It's the fourth of July and I'm sitting at my desk. It's a gorgeous day outside, I should be out enjoying it, but I needed to tell you about a marvelous whisky that I discovered several weeks ago.
I attended a USBG event in NYC at the Tribeca lounge named Ward III. Along with my peers and new friends I seemed to be interested in a conversation at the bar. There were a few well dressed patrons sipping their impeccably prepared cocktails. Others were standing around a tall and self assured young lady. She held in her hands a bottle that I'd never seen before. Her name is Allison Patel and she held her bottle as if it was her new born child. She was protecting the beautifully styled bottle with handsome French Blue label. She was introducing this bottle to new fans. There were whisky tasting glasses on the table by the front door and I asked for a taste. Highly sophisticated came to mind immediately. Not Scotch Whisky but something else, something unfamiliar. I took another sip and slipped into a state of confusion. What was this? Cognac in a whisky barrel? Or perhaps Whisky in a Cognac barrel?
If you said the latter you'd be right on target.
This passionately hand-crafted Whisky made from barley that is sourced on the estate where they also produce Cognac. What is so interesting to me and what I noticed immediately from the website was the use of cover crops in the vineyards used to grow grapes for Cognac. The use of cover crops brings to mind Biodynamics and organic vinticulture methods. I grew up on what is now a Biodynamic farm in New Jersey, so I'm long familiar with the science of Biodynamics. This sustainable method of growing barley amongst the vines keeps the rocky soil aerated and viable. It says to me that someone cares deeply about the earth and the symbiotic relationship between the soil and the planets above.
This whisky is distilled in small Alembic pot stills. I've found that the flavor of this method of distillation is more akin to the original methodology of distillation as an art- BEFORE it became a science. Distillation has always involved some form of science, after all the original distillers also were healers and alchemists, but the art of distillation is ancient. And the Alembic pot still is a reminder of the ancient, slow methods of gently extracting flavor from grain.
So why am I drinking French Whisky on the Fourth of July? I suppose it is to illustrate how closely connected our two countries are by history. The majestic Statue of Liberty, herself a present from France becomes a metaphor for Freedom in our New York harbor. But why French Whisky? Because it tastes good!
Allison Patel is the pragmatic yet vivacious owner of Brenne Whisky. She has a honed sense of taste and is whip smart. There are very few women in our industry who own a distillery, I can only name about ten. It's a demanding industry. Tasting, selling, drinking, eating, socializing, building a brand and then spending time promoting it on Social Media. That alone can be a full time job. I know, it's how I built my brand.
Grilled pineapple and muddled grilled stone fruits on the tongue give way to toasted hazelnuts dotted with brown butter. The elegant and sophisticated mouth-feel is dotted with Caribbean spices and roasted Jack fruit. The brooding alcohol of 40% by volume (80 Proof) is soft and beguiling in the finish. It's so well masked by the fruit inherent to the use of the Cognac casks that I almost forgot that this is an alcoholic beverage. I so want to finish a sauce to brook trout with this whisky. I'd use those aforementioned hazelnuts and of course shallots and brown butter. A mirepoix of vegetables in a tiny brunoise would follow with a scattering of early Summer, fingerling potatoes to soak up the extra sauce.
I'm getting really hungry. There are so many applications for this evocative whisky.
I was thinking of this drink that I name Étienne Pellot "Montvieux", aka le Renard Basque ( the Basque Fox) a renouned corsair. A Corsair was a type of a privateer, given the authority to attack shipping and loot the proceeds. They were "Legal" Pirates. I'm sure they drank their fair share of the booty. Whisky included!
Étienne Pellot "Montvieux" Cocktail for two soon to be quite drenched sailors
3 oz. Brenne Whisky from France
2 oz. Freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice
2 oz. (in each glass) Perrier Sparkling Natural Mineral Water (Pink Grapefruit)
2 dashes in each glass Peychaud's Bitters
First cool the glasses with ice, water and the Tenneyson Absinthe, set aside to cool (essential)
Cut a grapefruit zest in the style of a Crusta (1 long thread)
To a Boston Shaker fill 3/4 with ice add:
Royal Rose Simple Syrup
Fresh grapefruit juice
Close and shake for 15 seconds to chill it down
Pour out the Tenneyson Absinthe, ice and water (preferably into your mouth as not to waste even a drop of this precious liquor)
Add one large cube of hand cut ice to the pre-chilled rocks glasses
Garnish with the grapefruit zest and two shakes of Peychaud's Bitters
Finish with a splash or two of the Pink Grapefruit Perrier Sparkling Natural Mineral Water
I've been contemplating a marvelously well written book named Speakeasy over the past few months. In my field it behooves me to read and learn from my highly talented peers. I'm lucky to be surrounded by people who share their skills readily through the publication of books for the bartender and home enthusiast alike.
Speakeasy is one of these rare books that tell a story, make you interested in the history of the place, then it introduces a cast of characters that include the greats of our industry. I'm a relative newcomer so when I received my copy of Speakeasy, it was like a Christmas present I'd never had prior.
Here between the pages I found Classic Mixology that is influenced by the Speakeasies of the Prohibition era. Surprisingly to me was my basic premise that pharmacists were no longer the sole dispensary of alcoholic treats at least during prohibition.
You could go to someone's house and experience a punch that lit a fire under polite conversation. Cocktails in the primitive sense made people drunk!
Fast forward to Employees Only. Last year during Tales of the Cocktail, I attended a party at One Eyed Jack's that featured the bartenders of Employees Only. Instead of what I expected to see as a closed community of well-wishers, I found a friendly bunch of true professionals. Each entrusted in a task. That task was work with a smile in nearly 100 degree temperatures, without stopping for hours. They are professionals to the degree that I've never attained.
I tip my hat to them.
I love the quote in the beginning of the book that they say that: God protects fools and drunks, and God knows we've got both at Employees Only. It speaks clearly to New York City, the greatest bar in the greatest city in the world.
The illustration of Professor Jerry Thomas in the book along with the "remaking" of the classics speaks clearly to my ethos of being the Cocktail Whisperer. This name incidentally was given to me after the on-line magazine named Served Raw became null. Some say I have a talent. I seem to believe that I'm pretty good at my craft, UNTIL I read this book. A humbling experience it is!
FRESH HIGH QUALITY INGREDIENTS
Do I need to say this is what I've been shouting to the bars in NJ for months now? I go into restaurants and want to scream at them for their 1/4 cube ice and strawberry cheesecake vodka. The use of fresh juices is essential and the best always tastes BETTER. Speakeasy (the book) and Employees Only GETS IT... Why isn't anyone listening in Morristown, NJ where I live. By and large with only a couple of exceptions the drinks in my town SUCK. I want to carry a copy of Speakeasy in my hand and a small baseball bat. Slam that bat like thing on the bar with all my might and scream out loud: "READ THIS DAMN BOOK" then you can call yourself a bartender.
The customer who is paying good money is being robbed by drink guns and corn syrup drink pre-mixes. I always ask for fresh squeezed juice when I get a Margarita. Why spend 15 bucks on frozen concentrates. You'd NEVER find frozen concentrate at Employees Only. And my town is only about an hour from NYC.
Why is this so hard to understand. Employees Only and their book Speakeasy might as well be on another planet. The art of the cocktail is alive and thriving in New York City. It is hardly an art form here in Morristown. Too bad.
May I suggest buying a copy?
Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric are modern day alchemists in a world gone crazy with flavored this and 14 times distilled that. As witnessed by a recent visit to a local watering establishment in my town, just because a "Mixologist" created your cocktail list, doesn't mean the drinks actually taste good.
Speakeasy will, if read carefully will enlighten you and teach you to be a better bartender or enthusiast. Either you will become a fool or a drunk, which according to the introduction to this book is not a bad thing!
Warren’s first book, Apothecary Cocktails is being published by Quayside/Rockport Books in November 2013. He has globally published over three hundred articles on everything from cocktail mixology to restaurant reviews. He's an amateur bartender who believes that fresh juices and great ice are essential to a cocktail.