Monday, December 29, 2008

Post-Christmas Post


Holly Jolly Roger

2 oz. Cruzan blackstrap rum
2 oz. spiced apple cider
½ oz. Torani hazelnut syrup
¼ tsp. absinthe (La Fee works well)

Combine everything in a shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

I’m late to the party again. Normally I’d post about a Santa-inspired drink before the 25th of December, but all the holiday prep (and maybe a few parties) conspired to keep my productivity at staggeringly low levels this Yule.

But some good came of it. At one of the aforementioned parties I got to spring the above recipe on a group of unsuspecting revelers. They seemed to like it, so I figured it’d be worth reproducing here.

If you choose to make it, enjoy it while pondering why Santa Claus may just be a pirate.

At first glance, it may not seem that Santa Claus and pirates have much in common. But closer inspection reveals that the two share quite a bit more than initially meets the eye. Am I suggesting that a beloved holiday figure is barely any different than a bloodthirsty brigand? Certainly not. But I have noticed there are some startling parallels. I submit the following:

1) Beards. As anyone who has seen pirate movies can attest, buccaneers love beards. Santa’s got one too.

2) Swag. Any pirate worth his salt has a sack full of treasure somewhere. Kris Kringle is almost always depicted with bag of goodies as well.

3) Flamboyant clothing. Pirates are noted for dressing stylishly, and Santa is no slouch in that department either. With his bright red suit, flashy hat and leather accessories, he’d be right at home on board any privateer vessel. Speaking of vessels…

4) Mode of transport. Not only do pirates dress well, they travel in style too- Only the sleekest, speediest craft will do. And to top it off, these ships are bristling with weaponry. Not to be outdone, Father Christmas has a flying sleigh powered by magical livestock. No cannons, but who needs ’em when you can go airborne in seconds and outrun pretty much anything?

5) Crew. Pirates rarely work alone. Even the most resourceful scalliwag wouldn’t get far without a gang of like-minded mates along for backup. St. Nick has his crew also. Those li’l guys with the pointy hats and curly shoes may not go along on the mission, but they do all the invaluable preparations that allow The Man With The Bag to get things done.

6) Covert Operations. Pirates often commit their deeds undercover of night and with great speed and stealth. Santa has this down to a science, invading a staggering number of homes in a short amount of time, leaving nary a trace.

7) Headquarters. By necessity, pirates must choose remote, often difficult-to-access locations from which to stage their campaigns and store supplies. Likewise, the exact whereabouts of Santa’s base of operations is known to almost no one, and exists in a far-flung region that only the most intrepid soul would even attempt to find (and likely at great personal peril due to the harsh climate).

8) Grog. It’s not much of a leap from “Yo Ho Ho” to “Ho Ho Ho.” While there may not be documented evidence of Mr. Claus openly swigging from a rum bottle, I think his rosy cheeks and jolly demeanor suggest there’s more than hot chocolate in his mug.

In closing, I must stress the Santa/pirate correlation is purely speculative. In fact, there is ample evidence indicating that Santa Claus is a force for good, benevolently spreading both material wealth and goodwill with equal enthusiasm. Nonetheless, I recommend staying vigilant during the holidays. Brace yourself with strong drink if the situation warrants.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Father - Son Duo Invades Boozefest!!!


Good thing: My father likes Bourbon.

Not So Good Thing: He has been drinking one brand exclusively for many, many years.

That second one may be on the verge of changing. Recently my father said to me, “You know, I’d really like to have someone line up a bunch of different Bourbons so I could see what the differences in taste are.” The timing of that remark couldn‘t have been better, given that the Pittsburgh Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival was mere weeks away.

Cut to Heinz Field, home of the venerable Steelers. Normally that place is crammed full of arguably the most zealous, old-school smashmouth NFL fans you’ll find anywhere.* But that night there was no one bleeding black-and-gold, no ferociously swirling Terrible Towels, and certainly no beer. That night Heinz Field was about whiskey (and other fine spirits, according to the promotional materials).

No, the normal “Tailgating begins at sunrise” crowd that fills the parking lot every game day was replaced by a well-behaved gaggle of liquor enthusiasts patiently awaiting entry. Upon entering, we were promptly whisked via elevator to a spacious, posh lounge area lined end-to-end with tables bearing a variety of adult beverages being simultaneously pimped and consumed.

The crowd was well-dressed, conducted themselves appropriately, and gave off an upscale vibe, so I recognized right away I was completely out of my element. But I was not going to let the conspicuous lack of Hawaiian shirts and keg cups stand in the way of my mission. There was serious sampling to be undertaken.

But rather than unspool some lengthy blow-by-blow narrative, I’ll simply hit the highlights in the itemized list format that’s become so popular these days. Clip n’ save for future reference!

~ Heeding Paul Clarke’s sage advice, we hit the Sazerac table first. As predicted, pretty much everything there was amazing. Their Antique Collection (George T. Stagg Bourbon, Thomas Handy Rye, Eagle Rare Single Barrel Bourbon, etc.,) is impeccable. If you find it, buy it.

Also, the Buffalo Trace Bourbon was top-notch, and upon tasting the 20 year-old Van Winkle Reserve, my father’s assessment was, “Well after that, it’s all pretty much downhill isn’t it?” (we carried on nonetheless)

~ I focused mainly on American whiskies, but took an occasional detour. One of these was to try New Amsterdam gin, which is clean, soft, and has an appealing citrus aspect. Also, it’s a total steal for the price.

~ My father branched out a bit more than I did, and among the non-whiskey offerings he enjoyed was Marie Brizard’s Parfait Amour and Kubler absinthe, served up complete with the whole fountain & sugar cube tomfoolery. The green fairy may very well have an new devotee.

~ One of the more distinctive whiskies being presented was Penderyn Single Malt Welsh Whiskey. My father loved it, and I thought it wasn’t bad either. I’m too much of a whiskey novice to fully articulate a flavor profile, but suffice to say it tasted like no other whiskey I’ve had (and I mean that in a good way).

~ Speaking of single malts, Michael Collins Irish Whiskey is a nifty product, and if you’re a fan of that category, I’d suggest giving it a go, if for no other reason than it’s powerful oaky finish. It’s probably blasphemous to say so, but I’d love to experiment with mixing this stuff to showcase that woody aspect somehow.

~ I also dipped into some Scotch: The Glenrothes Select Reserve wasn’t really my bag of beans, but the Tomatin Single Malt 18 yr. old has a very good shot at ending up in my liquor closet if I can track some down.

~ Dad also snuck in a few sips of Patron, which appears to have undone decades of Tequila prejudice on his part. I know Patron takes some abuse for its marketing methods and price point, but that aside, I think it’s a perfectly decent-tasting Tequila and worth the occasional splurge.

~ Vodka: There was an ocean of this stuff available. Why anyone would go to a whiskey-centric event and drink vodka is a mystery, but it was happening all around me.

Overall, it was a tremendous event. I saw smiling faces everywhere, and there seemed to be a lot of people genuinely interested in seeking out good product (as opposed to simply seeing how much booze they could absorb in a 3-hour window) The only “downside” to the whole event was that there was just too much to reasonably (and safely) sample in a single evening.

Which is why I really hope they do it again next year.

* I realize Packers fans may dispute this claim, but sorry, the Steeler Nation gets the edge here. And to any Raiders fans who may feel slighted, please note that “batshit crazy” is not the same thing as “diehard fan.” Turning your stadium into a GWAR concert every Sunday doesn’t automatically translate into a deep, abiding love for your team.