Blogs from Robert Plotkin - Beverage Journal, Maryland and Washington, DC Thu, 27 Oct 2016 20:26:54 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Is Stress Killing Your Staff? Stree_Killing.jpg

KarashiIt’s the Japanese word for working oneself to death.  Whether you realize it or not, some of your bartenders may be committing karoshi on a nightly basis.

A nine-year study recently published in the Journal of Occupational Medicine cited bartenders as having a higher risk of heart attack due to job-related stress than the 243 other occupations reviewed. California Occupational Mortality, a report compiled at the University of California at Davis, found that the heaviest drinkers by occupation were bartenders for men and waitresses for women.

Stress is generated when challenge exceeds abilities — a regular occurrence behind the bar. Bartending is a job replete with stress. Bartenders work in a highly visible, pressure-packed environment. They must simultaneously meet management’s expectations and satisfy customers’ demands. When the operation gets busy, your bartenders are routinely hard pressed, given far more work than time to complete it.

The net effect of stress on your bartenders and the business is costly. It is a leading cause of burn-out, absenteeism, substance abuse, and internal theft. Stressed employees are less productive and increasingly more dissatisfied with their job and quality of performance. Stress can torque even the calmest of personality types into an edgy, ragged mass of nerves. Worse, stress increases heart rate, makes muscles tense and causes the physiology to work harder. Generally stress increases fatigue and emotional exhaustion. 

There are many ways to help alleviate the stress on your bartending staff:

Avoid under-scheduling and leaving bartenders to fend for themselves short-handed behind the bar. Sure, your staff may appear to be keeping up with demand, but at what cost? Look to schedule a bar back on busy shifts to allow bartenders to focus on productive use of their time. The slight increase in payroll should be more than offset by increased sales.

Unless there are extraordinary circumstances, don’t let bartenders work double shifts or too many consecutive shifts without time off. Whether they appreciate it or not, the cumulative effect of working long stints behind the bar can be debilitating. Stresses build like steam in a pressure-cooker until something gives. Usually at that point the result is harmful to their health, job stability, or both.

Solicit your bartenders’ input on decisions affecting the beverage operation and act upon them. One of the largest sources of stress is the sense of lack of control. In a recent USA Today poll, dignity rather than financial compensation was rated by employees as a more significant motivator for job satisfaction and performance. Dignity is the result of respect, accountability and empowerment.

Create a positive working environment. Do your bartenders feel that they have your support? Are you an effective communicator and make clear what you expect of your staff? Work to be flexible in your demands and deadlines, rather than creating “my way or the highway” relationships. Are you an effective listener? Catch your employees doing things right and acknowledge their efforts.

Providing your staff with challenges, and stimulating their motivation and drive is a means of increasing feelings of purpose and self-worth. Do you have an on-premise product and sales training program in place? Is advancement a viable source of motivation for your employees? Do you have any incentive programs or sales contests in place for servers? Do you work with your staff on how to maximize gratuities or better manage their cash income? 

Actively encourage your bartenders to foster outside interests or continue their education. A secure and stable individual is less apt to be ravaged by the effects of stress than someone in a more precarious situation or frame of mind. People who stay in good physical condition are less prone to be negatively affected by stress. They have better stamina and usually have a healthier and more positive self-image. Likewise, a sound diet, good eating habits and reduced caffeine intake are important stress-inhibiters.

Create a team attitude among bartenders. Competitiveness creates internal stress. Back-stabbing, bickering and gossip undermine the sense that everyone on the staff is looking to accomplish the same objective, what ever it takes to get the job done right. Look to quickly defuse conflict. Likely sources of friction are work schedules, division of tips, and who’s responsible for specific opening or closing procedures.

Training reduces stress by allowing the staff to be confident in their knowledge and skills. Make sure your staff is operating from the same page of the playbook and are confident in their abilities. Is everyone making drinks the same way and charging the same prices? Along with reducing collective stress, sales and service should also improve.

The last thing employees need is to be concerned about are the actions of management. Trust and respect are essential to both being an effective manager and creating a healthy working environment. Avoid any appearance of impropriety.

Make sure bartenders reconcile their own cash drawers at closing and stay clear of their tip jars.

Avoid the “teacher’s pet” syndrome. Managers who treat some employees preferentially heap loads of unnecessary stress on the others as it usually affects their pocketbooks. Inequitable or inconsistent discipline affects employees similarly. 

As most bartenders will attest, managing an income based primarily on cash is challenging, and finances are often a major cause of stress. Encourage your staff to put some of their earnings aside as savings and to develop a monthly budget to help them live within their means. By all means advise your employees to declare all of their tips to IRS. Not only will they be fulfilling their legal obligations, thereby alleviating a source of stress, declaring a higher gross income will help them when they attempt to qualify for a bank or auto loan, or a host of other income-related items. 

Help your bartenders keep hold of their sense of humor. The ability to laugh and not take things too seriously are time-proven stress-busters. Make light of the anxiety-producing aspects of the job and your bartenders will begin to follow suit. Make it mandatory for all employees to read Dave Barry or Gary Larson before each shift. It’s unlikely they’ll explode from stress if they’re too amused to be bothered.

Read more]]> (Robert Plotkin) September 2016 Editions Wed, 24 Aug 2016 07:50:49 -0400
Too Cool for School

What You Don’t Know About Ice

Shine a bright light in the eyes of an accomplished mixologist and he or she will eventually admit that ice is the most important ingredient in cocktails. It impacts every aspect of mixed drinks and does so with little cost and no marketing or packaging. In a time when success behind the bar is measured one drink at a time, outfitting your bar with the most advantageous type of ice is essential.

Its contribution goes beyond lowering the temperature of a cocktail to its proper serving temperature of around 37-38˚F. While only the genuinely obsessed would stick a thermometer into the drink to ensure it’s sufficiently chilled, the fact remains that cocktails rapidly increase in temperature moments after hitting the glass. Ice plays a crucial role in postponing the inevitable. 

“Equally important, ice introduces water into a drink. It helps to balance the blend and allows the various ingredients to meld and harmonize,” says Debbi Peek, portfolio mixologist for Bacardi USA. “The water also softens the biting edge of spirits, as well as accentuates their flavor.” 

According to Jonathan Pogash, acclaimed mixologist and beverage consultant, "The relative hardness of ice is an often over-looked attribute. A hard cube, lump cube or block of ice will dilute a drink at a much slower rate than your run-of-the-mill ice machine ice cube. If ice isn’t hard enough it will melt too quickly and over-dilute the cocktail. A “wet” ice cube is one that has been tarnished with excess water on its surface, thus allowing it to melt at a much quicker rate than desired.”

Another consideration is the nature of the water used to make ice, the quality of which will affect the taste of the finished drink. For that reason it’s advisable to use ice made from spring or mineral water. 

Celebrated chef and mixologist Kathy Casey thinks ice made with soft water produces better ice for drink making. “Many operators fail to factor in the type of water they use to make their ice. While spring or mineral waters are preferable, they’re not necessarily a practical option at a bar. However, installing a water softener is relatively inexpensive. And because the water is also filtered, the ice comes out free of haze or clouding. Crystal clear ice is more aesthetically pleasing.”

Size Matters

The size and shape of the ice you use play a key role in how drinks taste. “Small ice cubes tend to melt faster than larger cubes and will therefore more quickly dilute mixed drinks,” contends Bacardi’s Debbi Peek. “A drink made with small cubes will taste best when it’s first served, but becomes watery and less flavorful in short order. Larger ice cubes melt slower and release less water into a drink. That means the first sip will taste as good as the last.”

Ryan Magerian—mixologist and creator of Aviation Gin— thinks large format ice looks a whole lot sexier than standard bar ice, especially when stacked in a Highball glass. “More importantly, that using fewer, large format cubes presents less surface area and results in slower dilution. I recommend making drinks with 1.25-inch cubes, especially those from Kold-Draft or Hoshizaki machines. They’re produced to be dense and slow melting.”

Casey also prefers working with larger ice. “I think the square cubes from Kold-Draft are superior. They’re perfectly clear, uniformly shaped, and because of their density, they melt slower and cool faster.” 

Long a staple in Japan, ice balls are gaining popularity behind American bars. ice balls are seemingly the perfect marriage of form and function. Made on-premise in molds or carved individually, they look like crystal clear spheres between 3-5 inches in diameter. Their singular shape allows them to melt at a slower rate, thus reducing dilution.

Journalist Yuri Kato is the author of the recently published book, Japanese Cocktails (2009 Chronicle Books, San Francisco) “In Japan, we carve ice balls out of mineral water using an ice pick or knife. In fact, to become a member of the National Bartenders Association of Japan, a bartender must be able to quickly carve a perfect ice ball. Japanese people appreciate the ice ball when sipping whisky. It keeps the whisky at a steady temperature about an hour.” 

Peek likes using ice balls when serving cocktails on the rocks. “Since it is round the corners don’t melt leaving the first sip as cold as the last. They’re crystal clear, look sexy and last a long time. In a recent cocktail competition, I presented my entry with an ice ball to ensure it wasn’t watered down by the time it made it to the judges’ table.” 

Retro Chillers

Back in the day, cocktails were prepared with chipped, cracked or crushed ice. Even as late as the ‘70s bars typically carried both cubed and crushed ice in the bartender’s station. But as juleps, frappes and smashes slipped from the limelight, so did the need for stocking crushed ice behind the bar. The Tiki revival underway has changed that.

 “Tiki drinks are those popularized after Repeal through the 1950s and 60s,” says Jonathan Pogash. “Luminaries such as “Trader” Vic Bergeron knew that crushed ice created a massively cold drink and that people in the tropical South Pacific needed more help beating the heat than anyone else.”

Its cooling abilities results from having more surface area than any other form of ice, second only to shaved ice. Adds Magerian, “That makes crushed ice perfect for making Tiki drinks. Not only does it make them cold, but they’re potent drinks, so the extra dilution is an advantage.”

While the cocktail may reign supreme, ice appears to be the power behind the throne. As Pogash says, “You’ve walked into a place that cares about their drinks when you see the proper ice being plopped, dropped, chipped or cracked into your glass.”


Read more]]> (Robert Plotkin) March 2016 Editions Mon, 22 Feb 2016 21:22:56 -0500
A Look at the Best New Mezcals

Artisanal mezcals are on the charts with a bullet.  Consumers and mixologists actively looking for spirits loaded with character and authenticity have struck gold with the expanding roster of artisanal, 100% agave mezcals. Stringent production standards have been put into place within the industry to ensure the utmost degree of quality such that the mezcals of today bear little resemblance to the worm-laded mezcals of the past.

These are indeed the glory days for the Oaxacan spirit. There are now more high quality mezcals being marketed in the United States than ever before. Demand for the spirit has caused the category to expand another 4.9% in volume to roughly 50,000 cases in 2014. Nearly all of the growth is attributable to the high-end, super-premium segments of the market—those with a retail price above $22—this according to the 2014 Technomic’s Adult Beverage Resource.

The differences between brands of 100% agave mezcals are years in the making. From cultivating agaves—also referred to as maguey—to the un-barreling of an añejo, the production cycle can easily exceed 18 years. It is a time-honored process, one in which every decision made along the way ultimately will impact the finished mezcal.

Diversification is a significant variable affecting the category. While most mezcals are distilled from the Espadín agave, there are growing numbers of brands on the market produced from one of several different varieties of agaves, including the Barril, Mexicano Amarillo, Coyote, Arroqueño, and the famed Tobalá agave, a rare variety that grows wild in the remote, rugged cliffs of the Sierra Madre Mountains. Change the variety of agave and completely alter the mezcal.

Point of Distinction

There is something intriguing about a mezcal handcrafted on a small, family-owned and operated distillery, which is referred to as a palenque. It’s a way of life passed down from one generation to the next. In many instances the production techniques have remained unchanged over the past century. An ideal example is El Buho 100% Agave Mezcal.

The El Buho farm/distillery [NOM 0110X] is located in Santiago Matitlan, Oaxaca. The mezcal is made from 100% Espadin agaves. After harvesting, the agaves are roasted for 7 days and nights in an underground stone pit with mesquite wood. The agaves are crushed using a burro-powered Tahona wheel to extract the plant’s sugar-rich juice, which is then transferred to a wooden vat for fermentation. The process is precipitated by natural, airborne yeast and takes about 2-3 days to completely ferment. Well water is added to the resulting mash before it is double distilled in a copper, 100-year old alembic still. The mezcal is bottled at 86 proof directly from the still without barrel aging, or the often-added worm. Trust that neither is needed in the least. 

The crystal clear mezcal has a velvety textured body and an herbaceous bouquet laced with spice, vanilla and pepper aromas. Its aromatics are enthralling. The mezcal has a gentle entry that quickly expands bathing the palate with the vegetal flavors of roasted peppers, dried herbs, cocoa and vanilla with light, delicate smoky notes. The finish is long, flavorful and satiny smooth. 

“Its balance and easy drinkability is what helps distinguish El Buho from the field. Some mezcals with more pronounced palates can be over-powering, especially for regular consumption,” contends Redford Parker, company president. “It also helps that, by increasing the batch size slightly, we were able to greatly improve consistency.

El Buho—named for a dark, mystical owl of local folklore—makes an excellent entree to the mezcal category. Do yourself a favor and taste the mezcal neat. That said it’s also superb brand to feature in cocktails and mixed drinks. 

Best of The New

With handcrafted mezcals gaining traction with American consumers, a great many new brands have crossed our border. In case you missed the fanfare of their initial release, here are the best new mezcals on the market.

Award-winning 3 Pueblos Mezcal is a rare offering from the mountainous state of Zacatecas and the town of Trinidad Garcia de la Cadena. The mezcal is twice distilled in a traditional copper pot still from 100% tequilana agaves. The brand holds the designation of origin and is certified by the Consejo Regulardor del Mezcal (CRM). 

The premium range includes a 6-month old reposado and 3 Pueblos Añejo, which is aged in charred American white oak barrels for a minimum of a year. The silver (joven) version is bottled fresh from the still.

“There is so much attention being lavished on our mezcal these days, it’s really an exciting time for us,” says Jesus Garciarivas. managing partner of importer Dibela Enterprises. “I think there are two reasons for the brand’s tremendous surge in popularity. First, bartenders and mixologists around the world have embraced 3 Pueblos and are introducing Millennials to the joys of mezcal. We have also noticed a dramatic increase in the number of mezcalerias—a bar or restaurant that specializes in mezcal—opening up in cities like New York, London, Madrid and obviously Mexico. They are doing a lot to fuel our fire.”

Equally engaging is Gracias a Dios Mezcal. Everything about the brand screams of authenticity. Its mouthfeel, aromatics and range of flavors are brilliant and etched with a palatable sense of place. There’s no mistaking that this is great mezcal.

Gracias a Dios Mezcal is handmade in Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca by Maestro Mezcalero Oscar Hernández Santiago at the company’s distillery [NOM-0223X]. The brand currently markets three extraordinary spirits, including a Joven and Reposado distilled from Espadin, and the altogether sensational Gracias a Dios Tobalá Joven, an unaged mezcal distilled entirely from Tobalá agaves (agave potatorum) that grow wild in the Sierra Madre Mountains. The agaves are USDA and EU certified organic, meaning they were grown without the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. The end result is a cleaner finished spirit. For each bottle the distillery produces, they plant 3 new agaves to take its place.

After harvesting, the mature agaves are brought to the distillery where they are cooked for 4 days in a rock-lined, wood-fired dirt oven. The cooked agaves are crushed using wooden mallets and a large stone, donkey-pulled Tahona wheel. The extracted, sugar-rich juice is transferred to oak vats where it is allowed to slowly ferment using naturally occurring, airborne yeast. The final step is to double distill the fermented musto through the distillery's small, copper pot stills. It is bottled at 45% alcohol (90 proof).

Gracias a Dios Tobalá Joven is exactly why legions of spirits enthusiasts are turning to mezcal as their drink of choice. The pristine spirit has a generous smoky, vegetal and citrus bouquet and a spicy, citrusy and herbal palate. Its lingering finish is spicy warm and slightly smoky. 

Hot New Recent Arrivals

Joya Azul Mezcal is an overnight success five generations in the making. These handcrafted spirits are produced by Ausencio León Ruiz y Sucesores [NOM 012X] in Tlacolula, Oaxaca. While the Joya Azul Joven and 6-month old Reposado are genuinely praiseworthy, it’s the Joya Azul Gran Reserva Añejo that’s so richly deserving of its critical acclaim.

The super-premium entry is made entirely from the Espadín Agave and matured in charred, American white oak barrels. And there it will remain for between 4 and 10 years until deemed ready by the maestro mezcalero. 

“The Gran Reserva Añejo is a highly sophisticated mezcal with a copper hue, a medium weight body and a distinctively spicy, fruity and smoky set of aromatics with light coffee and caramel notes,” says Onofre Santiago, president of importer Yagul Enterprises. “The palate is a glorious array of vanilla, cherries, figs blueberries, butterscotch and cashews. The finish is long and smooth. Joya Gran Reserva Añejo is an ideal mezcal to sip neat after a splendid meal.”

Also new to our shores is Mezcal Enmascarado, an exuberant spirit crafted by the Hernández family at Mezcales Santo Terruño Oaxaqueño [NOM 028X] in Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca. There are currently two Joven mezcals in the Enmascarado portfolio that are differentiated by alcohol content—45% (90 proof) and alcohol and 54% (108 proof). Both are made by traditional, artisanal methods. The Espadín agaves are cultivated for between 9 and 15 years in soil free of agro-chemicals and baked in earth and stone ovens. They are then milled by crushing the softened agave with a large, horse-drawn stone wheel. The expressed, sugar-rich juice is naturally fermented in open wooden vats and distilled in a copper pot still.

According to company co-owner Karla Moles, she and her associates closely monitor every step of production from planting the agaves to bottling the new mezcal. “Here we love and respect each part of the process—the earth (nature), the plant (life), the peasant hand (humans), the master (knowledge), and the product (experience).”

Aficionados of world-class mezcal have cause for celebration as the entire range of famed BRUXO Mezcals is now available in the States. There are a number of singular aspects to these artisanal gems. Each of the 5 BRUXO (pronounced brew-hoe) Mezcals showcase the artistic vision and technical skill of a different maestro mescalero, feature a different variety of maguey, and hail from a different growing region.

For example, BRUXO No. 1 is distilled by Master Mescalero Lucio Morales entirely from Espadín agaves at San Dionisio Ocotepec [NOM 0184X] in Oaxaca. BRUXO No. 2 Pechuga de Maguey, is the handiwork of Pablo Vazquez from Agua del Espino, and BRUXO No. 3 is made exclusively from Barril agaves by Master Cándido Reyes of San Agustín Amatengo. BRUXO No. 4 features a blend of Espadín, Barril and Cuishe by Master Hermanos Rodriguez from Las Salinas Coatecas, while BRUXO No. 5 is distilled from Tobalá agaves by Cándido Reyes of San Agustín Amatengo, Oaxaca. 

“BRUXO Mescals are a homage to the Maestro Mezcaleros we’ve been meeting –and to those we will meet—along our journey,” say BRUXO co-founders Memo Chávez and Santiago Barreiro. “We honor the recipes of such renowned artists like Lucio Morales, Pablo Vazquez, Tío Conejo and his son Cándido, and the Rodríguez Brothers. We honor them, their families and all the families that produce a special mezcal alongside México, since they are guardians of an ancestral heritage and an artisanal, almost mystical process.”


Read more]]> (Robert Plotkin) February 2016 Editions Tue, 26 Jan 2016 11:21:31 -0500
Boost Sales With Hot New Vodkas

Vodka is the Switzerland of spirits. But who knew something ostensibly colorless, odorless and lacking any perceptible taste could cause such a fuss.
Nevertheless vodka has sparked a heated debate
within the drinks community about its place in
contemporary mixology.

On one side you have practitioners who say the neutral spirit contributes nothing to cocktails but ethyl alcohol and that in almost every instance there’s a more appropriate liquor choice. Furthermore, they contend its weed-like proliferation has stifled the growth of other more worthy spirits and the differences between new marques are growing indistinguishable. 

Those in the other camp counter that denigrating vodka’s neutrality is like condemning an artist’s canvas for being white and unsullied. And like a blank canvas, it has afforded mixologists unlimited latitude, a free-styling creativity that has contributed greatly to the prevailing cocktail culture. Then there’s the fact vodka accounts for nearly 35% of all the distilled spirits sold in the United States, inescapable evidence of its mass popularity. 

How did a spirit as delicate and nuanced as vodka become so popular? For many, the draw is drinking something essentially pure. Achieving that effect is extraordinarily challenging. Aging spirits in wood can mask flaws and blemishes, but not so with vodka. No other spirit so thoroughly exposes its failings. Alone in the glass, stripped of its packaging, marketing and hype, vodka is an open book. 

Like other noble spirits, vodka is a product of its environment and constituent ingredients. Of enormous importance is the character of the water used in its production, such as spring water, artesian water or water sourced from glaciers. It’s a major point of differentiation between brands. 

Equally important is what the vodka is distilled from, e.g. corn, potato, rye or winter wheat. Each will produce a distinctively different spirit. So, too, will how the spirit is distilled. Most are made in continuous stills, but increasingly more brands are being crafted in small batch alembic stills. 

If you’re looking for something new and extraordinary to stock on your backbar, look no further than English import Black Death Vodka. The most striking thing about the brand is not its name, or the grinning skull on its label, but how good it is. Few brands of vodka have attracted this much critical acclaim. Black Death has earned 5 gold medals at both the prestigious International Wine & Spirits Competition in London and the World Spirits Competition in San Francisco. Sold in over 40 countries, the irreverent brand is now available in the United States.  

Black Death is produced at the famed G&J Greenall Distillery in Warrington, England, one the oldest distilleries in the UK still in operation. It is made from premium sugar beets and spring water drawn from deep underground aquifers. While more challenging to distill than grain or potatoes, sugar beets yield an exceptionally clean, character-laden alcohol. The vodka is triple-distilled in Greenall’s pot stills and vigorously filtered through charcoal prior to being bottled at 80 proof.

In the final analysis, the real measure of a spirit’s greatness is taste. A particular brand may have a laudable pedigree and its makers may have done everything true to form. However, by the end of the process, the spirit may fade to something little more than mediocre in the glass.

Here again Black Death comes out on top. Crafted in the classic European style, the vodka has a silky textured, medium-weight body and the enticing aromas of evergreen and citrus zest. It raises little heat on the palate as it delivers the lingering flavors of citrus, cacao and vanilla. From start to finish, Black Death Vodka is a marvelous sensory experience. 

Vodka will remain America’s spirit of choice for the foreseeable future. Its steadily increasing popularity means that a stream of interesting new brands will continue entering the market. In an attempt to shallow out the learning curve, here’s a scouting report on the best new vodkas you may not have heard of...yet.

Barr Hill Vodka — A sterling example of craft distilling at its finest is Caledonia Spirits of Hardwick, Vermont. Caledonia Spirits and head distiller Ryan Christiansen have created a unique range of spirits, the standard bearer of which is Barr Hill Vodka. The 80-proof spirit is made from a base of 100% raw honey. The honey is slowly allowed to ferment and then distilled twice in the distillery’s custom-built pot and column still. The minimal distillation allows the delicate aromatics of the honey to shine through in the finished spirit. 

Black Moth Vodka — This culinary inspired vodka is distilled from 100% wheat and barley by the Timbermill Distillery in London. It derives its singular flavor from black Périgord winter truffles sourced from France, Italy and Spain. Due to both their elusive nature and delicious flavor, truffles are among the world’s most prized culinary delicacies. The artisanal vodka is distilled 5 times and filtered 3 times. A portion of the run is then further distilled in a small, stainless steel pot still for added depth of flavor. 

Corbin Vodka — How could someone not have thought of distilling vodka from sweet potatoes before this? Fact is sweet potatoes are difficult to distill and it took 4th generation farmer David John Souza to overcome the challenges involved. Corbin Vodka is distilled in California’s San Joaquin Valley, from 8 varieties of estate-grown sweet potatoes in a small copper pot still. Each gallon of distillate is taste tested for consistency. The vodka has a captivating set of aromatics and a delectable palate.

Milk Money Vodka — This new import from New Zealand is distilled from 100% fresh dairy milk. More specifically, the vodka is double distilled from the lactose in the milk, a sugar that differs from conventional glucose. Because the process converts the lactose into a fermentable sugar, the vodka is completely grain-free, gluten-free and lactose-free. It is bottled at 80 proof. For a neutral vodka, there’s a great deal going on. 

Moulin Vodka — This sensational vodka is handcrafted in the town of Angoulême located in the south of France. Master Distiller Jean-Marc Daucourt creates Moulin Vodka from premium wheat and limestone-filtered water sourced from the Pyrenées Mountains. The vodka is distilled a total of 7 times and charcoal filtered and aerated with a flow of oxygen to eliminate impurities. The vodka has a sensual body and an elegant set of flavors.

New Amsterdam — Here’s a brand that offers a lot of vodka for the buck. New Amsterdam is 5 times distilled from American Midwest grain and then filtered 3 times for essential purity and a luxurious mouthfeel. At a very competitive retail price, the 80-proof vodka is amazingly soft and eminently mixable. 

Russian Diamond — Made in Moscow at the Rodnik Distillery, Russian Diamond is made from a blend of premium rye, winter wheat and pristine artesian water drawn from the renowned Mytishchi Springs. The mash is fermented and then distilled in a multi-column, continuous still. After the vodka exits the still it undergoes a 57-stage filtration process. While much of the methodology remains a proprietary secret, the filtration process contributes greatly to its complex character.

St. Augustine Florida Cane Vodka — St. Augustine—the oldest and coolest small city in America—is the home of one of the finest small batch vodkas. The owners of the micro-distillery set out to use exclusively artisanal distilling techniques, including hand-cutting and milling the cane and then distilling the fermented juice in small batches in a copper pot still. The vodka is made entirely from Florida-farmed sugar cane. 

Vintage Vodka — Super-premium Vintage Vodka is made in Belgium from single harvest grains cultivated in the Burgundy region of France. Its art deco label bears the vintage of the grain harvest, which is affected by growing conditions like rainfall, soil composition and number of sunny days. Each year’s vintage will therefore differ slightly in character.

White Tiger Vodka — White Tiger Vodka is every bit as great as its advance billing. It is made at JSC Ussuriyskiy Balsam, which at more than a century old ranks it among the oldest distilleries in the Russian Far East. White Tiger Vodka is twice distilled from premium rye and winter wheat. The vodka is then rigorously filtered to essential purity using quartz sand and 40 feet of birchwood charcoal. Pure spring water from the nearby Sikhote-Alin Mountains is used to render the vodka to 80 proof.

Read more]]> (Robert Plotkin) September 2015 Editions Wed, 19 Aug 2015 16:25:54 -0400
Increase Revenues Through Backbar Management

A restaurant that doesn’t routinely change its menu always has plenty of open tables. The same holds true for a bar. If you find yourself in need of a financial shot in the arm, consider taking a page from the beverage consultant’s playbook and revamp your backbar. Regardless of the size or concept of your operation, the backbar is your principal and most effective marketing device. Ensuring that it has the most advantageous product mix is a tried and true strategy for boosting revenue and rejuvenating a beverage program.

To that end, here are the important things to consider when renovating your backbar and adding punch to your beverage line-up.

Taking Stock — Over time the inventory at most beverage operations grows to the point of being unwieldy. New products are added to the backbar, while older, slower moving products are allowed to remain on the shelves. The reality is there’s a physical limit to how many products can effectively market on all backbars.

One way to cull through the inventory is to analyze each product’s depletion rate. If an item takes 4 months or longer to deplete, it should be considered “on the bubble” and you’d be well advised dropping it from inventory. Underperforming products have low returns on investment.

Products taking 9 moths or longer to turnover are no longer a viable investment and for all intents “dead stock.” The backbar space they occupy could be put to much better use marketing brands people actually want. These products are often unsightly with old tattered labels that give the backbar the appearance of neglecte. Dead stock are financial lost causes and need to be removed from display shelves.

Maintaining Control — Stocking the bar with the products necessary to meet demand requires a significant investment of working capital. Realizing the necessary return on that investment is partially a question of control. To be profitable, you need to know exactly what inventory you have, what you paid for it, at what rate you use it and exactly where it is at any point in time. It necessitates tracking every product from the moment it comes through the back door until the end of the inventory period it was depleted.

In jargon it’s referred to as “cradle to grave” accounting and it involves implementing a series of overlapping internal systems—e.g. purchase orders, requisitions, bar par, perpetual inventory, comp and spill sheets—that track every product through the inventory cycle. While uncomplicated, the key to the system is ensuring that all of the components are in place and being used properly.

Capital at Risk — It’s especially important in these challenging economic times to keep your company’s working capital flowing through the checking account and not needlessly tied-up in inventory. There’s another reason to maintain inventory levels as low as is operationally feasible. Once a product leaves the relative security of the liquor storeroom, your investment in that product essentially becomes “capital at risk,” meaning it can be stolen, given away, wasted, spilled or otherwise lost. Therefore, the lower your inventory levels the lower your exposure to loss.

Back Bar Orientation — Are the liquors and liqueurs on your backbar still the best brands to feature? The spirits being promoted should reflect the character of the business and help establish its identity. Like a blood transfusion, changing those brands may infuse your operation with new life. For example, some of the finest spirits produced are being handcrafted by small distillers quite possibly down the road from your establishment. You may therefore decide to feature a large selection of American micro-distilled spirits. With the renaissance of the cocktail and the ever-growing interest in high quality spirits, stocking American-borne vodkas like Tito’s, Cold River and Vermont Gold makes considerable sense.

Mixology Support — Liqueurs and cordials are essential products in drink making. And yet, some of liqueurs and cordials you stock may actually be doing little more than collecting dust and taking up space on the backbar. Before investing your working capital, make sure there is a legitimate demand for each and every liqueur and cordial stocked. For instance, if you’re not planning on serving many Rusty Nails, you probably don’t need to invest in a liter-sized bottle of Drambuie.

Gaining the Upper Hand — Few things boost premium spirit sales more than a knowledgeable staff. Ensure that your bartenders and servers are well informed about the top-shelf products, what makes them so exceptional and why they’re well worth their higher price tag. Guests often inquire what makes one brand better than another and delivering a concise, informative answer is usually all that’s needed to close the sale.


Read more]]> (Robert Plotkin) April 2015 Editions Mon, 23 Mar 2015 12:08:26 -0400
The Best New Spirits of Mexico Mexico Flag.jpg - 106.51 KB

Tequila doesn’t circumscribe the entire range of Mexican spirits. Paralleling the growth of tequilas is the resurgence of artisanal mezcal, bacanora and sotol. As the points of distinction between the multitudes of tequila brands diminish, consumers are discovering the profound nuances in flavor and levels of complexity in these traditional agave spirits engaging.

“I think the ongoing renaissance of mezcals to be directly related to the phenomenal success of tequila,” says Barbara Sweetman, vice president of ultra-premium Scorpion Mezcal. “Certification has greatly helped to advance the reputation of mezcal by requiring that it be made from 100% agave and produced under strict quality guidelines. Mezcal is also protected under Denomination of Origin status. The spirit now can be consumed with confidence and complete enjoyment.”

Sotol is distilled from the desert spoon plant, a variety of agave native to Chihuahua. It, too, is the direct beneficiary of tequila’s surging popularity. “Most people outside of northern Mexico do not know what sotol is. But once they try it they find its tremendous depth of flavor intriguing,” contends Charles Simmons, importer of award-winning Ocho Cientos Sotol. “I think consumers today are looking for spirits that are made in small distilleries because it connects them to that small town in Mexico where it was produced. Sotol and mezcal are only produced by small companies. That adds another dimension to the artisanal concept.”

So what’s the consensus outlook for tequila? Dori Bryant is the event director with the International Wine and Spirits Competition, sponsors of the San Diego Spirits of Mexico Festival. She contends these are the best of times for the category. Interest in handcrafted tequilas, mezcals, bacanoras and sotols has been nothing short of phenomenal and propelled the category to continue growing at a double-digit pace.

“Agave spirits possess every quality consumers are looking for—textured bodies, enticing aromatics, layers upon layers of sensational flavors and unlimited drink applications. Vodka simply can’t offer people the same enticements.”

So we say viva la difference! In case you missed the fanfare over their initial release, here are our candidates for the best new spirits of Mexico…sans tequila.

Ancho Reyes — Ancho Reyes is a vibrant, traditional Mexican menjurje, a homemade concoction created from a blend of native ingredients and local spirits. It is based on a 1927 recipe that originated in the Mexican town of Puebla, which is renowned for its ancho chiles. The smoky, spicy warm spirit, 80 proof, is made from a roasted chile infusion. It is ideal for use in crafting cocktails.

Bosscal Mezcal Joven — New to the U.S. market, Bosscal Mezcal Joven is an artisanal 100% agave mezcal bottled unaged directly from the still. It is handcrafted at El Rey de Los Destilados in the town of Nombre de Dios in Durango, Mexico from 100% organic agaves. After harvesting, the agaves are slowly roasted over a mesquite fire for several days. The agaves are then crushed and the collected juice is fermented and distilled. Bosscal was awarded a gold medal at the 2014 Spirits of Mexico Competition.

Cielo Rojo Bacanora — Cielo Rojo is crafted on the estate of master distiller Roberto Contreras in the State of Sonora. The wild maguey agaves are slowly roasted in a clay and rock-lined oven sunk into the ground. The roasted agaves are then double-distilled in a small copper pot still and rendered to 84 proof with the estate’s spring-fed water. The blanco has a generous floral and herbaceous nose and a semisweet vanilla, cocoa, spice, anise and red plum palate.

Del Maguey Arroqueño — Brainchild of spirits icon Ron Cooper, the Del Maguey range of handmade mezcals is by far the most respected and sought after in all of Oaxaca. The mezcal is made in the pueblo of Santa Caterina Minas and distilled from the Arroqueño agave, which when cultivated is more like a rich and complex version of Espadin agave. The agaves are harvested at an average age of 12-15 years.

 They are roasted in earthen hornos for 4-5 days and fermented in large pine vats with natural airborne yeasts. The fermented juice is distilled in an olla de barrio (clay still) and bottled at 49% alcohol. Few better.

Herencia del Mezcalero Mezcal — Herencia is made by 4th generation mezcalero Enrique Jimenéz at Fabrica del Amigo [NOM 015X] The blanco mezcal is triple-distilled from slow roasted Espadin agaves and bottled fresh from the still. Herencia is crystal clear with a lightweight, velvety textured body and a generous bouquet of citrus, spice and floral aromas without a trace of smoke. Its dry, expansive palate features the long-lasting flavors of cinnamon, vanilla, mangos and roasted peppers.

Los Amantes Mezcal — Los Amantes Joven and Reposado are the direct result of Guillermo Olguín and Ignacio Carballido’s search for unique mezcals from small villages or small distilleries—known as ‘palanqueros—around the Oaxaca region. The agaves used to make Los Amantes are cooked for 3 days in conical underground pits, imbuing it with an intense and distinctive smoky flavor. The piñas are then crushed and left to ferment in barrels. Distillation takes place in clay pots. It is aged in oak for 2 months and bottled at 40% alcohol.

Marca Negra Mezcal — Marca Negra Mezcal come from remote villages in the Oaxacan Sierra Madres or the desert of Durango. The range currently features 4 releases, each an authentic slice of life. The most critically acclaimed of the cadre is arguably the Marca Negra Tobalá Mezcal, a handmade gem from the small village of San Luis del Rio, Oaxaca. The mezcal is double distilled in copper pot stills from wild Tobalá agaves. Also from San Luis del Rio is Marca Negra Espadín Mezcal, which is distilled from estate-grown Espadin agaves.

Montelobos Joven Mezcal — Montelobos is an award-winning, artisanal mezcal made in Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca. Handcrafted by renowned agave expert Iván Saldaña, Montelobos is produced with 100% organically certified Espadín agaves. The mezcal is produced using traditional methods, including fire pit-roasting the agave, crushing them with mule drawn Tahona wheel and distilling in small, wood-fire heated copper pots. It has a wafting spicy nose and a long, smoky finish.

Ocho Cientos Sotol  — Ocho Cientos is handcrafted in Chihuahua, Mexico from the indigenous Sotol plant. After harvesting, the hearts of the plants are taken to the distillery where they are roasted in a 7-foot deep, rock-lined pit oven, fermented and distilled in a traditional copper pot still. Ocho Cientos Blanco, 43% alcohol, is rested prior to bottling to allow its flavors to fully integrate. The result is an earthy, elegant and thoroughly engaging spirit.  The Ocho Cientos Reposado is equally alluring. It’s matured for 8 months in re-charred, American white oak barrels.

Sacrificio Mezcal — Mezcal Sacrificio is crafted at Destilería Sacrificio in Tlacolula, Oaxaca from mature Espadin agaves. They are baked in mesquite wood-fired ovens for 2 days and nights under low, constant heat. After the agaves’ sugar-rich juice has been fermented, it is twice distilled in two different types of pot stills. The Joven expression is bottled directly from the still, while the Sacrificio Reposado is matured for 3 months in un-charred oak barrels that were used previously to age brandy.

Scorpion Reserva Mezcal — Ultra-suave Scorpion Reserva Mezcal is a skillfully made añejo loaded with charm and finesse. The Scorpion range of mezcals is handcrafted in the village of San Agustin de las Juntas in Oaxaca, Mexico from mature Espadine and Barril agaves and purified water. Each 80-proof mezcal is presented with a scorpion exoskeleton inside the bottle. The Scorpion portfolio also includes two new critically acclaimed mezcals distilled from estate-grown Tobalá agaves.

Viejo Indecente Mezcal — Viejo Indecente is made by the Lucas Garcia family at Casa de Mezcales Viejo Indecente in Miahuatlán de Porfirio Diaz, Oaxaca. The Viejo Indecente Ensamble is produced using both Espadin and Madrecuixe agaves. It is double distilled in copper pot stills and bottled at 48% alcohol. 

Read more]]> (Robert Plotkin) December 2014 Editions Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:50:32 -0500
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Where do you stand on the debate? Some contend that the best results are obtained by educating bartenders, not training them, that the days of training people stops at the potty. They suggest that what bartenders need is a steady diet of education. Others argue that while some aspects of the job require continuing education, technical proficiency is a strict matter of training and guidance.

Then there’s the third possibility, that being they’re all wrong. The practical reality is that bartenders require training, education and a healthy dose of something called applied leaning, or savvy.

It’s true that training is an essential component of maintaining excellence and continuity in an organization. For instance, major league baseball doesn’t conduct spring education. At the onset, bartenders need training on specific policies and procedures, pricing and mixology fundamentals. Familiarization with all aspects of the operation is important. You can’t hold people accountable if you haven’t fully detailed the scope of their responsibilities.

Training a professional staff needs to go further than that though. All frontline employees should be thoroughly trained in precisely what to do in the event of medical emergencies, acts of violence, fire and armed robbery. The heightened stress and critical nature of these potential occurrences requires training. Anticipating situations before they occur and devising a strategy for handling them often makes a huge difference in averting tragedy. At the police academy, cadets are taught that in a crisis situation, a person can do one of two things — panic or think. The police are trained to think, so should your employees.

Education involves an entirely different subset of learnings, typically involving products and mixology. For example, you don’t train professionals about wine, you educate them. The same holds true for spirits, beers, bottled waters, Daiquiris, entrees and appetizers. The educational process, in this context, melds intellect with sensory perceptions. The ultimate goal being a heightened appreciation for the products, which should translate to enhanced interaction with the guests.

Training and education are not enough, however. In fact it shortchanges your employees and business alike. What’s fundamentally crucial is not the degree of training, or level of education; it’s the savvy application of those things that matter. 

Consider drink making. Learning how to make cocktails involves training in proper technique. Repeat the process enough and it will be ingrained as muscle memory. For bartenders to make the grade as mixologists, however, they need more than training, they need to be educated in the classic cocktails — what they are and why their balance of flavors has garnered them legendary status.

Yet this level of understanding alone won’t catapult a bartender into being a franchise player. Exceeding guest expectations entails making each cocktail like it genuinely matters, because it does. It involves a feel for when to suggest premium spirits and to whom. Knowing how a certain brand of spirit tastes is one thing, understanding how it will alter the delicate balance of a cocktail is another. These applied learnings fall outside the purview of training and education both; it exists within that murky, grey area of bar savvy.

What about alcohol awareness? Bartenders learning how to effectively refuse further service is a training issue. It is not an inherent ability, and if mishandled, the refusal can make a bad situation even worse. On the other hand, identifying the visible indicators of intoxication and understanding how alcohol affects the physiology is a matter of education. But what’s critically important is the timely application of the training and knowledge. Bartenders need to assimilate what they’ve been trained and taught and apply those learnings with conviction.

Are these things best gained through experience? Perhaps. But experience is a hit or miss proposition. Are operators expected to suffer their bartenders’ lack of savvy until their experience fills in the gaps? Consider the ramifications of their deficiencies on revenue, others on staff, guest satisfaction and legal compliance. The cost of waiting for bartenders to gain the necessary competency may be cost prohibitive.

Once you begin to look at training and education as mere foundations that need to be further developed into savvy, illustrations abound. Take for example serving food at the bar. How to properly present appetizers and entrees is a training issue, while learning about the dishes is a matter of education, another melding of intellect and sensory perceptions. But what items to recommend, when and to whom is all about savvy.

Wait, there’s more. Situations will likely arise that inconveniently fall through the gap between training and education. What if two people sit down and order three drinks, the third cocktail ostensibly for a friend in the rest room or parking the car, should the bartender prepare and serve all three drinks? It is not an uncommon ploy. The absent person is likely a minor or already intoxicated. What if your bartender had never encountered the situation and proceeded to serve the alcohol?

This begs the obvious question, how do you instill savvy in your bartenders? This is one instance where managers, corporate trainers and owners aren’t up to the task. The time-tested answer is mentoring, pairing novice bartenders with seasoned pros. Savvy is gained by emulating the actions and professionalism of another, in this case, a well-trained and well-educated bartender who knows how to keep the guests satisfied while watching out for the best interests of the house.

Bartenders work in a highly charged environment. Affording them every opportunity to excel is in your and their best interest. Mentoring may well be the best strategy to ensure they do.

Read more]]> (Robert Plotkin) November 2014 Editions Mon, 20 Oct 2014 11:54:32 -0400
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The appeal of premium spirits cuts across age and cultural demographic lines. The spirits industry has done a marvelous job positioning premium brands with contemporary consumers. Their allure is undeniable. They’re marketed in attention grabbing packages and offer people a lot of bang for the buck. That’s an unbeatable combination.

As with most high-ticket items, premium and super-premium spirits don’t sell themselves. Convincing a client that a $60 bottle of Russian vodka, a $200 American alembic brandy, or a 750ml of tequila retailing for $250 is a warranted and informed purchase requires technique and ready information. Considering that your staff will have little time to close the sale necessitates providing them with a viable strategy.

Whether selling spirits behind a swank bar or off your retail shelves, an important first step is for the staff to appreciate each product’s singular claim to fame. It’s safe to presume that the products commanding these elevated prices have sufficient attributes that lift them heads and shoulders above the pack. Knowing what makes a particular brand a brilliant player is crucial.

As any sales veteran will attest, the key to effective sales is to “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” That’s what pushes people’s hot buttons and these products are loaded with sizzle. This advice doesn’t include reciting the medals they’ve won, or what ratings they’ve received. It entails talking plainly about what makes the certain brand singular and different from the rest. 

Better than talking, conduct tastings for the staff and let them experience firsthand how magnificent these spirits truly are. Combine insight and a sense of appreciation into a person and you’ve set the stage for success. They say passion is contagious. 

Up-Selling Brandies and Cognac

The most important key to up-selling Cognacs and brandies is emphasizing the region in which the grapes were cultivated. Just as with wine, the microclimate, soil composition and growing conditions under which grapes are cultivated have a pronounced impact on the finished spirit. As a result, a Grande Champagne cognac will be characteristically different than one blended with brandies from Petite Champagne, the Borderies or the Bons Bois. Conveying this most basic of information is crucial to selling cognacs and brandies, especially as one ascends the price scale. 

Likewise, give the client a sense of the nature of the blend—called the assemblage— used to create the brandy. This is where the wealth and sophistication of a particular brand comes into full play. For example, Richard Hennessy Cognac is comprised of a rare assemblage of more than 100 eaux-de-vie primarily from the Grand and Petite Champagne regions. The youngest brandy in its blend is 50 years old, while a percentage is more than two centuries in age. The youngest brandy used to make famed ultra-premium Remy Martin Louis XIII registers a half-century in age.

As extraordinary as most Cognacs are, stiff competition in the category is being waged by a handful of American craft distillers, most notably Germain-Robin, Jepson, Domaine Charbay and St. George Spirits. These boutique distillers approached the making of their world-class offerings differently than their French counterparts. Cognacs are traditionally distilled from the Ugni Blanc, better known as the Trebbiano, the oldest grape varietal in Italy. A small percentage of contain Colombard and Folle Blanche.

The American brandy makers took a different tack, relying heavily on premier wine grape varietals, most notably pinot noir. Like their Cognac-producing counterparts, these distillers utilize small copper alembic stills and age their brandies in small oak casks.

Up-Selling Premium Scotch

When it comes to marketing Scotch, intrigue sells. A superior malt with a compelling story line sells better than one draped in medals. Consumers have become jaded to marketing superlatives such as oldest, rarest or most expensive. Most people would rather be intrigued than impressed. Tempting clients with some engaging insights into a particular whisky and the decision to purchase is a foregone conclusion.

Offering your clientele a discriminating selection of blends and single malts requires that you market a balanced offering, one that best represents the varieties of styles of each Scotch-producing region.

First, a little background information. The term single malt Scotch is often misconstrued. It is a whisky, produced in Scotland, at a single distillery using only malted barley, and no other grain or fermentable material. Blended Scotches are comprised of various whiskies from an unspecified number of distilleries. The heart of any premium blended Scotch are single malt whiskies. For instance, Johnnie Walker Gold Label is made according to a 1920 recipe created for the company’s 100th anniversary. It contains fifteen different 18-year-old single malt whiskies.

Recommending a classy bottle of Scotch first requires a vital piece of information from the client, namely what brand or type of Scotch the person typically enjoys. From there you can easily begin suggesting brands that don’t require the person to make a radical departure in taste profile. Second, ask if the person is looking for an accessible whisky, or one with a bracing amount of vigor and peat. Last, inquire about how much the person is looking to spend. Collectively the information should provide a blueprint on how to proceed. Soft and lush whiskies suggest either the Lowlands or the Speyside region of the Highlands. Exuberant, peaty malts bring to mind those made on the islands. While exceptions here outnumber the rule, it’s a jumping off point. 

Up-Selling Premium Irish Whiskeys

Whiskey distilling originated in Ireland in the sixth century. By the end of the 1800s there were over 160 active distilleries producing 400 brands of Irish whiskey. It was exported to every port of call in Europe, the British Empire and America, exceeding the worldwide sales of all other types of whiskey combined. Irish whiskey was the world’s spirit of choice.

The 20th century, however, was not kind to the native spirit of Ireland. Domestic hard times and an industry unwilling to keep pace with technology cost Irish whiskey its position of preeminence. 

Today there are roughly two dozen brands of Irish whiskey. To connoisseurs this noble whiskey is still a treasure to be savored and shared with only the best of friends. So step up, take a few chances and pepper your several with several new Irish whiskeys. 

There are two brands of Irish whiskeys that have superlatives attached to their names. John Jameson is the world’s best selling label of Irish whiskey. Originally crafted in Dublin, the Jameson range of whiskeys is now made at the internationally renowned Midleton Distillery in County Cork. 

Bushmills is the oldest, continuously produced brand of Irish whiskey. Located in Country Antrim, the Old Bushmills distillery was granted a license by King James I in 1608, the same year that William Shakespeare wrote the Tempest. 

Serious enthusiasts of Irish whiskey know the brand they’re going to buy before they walk through your front door. Knowing this, Irish distillers are expanding vertically in order to keep their loyal constituency in the fold. This way, brand devoted clients can experiment with things like creative wood finishes or vintage delineated malts while remaining true to the brand their parents drank. For that matter, any whiskey aficionado looking to go home with something new and indisputably luxurious should be escorted to the nearest Irish single malt. Each is a memorable experience.

Up-Selling Premium American Whiskeys

The chant “Buy American” can now be heard in bars around the globe. Exports from Kentucky and Tennessee have risen over 60% since 1992 and 26% over the past five years alone. Foreign sales now constitute a significant percentage of sales for American whiskies. 

By all indications, American whiskeys will continue to grab an increasingly larger share of the popular limelight. Their mixability, affordability and easy to appreciate character seem to be what consumers are looking for.

Bourbons and Tennessee whiskeys offer consumers a lot of bang for the whiskey buck. What the category may lack in pizzazz, it more than makes up for it in quality. After all, the proof is in the whiskey. Expect increasingly more special bottlings with which to tantalize enthusiasts of American sipping’ whiskey. Clients looking to walk away with a slice of history should be directed to the growing number of vintage-dated, or single barrel expressions. Watch for growing consumer interest in American ryes. The whiskeys are big, spicy and take age well. 


Read more]]> (Robert Plotkin) April 2014 Editions Wed, 19 Mar 2014 14:10:24 -0400
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While bourbon and Scotch get more press, Irish whiskeys have quietly become the fastest growing, barrel-aged spirit in America. So what’s the attraction?

It may be no more complicated than Irish whiskeys are exceptionally easy to drink. They’re accessible, highly aromatic and loaded with palate pleasing flavors. Equally tempting, years of steadily increasing popularity hasn’t significantly driven up their price making them relative bargains. For a category long existing with nary a pulse, these are heady days.

There was a time when Irish whiskey ruled supreme. By the end of the nineteenth century, there were over 160 active distilleries in the country producing 400 brands of Irish whiskey. It was exported to every port of call in Europe, the British Empire and America, exceeding the worldwide sales of all other types of whiskey combined. It had become the world’s spirit of choice.

Two historical events brought the Irish whiskey industry to its knees. The first was the 1916 Irish War of Independence against Great Britain. In retaliation, England level a trade embargo with Ireland, which denied distillers access to markets throughout the British Empire. Then in 1919 came the American Prohibition and overnight Irish whiskey’s largest consumer base effectively vanished. The cumulative effect on the Irish economy was devastating.

During the same time, Scotch whisky distillers were thriving. Unaffected by the British embargo, exports of Scotch skyrocketed and truckloads of whisky found their way across the Canadian border and into American speakeasies. Scotch soon became this country’s whisky of choice, a distinction that it hasn’t yet relinquished.

There are several telling differences between Irish and Scotch whiskies. Unlike Scotch, Irish whiskey is distilled from both malted and unmalted barley. The malt used in the distillation is dried in closed kilns, rather than over peat fires as is the traditional practice in Scotland. As a result most Irish whiskeys lack the peaty smokiness of Scotch. Irish producers also triple-distill their whiskey and prefer to develop its character in the vat, rather than post-distillation blending.

Ireland’s standards of quality are such that there is no such thing as a mediocre Irish whiskey. In a marketplace where demand for super-premium spirits is soaring, Irish whiskeys are hot commodities. The strategy is clear, give the people what they want and order more bar stools.

Here’s a brief look at the category’s franchise players.

Black Bush — Created in 1934 by the master distiller at the Bushmills Distillery, the inimitable whiskey is a blend comprised principally of malted barley whiskeys triple-distilled in copper pot stills. Most are aged up to nine years largely in Oloroso sherry oak casks. Black Bush is a full-bodied beauty with a sherry influenced nose and a rich, malty palate. Its silky body makes Black Bush a highly accessible whiskey, an ideal entrée to the category.

Bushmills 16-Year Old Single Malt — This highly revered single malt is a blend of whiskies matured a minimum of 16 years in three different types of wood—ex-bourbon barrels, Port pipes and Oloroso sherry casks. Each wood contributes a distinctive character to the glorious finished product. It has a voluminous bouquet and a tantalizing, somewhat fruity palate. The finish is long and flavorful with delicate Port notes.

Clontarf Irish Whiskey — Made in Dublin by the producers Buru Irish Vodka, Clontarf is triple distilled from grain and spring water. It is aged in ex-bourbon barrels and filtered through Atlantic Irish oak charcoal. The full-bodied whiskey is delightfully exuberant and flavorful.

Connemara Single Malt — Produced at the renowned Cooley Distillery in Dundalk, this award-winning single malt is distilled in a traditional pot still using malted barley dried over a peat fire. The peat imbues Connemara with an intriguing smoky edge and flavor. It’s a glorious malt reminiscent of the whiskies of Islay.

Jameson 12-Year — John Jameson has been distilling whiskey since 1780 and their accumulated expertise is immediately evident in this 12-year old gem. It’s a blend of malted and unmalted barley whiskeys aged in ex-bourbon barrels and Oloroso sherry casks. The sherry-finished whiskeys in the blend give it a slightly sweet, fruity and nutty palate.

Jameson 18-Year — A stunning accomplishment that pays homage to the Jameson Distillery’s centuries old preference for aging whiskeys in Oloroso sherry casks. After maturing a minimum of 18-years in the sherry wood, the whiskey is finished for six-months in American oak. It has a wafting, sherry-influenced bouquet and a broad palate with nutty, spicy notes. An exquisite whiskey of great substance and style.

Knappogue Castle Single Malt — The current vintage of this celebrated single malt is the most robust and flavorful to date. The 12-year old, pot-distilled whiskey is generously aromatic and loaded with citrusy, malty and honeyed notes. The finish is lingering and eminently satisfying. Knappogue Castle is an exceptional buy at twice the price.

Michael Collins Single Malt — Produced at the Cooley Distillery, this marvelous malt is distilled in small batches from 100% peated barley malt and matured in ex-bourbon barrels between 8 to 12 years. It has a brilliant bouquet and a dry, appetizing palate with succulent fruit notes. The malt finishes long and silky smooth.

Midleton Very Rare — The highly esteemed Midleton Very Rare is a vintage-dated blend comprised of pot-distilled whiskies made from both malted and unmalted barley and matured up to 25 years in American oak barrels. Only a scant 50 casks are bottled each year. Midleton VR has a luxurious pot-still character with a silky texture and mesmerizing array of flavors.

Powers — In a country known for their abiding appreciation of whiskey, Power’s remains the best-selling brand in Ireland. It’s an elegant blend comprised of approximately 70% pot still whiskies and no malt used in the blend. Founded in 1791, Power’s was the first to market their whiskey in bottles.

Redbreast Pure Pot Still — This prestigious whiskey is crafted in heavy copper pot stills from malted barley and spring water and then barrel aged for a minimum of 12-years. The whiskey is complex, delightfully assertive and smooth as satin. It has a bouquet laced with malt and fruit aromas and a palate brimming with the flavors of honey, spice and sherry.

Tullamore Dew — Created in 1829, Tullamore Dew is triple-distilled in pot stills at the Midleton Distillery in Cork and aged for a minimum of three years in American oak barrels and ex-Sherry casks. It has a semi-sweet, fruity bouquet, a light body with a dry, woody palate with a caramel finish. Tullamore Dew is a premium dram at a value price.

Tyrconnell Single Malt — The brand dates back to 1762 and is now distilled at the Cooley Distillery, Tyrconnell is a flawless whiskey with a full body, malty bouquet and a slightly sweet flavor. It has a long, marvelously dry finish. Tyrconnell Single Malt compares quite favorably with the single malts of the Speyside.

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Mastering the Irish Coffee

One of the best reasons to open a bottle of whiskey is the Irish Coffee. As the story goes on a particularly cold evening in 1952, the chef at the Shannon airport restaurant laced his coffee with a healthy dram of whiskey, a spot of sugar and a layer of whipped cream. The combination was pronounced utterly delicious. The drink soon became a specialty of the airport’s bar and took on a life of its own after that.

The same year, a columnist and travel writer for the San Francisco Chronicle passed through Shannon on his way home. He sampled several of the coffees and was immediately smitten. Word of the Shannon airport’s coffee made its way to the Buena Vista Café on Fisherman’s Wharf. The drink became an immediate hit and has been ever since.

Despite its simplicity the appeal of the Irish Coffee is nearly universal. It’s prepared by lacing freshly brewed coffee with a splash of simple syrup, a measure of Irish whiskey and a layer of frothed milk or whipped cream. For sport try the Irish Coffee Royale. It features an additional shot of Kahlúa. Another version includes Bailey’s Irish Cream and a touch of Irish Mist or Celtic Crossing.


Read more]]> (Robert Plotkin) March 2014 Editions Thu, 20 Feb 2014 09:41:26 -0500