Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Team MollieDan in the Catskills


Well, I finally got out into the country for a bit. Last weekend, my parents and I drove out to Fleischmanns, New York in the Catskills for the wedding of my cousin Mollie Lief and Dan Abramson. We knew this would be a great event, as the Liefs know how to throw a party, Mollie was always an outgoing and clever kid, and Dan is a happy addition to the family. Writes for funnyordie.com, no less!

The wedding was indeed beautiful, delicious (fried chicken, pie and ice cream cake? Why don't more people do this????) and entertaining. The setting on Judd Hill in the cloudless sky was breathtaking. Even the porta-potties were classy!

The trick was getting there. And staying there. Luckily the drive up and back was mostly uneventful. We stayed at the River Run Bed and Breakfast. Not such a bad place on a budget. The Four Seasons it ain't. But you get a bed, you get breakfast, plus a big porch to hang out on.

The innkeeper, Ben Fenton, has turned the living room into not only a place to hang out, read and watch movies, but also a mini museum of family memorabilia. His great grandparents ran a beauty parlor back in the day. I referred to the room as the "Beauty Parlor Parlor."

Various antique hair dryers and metal "permanent wave" curlers (thats them hanging from that metal stand, look closely among the flora and fauna.)

Great dinner our first night at the Peekamoose restaurant in Big Indian, the next town over. Well chosen wine list (if a little lacking in local producers) and way above average seasonal comfort dishes. Had a roast chicken with corn that was essentially the food equivalent of a warm hug. Loved this tree lamp in the main dining room.

Speaking of, I was worried with all the gluttonous imbibery and whatnot, and a lot of sitting, I would go way off my game over the course of the weekend. But luckily there was time for some vigorous hilly walking near River Run on both days to balance some of the damage.

Of course the main reason to come to Fleischmanns was Team MollieDan! As I said, the Liefs know how to put on a show.

Maple syrup place cards.

The couple take their first dance. Luckily this was all under a tent. Did I mention, cloudless sky? I got a tad pink during the ceremony, which was not. (Oh well, stripes are still in fashion this season...) But I also got a little verklempt. I remember when Mollie was born in 1983. I remember swimming with her in our family pool in CT when she was a child, and playing hide and seek at night. I remember her bat mitzvah and the purple Doc Martens she bought with some of her loot. I've seen her at all stages of her life, and she's always been the coolest.

Yes, I'm now old enough to be living a life insurance commercial without the need for time lapse photography.

Hava Negila!

Cousins Jude and Felix (mom and pop of the bride.)

Myself and the happy, beautiful bride.

More of the fourth generation Liefs: cousins Eli and Karenna.

Pre-sunset chuppa. Loved the purple wildflowers there and on the tables.

Well, that was enough country air for this city slicker. It was good to be home again.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Camp Whiskey

"Hello Muddah,
Hello Fadduh.
Here I am at
Camp Granada.
Camp is very
And they say we'll have some fun if it stops raining."

Well, it didn't stop raining last night, but that didn't keep us from having fun at Camp Whiskey! Camp Whiskey is a new tasting group founded by "head counselors" Char No. 4's Jeff Galli, The Whiskey Shop's Jonathan Wingo and brown spirits enthusiast Gary He. Each week, the campers gather in a commercial space in Brooklyn TBD and taste a selection of whiskies with a particular theme. Last night was a roundup of experimental selections from American craft distilleries Corsair, Kings County, Smooth Ambler, Balcones and Charbay. As you can see in the picture, many of these are samples that are not yet on the market, or examples of items that aren't available here. This is the shizzle, whiskey geeks!

The tasting is very well organized, and the counselors make sure we're well hydrated as we taste through the selections (so no visit to the infirmary is necessary.) Each whiskey is presented with background information and we taste them together as a group. What I found refreshing is that unlike most group tastings I've attended, we weren't called upon to yell out our thoughts on the dram or exclaim the flavors we detected. Instead, we were given time to reflect on what we were experiencing and ask questions.

Last night, we had the great fortune to hear Derek Bell from Corsair and Dave Smith from St. George speak to us via phone about their projects. The speaker phone was a little muffled, so to keep the distillers from sounding like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon, Jonathan rigged up a plastic trash can to the phone as an amplifier. Science in full effect!

There was also a very special guest camper, Nicole Austin, master blender from Kings County, presenting the latest batches of unaged corn whiskey and Bourbon. She spoke about the perils of aging whiskey in an un-temperature controlled environment in Brooklyn. The fluctuating conditions make it difficult to age a spirit for long stretches since too much time can result in "over-cooking" as extremes of weather beat down on the barrels. She also discussed the size of the barrels (5 gallons) and how that affects the flavor and aging process (larger the barrel, the more the whiskey needs time to age, but also the more room it has to develop complexities.) Since Bourbon must be aged in new charred white oak, the most cost effective process must be in place. Therefore, medium-sized barrels make sense here.

Of course, there is always the guy in the crowd who asks the question, "Isn't Bourbon always from Kentucky?"

Nicole: "It can be made anywhere in the US as long as it follows the rules."

He: "Alaska?"

She: "Anywhere in the US."

He: "Hawaii?"

She: "Anywhere. In. The. US."


Unlike many corporate whiskies, Kings County is not a uniform product that will taste the same from bottle to bottle, batch to batch. Having tasted the unaged corn whiskey a few years ago, the newer batches are less "moonshine-y" and more sippable. However, personally, I do think the aged Bourbon could use a little time to whack out some it its kinks. Am curious to try it again as the product develops at the distillery.

In all it was a fascinating lineup. The Corsair selection (and these guys really like to push boundaries) included the Wormwood Wit, 12 grain Bourbon, Mocha Porter, Cherry Wood, Rasputin and Amarillo. Corsair's signature flavor is very hoppy and cereal-y. The 12 grain was especially so, using the required amount of corn for Bourbon and then 11 other grains, which made it taste like old kasha. Also, the Mocha Porter did indeed taste like mocha, but if it were made with Quik and Nescafe instead of richer chocolate and coffee. My favorite of these was the Wormwood Wit, which had a pleasant anise, Asian spice (ginger, lemongrass, cardamom) and tart cherry flavor that balanced nicely with the hops.

St. George offerings were the new Bourbon and the Port Barrel, which is actually the very same distillate given a Port finish. I liked both. The Port was a little heavy and masked the whiskey too much, but I can see wanting to drink it at the end of a meal with or for dessert.

The Balcones and Charbay both tasted familiar and distinct, in a good way. Balcones Baby Blue is a corn whiskey from the blue variety, consistently tastes of sweet spices and pretzels. Charbay Hopped American Whiskey really tastes like what it is, an IPA beer with a sophisticated, spirited kick.

But my favorite of the night was the Smooth Ambler Triple Malt. It didn't seem too gimicky or ongepotchket, just simple flavors of cereal, subtle oak, citrus peel and maple. After tasting so many hot and hoppy expressions, this was very satisfying.

In all, I was well impressed at the group and the leadership and I'm very excited to go back to camp again soon. Especially since what they give us to drink sure beats bug juice!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

New Orleans, I Love You

How I lost two pounds this week, I have no idea. Maybe it was the combination of fun, excitement and prevalent sauna-like conditions. Whatever it was, I'll definitely take it!

There were a lot of forces against me going to Tales of the Cocktail this year, but the biggest one to be reckoned with was Mother Nature herself (you cruel bitch!). Severe summer storms threatened, but luckily planes managed to work around them at Newark Airport last Thursday. I know my friends leaving Laguardia had a much rougher time arriving. For once, luck was on my side, and I made it only a couple of hours late to start another great adventure in the Crescent City. 

Sadly, I missed the Macallan Ice Ball Plunge, but I arrived just in time to quickly change and recharge for the spirited dinner cruise aboard the Creole Queen on the Mississippi! Beautiful faces new and familiar, substantial grub, high proof drinks, great chats, stunning river views and even a little swing dancing (sorry, Robert Simonson, I promise to be a more trusting dippee next time) set the tone for the next few days of bibulous fun. 

My first drink of the trip! A Four Roses julep. 

An unusually mild day followed an early rain storm on Friday. I took the opportunity for beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde followed by a breezy, leisurely stroll. Which landed me at the French Market to stock up on hot sauce.

And also outside Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, which is such a loathsome entity in a beautiful city, I won't even honor it with a link or a picture. But then I saw this sign outside Road Kill store, and it instantly brightened my mood. 

After a day of TOTC tastings, great grub (including a visit to my beloved Coop's Place) and bumping into friends in almost every corner of the French Quarter, my local pal, Mike, swept me away Uptown. Amazing Thai meal at LA Thai (where fresh vegetables, local protein and Asian tastes converge in New Orleans!) followed by music at Tipitina's. Friday is their no cover night. The Tulane kids are pretty onto it. 

This is where I met the long lost, close-talking, Cajun cousin of Keith Richards, who stumbled out the artist's door just in time for a smoke, unintelligible, consonant-free declarations and ogling, then crashed right back in again. Mike, his pal Ian and I just looked at each other, shrugged, and carried on talking outside. From there an unsuccessful visit to Bon Temps Rouler, where they had technical issues for music. But we did pass McKeown's Books, which has a wonderful sign. Read the bottom line.

Saturday morning, I needed some grease. Badly. Which is where Clover Grill came in. Short-staffed and slow, but just what the stomach called for. No, it sure ain't NYC. Thank heaven for that. (Read the fine print.)

Just enough time to meander. Balcony envy on the corner of Royal and Dumaine. 

Team Spirit, NOLA style!

A little friend came out to visit. By then, it had gotten very hot and I had orange fur stuck to my ankles. Such a cutie. 

That afternoon, I attended Tasteless: How Taste Alters With Age, lead by Darcy O'Neil and Wayne Curtis. This was a fascinating look into how everyone's taste and flavors receptors differ, how they change as we grow older, and how this translates to drink culture. As someone who now prefers spicier, bitter and more salty food (when I once wanted mostly sweet), I am still haunted by this lecture. It made me hyper aware of how my own penchants have evolved, the habits of the people close to me, and why bartenders shouldn't expect everyone to like the same drink made the same way. O'Neil: "I know a bartender who once made a cocktail that made a girl in Colorado cry." Great lecture. 

Further stops that day included Meyer the Hatter, The Bon Vivants Pig and Punch Party in Washington Square, the "sardine-packed" Imbibe Happy Hour at Arnaud's French 75, oysters at Bourbon House and a trip to see the lovely lady Abigail Gullo at SoBou. This is where I ate one of the greatest hybrids ever: pork cracklins with red pepper queso. Hey kids, sometimes you just gotta go with it. 

Know what you need after a night like that (Chart Room was involved too, unfortunately)? More Clover Grill! This was spotted along the way back to the Monteleone, a.k.a. TOTC HQ. 

Bartenders, I do love you so for all you do and put up with. But seeing y'all half naked at the Milagro pool party on the rooftop? There are no words. I do have pictures, but, well, let's leave that out for now.

OK, maybe with some cat paint enhancement. Just one. 

I needed something cold, sweet and refreshing. Know what's better than ice cream on a hot day? Frozen Irish Coffee at the Erin Rose, that's what!

I might have missed a Sazerac at the Carousel Bar and a good Po Boy on this trip, but there was no way I was missing the splendid garden scene at Bacchanal. Luckily, Mike and our pal Jason picked me up to take care of that need. Although it seems all of TOTC was onto it too that afternoon. At least we had our own shady table behind a large rubber plant. Here are my boys. Almost exactly three years to the day our great friendship chemistry was born. 

Sunday night already? How is that possible!!???? I didn't want this adventure to end. But as all good things must, that time was fast approaching. But a wonderful trip was ending in the most wonderful way: hearing Mike play trumpet with the Ernie Vincent and the Top Notes at dba on Frenchman. 

By now things were really swirling. NYC and New Orleans worlds colliding. People meeting. Alcoholic substances mixing. Dogs and cats, living together...

Note to self, no more early morning flights out. 

Special thanks to Ann and Paul Tuennerman, a.k.a. Mr. and Mrs. Cocktail, who have made this grand bender en masse event possible for ten years running. 

Extra special thanks to Mike Kobrin and also the Chart Room. I don't know if you saved my life or made it just a little shorter, but you certainly reminded me what fun (and in the case of the Chart Room, back-bending hospitality) is all about. Until next time, New Orleans. I sure do miss you.