Archive for Mixology

Prohibition Pig, Home of Craft Beers, Comfort Food And Classic Cocktails


I stumbled upon brew pub-restaurant Prohibition Pig on my last trek to the green mountains of Vermont.  From the moment I walked in, I knew I struck gold. A beer selection a mile deep, not to mention their own beer offerings, this local brew pub, influence by the deep South, features shrimp and grits, brisket, pulled pork and pork rinds among other Southern specialties.


IMG_0843The bar was packed three deep and all the tables packed with people and laden comfort foods, pork-related or otherwise.


A barbecue joint that serves classic cocktails, craft beers and offers an array of comfort foods, Prohibition Pig also brews its own beer in a building behind its restaurant.  Among the selection of beers are several draft offerings from Prohibition Pig’s own brewery, including their Multi-grain IPA and Vanilla Bean Porter.  They began brewing in 2013 and the reaction from locals and visitors has been overwhelmingly positive.


The brewery is just behind the restaurant and also offers some food alongside its selection of draft beers, made from the kit shown below.


I couldn’t help but notice that the bar was stocked with some of my favorite micro-distilled spirits.   The food passing by me courtesy of the milling wait staff convinced me that the 30 minute wait for a table was a no-brainer.   Luckily, I was able to secure a table quickly and could settle in to enjoy some of Prohibition Pig’s offerings.


Below, a peek of their menu.


Our table opted to start with some pork finds and to start with an Old Fashion.


IMG_0826IMG_0826IMG_0826IMG_0826IMG_0826IMG_0827IMG_0849Now for a little fry action.  On offer are some duck fat fried french fries.


Now our entrees, a pulled-pork sandwich and their jumbo Hot Dog:



And lastly, the meal ended with Prohibition Pig’s Key Lime Pie.


All in all, a great place for brunch, lunch or dinner.  Great beer, cocktails and Southern inspired food always hits the right spot.








Some Smooth Armagnacs To Sip

There are many great Armagnac available, but below are a few great estates to look out for.

Château de Laubade

First, is Château de Laubade one of the premiere estates in Armagnac. Built in 1870 and comprised of 260 acres of single vineyard, Château de Laubade is located in Sorbets d’Armagnac, the noblest area of the Bas Armagnac.  The four main grapes of Armagnac are used by Château de Laubade, with Ugni Blanc making up 47%, Baco 22A 30%, Colombard 15% and Folle Blanche 8%.

The Lesgourgues family has been running the estate since 1974.  In its 3rd generation, the estate continues to implement sustainable farming practices.

Château de Laubade is currently the only Armagnac estate coopering its own casks from forests surrounding the estate, a process that requires 3 years of wood drying before the barrels can be constructed.

 ARLE.jpg    The XO is between 15-25 years of age with Baco, Ugni-Blanc, Colombard and Folle Blanche in its blend.  This is rich and viscous, super complex with vanilla, dried fruit, orange peel and prune.

ARMAGNAC-INTEMPOREL-HORS-D-AGE-CHATEAU-DE-LAUBADE--LAUBADE.jpgThe Hors D’Age is a mix of 12-20 years, made predominately with Baco.  Lots of dried fruits, some butterscotch, nut and apricot notes.

p402074.jpg1983 Vintage a mix of Ugni Blanc and Baco.  Rich and complex with some leather, dried fig, prune, cedar and toffee notes.


Bas Armagnac Dartigalongue

Founded in 1838 by Pascal Dartigalongue in Nograro, the estate is still in controlled by the Dartigalongue family.  The vineyards of the estate are on mostly sandy soils, with particular focus on the grapes of Ugni Blanc and Baco.

The estate has 3 different cellars. One cellar is dry, one wet and the other cellar is an elevated dry cellar built in the 19th century.  The Armagnac vintages are aged through the 3 cellars. 

Dartigalongue has been available almost from the beginning in Belgium, Holland, England and the US via the port of Bayonne.   They produce about 60, 000 bottles per year.

 The XO is made from a minimum of 10 year old spirits, with the oldest 20 years old.  Very elegant, vanilla, smoke and cedar notes with prune and dried orange and apricot notes.

Other great estates to look for include, Janneau and Tariquet, to name a few.  Try some Armagnac today!

Armagnac, the Forgotten Brandy of Southwest France is on the Upswing

Gingerbread, prune, violets, truffles, orange peel, vanilla, cinnamon and cream…Just some of the adjectives used at a recent tasting to describe Armagnac, France’s oldest produced brandy.  The best of Armagnac is flavorful and aromatic; the more Baco driven, aged examples can be especially rich and viscous with smoky, dried fruit, prune, nut and rancio flavors.  Younger Armagnac often are lighter and fruitier with floral aromas; sometimes herbal notes.

Armagnac has long been overshadowed by Cognac, but comparing the two is unfair.  The famous bartender Salvatore Calabrese perhaps said it best:

“The difference between cognac and Armagnac? Imagine a length of velvet and another of a silk fabric.  Stroke them.  The velvet has a deep, rich texture.  That is an Armagnac.  The silk is pure finesse, and that, to me is a Cognac.”

Armagnac offers a unique product at comparatively bargain prices–which may explain the 6% uptick in export sales in 2012 according to BNIC.  The prices range according to age and estate as is the case for most wine and spirits, but an outstanding bottle aged 20 years can be had for under $45 a bottle or £35.

Consumers can find Armagnac in a number of styles and a range of maturation periods spanning from as little as 3 months for Blanche Armagnac to Armagnac that has spent many decades in barrel before release.  The new Blanche Armagnac seems to have great potential for mixologists, not to mention other younger Armagnac styles that work have been shown to work well in cocktails.

And unlike in Cognac, Armagnac has a tradition of single vintage releases, for those who like to enjoy a very specific year.  A mature example of Armagnac spanning 40 years and slightly beyond is fairly easy to obtain on the market today.

So why is Armagnac relatively unknown to consumers?   Perhaps one explanation has to do with its geography.  Although the first region to produce brandy in France, Armagnac wasn’t all that accessible outside of landlocked Gascony until the 18th century, when Dutch traders started shipping Armagnac from the Port of Bordeaux.

However, transporting from Armagnac was not very economical as the River Baise was too shallow in certain areas for many months of the year, preventing cargo from being shipped.  It was only in 1839 when the River Baise had been deepened and extended in some areas that economical transport to Bordeaux via Condom came about.

For brandy lovers, it may be a blessing in disguise that Armagnac has been slow to export.  Armagnac is today dominated by mostly small, family owned distillers, a total of 500 independent producers, 300 cooperatives and 40 negociants. This means that a truly handcrafted, unique product can still be found in Armagnac.

It is interesting to note that Armagnac is a relatively rare product on the market when compared to Cognac and other spirits.  Only 5.6 million bottles of Armagnac were produced in 2012 versus 183 million bottles of Cognac, and an estimated 5 billion bottles of vodka.  50% of Armagnac production is consumed domestically with the rest being exported to over 100 countries, with China, Russia, the UK, Germany and Spain leading the way, according to statistics provided by the Bureau National Interprofessionnel de L’Armagnac (BNIA).


It took contributions from three cultures to develop Armagnac.  First, the Romans who brought wine vines to the region. Second, the Arabs who invented the Alembic, and third, the Celts, who introduced wood barrels into the equation.

Armagnac or Aygue Ardente, the precursor to Armagnac was developed for therapeutic reasons, not for pleasure, which may surprise some. In 1310 Prior Vital du Four, a cardinal, famously wrote about the 40 virtues of the spirit that could miraculously cure hepatitis, cankers and gout to name a few.  It was also attributed to preserving youth and retarding senility.

It wasn’t until 1410 according to records, that Armagnac was consumed and sold.  Finally, in the 16th Century Armagnac became available in regional markets.   By the 18th century, Armagnac was finally exported to international markets via the Port of Bordeaux by the Dutch.

In 1760, Armagnac finally made its way to Versailles and took the French court by storm.  Armagnac became the preferred brandy of King Louis XV.

After the US War of Independence, the US boycotted whiskey and cognac, another form of rebellion as these were the preferred spirits of the English.  Armagnac helped fill the void and America’s thirst for brandy in the early days.

By the 1850s, the Gers, the department where Armagnac grapes are grown, was the biggest grape growing region in France.  Unfortunately, in 1879 phylloxera hits the region destroying half of Armagnac’s vineyards.

In early 1900s, the 3 regions of Bas-Armagnac, Armagnac-Tenarèze and Haut Armagnac are delimited and the Appellation decree is signed.  In May 27, 2005, a new AOC is created for Le Blanche, a fruity and floral water clear brandy made from a choice of Folle Blanche, Ugni-Blanc and Baco.

Now, the Technical Information about Armagnac

There are 10 accepted grapes, with the 4 main ones as follows:

Ugni Blanc – 50% of Armagnac grape production is made with Ugni Blanc, making a high acid, low alcohol wine.   When distilled, it makes a very refined, high quality spirit that ages well.

Baco – is the only hybrid allowed in Armagnac grape production and makes up 40% of Armagnac grapes grown and a cross of Folle Blanche and the Noah grape.  Baco was invented by François Baco, a Landais schoolmaster at the end of the 19 century in response to the phylloxera devastation.  It is particularly adapted to the sandy and boulbène soils of the Bas-Armagnac where it gives smooth, round eaux-de-vie with aromas of ripe fruits, especially after long ageing.

Folle Blanche – makes up only 8% of grape production due to difficulty in grafting, it is the most ancient and  best  known  variety.  The Folle Blanche produces a floral, elegant brandy that are shows particularly well in the Blanche and other young Armagnac.

Colombard – only represents about 2% of Armagnac grape production.  It is fruity, spicy spirits with some vegetal characteristics and is most often used as part of a blend.

Other varietals allowed, but only a few hectares are grown are  Clairette de Gascogne, white Jurançon, Plant de Graisse, Meslier St François or the white and rosé Mauzac.

Regional Information

Located in the heart of Gascony, between the Adour and Garonne Rivers in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Armagnac is divided in 3 regions so defined by the Fallieres Degree in 1909; Bas-Armagnac, Armagnac-Tenarez and Haut-Armagnac.  The best Armagnac’s are thought to come from Bas-Armagnac, which typically comprises of a sandy, boulbènes (mix of sand, clay and iron) soil.

Armagnac-Tenarèze is thought to produce coarser, more full-bodied Armagnac with a soil that is a mix of boulbènes, limestone and clay.  Some liken the Armagnac of this region to have violet notes.

Haut Armagnac is the largest territory, but the smallest vineyard area and has a chalky soil.  While this region produces good quality, there are few producers remaining here.

Vinification of Base Wine

Grapes fermented to about 8-10 ABV.  The addition of Sulfur Dioxide is prohibited. The resulting wine is usually high in acidity. There is no fining or filtering before distillation, lees contact is maintained to add to the flavor profile.

Overview of Armagnac versus Cognac

Armagnac Cognac
Grapes Mainly, Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Folle Blanche, Baco + 6 others Ugni Blanc
Distillation Column Distillation- single distillation Pot Still – double distillation
Climate Warm, sunny, drier than Cognac Maritime, humid
Maturation Gascon Oak, AKA Black Oak from Monzelun Forest Limousin and Tronçais Oak
Soil Composition Sandy, boulbènes (Bas Armagnac) Limestone, boulbènes (Tenarèze) Limestone


What the Armagnac Label Means

•    VS or *** Young Armagnac between 1 – 3 years

•    VSOP or Napoleon, Armagnac between 4 – 9 years

•    XO or Hors d’Age, from 10 years on

•    XO Premium, over 20 years and vintages

Special Thanks to Amanda Garnham of Attachée de Presse at Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac for making historical and statistical information available to Elixrr.


More On Vermont Micro-Distilleries…

On a recent trip to Vermont, I decided to take a trip to see some of the producers in person.  Below, a bit about a few of the distilleries and more importantly, some pictures.    Pictures are worth a thousand words, right?

Caledonia Spirits & Winery, based in Hardwick, Vermont

In 2006, bee guy Todd Hardie took his passion for honey production and started a winery in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont to make artisanal meads.   Since then, Caledonia has since begun production of a small batch, handcrafted Gin and Vodka, with honey as the star ingredient.

The Vodka is of particular interest to those who may suffer from gluten intolerance as it is made using only water, yeast and honey.  It takes 4 ½-5 pounds of honey for every 750ml bottle of vodka to be produced.  The honey has to be cold fermented for several weeks and is then distilled.   This Vodka embodies soft, round, honey flavors with a slight touch of herbal/grassy notes.  This is delicious straight up.

Caledonia’s Still

A little more about their Gin made with organic juniper.  Juniper is very prominent in this Gin along with floral, orange blossom and honey aromas as a result of the addition of raw honey added before bottling.

This Gin is soft and round and is very viscous.   While this is wonderful straight up, I had the opportunity to taste this mixed with tonic water at one of my favorite spots in Vermont, Shelburne Farms and found thought it put this drink on another level.

A member of the Caledonia team working in the tasting room









Caledonia’s stills

Vermont Spirits Distilling Company, Quechee, Vermont

Vermont Spirits, the oldest Vermont micro-distillery still in operation was established originally in 1998 and specializes in Vodka production.   They are known for their White and Gold vodka; the Gold made using maple sap as its base and the white vodka is made using milk sugars or whey.

The Vermont White Vodka made with milk has vanilla notes, creamy, very round on the palate.

The Vermont Gold Vodka is made with maple and has butterscotch, maple and crème brûlée flavors, this is a very viscous and seems to be almost off dry as the maple gives an allusion of sweetness.

Smugglers’ Notch Distillery, Jeffersonville, Vermont

I already wrote early about Smugglers’ Notch award winning Vodka and a barrel sample Rum I tasted several months ago.  Since then, they have come out with a final version of their rum and they now have a new Gin.

First about the final version of SN’s Rum; it was aged 3years, starting first in all new charred oak barrels and then ending with time spent in used Bourbon barrels.   Layered with flavors of butterscotch, vanilla, orange blossoms, caramel this is a full, luscious and velvety on the palate.

The Smugglers’ Notch Gin had subtle flavors of juniper, anise and herbal notes their gin is made with the same winter wheat and corn base material blend as the vodka.

The botanicals used in Smugglers’ Notch Gin

Sherry Deserves Your Love

Gonzalez-Byass' Tio Pepe

Could there be a more overlooked wine category than Sherry??  Of course, there are less prized wines—and fortified wines, in general, seem to be getting no love these days.  But still, Sherry seems to be particularly unappreciated by consumers given its versatility with food and newly as a valuable mixer in cocktails.

However, it seems no matter which wine critic or famous sommelier or TV show (think Frasier and Niles Crane in the comedy sitcom Frasier) extols Sherry sales seem destined to remain flat at best.

According to the Consejo Regulardo, over 60% of Sherry drinkers are over the age of 55, and surprisingly, Sherry depends on four markets for sales of over 86% of its production; the UK consumes 29% of supply followed by Spain at 25%, the Netherlands at 22% and Germany at 10% according to Cockburn.  It is really sad that these beautiful wines haven’t found a wider audience.

Even after working years in the wine trade, one can go by with relatively little exposure to fortified wines and Sherry, in particular.  A prominent California winemaker recently confessed that he had always assumed Sherry was terrible until one of his importers exposed him to some quality Sherry.

This ignorance of Sherry and other fortifieds for that matter may be more extreme in the US market where the fortified wine category is especially marginalized due to archaic laws leftover from Prohibition.  Some states dictate that anything above table wine levels of +14.5%-15% alcohol must be controlled and often warehoused by the state.  In some states, this means that a sole bureaucrat decides what citizens in that state will be able to purchase, and unfortunately, these wines often end up relegated to a corner collecting dust.   There is often no one on hand to promote and sell the wines or from a distributor level to help with the marketing.

Not surprisingly, Sherry is a bargain, even more so when considering the time-consuming process required in making quality sherry.  A basic Fino or Manzanilla will usually spend minimally 3 years in solera ageing biologically under a layer of Flor or yeast, but, depending on the bodega could be left to age for up to 8 years.    Amontillado is aged under Flor for a minimum of 3 years and then oxidatively for another 3 years, at least.    Olorosos are at least aged similarly as long as other Generosos and often longer than several years.

The waterfront at Sanluccar de Barrameda, responsible for the micro-climate that allows a thick veil of flor to develop and the salty flavors of Manzanilla

Many of the best priced Finos and Manzanillas price around $12-$15, or £9-10 for a bottle.  Even the best VORS (30 years) Amontillado or Oloroso coming from soleras established in the late 1700s can price at an affordable £24 or $35.  The good news for those willing to experiment or for the converted is the explosion of tapas bars in the US and in global capitals in the last decade. Sherry is finally getting some deserved attention and exposure, even though the category still has a tough row to hoe in marketing itself.

Reasons why sherry may not be in vogue?

Roadblock #1 – It is Sweet

There is often a perception that sherry is sweet.  Perhaps this is a result of the excellent marketing job Harvey’s and others had done in selling their Cream Sherries.  After a certain point, it is interesting how overwhelming success can lead to a downfall in perception for years later, thinking of German Riesling which used to be among the most prized wines in the world and even in the 1960’s out-priced first growth Bordeaux and the likes of Petrus.  Then came Blue Nun and Black Tower and suddenly when the craze for sweet fruity wine faded, so too did the reputation of the wines of the country for decades!  But, I digress…

Back to Sherry…while there are sweet Sherries, many are very dry.  The average Fino or Manzanilla has around .05 grams per liter while an Amontillado may have up to 5 grams RS, but are often also under 1 gram sugar.  Olorosos and particularly those aged for extended periods of time (VORS) don’t usually exceed 5 grams per liter RS, finishing dry.  Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, and Oloroso are all made with the Palomino grape, are dry in style and aged in Solera or Criadera, more on it later.

The sweet Sherries can be differentiated from the dry ones by the label.  Natural sweet Sherries are made with either Pedro Ximenez (PX) or Moscatel and this will be stated clearly on the label.  Blends of dry Sherries with either concentrated rectified must or natural sweet wines will be labeled as Pale Cream, Medium or Cream.

Roadblock #2 –It Isn’t Fresh

Because Sherry isn’t the fastest moving category, finding fresh stock might be a challenge for consumers not to mention that determining release dates on the bottle can be a challenge.  While there is some debate about how long after release it is best for Sherry to be consumed, according to the Consejo Regulador de Vinos de Jerez y Manzanilla it is best to drink the most delicate of Sherries such as Fino and Manzanilla between 12-18 months after release from the Bodega, although many Sherry aficionados believe that it is best to source a bottle within 6 months of release.

It is thought that Amontillados are best consumed within 18 months to 36 months and Olorosos and Creams between 24 and 36 months.  Not surprising considering the level of sugar, PX preserves the best, and is best consumed within 48 months from the time of release.

Roadblock #3 –It Is Too High in Alcohol

Admittedly, Sherries are higher in alcohol than many may be used to consuming.  Finos and Manzanillas are habitually between 15.5% abv – 17%, Amontillados between 16—22% abv and Olorosos between 17%-22% by volume.  These wines are so flavorful, that a little can go a long way and with a variety of foods really create some amazing pairings.   But, let’s face it, there are plenty of non-fortified +15% wines out there; Zinfandels from California often exceed 15%, as an example.

Sherry and Food in a Nutshell:

While visiting Jerez de la Frontera, I visited Bodega Lustau for a tour and tasting.  The goal of the tasting was not just to sample their amazing Sherries, but to also show how Sherry’s compliments food.  In a nutshell, a description of each Sherry and the best food pairing according to Consejo Regulador de Vinos de Jerez y Manzanilla and some of the folks I met in tapas bars and on this and other bodega tours:

Fino- from bodegas located in Jerez de la Frontera and El Puerto de Santa Maria using Palomino grapes, the wine is aged in Solera biologically under a veil of Flor, a layer of yeast that floats on the wines surface (see photo below).  A bright, pale lemon color, Fino is often described as tasting like almonds.

A veil of Flor on top of the Sherry ageing

Try with:  Shell Fish, anchovies, sushi, anchovies and cured meats like Iberico.

Manzanilla with Beef (probably better with Oloroso or Amontillado)

Manzanilla- from bodegas only located in Sanluccar de Barrameda.  This is made in the same way as Fino using Palomino grapes, but has its own designation.  Located near the ocean, the special climate allows for a thicker veil of Flor to develop and given its proximity to the ocean imparts a saline component to the wine.   Like Fino, bright, pale lemon in color; nutty and saline notes.

Try with: Fish, salted/fried fish shellfish, cured meats, and tapas of all types, at Lustau I tried with potato chips and nuts, plus a few other delicious items.

Amontillado- made in bodegas throughout the Sherry triangle as Fino and Manzanilla using the Palomino grape and undergoing ageing both under Flor (biological ageing) and oxidatively after the Flor dies off.  Normally a bright amber/topaz color hazelnuts and dried fruits are often associated with Amontillado.  Due to the oxidative ageing Amontillado has more viscosity and is heavier on the palate with more complexity.

Try with: Curry dishes, risotto, soup, smoked fish, game and grilled asparagus

Oloroso- made in bodegas around the Sherry district from Palomino grapes purely through oxidative ageing.  The Palomino table wine at 11.5% alcohol was fortified with neutral grape spirit to 18% alcohol to prevent Flor from developing on the wine.  Darker in color than an Amontillado, more of a light brown or mahogany in color, Olorosos are typically nutty with dried fruit flavors.  This wine is heavier and depending, more complex than Amontillado.

Try with: Nuts, cured meats, stews, cheese

Cream- an Oloroso blended with PX this is a semi-sweet/sweet wine.

Try with: cheeses like blue cheese, nuts and foie gras and pate.

Pedro Ximenex- Often opaque dark brown in color, this luscious wine comes from bodegas around the district this reminds me of molasses, dried date and prune flavors.

Flan with PX

On a Recent Trip to the Sherry Triangle:

To find out a bit more about Sherry, I decided to go explore myself.  Below are some pictures detailing my time in Sanluccar de Barrameda and Jerez de la Fronterra.

A place for great tapas in Jerez, Meson del Asador

Meson del Asador's list of tapas

The tasting at Lustau and everything from Fino to the most luscious PX

Gin: the New Vodka?

I still remember my first taste of Absolut Citron—what a revelation!  This of course was back in the day, before the barrage of über-premium vodkas hit the market and just as large distillers began to mass market unique infused vodkas using peppers and “kurrants” for flavoring.  Finally, someone noticed that the vodka market was not performing to potential and that consumers were crying out for more variety and higher quality.  By 1996, Belvedere, the “first” ultra-premium vodka came on the scene, swiftly followed by Grey Goose and many other super premium labels like Ciroc, Effen, van Gogh, Ketel One, Chopin, Stoli and  Zyr, mostly made from base materials, like wheat, rye and potatoes.

After years of dominating the spirit scene, Vodka now accounts for roughly 32% of all spirit consumption in the US, according to Beverage Dynamics, with almost no apparent sign of slowing down.  One has to ask: how many more vodkas brands can the market absorb?  Haven’t we hit the saturation point, yet?  Apparently not, as statistics continue to show that vodka is still holding steady with imported vodkas actually still gaining market share.   Nonetheless, I have noticed that some focus seems to be diverting from vodka to gin, albeit, a spirit some consider to be nothing more than flavored vodka.

So, in anticipation of gins renewed popularity, I decided to explore some of the gins on the market with a group of friends one night.  Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing “scientific” about this tasting.  We simply brown bagged two big brand name gins and one micro-distilled one (I forgot one of my other bottles at home) and decided to see what people preferred and why.

Part of the Elixrr Gin Tasting Team: Jesse, Laura and Stacie

Blind tasting is always fun; it proves every single time how heavily influenced we are by marketing.   Blind tasting is also freeing.  It has the same effect as stripping to your birthday suit and wiping all your make-up off; there are no more barriers or artifice.   Blind tasting allows a drinker to finally focus on what really matters—taste, the nose, the feel on the palate.

Now about the line-up, gin A was Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin, a micro distiller located in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, Gin B was Bombay Sapphire and Gin C was from Hendricks.   Bombay was the most traditional of the three gins tasted and for some, came across restrained, a touch understated and refined, which was the preferred gin by two of the tasters and the second choice by all other tasters.  The consensus overall was that Sapphire was a solid gin, the botanicals not over the top, very smooth, subtle citrus notes, a touch of anise and a light waft of juniper; it was clear why some mixologists view this as one of the most mixable gins available.

The Hendricks was a surprise, as it was preferred the least by the tasters.  For me, this was a particular revelation, as this is my go-to gin.  Somehow the unique combination of cucumber, rose petals, elderflower, chamomile, orange and lemon peel did not translate compared to the Barr Hill or Sapphire.  The Hendricks actually seemed a bit one dimensional, the botanicals not as pronounced and it almost seemed rough on the palate as compared to the other gins.

Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin was the night’s winner, with 3 out of 5 proclaiming it their favorite of the evening.   This gin is heavily perfumed with juniper and almost lusciously sweet on the palate due to the addition of raw honey just before bottling.  This gin was easy to drink straight up, very round and viscous on the palate, with anise, juniper and honey lingering on the finish.

All in all, it was fun to give another spirit a try.  We later took our experiment in another direction by adding tonic water and muddled cucumber, mint and limes to the assorted gins to see which gin preformed the best…This time there were no winners, though.

More On Gin…

There are many gins on the market, some in the “London Dry” style and others in the “American Dry” style. To get a little more “Gin” perspective, I asked Bill Beard of Bowery and Vine, NYC, a trendy wine and spirits shop that caters to some of the country’s most discriminating spirit palates and cutting edge mixologists to give us his thoughts.

Bill Beard of Bowery & Vine, NYC














“For me, I can’t help of thinking/expecting an obvious juniper note on the palate when tasting gin. And the preferred style for me is the London Dry style, such as Plymouth Gin, mostly for my martinis and some of the classic gin cocktails…I do like gins with a restrained impact of juniper and a softer, more floral taste, also, those in what is now known as the American Dry style. Some are done well; some not.I’ve been enjoying an American Dry gin lately that is very cleverly done. The Greenhook Ginsmiths Gin from Brooklyn, NY has a solid juniper flavor, but some of the other botanicals – elderflower, cinnamon, citrus – are apparent and with terrific clarity.”

Other recommended gins include Berry Brothers and Rudd’s London Dry and Junipero Gin for an American Dry Gin.

Of course, the journey to discover the gin that works for your favorite cocktail could require exploration and trial and error—Lots of fun work!  At the end of the day, it is up to you.

The Craft Distilling Movement Takes Hold in the Green Mountain State


Marcia Elliott of Smugglers' Notch Distillery

Vermont has developed a reputation over the past two decades as a pioneer in the craft food and beverage movement with brands like Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, Magic Hat Brewery, Vermont Coffee Roasters and Cabot Cheese putting Vermont on the map.   Aside from these “big” brands, Vermont conjures up images of small family farmed meats, artisanal cheeses and the world famous maple syrup that connotes purity and quality.  Vermont, a “crunchy granola” hedonist’s paradise, is a brand that sells in the best restaurants and stores in the country.

It has only been in the last decade or so, however, that a fledgling micro distilling movement has begun to take hold in the Green Mountain State, with some of its newest established producers, like WhistlePig and Smugglers’ Notch Distillery already garnering nationwide acclaim.   The “old timers,” if one can describe craft distillers who got their start in the late 90s and early 2000s, have also held their own nationally.  Vermont Spirits leading the way with their award winning vodkas and Saxton River’s Sapling Liquor taking home a Gold Medal recently from San Francisco World Spirits Competition.   There are about 15 licensed distillers in Vermont, with some not operational yet.  Those who have begun to produce spirits have worked to offer unique products, often using base materials sourced locally.

The Green Mountain state’s micro distillery movement began cautiously in 1989 with the establishment of Vermont Distiller’s, whose line-up included gin, vodka and a bourbon based cordial flavored with maple syrup.  After close to a decade in business, Vermont Distiller became defunct by the late ‘90s, but the state wasn’t without a micro-distillery for long.

Duncan Holaday of Dunc's Mill

In 1998, Vermont Spirits started by owner and founder Duncan Holaday, opened its doors.  Vermont Spirits became known for producing premium vodkas, their Vermont Gold made from maple sap, a true labor of love for those who have ever harvested maple sap, and their Vermont White made from milk sugar.   But, before any of these unique, premium vodkas could be brought to market and the distillery developed, Holaday had to carefully do his own due diligence regarding the business side of craft distillation.  That is when he realized that the chief barrier to getting his distillery up and running was in finding the appropriate equipment, the right amount of capacity and scale for a micro-distiller.


Before micro-distilling gained momentum, manufacturers of distillation equipment domestically focused on outfitting mostly large-scale, industrial operations. “In the 90′s in the US there were either huge stills 60-200 feet high or little illegal stills for do-it-yourself, home distilling. Finding the right size stills for what was to become the micro-distillery movement in the US has been an interesting development, or rather evolution,” said holaday.

Individuals wanting to craft their own spirits commercially often purchased too much capacity, too soon, with sometimes-dire financial consequences.  So, Holaday developed his own stills reflecting the capacity he needed.   This allowed him to get the distillery started in a manageable way, and simultaneously through his example, helped lower the barrier of entry that had existed for other aspiring artisanal distillers.

By the early 2000’s the industry started to blossom in Vermont.   In 2002, Flag Hill Farm came on the scene with an apple brandy and some hard ciders.  A matter of months later, Green Mountain Distillers opened its doors and began producing organic vodkas, organic gins and an organic liquor, made from, you guessed it, maple syrup.   Saxtons River Distillery started up a few years later and now produces its own maple liquor, called Sapling Liquor.  Now coming fast and furious, WhistlePig, Caledonia Spirits and Winery, and most recently Smugglers’ Notch Distillery have begun production.

Not surprisingly, Holaday now works as both a consultant to other micro distillers hoping to get their distilleries off the ground.   About a year ago he started releasing his first rums from his new project, Dunc’s Mill distillery (reviews on some of his rums to follow).

WhistlePig has already received rave reviews for its 100% rye whiskey, sourced from Canada and bottled in Vermont.  Caledonia Spirits and Winery, started by the “bee guy” Todd Hardie uses pure Vermont raw honey as a key component in all his spirit production, including his Bar Hill Gin, Bar Hill Honey Vodka and an Elderberry Cordial.  The most recent distillery to get off the ground is Smugglers’ Notch, in business for about a year, they have started by making a vodka and soon will be coming out with a rum.

It is exciting to watch the growth of these new artisanal distilleries, not just in Vermont but, all over the country.  But, according to Bill Owens of ADI, much of the craft distillery movement can thank small and medium size wineries’ decision to start making spirits in addition to their wines around 12-15 years ago.  “It sort of started under the radar.  They [wineries] started coming back from Europe with stills to make eau de vies and brandies.”

Of course, the craft brewery movement didn’t hurt micro distillers getting their start, either.   Some states saw that the craft brewery movement brought people to the state, adding much needed tourism dollars to their bottom lines, according to Owens, and these states have encouraged the micro distiller movement.  Only time will tell how big the industry will get and how disruptive it will prove to be to the large players in the market.  What is certain, is that these producers are injecting excitement, innovation and forcing the quality levels to increase in the spirits market, all of which benefits consumers—good news!


A quick view at some of Dunc’s Mill’s offerings:

Dunc’s Mill Maple Rum, light amber in color, vanilla, butterscotch andmaple on the nose, light-medium bodied, viscous with maple and burnt sugar notes on the palate.

Dunc’s Mill Elderflower – Made from a blend of Vermont elderberry blossoms, Austrian Elder essence and Caribbean sugar cane, the rum is clear in color, viscous with perfumed notes of elderflower and violets.

Going Retro with Punch!!!

Newport Punch


My girlfriend got tapped recently to provide adult beverages for her friend’s bachelorette weekend.  This is good, no, really it is!  It gives me the opportunity to help her out and try some punch recipes I’ve been eying for a while.   Yes, punch.  What could be easier to please a crowd?  Getting flashbacks of your 8th grade dance?  Not to fear, this was all the craze in the 50’s, as in 1850’s.  Jerry Thomas, the godfather of bartending, would be proud.  Staying true to Jerry Thomas and his era, I decided to scour the reprints of his books and others from that time.  I found a lot of punches with champagne or something else effervescent.  This would be great for a party where it would be consumed quickly before going flat.   This, however, is not one of those circumstances.  What we needed was something that would hold up for at least six hours and had ingredients that were not impossible to find.  Three options were explored: Brandy Punch, Newport Punch, and Victoria Punch.  Further research was done by making a reduced quantity version of each and comparing them against each other.  The three punches had bases of brandy, rum, or both in the case of Victoria Punch.  The contest to decide the best took two nights as the Victoria Punch required a 24 hour soak of equal parts rum and brandy in slices of lemon.  

My girlfriend chose the Newport Punch as that hit her palette just right.  Translation: saccharine.  My personal favorite was the Brandy Punch- not too sweet, actually a bit on the tart side.  To reproduce the reduced size batches, try the following:

Brandy Punch (Single serving)
1 Tbsp Raspberry Syrup
2 Tsp powdered sugar
2 oz water
3 oz brandy
1 medium sized lemon
2 orange slices
1 pineapple wedge
fresh berries

Place raspberry syrup, powdered sugar, water, brandy, juice of lemon, orange slices, and pineapple in shaker with ice.  Shake well and garnish with berries in season.

Newport Punch (1/12th full recipe)
4 oz sugar
4 oz cold water
1 lemon
1 lime
1 oz rum

Mix sugar, water, and juice from lemon well.  This is called sherbet.  These proportions should make about 5 oz of the stuff.  Mix it with rum.  I used Myers Dark Rum.  On rim of glass run quartered lime and squeeze the remainder in glass. 

Victoria Punch (1/12th full recipe)
½ lemon sliced
4-2/3 oz water
5-1/3 oz brandy
5-1/3 oz rum
1-1/3 oz milk
1-1/3 oz sugar

Steep the sliced lemon in rum and brandy over night.  Again, I used Myers Dark Rum for this.  Mix the remaining ingredients well and filter with a “jelly bag”.  I didn’t have a jelly bag so I used some paper towels made in to a cone filter.  A coffee filter would work great for this as well. The filter is needed as the milk curdles a bit. It’s noted that this can be served hot or cold.  I found it to be pretty stout and better cold than at least warm- not sure about hot. 


 We tweaked the final version of the Newport Punch as it was super sweet.  The actual amount we used turned out to be 4 lbs sugar, 26 lemons, 104 oz water, 26+ oz Myers Rum for good measure, and 6 limes making a little under two gallons.  This fit perfectly in the 5 dollar 2 ½ gallon cooler we got from the grocery store.

The end result was received well by the thirsty bachelorette party which in my book is a success!

These recipes are from American & Other Drinks: Cocktails, Punches and Fancy Drinks, 1878.  Reprinted editions can be found at multiple places.  I found mine from Vintage Cocktail Books ( and Amazon.