A Drinky Gifts Guide

Source: Alexei Damon Murray and Stephen Sorrell, Alcohol (Fuel, 2017) .

By Kevin R. Kosar

No to rock-hard fruitcakes. No to hideous neckties that match nothing in one’s wardrobe. No to useless contraptions like the Ronco inside-the-egg scrambler. And no to more electronic gadgets that pester and scatter the mind with pings, bleeps, and jangles.

Go for drinky gifts instead, which cannot fail to delight and provide hours of levity in these weird times of creepy willy-wavers in America and belligerent lunatics on the other side of the globe.

 

Beer

Thirty years ago, the best beer I could find in most groceries was Michelob or Lowenbrau. How times have changed in our grand land. These days, you can throw a rock in any direction and it has a high probability of hitting a good bottle of beer. Which makes shopping for brews easy.

Among the brands I would recommend are Germany’s Riegele bocks and Dortmunders, Montana’s Grand Teton Brewing’s gose and ales, Oregon’s Full Sail Brewing’s entire line-up (everything is great), and the big ales and stouts made by Michigan’s Bell’s Brewery, Founder’s Brewing Company, and New Holland.

You might also box up and put a bow on bottles of Guinness’ new beers, like the Antwerpen Stout or Rye Pale Ale.

 

Hard cider

Icky sweet apple ciders in 12-ounce bottles are common in U.S. grocery stores. Skip them and grab a 750 milliliter bottle of old style cider. Le Lieu Cheri’s Cidre Fermier and Cave de la Lotterie (imported by Wine Traditions Ltd) are dry, light, and decidedly earthy ciders ($10-$12). The aromas arising from these sparkling beverages are sour and mushroom-y. I served these ciders as whistle-wetters before our Thanksgiving dinner. At a mere 5 percent alcohol they can be enjoyed without getting you loopy.

 

Bourbon, whiskey, and rye

Never has it been a better time to be a whiskey drinker. Newer brands like Angel’s Envy Bourbon (aged in port barrels and $50 a bottle) and the splendid Filibuster Dual Cask Bourbon (finished in French oak barrels and $40 a bottle) are among the brands that have reconceptualized the flavor profile of bourbon without abandoning its essence: sweet and fiery. Traverse City Whiskey Company’s flag ship straight bourbon whiskey (86 proof; $35) gives the tippler a sense of what the whiskey century ago must have been like: a thick with charred barrel flavor and a little hot on the swallow.

Iowa’s Cedar Ridge Distillery, which won the American Distilling Institute’s distillery of the year award, offers the whiskey lover a veritable smorgasbord. They make a wheat whiskey, a bourbon, a malted rye whiskey, two single malts, and an unaged whiskey. All retail for $40 to $60. Smallish (200 ml) bottles of five different Cedar Ridge whiskeys come in the oh-so-givable American Whiskey Explorer package ($70).

The big boys of American whiskey also have upped their games in recent years. This year I quite enjoyed Wild Turkey Decades (104 proof; $150), George Dickel Barrel Select (86 proof; $40), Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select (94 proof; $65), and Maker’s Mark Cask Strength (108 to 114 proof; $60).

Rye, as everyone knows, has made a yuge comeback. To get a sense of old rye versus new, consider giving someone a bottle of Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Rye (100 proof; $27) and a fifth of Filibuster Dual Cask Rye (90 proof; $45). The former tastes of grain, black pepper, and a little apricot. The latter is gentler, slightly sweet, and offers apple and floral notes. I love each of them. If you want to impress a rye aficionado, pony up $110 for WhistlePig 12-year old rye (86 proof).

 

Wine and fortified wine

Hands down, the best wine I tasted this year was also the priciest: Ken Deis Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($60 most places; $25 via NakedWines.com). This red tasted like a cross between Bordeaux and a new world fruit bomb. It was utterly succulent, and showed faint blueberry and cedar notes. I nearly wept when the bottle was empty.

If you want remarkable bang-for-the-buck, wrap up some bottles of Jose Maria da Fonseca wines (imported by Palm Bay International). These Portuguese red wines have remarkably diverse flavor profiles. Da Fonseca’s Ripanço ($12) reminds me of beauojolas nouveau. It is light bodied, floral, and only a little fruity. The Jose se Sousa 2015 ($17) is very old world—it is dry, vegetal, and shows a clove note. Meanwhile, Da Fonseca Periquita Reserva 2014 ($15) is very new world. It offers immense fruit and vanilla notes and all but screams for pairing with steak, roasted vegetables, and gooey or salty cheese. For those with deeper pockets, the $40 Domini Plus 2014 would make a welcome gift for a wine collector. This inky red wine is very fruity, tannic, and dry, and will age well. Da Fonseca, I should add, produces terrific fortified wines. The Alambre Moscatel de Setubal 2010 ($17) would appeal to those who enjoy port. It has floral and peach notes. Yum.

Speaking of fortified wines, Vignobles Constance et Terrassous, Rivesaltes Ambré Hors d’âge 6 (35 proof; $30; Regal Wine Imports) is a gorgeous amber-red dessert wine. All the delicious port-type flavors —fig, honey, etc.— are here. Serve neat at room temperature or very slightly chilled and enjoy it with your feet up and your hand near a good book and cheese tray.

 

Books on cocktails and more

For the person who loves to read of drink, there are abundant choices. Alexei Damon Murray and Stephen Sorrell’s Alcohol (Fuel, 2017) carries eye-popping photographs of Soviet anti-drink posters from the 1960s to 1980s. The government produced bazillions of them, but the downtrodden citizenry kept boozing. Steven Grasse’s Colonial Spirits (Abrams Image, 2017), as I previously wrote, is a wild and amusing romp through early American drink.

Robert Simonson’s A Proper Drink (Ten Speed Press, 2016) is a lengthy, deep-dive report on how America’s cocktail scene revived over the past 30 years. As someone who was in the thick of the whole New York City drink scene in the 1990s, I can attest that Simonson got much of the truth. Those of an antiquarian bent might enjoy receiving a copy of Sherry Monahan and Jane Perkins’ The Golden Elixir of the West (TwoDot, 2018). It is filled with amusing old yarns about American whiskey.

Friends and family who like to DIY can be given Emma Christensen’s Modern Cider (Ten Speed Press, 2017), a pretty tome that teaches how to make various fruit ciders, shrubs, and wines.

And those feeling charitable to the industrious hack who has written innumerable columns for your eyes, you can help feed his family and fishing habit by filling stockings with his slim tomes on whiskey and moonshine.

Kevin R. Kosar edits AlcoholReviews.com is the author of Moonshine: A Global History (2017) and Whiskey: A Global History (2010). This post also appeared at the American Spectator.

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Who Is to Blame for the 7 and 7 Cocktail? An Interview with Adam McDowell, Author of Drinks: A User’s Guide

Source: Adam McDowell

The American Spectator’s Kevin Kosar badgers the Toronto writer Adam McDowell.  

Kevin Kosar: Congrats on the publication of Drinks: A User’s Guide (Tarcher, 2016). It’s a smart-looking book, and I enjoyed it. So how’s the weather in Minnesota?

Adam McDowell: It’s lovely, there are Canadian flags everywhere, people being very polite to each other.

Kosar: Wait…. you’re a Canadian? In Canada?

McDowell: Yes, born and raised in Toronto.

Kosar: Why?

McDowell: I’ve never had a doctor’s bill in my life. That’s explanation enough.

Kosar: As a Canadian, I trust you consume barbarous quantities of drinks like Yukon Jack, Canadian Club, Molson, and Moosehead, right?

McDowell: Ha! Yes, and Fireball, which few people realize is a Canadian product, which we’re proud of. Just like we’re proud of Justin Bieber. In all seriousness, I think Canadian drinking habits are different from U.S. ones. By and large, we drink less.… As much as there’s this image of Canadians as these macho drinkers, it’s actually a pretty moderate country in that way.

Kosar: Any bitters drinking going on up there?

McDowell: Oh, yes. You do get Bitters and ESB. The word bitter is thought by marketers to be a no-go. But it is here…. There’s a little bit more market for British porter, mild beer, that kind of thing. But it’s a small difference. Generally speaking, if you’re from the U.S. and you come to Canada, and you go shopping for beer, you’re going to have a similar experience.

Kosar: Is anyone making good wine up there? Continue reading “Who Is to Blame for the 7 and 7 Cocktail? An Interview with Adam McDowell, Author of Drinks: A User’s Guide”

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The Bloody Mary: An Unlikely Breakfast of Champions

Mmmm, breakfast. What appeals to the mouth and stomach at the early hour when the birds are singing and the sun’s rays are spraying over the horizon? Something starchy, like toast? Perhaps some protein — eggs and bacon sound right. And perhaps a cup of coffee or tea to help shake the spell of Morpheus. That what the body needs, right?

So how is it that the Bloody Mary — usually a concoction of tomato juice, vodka, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, a stalk of celery, and a bit of lemon juice — became a famed breakfast go-to? Like much in life, it is anything but clear.

We don’t even know who invented the drink. “Popular Bloody Mary legend points to Fernand ‘Pete’ Petiot, at bartender at Harry’s New York Bar in the 1920s,” writes Brian Bartels in The Bloody Mary: The Lore and Legend of a Cocktail Classic, with Recipes for Brunch and Beyond (Ten Speed Press, 2017). But seeing as the bar’s head, Harry McElhone, didn’t list the Bloody Mary — or any tomato juice drinks — in his 1927 cocktail recipe book, this hypothesis is suspect. New York comedian George Jessel asserted in his autobiography that he created the drink in 1927 after an all-night bender. Another theory is that Petiot created the drink shortly after Prohibition. Petiot had moved from Paris to new York City, and was slinging the Red Snapper — vodka, tomato juice, citrus juice, and spices — at the St. Regis’ King Cole bar. So maybe Jessel came up with idea and Petiot refined it? Who knows?

Nor do we know why it was named the “Bloody Mary” or how exactly it moved from one watering hole to becoming a staple of bar menus around the world. But it did, and at least two factors explain why.

First, the food industry got into the canned juice business in a big way in the first few decades of the 20th century. This created year round bar and restaurant access to juices with long shelf lives. Juice-makers fostered consumer interest by heavily advertising the healthful effects of gulping juice in the morning. (Is acidic orange juice really what the stomach wants bright and early?)

Second, despite its ingredients — the Bloody Mary is delicious. Especially if one is a little hungover. (When really wrecked, no food or drink appeal.) The viscous tomato juice fills the stomach, the black pepper soothes its disturbances, and the whole amalgam invigorates and helps the consumer convince himself he feels fine and can endure the day before him.

Like so many good things in life, the Bloody Mary has evolved. An early version has only three ingredients (vodka, tomato juice, and lemon juice.) Recent versions have become more baroque — one might find wasabi or a pickle in the glass. Bartels himself created the “PB&J & Mary,” which is made with peanut-infused vodka (or tequila!), strawberry jam, Cholula hot sauce, and more. And some of drinks being called Bloody Mary’s are miles from the original. The “Pirate Mary,” another Bartels invention, is a luminous yellow-green rum and pineapple drink.

My own preference is for a Bloody Mary with the standard ingredients: a belt of vodka, tomato juice, dash of lemon juice and Worcestershire, a little horseradish, and a stalk of celery. And a few pieces of crispy bacon. The awakening body does need protein.
Kevin R. Kosar is a senior fellow at R Street Institute and heads its alcohol policy reform program. He is the author of Moonshine: A Global History (2017) and Whiskey: A Global History (2010). This article was first published by the American Spectator.
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Hot of the Presses—Moonshine A Global History

No matter where you go on earth, there is moonshine. It has been made from just about every imaginable foodstuff: grapes, grain, raw sugar, tree bark, horse milk and more. College students in the developed world drink it; so do day labourers in the world’s poorest slums and villages. All moonshine has two characteristics: it is highly alcoholic, and it is illegal. Kevin R. Kosar tells the colourful history of moonshine with characters that range from crusading lawmen, earnest farmers and clever tinkerers, to vicious smugglers and ruthless gangsters; from pontificating poets and sneaky swamp-rats, to adolescents looking for a thrill.

Copies of Moonshine: A Global History, are available via University of Chicago Press, AmazonBookDepository.com, Target.com, and Reaktion Books (United Kingdom).

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Outlaws of the Lakes: Bootlegging and Smuggling from Colonial Times to Prohibition

Photo credit: AlcoholReviews.com
Photo credit: AlcoholReviews.com

I picked up a copy of this book at the airport in Traverse City, Michigan, where, funny enough, I was attending a conference on alcohol regulation. Boy, I am glad I did.

Edward Butts did a fine job of putting together 23 chapters on drinks smuggling around the Great Lakes. The tales of mischief and intrepid dealing start in the 1690s when the scoundrel Antoine Laumet de la Mothe de Cadillac smuggled brandy about Lake Huron and Michigan. Butts carries the reader forward to the 1930s and the mayhem wrought by Al Capone, the Purple Gang, and other brutes who would do anything for a buck—be it selling toxic drinks or murdering those who interfered.

The cast of characters is quite something: Joyous Jenny, Gentleman Charlies Mills, and the “Pistol Packin’ Parson” J.Q.L. Spracklin. The structure of the book as a collection of free-standing yarns means you can pick it up and dip into it whenever you like. Keep it on your nightstand, in your desk at work, or on a shelf in your loo.

Outlaws of the Lakes is an enjoyable piece of amateur history, and has some great illustrations in it. For anyone interested in true crime tales or the lesser-known aspects of Prohibition history, this book will be a treat. Copies can be purchased online here.

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Idiot’s Guide to Homebrewing

EPSON MFP image
Source: AlcoholReviews.com

Want to learn to homebrew? Then get this book. The author, Daniel Ironside, is an experienced homebrewer. The book lays out in straightforward and lucid prose the what and how of making beer from the simplest recipes (Summertime Blonde) to more complex iterations (Munich Dunkel).

Critically (yes. we’re serious), you can open this book and set it on the counter and it will stay open—which is important when you are stirring wort.

You can nab a copy for cheap here.

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