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Caña Rum Bar Soft Opens Tonight

March 18, 2010

A week after Las Perlas made its long-awaited debut, cocktail enthusiasts will have another new 213 Downtown destination to visit when Caña Rum Bar soft opens tonight. The latest from Cedd Moses is a reboot of the exclusive Doheny members-only bar, which became as well-known for its high roller membership fees as it did for its cocktails. In its new incarnation, Caña has been reimagined as a 1930’s Caribbean lounge, featuring over 140 small-batch rums, a rum-based cocktail menu, and seasonal wines and beers from the world’s rum producing capitals. There will be live Caribbean & tropical Latin music, plus weekly drink specials such as $6 Mojitos and Daiquiris. Caña’s focus on rum follows on the other 213 bars devoted to a single spirit, Seven Grand (whiskey) and Las Perlas (tequila/mezcal).

The idea of converting the Doheny to Caña was initiated by 213’s in-house spirits consultant John Coltharp, the bar manager at Seven Grand. Joel Black, the Doheny’s GM, embraced the concept and worked with  John on crafting the drink program and transitioning the Doheny. The Caña cocktail menu will feature signature creations and classic rum cocktails from daiquiris to Tiki drinks. Freshly-made, seasonal rum punches will be served to groups on the patio, a greenhouse that became the Doheny’s outdoor smoking lounge. The Caña team hosted tastings last week for current members and close friends, reportedly to enthusiastic response.

Caña will still be a members-only venue, but its annual membership fee has been drastically reduced to just $20. Included in this fee is membership in the Caña Rum Society, which will host complimentary rum tastings and spirit education gatherings. The program is modeled on the esteemed Seven Grand Whiskey Society, co-created by John during his tenure.

And what of the Doheny’s current members, who shelled out serious coin for their dues? They’ll be credited drinks and services at Caña, equivalent to the remaining time left on their Doheny membership, as well as gratis lifetime membership to the Caña Rum Society.

For membership inquiries, contact General Manager Joel Black: joel@thedoheny.com

Caña Rum Bar at The Doheny
The Petroleum Building
714 W. Olympic Blvd. (at Flower)
Los Angeles, CA, 90015
(213) 745-7090
www.canarumbar.com

The soft opening is at 6pm on Thursday, March 18, 2010.

Caña will be open 6pm-2am Monday through Friday, Saturday from 7pm-2am, with Sundays reserved for private parties and special events.

For the first 30 days following Caña’s March 18th opening, all $20 of your annual membership fee will be donated to relief efforts in Haiti, home of Rhum Barbancourt, widely regarded as one of the best rums produced in Latin America. Proceeds will benefit the United States Foundation for the Children of Haiti (USFCH.org).

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Where LA's Irish Eyes Will Be Smiling

March 16, 2010

Ah, St. Patrick’s Day. Like many of the great holidays, the ne plus ultra of Amateur Nights has transcended its origins and become an orgy of excess that has little to do with its namesake. That said, at least you’ll have an endless choice of places where you can get a pint or enjoy your whiskey amongst friends. Here are just a few, listed by their start times. (Updated 3/17)

Casey’s Irish Pub
(6am)
613 S. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 629-2353
www.caseysirishpub.com
KROQ’s Kevin and Bean will be broadcasting at Casey’s from 6-10am, kicking off a day of drink specials, Irish food, live music and DJ sets.

Blue Palms Brewhouse (11am)
6124 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 464-2337
www.bluepalmsbrewhouse.com
If you want something a little different, Blue Palms will be tapping Guinness infused with dry cherries and espresso beans, along with hemp ale (the “other” green beer), Irish food specials and a Catholic School Girl contest.

Rush Street (11:30am)
9546 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 837-9546
www.rushstreetculvercity.com
With its extensive Irish beer list, the “Four Leaf Clover” of Irish Whiskeys, and music by the Dublin 4, the multi-level Culver City venue will be rocking from lunch onwards.

Bar*Food (12pm)
12217 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 820-3274
www.barfoodla.com
Whatever you do, don’t ask owner Jason Killalee for a green beer. Then again, with his fantastic pub grub and 45 Irish whiskies to choose from, why would you?

Hungry Cat (12pm)
1535 Vine St.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 462-2155
www.thehungrycat.com
The Cat will be celebrating with an all-day happy hour (1/2 price specialty cocktails and draft beers), plus $4 Murphy’s Irish Stouts, Irish Slings, and $6 picklebacks. That’s right, picklebacks.

The Edison (5pm)
108 W. 2nd St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 613-0000
www.edisondowntown.com
“Celebrate the Luck of the Irish” during the Edison’s Cocktail Hour, from 5-7pm. Get a Murphy’s Red Irish Beer and a Reuben sandwich for $10, or have any mixer with Potato Vodka for $1 (one per guest, during Cocktail Hour only). For the rest of the night, the Edison will offer $9 Potato Vodka drinks and $5 Murphy’s Irish Reds.

Wilshire Restaurant (10pm)
2454 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90403
(310) 586-1707
www.wilshirerestaurant.com
$50 gets you an open bar from 10pm til close, including signature cocktails, Irish whiskies and beer.

Squid Ink has some great St. Patrick’s Day options and a couple of cocktail recipes, including the Token Irishman from Michael Shearin at Drago Centro.

For comprehensive lists of St. Patrick’s Day happenings, check out:

Wherever you end up, be safe my friends.

May your troubles be less,
And your blessings be more.
And nothing but happiness,
Come through your door.

Beannachtam na Feile Padraig!

Where LA’s Irish Eyes Will Be Smiling

March 16, 2010

Ah, St. Patrick’s Day. Like many of the great holidays, the ne plus ultra of Amateur Nights has transcended its origins and become an orgy of excess that has little to do with its namesake. That said, at least you’ll have an endless choice of places where you can get a pint or enjoy your whiskey amongst friends. Here are just a few, listed by their start times. (Updated 3/17)

Casey’s Irish Pub
(6am)
613 S. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 629-2353
www.caseysirishpub.com
KROQ’s Kevin and Bean will be broadcasting at Casey’s from 6-10am, kicking off a day of drink specials, Irish food, live music and DJ sets.

Blue Palms Brewhouse (11am)
6124 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 464-2337
www.bluepalmsbrewhouse.com
If you want something a little different, Blue Palms will be tapping Guinness infused with dry cherries and espresso beans, along with hemp ale (the “other” green beer), Irish food specials and a Catholic School Girl contest.

Rush Street (11:30am)
9546 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 837-9546
www.rushstreetculvercity.com
With its extensive Irish beer list, the “Four Leaf Clover” of Irish Whiskeys, and music by the Dublin 4, the multi-level Culver City venue will be rocking from lunch onwards.

Bar*Food (12pm)
12217 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 820-3274
www.barfoodla.com
Whatever you do, don’t ask owner Jason Killalee for a green beer. Then again, with his fantastic pub grub and 45 Irish whiskies to choose from, why would you?

Hungry Cat (12pm)
1535 Vine St.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 462-2155
www.thehungrycat.com
The Cat will be celebrating with an all-day happy hour (1/2 price specialty cocktails and draft beers), plus $4 Murphy’s Irish Stouts, Irish Slings, and $6 picklebacks. That’s right, picklebacks.

The Edison (5pm)
108 W. 2nd St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 613-0000
www.edisondowntown.com
“Celebrate the Luck of the Irish” during the Edison’s Cocktail Hour, from 5-7pm. Get a Murphy’s Red Irish Beer and a Reuben sandwich for $10, or have any mixer with Potato Vodka for $1 (one per guest, during Cocktail Hour only). For the rest of the night, the Edison will offer $9 Potato Vodka drinks and $5 Murphy’s Irish Reds.

Wilshire Restaurant (10pm)
2454 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90403
(310) 586-1707
www.wilshirerestaurant.com
$50 gets you an open bar from 10pm til close, including signature cocktails, Irish whiskies and beer.

Squid Ink has some great St. Patrick’s Day options and a couple of cocktail recipes, including the Token Irishman from Michael Shearin at Drago Centro.

For comprehensive lists of St. Patrick’s Day happenings, check out:

Wherever you end up, be safe my friends.

May your troubles be less,
And your blessings be more.
And nothing but happiness,
Come through your door.

Beannachtam na Feile Padraig!

Winners of the 2010 Ultimate Spirits Challenge Announced

March 16, 2010

The winners have been announced for the inaugural Ultimate Spirits Challenge, a three-day, four-stage competition that took place at New York’s Astor Center on March 1-3, 2010. The Ultimate Spirits Challenge was presented by Ultimate Beverage Challenge (UBC), founded by F. Paul Pacult, David Talbot, and Sue Woodley. UBC’s mission is to provide both the industry and the consumer with a clear, reliable indication of beverage alcohol quality, in terms that are readily accessible.

From a list of over 520 entries from around the world, USC judges awarded the Chairman’s Trophy to a dozen distillates, the highest scoring spirits in their categories. Judging panels made up of spirits authorities (Jacques Bezuidenhout, Dale DeGroff, Sean Ludford, Andy Seymour), educators (Doug Frost, Steve Olson), buyers (James Conley, Ethan Kelley, Audrey Saunders), and writers (Gaz Regan, David Wondrich) utilized UBC’s multi-stage scoring system to determine the best of the best entries. Mr. Pacult (UBC’s Judging Chairman and Managing Partner) said “a perfect storm of superbly qualified judges, meticulous and innovative methodology, the state-of-the-art clinical environment of Astor Center, and a gifted operational staff helped usher in a new era of beverage alcohol competitive evaluation. I’m looking forward to 2011 already.”

The Chairman’s Trophy winners and Semifinalists for the 2010 Ultimate Spirits Challenge are listed below. Note that the Chairman’s Trophy Winner is considered an “Extraordinary / Ultimate Recommendation,” while Semifinalist represents an “Excellent / Strong Recommendation.”



Ultimate Spirits Challenge 2010 – Chairman’s Trophy Winners & Semifinalists

Vodka & Aquavit

  • Chairman’s Trophy Winner: Orzel Vodka (Poland)
  • Semifinalists
    • Skyy Vodka (USA)
    • Vermont White Vodka (USA)
    • Finlandia Grapefruit Vodka (Finland)

Gin & Genever

  • Chairman’s Trophy Winner: Broker’s London Dry Gin (England)
  • Semifinalists
    • Beefeater 24 Gin (England)
    • Citadelle 2009 Reserve Gin (France)
    • Tanqueray London Dry Gin (England)

Tequila & Mezcal

  • Chairman’s Trophy Winner: Tres Agaves Añejo Tequila (Mexico)
  • Semifinalists
    • Sombra Mezcal (Mexico)
    • Don Pilar Añejo Tequila (Mexico)
    • Del Maguey Tobala Single Village Mezcal (Mexico)

Rum & Cachaça

  • Chairman’s Trophy Winner: Mount Gay Rum 1703 (Barbados)
  • Semifinalists
    • Zafra 21 Year Old Rum (Panama)
    • J. Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum (Jamaica)
    • Bacardi 8 Years Old Rum (Puerto Rico)

Ireland & Wales Whiskey

  • Chairman’s Trophy Winner: Midleton Very Rare 2008 Blended Irish Whiskey (Ireland)
  • Semifinalists
    • Connemara 12 Year Old Peated Single Malt Whiskey (Ireland)
    • Bushmills 1608 Single Malt Whiskey (Ireland)
    • Redbreast 12 Years Old Pure Pot Still Whiskey (Ireland)

Scotland Whisky

  • Chairman’s Trophy Winner: The Macallan Fine Oak 21 Year Old Malt Whisky (Scotland)
  • Semifinalists
    • Johnnie Walker Gold 18 Year Old Blended Whisky (Scotland)
    • Royal Salute 21 Year Old Blended Whisky (Scotland)
    • Glenmorangie Signet Single Malt Whisky (Scotland)

USA & Canada: Whiskey/Whisky

  • Chairman’s Trophy Winner: George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey (USA)
  • Semifinalists
    • Sazerac 18 Year Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (USA)
    • Crown Royal XR Blended Canadian Whisky (Canada)
    • Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (USA)

World Brandy, Grappa & Eau-de-Vie

  • Chairman’s Trophy Winner: Nonino Grappa Il Merlot (Italy)
  • Semifinalists
    • Macchu Pisco (Peru)
    • Bartlett Spirits of Maine Apple Brandy (USA)
    • Giovi Clear Brandy of Cactus Pear (Italy)

Cognac

  • Chairman’s Trophy Winner: Frapin Chateau Fontpinot XO Grande Champagne Cognac (France)
  • Semifinalists
    • Landy XO Cognac (France)
    • Pierre Ferrand Selection des Anges Grande Champagne Cognac (France)
    • Hennessy XO Cognac (France)

Armagnac

  • Chairman’s Trophy Winner: Chateau du Busca-Maniban Hors d’Age Tenareze-Armagnac (France)
  • Semifinalists
    • Chateau de Laubade 1960 Bas-Armagnac (France)
    • Marie Duffau Hors d’Age Bas-Armagnac (France)
    • Cles des Ducs VSOP Armagnac (France)

Calvados

  • Chairman’s Trophy Winner: Boulard Grand Solage Pays d’Auge Calvados (France)
  • Semifinalists
    • Coeur de Lion Hors d’Age Pays d’Auge Calvados (France)
    • Roger Groult 8 Year Old Pays d’Auge Calvados (France)

World Liqueurs, Absinthes & Other

  • Chairman’s Trophy Winner: St Germain Elderflower Liqueur (France)
  • Semifinalists
    • Herbsaint Original Liqueur d’Anis (France)
    • Bauchant Orange Liqueur (France)
    • Mathilde Raspberry Frambroise (France)

For a complete list of all results and scores, visit: ultimate-beverage.com/USCresults2010

To find out more about UBC and its upcoming Ultimate Cocktail Challenge (April 12-14, 2010) and Ultimate Wine Challenge (June 7-11, 2010) competitions, go to www.ultimate-beverage.com.

All Roads Lead to Classic & Vintage Spirits

March 7, 2010

As the global cocktail renaissance marches on, mixologists and cocktail enthusiasts continue to utilize the highest quality spirits to anchor classic cocktails and new school creations alike. Founded by Domaine Select Wine Estates (DSWE) in 2009, Classic & Vintage Artisanal Spirits gathers many of these boutique spirits into a single impressive portfolio. Several of these small batch brands recently embarked on a four-city barnstorming tour, featuring spirits from here and abroad, as well as top mixologists from across the country. The Classic & Vintage Road Show itinerary included stops in Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

In L.A., the Road Show was a two-part affair that took place at First & Hope and Las Perlas. Featured brands from Classic & Vintage included: Averna, Azuñia, The Bitter Truth, Death’s Door, G’Vine, Ransom Spirits, Rhum J.M, Sombra, Tuthilltown Spirits, and Suprema. Although the cocktails served weren’t from either venue’s menu, it was fun to take a peek at two locations that are about to make their mark on the L.A. cocktail scene. And of course, it was a great opportunity to enjoy cocktails made with some of my favorite spirits.

First & Hope bar

PART I – FIRST & HOPE

Discreetly located across the street from Walt Disney Concert Hall, First & Hope Supper Club features modern American comfort food by Executive Chef Shelley Cooper and a cocktail menu from Aidan Demarest (former Spirits Director at The Edison) and Marcos Tello (The Varnish). As we walked the space, my friends Amy, Lena, and I were impressed with the build out’s progress as the classy restaurant and live music venue nears its debut.

The main room is divided by a curtain of LED lights, which cast an otherworldly glow throughout the space. To the right is the flowing backdrop of the main bar, while booths and two tops are to the left. More tables are in the back, as well as the door to the Cabaret Room, where the Road Show took place. Although we were a little early, the intimate Art Deco room was already abuzz with activity. Classic & Vintage bartenders Sean Kenyon, Paul Tanguay, and Danny Valdez finished their last minute prep work, and as the wonderful singer began her set, the Road Show cocktails began to flow.

First & Hope dining room

I started with an Albino Old Fashioned, made with Death’s Door White Whisky, brandied cherries, fresh grapefruit, simple syrup, and The Bitter Truth Old Time Aromatic Bitters. The un-aged whisky was mellow and spicy (not unlike a reposado tequila), and with the Aromatic Bitters providing depth, this variation more than holds its own against the classic Old Fashioned.

Lena loved her Jalisco Hound: Azuñia Platinum Blanco, lemon juice, grapefruit juice, agave nectar, and club soda. Very smooth and balanced, with nice citrus and tartness.

Amy scored with the Hudson Cup: Tuthilltown Four Grain Bourbon, Averna Liquore Limoni di Sicilia, lemon juice, cucumber, ginger ale. The rich, malty whiskey played well with the intensely lemon-floral Averna, rounded out by the refreshing cucumber.

For my second cocktail I went with a Monkey Gland (G’Vine Floraison Gin, orange juice, grenadine, Averna Sambuca). Unlike our first round drinks, this one didn’t quite work for me. It may have had something to do with swapping out the traditional Pernod/absinthe rinse for the anise-based Sambuca. For whatever reason, it never really came together.

Amy ordered her own Jalisco Hound, while Lena got a Burnsides (Sombra Mezcal, Averna Amaro, honey syrup, minced ginger, lemon juice, The Bitter Truth Old Time Aromatic Bitters, club soda, tangerine, chili powder). Unlike my Monkey Gland, the Burnsides packed a serious flavor punch, from the smoky-spicy Sombra, to the flavorful bitters and bittersweet Averna, and the final kick from the ginger and chili powder. I think I may have liked it even more than Lena; I definitely thought the Burnsides was the best of the round.

Live jazz in the Cabaret Room.

While we enjoyed our guest cocktails, servers passed samples of the upcoming menu, including shrimp and grits, black-eyed pea soup, and a pork dish served with what had to be the tiniest hard boiled egg ever. Amy and Lena could not stop gushing about the cute little egg. I should also mention the singer and jazz band who entertained guests during the Road Show were fantastic. Here’s hoping they’ll all make regular appearances at First & Hope.

First & Hope is still weeks away from opening, but the Road Show went off smoothly and was definitely a sign of good times ahead for the supper club.

First & Hope Supper Club
710 W. 1st Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 617-8555
www.firstandhope.com

First & Hope is scheduled to open later this month.
For more about First & Hope, check out the Squid Ink story at LA Weekly.

The top of the back bar at Las Perlas.

PART II – LAS PERLAS

The next day, a tasting event featuring the Classic & Vintage collection took place at Las Perlas, the mezcal and tequila temple that soft-opens on Tuesday. Located in the Santa Fe Building across the street from Cole’s, Las Perlas is the latest from Cedd Moses and his 213 Downtown collective. “Las Perlas” refers to the bubbles that occur when high quality mezcal is shaken: the more perlas (pearls) you get, the better the mezcal. The cocktail menu is a collaboration between Las Perlas GM Raul Yrastorza (formerly at Cole’s Red Car Bar) and Rivera mixologist Julian Cox. And, as 213’s Seven Grand is to fine whiskey, Las Perlas will feature a top notch selection of mezcals and rare, small batch tequilas.

In a departure from the dark woods and speakeasy style of his other 213 interiors, designer Ricki Kline evokes a Oaxacan cantina with vibrant colors, a porcelain-topped bar, hand-painted signage, and wrought iron chandeliers. A rustic, double-height back bar sat empty, waiting to be filled with the dozens of mezcals and tequilas already written on the chalkboard menu.

The Death's Door range, ready for sampling.

Brand ambassadors representing the Classic & Vintage spirits featured the previous night were on hand to offer tastes, give some background, and answer questions. We started our journey with Death’s Door Spirits of Madison, Wisconsin. Domaine Select’s Sally Kim started us with the White Whisky, based on an organic hard red winter wheat and featured in the Albino Old Fashioned. Aged just 72 hours, the clear spirit is initially sweet and vanilla-filled, with a rich and creamy mouthfeel. Befitting its “white dog” heritage, the bottle has a simple black logo on an otherwise unadorned bottle. Next up was the award-winning, triple-distilled Death’s Door Gin. Sally explained that the gin contains only three botanicals (juniper, coriander, and fennel), each of which make their presence known. It’s a smooth, lightly anise-flavored gin ready-made for hand-crafted cocktails. Last but not least was the Death’s Door Vodka. Like the gin, it’s made from organic wheat. Oddly enough, you can really taste Washington Island in the glass; there’s an earthy, nutty profile that I didn’t expect from a vodka.

Gable Erenzo talks Tuthilltown.

After chatting with other guests we made our way to the outdoor patio, where several brands (including Sombra and Rhum J.M) were set up. We began with Tuthilltown Spirits of Hudson Valley, New York. Brand Ambassador and Distiller Gable Erenzo took us through four expressions in the Hudson range, beginning with the Hudson New York Corn Whiskey. Like the Death’s Door White Whisky, the New York Corn is a clear, un-aged spirit (100% New York corn-based, as opposed to Wisconsin wheat). Naturally, corn flavor asserts itself from the get-go. For a 92-proof spirit, it’s surprisingly smooth, with a lingering finish. After aging in new American oak barrels, the corn whiskey emerges as the renowned Hudson Baby Bourbon. Next up, Gable poured the Hudson Four Grain Bourbon. The twice-distilled whiskey brings together corn, rye, wheat and malted barley in a remarkably smooth bourbon. Its initial sweet vanilla and citrus notes give way to a rich caramel and warm finish. It was even more enjoyable sipped neat than it was in Amy’s Hudson Cup the night before. Then came the Hudson Baby Bourbon, the most popular release in the Tuthilltown line. The Baby Bourbon was Tuthilltown’s first whiskey and the first to be legally distilled in New York since Prohibition. It’s easy to see why the Baby Bourbon is highly sought after: with its superb balance, mildly sweet and citrus notes, and rich, mellow finish, it makes for a perfect introduction to whiskey. We finished with the Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey, made from whole grain rye one batch at a time. Distilled with its namesake cocktail in mind, the Manhattan Rye is fruity, floral and smooth, perfectly matched to the sweet vermouth of a classic Manhattan.

We also sampled several fantastic releases from The Bitter Truth, based in Munich, Germany. Founders Stephan Berg and Alexander Hauck are on a mission to spread the gospel of bitters, which suffered greatly during Prohibition, but are finding their way back into the global cocktail consciousness. The Orange Bitters and the Old Time Aromatic Bitters were the company’s first releases, with the latter providing depth and complexity to the cocktails at First & Hope. Cocktailians may be lamenting the Angostura shortage, and while he does say “there’s no substitute for Angostura,” Gary Regan mentions The Bitter Truth Old Time Aromatic Bitters and Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters as alternatives, calling the Jerry Thomas bitters “simply divine.” New to the line is The Bitter Truth Creole Bitters, an ode to New Orleans that reminds one of Peychaud’s (similar red hue and anise notes), but with a spicier, more complex profile. We were also lucky enough to taste the SloeBerry BlueGin, not yet available here in the States. Unexpectedly smooth, slightly tart and naturally (but not cloyingly) sweet, the BlueGin is a remarkable sipping gin. Its initial sloeberry aroma gives way to an aromatic, fruity yet spicy finish. Let’s hope the BlueGin arrives before the summer, because served in a highball with tonic and ice, this will go down a storm.

Selections from the Classic & Vintage collection.

As the event wound down, I glanced at the huge selection of mezcals and tequilas. We’ll be back in a few days, ready for our journey to the heart of the agave.

Las Perlas
107 E. 6th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90014
213-988-8355
www.lasperlas.la

Las Perlas soft-opens on Tuesday, March 9.
Check out LA Times Magazine for more info and great pics of Las Perlas.

You can find more information about the Classic & Vintage collection at: classicandvintagespirits.com.

Road Show logo: Classic & Vintage Spirits.

Reconstructing the Balvenie Signature Deconstruction Dinner

March 1, 2010

From L to R: three cask strength samples, and The Balvenie Signature.

photos by Lena Watanabe

Last year, famed Speyside distillery The Balvenie released Batch No. 2 of Signature, a 12 year old single malt Scotch created by Balvenie Malt Master David Stewart in celebration of his 45th year in the whisky industry. The Signature is a marriage of three different casks: first-fill bourbon barrels, refill casks (which first held bourbon, then Balvenie whisky), and Sherry butts. The Balvenie describes the result as “a perfect balance of spice and subtle oak, deliciously enveloped in The Balvenie’s trademark honeyed character.” Each Signature limited edition release is made from a unique mix, resulting in different flavor profiles with each subsequent batch.

Regarding the Signature, Stewart said, “It has given me great pleasure to create a signature whisky as part of The Balvenie range. Maturing and marrying the finest single malt Scotch whisky has been my passion for over 45 years and it’s an honor to mark the moment with an addition to The Balvenie family.”

My friend Lena and I were recently invited to The Balvenie Deconstruction Dinner, a special media event that took place at the Montage Beverly Hills. At this intimate celebration of The Balvenie Signature, we had an opportunity to step into David Stewart’s shoes and create our very own bottles of Signature Batch. The dinner was hosted by Balvenie Global Ambassador David Mair and Balvenie Western US Ambassador Andrew Weir.

The event began with drinks in an upstairs lounge, featuring Blood and Sand cocktails made with The Balvenie 12-Year DoubleWood, Cherry Heering, sweet vermouth, and orange juice. Our drinks were a nice balance of sweet and tart, with the DoubleWood’s fruit and Sherry notes shining through.

After introductions, dinner was served in a warmly lit private dining room, decorated for the occasion with Balvenie accoutrements and a photo gallery.

Cask strength samples, L to R: first-fill bourbon, Sherry, and refill cask.

The Balvenie Signature, Batch No. 2.

Once we were seated, Andrew welcomed us and said that David had procured cask strength samples of the three 12 year old single malts that comprise the Signature. A few drams of samples were lined up in front of each guest, ready for tasting and mixing. Such cask strength samples aren’t available to the public, so we were especially fortunate to have them at the dinner. At cask strength, the samples were a whopping 63.5% ABV (127 proof), so David and Andrew both cautioned us to go easy with the sips.

The bourbon cask was an amber color, with notes of vanilla and caramel. The Sherry cask was rich and dark, with a complex flavor profile of sweet Sherry, raisin, and pepper. The refill whisky cask was the lightest in color, with spicy fruit, anise and licorice notes. As we tasted the samples we also began our first course, a Wild Arugula Salad served with strawberries, Marcona almonds, organic Parmesan, and a Meyer lemon vinaigrette.

Then the Signature Batch No. 2 was poured, and as David gave us some background on the Signature, we enjoyed the result of David Stewart’s decades of experience. After tasting the three samples, we were really able to discern what they brought to the Signature Batch: initial notes of spice, fruit, and vanilla; then sweet Sherry and caramel. On the palate, it’s full-bodied and smooth, with raisin, vanilla, honey, Sherry, and a hint of smoke and oak. The finish is long and spicy.

David Mair demonstrates the "Dipping Dog."

David also talked about The Balvenie’s uniqueness (family-owned, grows its own barley, has its own floor maltings and even employs its own coopers and coppersmiths) and his personal history with the distillery. He also demonstrated the “Dipping Dog,” a clever device that was sometimes used by distillery workers to steal a bit of the good stuff for themselves.

A perfectly medium rare Prime Filet Mignon.

Mixing my Signature Batch.

For our entrée we had a choice between Prime Filet Mignon or Chilean Sea Bass. (“Yes, yes, I remember, I had lasagna.”) Lena and I opted for the steak, cooked a perfect medium rare, topped with peppercorn sauce, and served with crispy polenta, Swiss chard, and baby carrots. Andrew graciously topped off our glasses with Signature Batch, and I thought to myself, this has to be the best Scotch event ever.

Then came the standout part of the night, when we tried our hands at being Malt Masters. As Andrew explained, we could mix the samples in whatever proportions we liked, using the provided OXO 2oz. mini measuring cups and funnels. I opted for a nearly 1:1 ratio of the Sherry and bourbon casks, about two ounces each. The whisky cask provided the finish, almost like a float. I cut the mix with a bit of water, as David and Andrew suggested, then capped and shook the bottle to mix. The result was pretty nice, if I do say so myself. With the water, the ABV of my batch was reduced to about 55%. Lena didn’t cut hers at all; hopefully no one is smoking when they’re sipping her batch.

Andrew Weir and a replica still. | photo: Julie Conover

We were then given labels to name our personal Signature Batch bottles. I came up with the clever name of “Thirsty 2010” for mine. Meanwhile, Andrew assembled a miniature copper still and described the “barley to bottle” process that creates the “water of life” we all love so much.

Crème brûlée, sans Balvenie.

As if all this weren’t enough, our dessert was served: Traditional Crème Brûlée with strawberry coulis and assorted berries. To go with this, we sipped The Balvenie PortWood 21 Year Old and the Madeira Cask 17 Year Old. The PortWood in particular paired really well with dessert. David even suggested pouring a little bit over the crème brûlée, though I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

The evening drew to a close, and the warm glow we felt was from more than just the Scotch. The Deconstruction Dinner was a superb, memorable experience. Beyond the drams of Balvenie and one-of-a-kind keepsake, it was a rare opportunity to briefly step into the shoes of a whisky legend and gain new insight into what it takes to be a true master. Many thanks to David Mair, Andrew Weir, Julie Conover, and the rest of the Balvenie team!

For more information, visit www.thebalvenie.com.

One-of-a-kind: The Balvenie "Thirsty 2010" Signature Batch.

March 14: St. Patty's Fest in Hollywood

March 1, 2010

On Sunday, March 14, Barcelona Enterprises presents St. Patty’s Fest, at the Taglyan Arts and Cultural Complex in the heart of Hollywood. Your ticket gets you all the beer, wine, and whiskey you can drink from more than 35 breweries, 20 wineries, and spirits including Tullamore Dew and Feckin Irish Whiskey.

To soak up the booze, there’s all you can eat Pink’s hot dogs, Boar’s Head sandwiches, and of course an array of Irish sausages, cheeses, and breads. Live entertainment includes the Claddagh Dance Company and music by Peter Daily & the Royal Band. Best of all, proceeds benefit the Children’s Tumor Foundation and The Irish Center.

St. Patty’s Fest
Sunday, March 14, 2010
2pm-7pm

Taglyan Complex
1201 N. Vine St.
Hollywood, CA 90038

All-inclusive $100 tickets are available online now.
Ticket includes food, drink, live entertainment, and all the singing and dancing you didn’t realize you had in you.
Proceeds benefit Children’s Tumor Foundation and The Irish Center.

For more information, including the complete list of participating breweries, wineries, and spirits: www.stpattysfest.com

Update 3/2: Groupon has 50% discount tickets available TODAY (Mar. 2) ONLY: www.groupon.com/deals/barcelona