events that I cannot attend. Sometimes it's geographical, but a lot of times it's just a matter of timing. I managed to get to different invites to some interesting-sounding drink-related upcoming events that are upcoming that I cannot attend. And in an odd coincidence they are both gin-related. So as a service to some of you out there who are spirits and cocktails minded and possibly interested in attending, I'm going to put these up here. Maybe try and live vicariously through any of you who attend.

Day: Saturday, April 11
Reason I cannot attend: Hosting friends' engagement party
The event: A gin and cheese tasting at The Artisanal Premium Cheese Center.

Why I wish I could go: It's cheese and cocktails! How can you say no? Not that I haven't seen plenty of cheese plates around in my drinking. However I was mainly intrigued to actually hear about some of the reasoning or flavor pairing ideas with cocktails or just gin for that matter. Interesting for a cheese place to take an interest in cocktails.

Day: Monday, April 13
Reason I cannot attend: I have a class on Mondays that don't end for another 2-3 weeks.
The event: Dining & Libation Society.

Why I wish I could go: Jordana Rothman over at Time Out New York was nice enough to let me know about what sounds like a good and informative time. Charlotte Voisey is hosting. AND it's going to be at the Eldridge. I am sadly unavailable during those hours, but hope to one day attend once I finish up these Monday night classes.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Random Tales of the Cocktail update: Danny DeVito

Some of you probably already know about this, but for anyone who's on the fence about going to Tales of the Cocktail you should know that Danny DeVito will be there.

That's right, according to the good folks of Tales, Danny DeVito will be in attendance. Mr. DeVito is a producer not just of films but of premium liqueur as well. Unless you've been under a rock, you've probably heard of Danny DeVito's Premium Limoncello. He admitted to having overindulged in the stuff with George Clooney during a now infamous appearance on The View. Me? I say you can't even possibly buy celebrity endorsement any more raw than that. It was freakin' awesome. I'm also a fan of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," so I could be biased.

Tangent: Speaking of celebrity endorsements, I was watching Lady Gaga's video for "LoveGame" a little while back and realized the pretty prominent presence of Campari and wondered how "LoveGame" stacked against Busta Rhymes, P Diddy and Pharrell's ode to the cognac of Napoleon, "Pass the Courvoisier" when it came to songs about specific alcoholic beverages. Though I thought it was weird because I don't know how much Campari would catch on with the "kids trying to relive the Club Kids days that truthfully they aren't 'reliving' because they were still in diapers then" crowd.