Friday, February 22, 2013

Mark The Moment With The Glenlivet


Event Invitation

Following a long holiday weekend, it was with great surprise and delight that I received an e – mail from The Glenlivet inviting me to an unusual event – a dinner where various expressions of their scotch would be strategically paired with each course served throughout the evening.  Unfortunately, the invitation arrived early that afternoon with extremely short notice – the dinner was to be held that same evening and if I wanted to attend, I had to RSVP immediately!  Thankfully for me, I had nothing urgent scheduled for that night, so I was available – but would my RSVP arrive in time or would the event be closed by the time I responded?  Needless to say, I lucked out and got a reply that a space had been reserved for me, so I spent the remainder of the day awaiting it with eager anticipation.

The event – called “Mark The Moment” – was a joint venture between The Glenlivet and Snooth, an organization that usually conducts such events with wine, not scotch.  Mark The Moment was held at the hip and luxurious Soho House Of New York City, located in the trendy Meatpacking District of Manhattan.

Upon entry, we were immediately treated to a wide variety of hors d’oeuvres that were accompanied by rather freely-flowing drams of The Glenlivet 12 year old.  I found that the duck and meatballs went particularly well with this scotch, which is something of an entry-level version to this brand.  A gentle and almost compliant taste, The Glenlivet 12 year old serves as an excellent introduction to their spirit, offering nothing terribly challenging to the individual who might be new to scotch.

After socializing with other participants, I then followed all two dozen of my fellow gourmands to the long dining tables where we were seated and the meal officially began.   Regarding the appetizers,  I felt that both the sheep’s milk cheese and the red beets paired up rather nicely with The Glenlivet 15 year old.  Aged in French Oak casks, this scotch has a hint of cream soda to it that makes for a perfect aperitif. 

For the main course, The Glenlivet Nadurra 16 year old was poured– a cask strength scotch, this one is most definitely a stronger spirit and has a considerably higher alcohol content.  Given the types of meats that were served to us on this course – both beef and lamb – Nadurra supplied an excellent companion.  With a strong tasting meat – especially true for lamb, I think – you want to drink something that will stand up to its power and Nadurra certainly fills that role.  Nadurra works best when paired with rich foods and fatty meats – you might even want to consider serving it at a barbeque.  One caveat with this scotch:  a drop or two of water added to your dram is absolutely recommended – otherwise, some might find it a bit overpowering, to say the least. 

Finally, dessert.  Here, The Glenlivet 18 year old was matched with chocolate and a citrus dish.  The Glenlivet 18 is a wise choice as a digestif because it has a certain sweetness to its flavor; this comes from the scotch being finished in casks that previously stored Spanish sherry.  While I thought that this scotch went well with the chocolate (the spirit has suggestion of a bittersweet cocoa taste), others preferred it with the citrus, which was served with caramel, another flavor that can be detected with this expression of the scotch. 

The Glenlivet has been doing some rather aggressive upscale marketing the past several months with quite a few informative and unique tasting events; if you’re interested in learning about future tastings, you may want to consider signing up to be a member of The Glenlivet Guardians



Monday, February 18, 2013

The Bacon & Bourbon Expo NYC 2013


So how did you spend your Valentine’s Day this year?  Enjoy a candlelit dinner at a fancy restaurant?   Go out to see a romantic movie?  Spend an evening for two at home with your partner?  Well, I spent my Valentine’s Day with not one but two of my loves – bacon and bourbon at The Astor Center of New York City!

FrontYes, the annual Bacon & Bourbon Expo was held on Valentines Day at The Astor Center this year – and while some of you may think that the scheduling was a mistake, many of us thought that the timing was nothing short of perfect (in fact, the event sold out rather quickly – the VIP tickets were gone literally in a matter of hours). 

BackLet’s start off by talking about all of that delicious bacon …

The above graphic shows you something of a map of an Artisanal Bacon Tasting plate attendees were offered on that evening.  I’ve tried to somewhat reproduce it below so you could get something of an idea what the cooked product looked like before I shoveled it down my quivering gob. 

Bacon1My favorites on the evening were  Benton’s Hickory Smoked Bacon from Madisonville, TN (B) and Petit Jean Meats Peppered Bacon out of Morrilton, AK (E).  Benton’s was cooked to a crispy crunch and made its texture stand out far beyond all of the others.  As for Petit Jean, the peppered flavor really hits you on the back of the palate and adds considerably to its savory taste.  If you can find these either at a store or online, I highly recommend you invest in a purchase and cook them up for yourself. 


We were also offered a bacon hotdog, but I was considerably less enthusiastic about that; smothered in lettuce and tomato, I personally found both the hotdog and the bacon to be undercooked – the bacon I thought was somewhat gummy and the hotdog had no snap to its bite.  Almost like trying to chew into taffy, I found my teeth pulling onto the bacon in order to snap off a piece.  Also, the bacon and the hotdog appeared to be cooked separately and the strip merely laid on top of the frankfurter; it would have been much better if the bacon had been wrapped around the frank and have the both of them cooked together, preferably by grilling. 


And now, on to the bourbon …

4RosesA25 Among the more pleasant surprises of the evening was  Four Roses, who displayed three expressions of their bourbon, all of them quite unique and tasty.  One of the things I found rather refreshing about this manufacturer was the fact that they were quite open about their recipes, unlike some other companies. 

4RosesB25At other bourbon tastings I’ve attended, I found quite a few manufacturers to be unreasonably clandestine with respect to their recipes; not so with Four Roses – in fact, they proudly provided a recipe card so tasters could follow along with each sample they tried, which I appreciated considerably.

The other bourbon that was a highlight of the evening was Jim Beam’s Red Stag – both their Honey Tea and Spiced – as well as their Devil’s Cut.

Beam25Although they served these bourbons in cocktails, they are absolutely worth trying on their own.   Devil’s Cut has the highest alcohol content and is definitely a good sipping bourbon.  The Red Stag Spiced is infused with cinnamon flavor and was certainly a welcome comfort on this chilly night.  Lastly, the Honey Tea should not be mistaken as being a liqueur – infused with honey, its alcohol content is a rather respectable 80 proof. 

One final noteworthy point:  Makers Mark had a rather nice and expansive setup with multiple bartenders mixing cocktails, but I intentionally boycotted their table because of the fact they had previously announced they would be watering down their bourbon which would lower its alcohol content.  At the time of this writing, however, they have announced that they are rescinding their previous statement and will continue to make their spirit 90 proof.  Just as The Good Lord intended it to be. 



Sunday, February 10, 2013

“Beautiful Creatures” – Movie Review




This week in my movie class, we had a bonus screening of the new fantasy-drama, “Beautiful Creatures” starring Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis and Emma Thompson. 



When a young man from a small southern town meets a mysterious new stranger in his high school, he becomes immediately smitten with her – but will her dark secrets endanger his life?



The sleepy southern town of Gatlin, South Carolina is much too small for Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich), an erudite and literate teenager whose mind is far too big to be contained by this tiny, limited burg. About to start his junior year of high school, Ethan has his eyes set on a bigger prize – continuing his education at a major college, preferably one as far from Gatlin as possible. When the semester begins, he discovers a new student now in his class – Lena (Alice Englert), a recent arrival to town, who is a relative of The Ravenwoods, a family who many of Gatlin’s long-time residents suspect are Satan worshippers.

Despite the protests of Ethan’s classmates, he befriends Lena and eventually their friendship blossoms into something of a romance. But as the two teens get to know each other, Ethan soon becomes aware that not all is what it seems when it comes to Lena and her background. Upon meeting her Uncle Macon (Irons), it is revealed that he and Ethan’s recently-deceased mother had a special friendship that was previously unknown to Ethan. Additionally, Macon’s mysterious behavior confuses Ethan and infuriates Lena, whose uncle discourages her from making any friends. Eventually, it comes out that Lena is a Caster – something of a witch who will possess magical powers upon reaching her upcoming sixteenth birthday, known as a Claiming. But whether these powers will lead her to perform acts of good or evil is unclear to her and may determine whether or not her future with Ethan will be imperiled.

Although Macon is protective of Lena and looking out for his niece’s best interests, he soon realizes that he’s at odds with Serafine (Thompson), Lena’s treacherous mother, who wants her daughter’s powers to lead her to the dark side. In an effort to defeat her mother, Lena calls upon Amma (Davis), an old friend of Ethan’s family, who secretly operates the town’s library for its Casters. However, Lena’s research uncovers some rather unsettling information – that in order to avoid a curse, someone she loves needs to perish. Will Lena need to submit to The Dark Side in order to save Ethan or will she destroy him so that she can save herself?



Clearly out to grab the young adult audience which made the “Twilight” series so hugely successful in theaters, “Beautiful Creatures” is a movie that’s not intended for my demographic – which may account for my tepid reaction. Something of a supernatural Romeo and Juliet tale, there is certainly plenty of romance and special effects that is bound to hold the limited attention span of the popcorn-munching boys and girls as well as likely leave grownups (if there are any in attendance) either bored or frustrated by the inane adolescent characters featured in this story. While I fully expect that “Beautiful Creatures” will wind up being a hit, whether it will be able to match the popularity of the “Twilight” franchise remains to be seen (and yes, the ending of this film does suggest there may be at least one sequel).

A bright spot in “Beautiful Creatures” is the performance of Emma Thompson, who plays the dual roles of Mrs. Lincoln (the mother of Ethan’s best friend) and Serafine (Lena’s mother). It is here that the actress’ talents truly shine, especially in a scene where we witness her transform from the devout and conservative Mrs. Lincoln to the brash, bold (and, dare I say, sexy) Serafine where she rightly – and effectively – goes over the top to sheer perfection. While Jeremy Irons and Viola Davis join Thompson in lending their talents and credibility to the cast, it is, sadly, still not their story to tell – which probably would’ve made a better flick, even though it wouldn’t have stayed true to its source material.

Following the screening, it appeared that a number of people in the audience – including our instructor – enjoyed the movie quite a good deal better than I. However, I was relieved to find that I was not the only one who was challenged in following the plot, which at times seemed a bit convoluted. Our instructor pointed out that the book on which it was based was almost 600 pages in length; this might explain the occasional difficulty in keeping the narrative uncluttered – given that the movie is a reasonable length (approximately 2 hours), writer/director Richard LaGravenese probably tried to cram in as much of it as possible in order to appeal to fans of the novel.


Sunday, February 03, 2013

Martini Bowl 2013



Each year on Super Bowl weekend, I suppose that we all have our fair share of traditions – whether it’s shopping for snacks in anticipation of a big party with friends and family or making crazy bets about the length of the pre-game singing of our national anthem, there are just some things that we look forward to doing simply because they add to our enjoyment when it comes to watching the big game on television. 

I am certainly no different – but for me, part of my own annual tradition is attending another kind of competition known as The Martini Bowl, as held by Union Square Wines & Spirits in New York City.  In The Martini Bowl of years past, various vodkas would square off against gins in order to determine which would make the best martini.  This year, however, there was a bit of a twist in that it was an all-gin Martini Bowl – in other words, no vodkas need apply.  Not a problem for me since I prefer my martinis made of gin, in the traditional style. 


One of the things I look forward to every year at The Martini Bowl is to discover a new spirit – either something that’s new to the market or one that has been around a while but has been thus far unfamiliar to me.  In 2013, the interesting new gin I want to alert you to is something called Fords, a 90 proof spirit out of London, England.  Manufactured by The Eighty Six Company, it has been on the market for only the last couple of months. 

The first thing you might notice about Fords is the unusual design of its bottle – that’s because it is a gin created by professional bartenders specifically with their colleagues’ needs in mind.   To begin with, take a look at the neck – it’s long because when bartenders attach a pouring spout to the top of the bottle, they have a tendency to grab the bottle by the neck and turn the bottle completely upside down when mixing a cocktail.  Having the neck as long as it is makes it easier to grab onto when pouring. 


Another rather original aspect of the bottle’s design is the fact that it has gradations on its side; the units of measurement are in both liters and fluid ounces.  The reason for the gradations is again related to the fact that the gin is designed for bartenders.  Very often, bartenders have to pre-mix certain types of cocktails in large quantities; it’s not unusual for them to store these pre-mixed cocktails in empty liquor bottles for easy access during the evening’s shift.  By having the gradations on the side of the bottle, this makes it easier for the bartender to mix the cocktail in a batch right in the very same bottle where it will be stored. 

While the design of the bottle might be worth discussion, you certainly don’t purchase a gin solely based on the way its container looks.  So enough about that – let’s talk about its taste.  Fords is something of a throwback gin in the sense that it returns to gin’s roots of juniper as the main botanical; described by its company representative as having a very “juniper-forward” taste, I learned that while there are a number of other botanicals in the gin, juniper makes up roughly 50%. 


Speaking of the botanicals, the bottle’s back label contains a list of the gin’s ingredients.  It turns out that there are a total of 11 ingredients, all listed in order of proportion from the most at the top (juniper) to the least at the bottom (wheat).  In addition, the label displays the geographic source of each  of its ingredients as well as an explanation of how each ingredient impacts the flavor of the gin.