Archive for September, 2010

September 28, 2010

Dirty


Booze and bawdiness. Intoxication and innuendo. Sauce and sex. The two are inextricably linked. It’s not that you can’t have one without the other, but let’s face it alcohol and action are hot bedfellows.

Not only is drink used as a social lubricant, but we also give drinks provocative names like Sex on the Beach, the Screaming Orgasm and the Buttery Nipple. These drinks might sound clever when you first sneak into a bar when you are 19, but they are a bit hard to order with a straight face once you pass the age of 25.

There is one drink that has managed to subtly invoke notions of nooky without compromising its sophistication: the Dirty Martini. Martinis are the epitome of an erudite drink, but give it the name “dirty” and it opens the door to intimation. So, what is it?

A classic martini has two main ingredients: chilled vodka or gin, and dry vermouth. The International Bartenders Association specifies that a martini has 2 ounces of gin, half an ounce of dry vermouth. I’m not going to get into the whole gin vs. vodka debate because they both have their own merits. Because I live in Texas I often choose Tito’s Handmade Vodka or Dripping Springs Vodka. Here are some tips on making a damned fine martini.

  • Start off by misting the outside of the glasses with water, and put them in the freezer until frosty
  • Pour gin or vodka into a cocktail shaker with cracked ice
  • Shake the hell out of the liquor until it feels like your hands are going to freeze to the shaker like Ralphie’s friend Flick’s tongue froze to the pole in a Christmas Story
  • Rinse the inside of the glass with the vermouth by swirling it around a few times. Then toss the majority of it down the drain
  • Pour the shaken vodka or gin into the chilled and vermouth bathed glass through the shaker strainer to remove any chunks of ice, but allow it to get a fine sheen of frozen crystalline glamour  

So what makes it dirty? Pop in 2 large, firm olives and a measure of olive brine. How dirty do you want it? Some recipes call for a tablespoon, but you can get downright filthy if you like. Now it’s sophisticated and sexy.

The conversion to dirty happens right from the start. Drinking from a martini glass is putting your lips on the hem of an inverted A-line skirt. Next the salty brine mixes with the alkaline alcohol like the sweat on a lover’s lip. Fleshy olives stand their ground for a moment, and then yield to the bite. I don’t know who bit whose lip, but I taste a little blood. And I like it. A good dirty martini is as cloudy as you are when you are finished, relaxing in the warmth of its memory. Ready for a second round?  

What are you drinking?

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September 16, 2010

Lost in Translation? Try Oban 14 Single Malt Scotch Whisky


“For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.”

Like Bill Murray playing the character Bob Harris in the movie “Lost in Translation,” I found myself sitting alone at a hotel bar in Tokyo tonight listening to the cacophony of foreign voices having unintelligible conversations. Chipper tones and drawn out vowels danced like bird song at an aviary. Indecipherable words fell like silk curtains separating me from the people around me. The ghostlike haze of jetlag further distanced me from my surroundings. I’ve been gone for a week and I miss Beautiful Wife, my darling kidlets, my friends and the comforts of home. I could completely relate to Bob feeling adrift in a distant land. If you haven’t seen the movie, go get it.

What’s a man to do? Visit a dear old friend: whisky. I couldn’t get a Suntory, the whisky Bob pitched in the movie, so I ordered a 14 year old Oban Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Ah, there you are. Oban is a good friend with that familiar lilting hello breaking through the fog of strangers’ meaningless conversations. She’s a gentle reminder that I’m not completely alone despite being 6,500 miles from home and 14 hours ahead in the day.

Oban a west highland whisky distillery, now owned by mega company Diageo, was founded in 1794 and is situated on the western coast of Scotland. The town of Oban grew up around the distillery and is also known as the “Gateway to the Isles”.  Diageo started a movement to designate “Classic Malts” in 1985, and Oban represents the West Coast in that designation. Oban is easily one of the most famous of the western highlands and is known for its easy drinking style.

Look Amber as intriguing as it is dangerous to the tiny insect.
Smell Smoked honeyed oranges with sea salt and spice.
Taste Alcoholic flirt with a rose petal, carameled pear at the front followed by smoky peat with a long, sweet oak finish.
Price 1,900 ¥ per glass or about $22  

 Even if you aren’t sitting alone in a hotel bar in a foreign country, Oban Single Malt Scotch Whisky makes a good friend.

 Bob: “You want more mysterious? I’ll just try and think, ‘Where the hell’s the whiskey?’”

 What are you drinking?

September 16, 2010

Red Wine from Red China: Grace Vineyard


Wine is made in most countries in the world that can sustain grape vines. Those gnarly creepers are pretty hardy, so there aren’t many places that can’t produce wine. I’ve never seen Chinese wine in the shops in the U.S., but in fact there are about 400 wineries there. The Chinese like their drink as much as anyone, so of course there is a market for fine wine. Some estimates suggest that China is the fourth largest producer of wine in the world, with the vast majority of it consumed in the country.

I had the opportunity to go to Beijing this week and of course I had to try the local wine. I ordered a couple glasses of 2008 Grace Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon to accompany my lunch.

Grace Vineyard is a family-owned winery, based in Shanxi province, south of Beijing. It was started by Chan Chun Keung with the first plantings in 1997 in 168 acre vineyards and the first vintage was 2001. It is now run by Chun Keung’s oldest daughter, Judy Leissner, who studied at the University of Michigan – and I hold that against her. The winery produces Bordeaux style wines which are aided by its location in spirit at least as its situated approximately on the same latitude as Bordeaux.  OK, so they don’t speak French to the grapes, the climate is cold in the winter and hot and wet in the summer, and the soil is more loamy, but they at least grow some of the same grapes that are prominent in that famed French region including Cabernet Franc (24%), Merlot (30%), Cabernet Sauvignon (38%), oh and also Chardonnay (8%).   

Grace bottles nine wines categorized in three quality levels: Flower Series, aka Vineyard Series (Rosé, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon); Bronze Series (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Winemakers Selection – a Bordeaux blend); Gold Series (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot). They produce about 700,000 bottles a year. I tasted the ’08 Vineyard Series Cab, which is made to be drunk young. Hmm, young and drunk. Rings a bell.

Look Dark ruby with a tinge of age at the edge like the smoggy midnight sky in Beijing.  
Smell A box of raisins left in the sun a lunch box for a few days: warm with aged sweetness.
Taste A front of soft plum, quickly followed by prune on the mid-palette and slipping away in a fast finish with mild insinuations of oak.  
Price 45.00 RMB/ glass or about $6. Bottles go for about $28 retail.

Did I buy a few bottles to bring home with me? Nope. Would I drink it again in my next visit to China? Yep.

What are you drinking?

September 11, 2010

The Right Wine for a Tweet-Up: Arroba Winery


I’ve been hearing enough about Arroba Winery that I felt compelled to try its 2007Cabernet Sauvignon from the Sonoma Valley.  Arroba is linked with Deerfield Ranch Winery, where veteran craftsman winemaker, Robert Rex, produces delicious Zins and Syrah. The winery has a reputation for producing solid cabs and had introduced a line of affordable wines.

The first thing I noticed right away about the bottle is the ampersand featured prominently on their logo. Shrewd marketing perhaps? Using an @ just has to be a nod to the ridiculously popular social media tool, Twitter. Twitter users call out other people on it by putting an @ in front of their screen name. For example, I’m @MattMcGinnis on Twitter – adroit name huh?

Drinking this wine was just like going to a Tweet-up for me (don’t ya feel a little ridiculous saying the world tweet-up? It’s just stupid). Here is a wine that I know about by reputation, that I want to get to know better and that I have a chance to meet in person. That’s the whole concept behind Tweet-ups. They are gatherings of people that know each other online on Twitter who want to meet the real person behind the 140 character tweets. Do the people match their online personas, or is it hype? Who is that guy with the witty snark about the Austin music scene? Who is the person that posts a zillion lol catz and other memes? Who is the clever writer reviewing great cocktails and the accidents that happen after she drinks them? Who is the girl with the really hot profile photo?

There is a big Tweet-up in Austin that I go to sometimes called the Big Ass Twitter Happy Hour, or #BATHH. More than 300 people get together each month, slap their Twit name on their chest and mingle with other Twitter users. I’ve met several people that I stay in contact with off of Twitter. They are like decent wines that I’d known by online reputation that I’ve tried, like, and now buy and keep in regular rotation. I’ve met other people at BATHH that are nice enough, but aren’t nearly as interesting in person as they online. If they were wine, I wouldn’t buy them again. We’ll stick to being Twitter friends. And well, there are others that I’m getting out of the BATHH to avoid. I’m de-friending them as soon as I’m back online. I’d dump that bottle down the drain.

Let’s see how this Cab from Arroba Winery fares at a Tweet-up.

Look She carries herself well in a group setting, with rich, deep purple that could pass for opulent in a darkened bar. A great first impression at a Tweet-up.
Smell Pleasant, but not particularly well balanced with spicy raspberry, but just a little too much alcohol. On first meeting at a Tweet-up, you could see this going either way. She smells decent enough to have promise, but is that load of alcohol on her breath an indication that she doesn’t quite have it all together?  
Taste Now for the conversation. Here’s where we discover that she doesn’t measure up to the hype. Thin mouth-feel without the velvety lushness expected. The fruit is weak, unripen blackberries. She has enough alcohol to make me choke a little when I trilled the wine. She had a short finish without much to say.
Price $12

How do I break this to you Arroba Winery? It’s not you, it’s me. No, actually it’s you. You are a decent wine to serve at a Tweet-up where there is a big mix of people I don’t know all that well, some of whom don’t deserve good wine. Your snazzy packaging at least gets you in the door and your twist top makes you immediately approachable. Alas, you are not a wine that’s going to graduate from my interest in your reputation to a wine that I put in rotation at home. You’re just not that remarkable.

If I ever serve this wine to you at my house, it means that I’d prefer we stick to being just online friends. No really, you can take the rest of the wine with you in a plastic cup. There’s no reason for you to stick around any longer because you’re just not that interesting in person. See ya on Twitter.

What are you drinking?

September 8, 2010

Specialty Drinks for Livestrong


My Mellow Yellow Benefit is coming up on Saturday, September 25. I you want to be one of the lucky ones on the invite list, all you have to do is make a donation to the Lance Armstrong Foundation on my page.

Entertainment will be provided by legendary DJ el john Selector of Thievery Corporation fame. Bring a wad of cash for the silent auction with lots of goodies like art, Mellow Johnny’s bike stuff, jewelry and more. We’ll of course have mouth-watering drinks provided by several sponsors including the Austin Wine Merchant, Live Oak Brewing Company, Republic Tequila, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Treaty Oak Rum and Graham’s Texas Tea.

 The good folks at Treaty Oak Rum and Graham’s Texas Tea have some great concoctions for us to try. Here’s what we’re making:

Pepperita:
2 oz Treaty Oak Platinum Rum
1 oz agave nectar
1 oz fresh lime juice
3 fresh jalapeno slices
3 oz club soda

Shake first three ingredients with two of the jalapeno slices.  Strain over ice, top with club soda and garnish with remaining jalapeno slice.

Texas Fuzz:
2 oz Graham’s Texas Tea
2 oz still water
3-4 Fresh Mint leaves, torn
1 Fresh Peach, sliced into 8 slices

Muddle peach slice and mint leaves in 2oz Graham’s Texas Tea. Top with still water and serve over ice.

I’ll of course get some reviews of the drinks written up after the party, but thought I’d get you good and thirsty now. If you want to try this out at home, check out this video of Eric Thorton mixing a Pepperita.

Let me know if you want to come and I’ll send you an invitation.

Cheers!