Fernet Branca Madness!

Fernet Branca, the Italian amaro with a semi-secret recipe, has been a staple in San Francisco for many years. Shooting Fernet, or “The Bartenders Handshake” as it’s also known, has been spreading nationally as the craft cocktail movement has gained momentum and has finally culminated in this:

Yes. Yes. That is what it looks like. Fernet Branca is now available on tap at two San Francisco-area bars, Bullitt and Broken Record.

Logically thinking, the next step is cocktails on tap. Maybe Jeffrey Morgenthaler can get to work on that?


Sloe Gin Revival

Most of us in the United States have never had the pleasure of tasting real Sloe Gin. Sure there’s the ubiquitous dusty bottle of something of questionable origin labeled “Sloe Gin” in every bar and dark corner of the liquor store in the country, but these are always artificially flavored and colored, cotton candy sweet swill that have never even seen a real sloe berry.

Ripe Sloe Berries

Real sloe berries are the fruit of the Blackthorn bush and are native to Europe and western Asia. The plant grows wild all over England, it flowers late in the spring and will produce ripe fruit usually in late October or early November. The fruit of the Blackthorn is similar to Damsons or plums but taste quite a bit more astringent.

In Britain, it is popular to use the berries to make jams and jellies. What’s left over is destined to be made into Sloe Gin, a traditional wintertime drink in the UK. Sloe Gin in Europe is an infusion of sloe berries, spices like clove and cinnamon, a little sugar and of course, gin.

Most quality sloe gin is of the homemade variety; thus, leaving us poor blackthorn-less Americans to make due with the poor quality commercial brands.

But that was true only until recently. Plymouth began importing small batches of its authentic sloe gin to the U.S. a couple of years ago, initially only a 1000 cases a year were bought in and were greedily snapped up by bartenders everywhere (by ‘everywhere’ I mean New York City). The number of cases imported has grown steadily and it is in regular supply now in most major markets. Another option will hopefully be coming to market soon as the New York gin distiller, DH Krahn, is developing a damson gin which was making its rounds in New Orleans at the cocktail superfest Tales of the Cocktail this year.

A couple of months ago I purchased a bottle of the Plymouth Sloe Gin, but didn’t do anything with it until recently when I randomly decided to try it in a Sloe Gin Fizz. The fizz was once a wildly popular drink (late 1800s to the 1940s) and was a natural evolution of the sour consisting of spirit, sugar, citrus and a bit of soda off the siphon. During Prohibition, American bartenders who had traveled to Europe to ply their trade began adding a dash of egg white to their sours to give them a silkier mouthfeel. This practice made the jump back to the United States after the Noble Experiment ended in 1933. The Sloe Gin Fizz, as far as I can tell, was first mixed up in the early 1940s; thus, we can conclude that a touch of egg white in this drink would be appropriate.

Sloe Gin Fizz

Fizzy Goodness

1 1/2 oz. Plymouth Sloe Gin

3/4 oz. Gin (Blue Coat)

3/4 oz. Lemon Juice

1 tsp. Superfine Sugar

1 small egg white

-Combine all ingredients in a shaker, without ice, and dry shake for 10-15 seconds to emulsify the egg. Add ice and shake a further 15 seconds to chill. Strain into a collins glass and top with soda. Garnish with an orange wheel and cherry if you like.

One quick note: fizzes and sours were designed as ‘short’ drinks, meaning they were served in a glass without ice and are intended to be consumed swiftly. ‘Long’ drinks are served on ice as to keep them chilled over an extended time as you sip them.

There are an awful lot of Sloe Gin Fizzes in a bottle of sloe gin. So to help break up the monotony, here are a few great bonus cocktail recipes to help you along:

Charlie Chaplin

1 oz Plymouth Sloe Gin

1 oz. Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot Liqueur

1 oz. Lime Juice

– Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Savoy Tango

1 1/2 oz. Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy

1 1/2 oz. Plymouth Sloe Gin

– Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry

The Wibble

1 oz. Gin

1 oz. Plymouth Sloe Gin

1 oz. Grapefruit Juice

1/2 oz. Lemon Juice

1/2 oz. Blackberry Liqueur

-Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

It’s been awhile since I published a Beer of the Week, but I have quite a few beers laying about the house right now though so expect more soon.

New Belgium, the brewers of Fat Tire, have put together quite a lineup of good beer in the last year or so. They have introduced a new favorite of mine, Ranger IPA, and a new series of beers called Lips of Faith, a sort of collection of the Brewers successful experiments, that most notably include Eric’s Ale, Belgo IPA, and La Folie. I would recommend giving any of these beers a shot if you see them at your local bar or liquor store.

My most recent pilgrimage to the Spec’s on Smith St. netted me a bottle of the LofF: Biere de Mars, a take on the French brew Biere de Garde. I will admit the French, don’t really come to mind when I think of great beer, I mean:

Wine. Yes. Cheese. Yes. Smug attitudes toward American tourists. Double Yes. Beer. Really?

Biere de Garde, which translates to ‘beer to keep’ in english, is a traditional farmhouse ale brewed in a fairly small northern area of the French Flanders that borders Belgium. The farmers would brew enough beer in the waning months of winter to last him through the summer harvest, and  in this regard biere de garde is very similar to the Belgian saisons.

My Biere de Mars poured a burnt orange almost copper color into my pilfered Pappas Grill wineglass. There wasn’t much head to speak of and what little there was dissipated within a minute leaving tiny islands of bubbles floating about on the surface. The aromas led me to plenty of bready (sourdough?) notes, orange peel, and a light Brettanomyces funkiness.

This is a real easy drinking beer, malty and kind of sweet with flavors of citrus, coriander, and a not-as-much-as-I-was-hoping-for-or-expecting sourness that only slightly increased as the beer warmed up.

The Doctor Is In..

Let us take a few moments of our day and reflect on the life and times of Dr. Franciscus de la Boe, or Dr. Sylvius as he was also known. Having spent his life during the 16th century practicing medicine, chemistry and teaching at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, he made some great discoveries that greatly advanced medicine. Dr. Sylvius is credited for proving that blood circulates through the body and he studied the human brain rather extensively as well (Sylvian Fissure anyone?).

His greatest achievement came in the formulation of an inexpensive general health tonic he developed by infusing korenbrandwijn (distilled malt wine) with select roots, herbs and berries deemed to have medicinal properties. He called his medicine ‘genever’ after the main ingredient found in it, juniper berries. Genever quickly gained popularity as a cure-all in the Netherlands, being prescribed for everything from arthritis, to gout to acne to ADHD (you never know).

By the 17th century, many of the people taking Dr. Sylvius’ magic medicine had acquired a taste for the juniper as well as the effects the alcohol had and genever made the jump from medical applications to the realm of recreational use. Sales of the spirit were brisk, then the British caught wind of it.

Brittish soldiers traveling through Europe fighting the numerous wars of the era discovered genever and bought the stuff back home where its popularity exploded. At one point, the per capital consumption of gin (the English corruption of the word ‘genever’) was in the 2.5- 3 gallon/yr range causing all kinds of social problems for the Empire. The government eventually regulated the production of gin and got consumption under control.

Gin sure got popular!

Genever can be broken down into 3 classifications:

Oude: Not really a reference to an aged spirit, but to the way the spirit is produced- in the old style. Contained 15-50% korenwijn blended with 50-85% neutral spirit and may be slightly sweetened. Rich and malty

Jonge: Reference to the “modern” production techniques used, no more than 15% korenwijn and 85+% neutral spirit results in a very dry spirit        and probably put in production to compete with the growing popularity of London Dry Gin

Korenbrandwijn: Very rare in todays market, 50-85% korenwijn and usually (but not always) aged in wood for a full-bodied malty glass of deliciousness

I highly recommend that you give genever a try sometime soon, as its truly an exceptional spirit and you will also be able to experience a lot of great new cocktails like this one:

The Improved Holland Gin Cocktail

2 oz. Genever (Anchor Genevieve)

1 barspoon maraschino (Luxardo)

1-2 barspoon simple syrup (1:1)

1 dash of absinthe

2 dashes of Angostura bitters

– Stir everything together with cracked ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a strip of lemon peel

The Improved Holland Gin Cocktail

Judo Chop!

Ex-rock band manager Charles Smith is making some phenomenal wines up in Washington state these days, he emphasizes value throughout his range of wines and follows a philosophy of wine making that results in wines that are ready to drink almost immediately.  I’m also a big fan of his marketing the wines with edgy, interesting names and stand out labels that are guaranteed to catch the eye.

One of his wines, the Kung-Fu Girl riesling, caught my eye a couple of months ago in a magazine. I thought the name was interesting and the label design, with its creative use of negative space, was downright cool. Most appealing was its positive review in the article and its reasonable price- about $13.

More recently, The Hungry Wino and I were spending a relaxing evening at our favorite bar when he noticed the Kung-Fu Girl on their wine list and we had a short conversation about the review I read and that it was supposed to be pretty good- this served to renew my interest in the wine enough that I picked up a bottle to drink and write about.

Rieslings are predominantly grown in its native Germany, but is also grown in the Alsace region of France, Austria, New Zealand and the U.S.. The varietal was imported into the country by German immigrants in the mid-to-late 1800s and quickly found a home in the vineyards of New Yorks Finger Lakes region where it is still a popular vine planted to this day. Other U.S. locations that grow riesling are California, Oregon, and Washington (where the Kung-Fu Girl is from).

Riesling from the Pacific Northwest tend to be anywhere from dry to sweet and     very light, which makes for easy drinking. It also will display pronounced peach and mineral notes.

The Kung-Fu Girl noses nicely with peach, citrus, grass, and apples. Once you take a sip, the nose doesn’t disappoint with flavors of pronounced peach, and citrus notes and subtle pink grapefruit- the wine finishes clean and crisp with a light lemon tartness.

Overall, this is a can’t miss wine, it’s exceedingly honest and a very well structured riesling that doesn’t disappoint.

Maker’s Mark

Paul Clarke of the Cocktail Chronicles and Serious Eats wrote a piece today about Maker’s Marks new bourbon, read it here.

Maker’s Mark is one of my favorite bourbons already, I’m stoked to hear they are experimenting with new finishes and can’t wait to try it!

If you take the time to read some of their labels, you may get the impression that the folks over at Lagunitas Brewing spend more time coming up with irreverent stories and sayings than they do actually brewing beer-

On a bottle of “Hop Stoopid”

Give it to Mikey… He’ll drink anything..!” Up the bomber went in toast, then to his lips, and what happened next could not have been foreseen. Hop Stoopid, a slick re-animator green fluid oozed from the bottle. When it crossed his teeth and came in contact with the bitterness flavor receptors on his tongue, his eyes rolled back in his head, he did a sort of death rattle, a cloud crossed the Sun, and all his hair fell out. A spot on the side of his cheek blistered and a little bit of juice squirted out laterally starting a small fire. The rest of his head did the Indiana Jones melting Nazi thing, and as his head drained down his shirt and into the open stump of his esophagus. A little whistling noise came from his navel, which burst open and onto his pals, one in the forehead and the other in the eye. Finally, the carcass slumped forward in a gelatinous mess, caught fire, and burned for three weeks.”


I absolutely want to drink your beer now..

Regardless, Lagunitas, out of Petaluma, California, (that’s a whole lotta commas!) apparently makes pretty good beer and is one of California’s fastest growing micro-brews.  I’ve enjoyed their IPA and the Censored Ale before, finding both very satisfying and worthy of drinking again.

The Cappuccino Stout, Lagunitas winter seasonal, comes in a 22 0z. bottle and the label states it is brewed with Hardcore Coffee from Sebastopol, CA., it pours a deep black color, but not pitch black, ruby highlights garnish the edges of the glass. A descent, tan head forms with an assertive pour but doesn’t stick around too long before retreating back into the liquid leaving a thin ring around the glass. Initially, the flavor wasn’t too impressive but please be patient because as this brew warms slightly it begin to shine through. Layers of roasted malt, caramel, vanilla, chocolate and coffee wash over your palate finishing with a long, slightly bitter flavor of freshly roasted coffee that is absolutely beautiful.

This is a highly drinkable beer, but be warned, it weighs in at a hefty 9% ABV and the buzz will definitely sneak up on you. Overall, I enjoyed this beer and while not the best Breakfast Stout out there, it definitely holds its own.