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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine


One Aldwych’s New Cocktail List



© Gordon Campbell Gray Hotels
The Lobby Bar at One Aldwych


I’m always impressed by the quality of London’s hotel bars. During my stay there last year,  I spent most nights going back and forth between the Connaught hotel’s Connaught bar and Coburg bar (the latter recently introduced an amazing Bordeaux trolley). This year, I found a superfun pre-theater scene at the glamorous Lobby Bar of One Aldwych. The bar is known for its eclectic art, particularly an oversize bronze sculpture of a rower that towers over guests, as well as its great cocktails. They had just introduced an impressive new cocktail list that includes 63 drinks, both classics and wild concoctions like a Gazpacho Martini, made from lemon-infused gin spiced with sweet green pepper, cucumber, Midori and elderflower. I’m a traditionalist, so I ordered the G&T Martini, a glamorized gin and tonic made with homemade tonic syrup, the delicious new Beefeater 24 gin and lemon twist. There’s also a fancy bar-food menu that offers light snacks (hummus, tzatziki and Lebanese flatbread) or indulgent ones (braised pork belly with teriyaki sauce).


Drinks at Drink


I finally made it to Boston this weekend so that I could grab a stool at Barbara Lynch's newest spots, Sportello and Drink. The dishes at bright, modern Sportello was the sort of homey, upscale comfort food found at all of Lynch's restaurants. A simple salad of thinly shaved fennel and batons of celery was fresh and crisp and all of the pastas were expertly cooked-the highlight of which was the rich, sweet pantacce (a wide, short noodle) with pork cheeks, parsnips and quince.

But the real standout for me was a wine that we had. Our server steered us towards the 1998 Martilde Ghiro d'Inverno Bonarda from northwestern Italy's Lombardia region, and I'm glad we followed her lead. Its black fruit had mellowed nicely thanks to its age, but what was particularly striking was its distinct earthiness—flavors ranging anywhere from soil to mushrooms—which also made it perfect match to a bowl of pasta made with toasty chestnut flour with whole roasted chestnuts strewn throughout.

After dinner, we headed downstairs to Lynch's enormous—and packed—bar, Drink. It was rather astounding to watch three bartenders expeditiously serving excellent cocktails to 90-some thirsty guests. For our part, we probably enjoyed a few too many of the cocktails, but we ended the night off with a liqueur glass of and exceptionally intriguing Chartreuse Milk Punch called Vert Poinçon de Lait, developed by Drink bartender Scott Marshall. Marshall was inspired by a recipe he found in a cocktail book published in 1827 for "Oxford Nightcaps." The original recipe calls for rum and cognac, but Marshall traded those for viscose Batavia-Arrack and spicy green and yellow Chartreuse. Since the drink's complicated to make—and the recipe makes a gallon at a time—it's worth a detour at Drink to try it. It's a terrific digestif, or, as a nightcap, will ensure sweet or possibly surreal dreams.


The World's Best Mai Tai


I've always thought Mai Tais were kind of campy, something fun to have with roast pork shoulder and pineapple. Now I know better. Recently my friend Joe Raffa, a Hawaiian native, mixed the world's greatest Mai Tai from his extensive rum collection. He calls it the $100 Mai Tai because it would cost $100 to buy bottles of all the necessary ingredients. But the drink itself costs much less. And with last week's news about the growing GDP, it seemed ok to post. Especially because it's just so good: caramelly yet tart, smooth yet bright, perfectly balanced — and supersmart (case in point: instead of Cointreau, Joe uses Rhum Clement Creole Shrubb, an orange liqueur made from rhum agricole instead of neutral spirits. "It keeps the rum with the rum," Joe says. And in place of ordinary simple syrup, he uses Depaz cane syrup, a Caribbean sweetener gives the Mai Tai a richer maple note.) The best part, Joe is José Andrés' chef de cuisine at Oyamel in DC, and has been dropping hints that his boss should open a Hawaiian restaurant in DC serving roast pork and really good Mai Tais. All I can say is, José, please, listen up. Recipe after the jump.



Black Tea Vodka


Absolut Vodka Blackberry

© Courtesy of Absolut Vodka
Absolut Boston Blackberry

When angry colonists threw tea into Boston Harbor in 1773, they had no idea that their rebellion would eventually lead to the American Revolutionary War in 1775, or that it would inspire the creation of another kind of beverage in 2009: Absolut Vodka Boston, a limited-edition vodka infused with black tea and elderflower.

Recently, mixologist Jamie Gordon hosted an Absolut Vodka Boston Tea Party at Food & Wine's New York City office. He gave the editorial staff a taste of some fantastic cocktails he created with the spirit, such as the juicy and aromatic Absolut Boston Blackberry.

Makes 1 Drink

4 large blackberries
1 ounce agave nectar
4 ounces Absolut Boston
1 1/2 ounces fresh lemon juice
4 dashes rhubarb bitters

In a cocktail shaker, muddle 2 of the blackberries with the agave nectar. Add the Absolut Boston, lemon juice, bitters and ice. Shake well and double strain into a chilled large martini glass. Garnish with the remaining 2 blackberries.


Balvenie’s New Limited-Edition Whiskey


When a friend invited me to a five-course, whiskey-paired dinner at Eleven Madison Park last Wednesday, I hesitated before accepting. I’ve been to plenty of wine- and beer-paired dinners, but sipping whiskey through a meal sounded a little intense. If anyone could pull it off, though, it would certainly be genius chef Daniel Humm. And the whiskeys around which he created the menu weren’t just any whiskeys. We were being treated to six limited-edition Balvenie 17-year-old single-malt scotch whiskeys, including the 2001 Balvenie Islay Cask and the super-rare 2006 Balvenie New Wood. The pairing of the night: The 2007 Balvenie Sherry Cask matched with Humm’s black angus tenderloin with roasted summer beans. Most of these scotches are nearly impossible to find, but the newest limited-edition release, the Balvenie Madeira Cask, will be in stores in early October. This extraordinarily rich scotch, matured in oak and finished in casks that were used to make fortified Madeira, was the nightcap to our feast, with sweet vanilla-oak notes that gave way to spices and dried fruit and a seemingly never-ending finish.   


© William Grant & Sons
The Balvenie Madeira Cask 17-Year-Old



Cocktail vs. Wine Pairing Smackdown!


Because I'd been away for a while, spending a placid few days kayaking on the waters of Maine's Somes Sound, it seemed to me (for some lunatic reason) like the proper way to effect a New York re-entry would be by attending a cocktail vs. wine pairing smackdown at Nios, a new midtown wine bar. This is a regular event there, in which home-team sommelier Emily Wines takes on challengers in a battle of who-pairs-best, using chef Patricia Williams's tasty food.

Her opponent this time was bartender extraordinaire Jim Meehan, the man behind the drinks at New York's excellent PDT (and also the co-editor of Food & Wine Cocktails 2009, our pretty dern nifty cocktail book).

First up, to go with Williams's risotto of corn with chanterelles, confit pigeon and castelmagno cheese, Meehan poured his "Imperial Silver Corn Fizz." Brave is the fellow who'll make a stiff drink using corn water, I say (Meehan enlisted chef/pal Wylie Dufresne for corn-water-making advice). But, surprisingly, this concoction of Bourbon, corn water, honey syrup, egg white and Champagne worked incredibly well with the risotto. Wines fought back with a somewhat over-oaky 2007 Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Chardonnay, to no avail. Meehan, wearing a sparkly purple luchador mask with a kind of small-savage-animal pelt attached to the top, took the round.

Next course was a beautifully cooked rack of American lamb with grilled figs and fingerling potatoes wrapped in jamón serrano. (I've decided, based on this dish, that I'm just going to wrap everything I eat in jamón serrano from now on. There's just no reason not to.) This time Wines came out strong, pouring a smoky, plummy 2006 Gai'a Estates Agiorgitiko from Greece. It was a terrific match for the lamb, and Meehan's "Señor Smackdown"—blanco tequila with lime juice, Dry Sack sherry, Benedictine and a bar spoon of fig jam—took it on the chin. The drink was scrappy, but tequila and lamb are just a rough combo. Could be Meehan was affected by the heat under that vinyl mask.

Finally, dessert: rose petal panna cotta with pomegranate foam. Wines appeared holding glasses holding a splash of rosewater and some floating pomegranate seeds, then topped them with light, berry-sweet NV Patrick Bottex Cerdon de Bugey "La Cuille," an off-dry sparkling wine from France's Savoie region. Meehan countered with his "Raspberries Reaching:" an ounce and a half of Trimbach Framboise eau-de-vie, an ounce of 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú, and a half-ounce of Pama pomegranate liqueur, plus three drops of rose flower water, stirred and strained into a chilled coupe, and garnished with a peach-colored rose petal. This drink blew me away, and I thought the title was destined for Meehan. But I was in the minority; when the votes were counted, Wines was the champion of the evening.

Nios will be holding these smackdowns once a month for the rest of the year, so check it out. Viva la lucha de vino! 



A Mad Men Viewing Party


The third season of the AMC series Mad Men, which revolves around a cast of hard-drinking ad execs in the 1960s, debuts Sunday night. What to expect, according to the New York Times: more historically accurate booze. For a Mad Men–themed cocktail party, we offer the following drinks:

Vanilla Old-Fashioned A muddled vanilla bean adds a twist to creative director Don Draper's drink of choice.

Limoncello Collins This updated take on one of tortured housewife Betty Draper's favorite cocktails calls for limoncello, an intensely flavored Italian liqueur made from lemon peels.

Mai Tai Department store head Rachel Menken drinks the classic rum cocktail when out with Don. This version borrows from the recipe by Ernest Beaumont-Gantt (a.k.a. "Donn Beach," the father of tiki culture), and calls for dashes of Pernod and Angostura bitters for complexity.



A Jack Daniel's Legend Passes Away


The No. 7 must-read over at the Daily Beast's Cheat Sheet, appropriately, is the obituary for master distiller Jimmy Bedford, one of only seven men responsible for sipping new batches of Jack Daniel's iconic Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey. Bedford passed away on Friday from a heart attack at age 69. In his honor, here, nine whiskey cocktails, including the cassis-flavored Tennessee Rose, plus the Lynchburg Lemonade, named for the town housing the Jack Daniel Distillery.


Tequila & Ice Cream


I stopped by NYC's Hill Country Barbecue & Market last night for a semi-impromptu blind tasting of tequilas (no rest for the weary, indeed). The general gist of the thing, concocted by Hill Country bar director extraordinaire Jessica Stone and exec chef extraordinaire Elizabeth Karmel, was to determine whether the tequilas I think of as my default faves were actually that when tasted blind against a gang of other candidates. Not a bad undertaking for a Tuesday night.

Out of the blancos, my top pick turned out not to be my usual El Tesoro but a brand that was new to me, El Mayor (about $40) which combined intense agave character (more on the herbal than vegetal side) with a bit of pepperiness and a sleek finish; no rough edges, but no lack of character either. 

From the reposados, my top pick (over some much more recognized brands) was the Siembra Azul Reposado (about $40). It stuck out from the pack partly because the wood notes it had were so gracefully integrated into the spirit itself—several others tasted like wood planks dipped in hooch—and partly because the agave shone through so clear and pure above those wood/spice characteristics. It was eminently balanced, and eminently drinkable as well.  

Finally we went through a few añejos. Gran Centenario, usually my go-to, non-crazy-expensive añejo, ended up my number two after the Sauza Tres Generaciones (about $46), which I thought was appealingly un-vanilla/caramel-ish, with an intriguing salty note to it and a lot of aromatic spice. (I'm not, as is probably clear, a big fan of añejo tequilas that taste more like wood than like tequila.) 

After that we reached the crucial part of the taste test, which was to determine which of our favorites went best with Bluebell Ice Cream (if you're from Texas, you know how great Bluebell is; if not, go to Texas, or Hill Country in NYC, to find out). The answer? El Mayor Blanco and Bluebell Pecan Pralines n' Cream (think of it as an ad hoc añejo with cream and sugar. Sort of). I admit there might be some skepticism out there as to the wisdom of drinking tequila while eating ice cream, but I'm here to tell you that this particular combination is an all-out party in your mouth.


Knob Creek Shortage is Real


Whiskeyphiles are accustomed to hunting for rare bottles—the tiny production of the 18-year-old Sazerac rye, for instance, seems to sell out almost instantly upon release. Big brands, however, like Maker's Mark, are always reliably present on liquor store shelves. But rumors have been circulating since March that mega-distiller Beam Global Spirits and Wine might run out of bottles of one of their higher end brands, Knob Creek. An ad that ran in Monday’s Wall Street Journal confirmed that, yes, there is officially a shortage. Knob Creek, a Bourbon, has strict aging requirements—it must sit for nine years in barrel. In 2000, the distillery underestimated how much whiskey they’d need to make (who could have anticipated that a huge recession would cause us all to drink more Bourbon?) and now, they are completely sold out. The next batch will be ready for bottling in late October and will hit the market soon after. It’s a great reminder that even highly commercial whiskey must be raised with love and care—that it doesn’t come out of a faucet. Thankfully.

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