How to Make Hot Buttered Rum

Confession: This blog post is not new. Well, the pictures are, but the original post was written in 2014 when I was a new blogger...and incredibly frustrated with my photography skills. I wanted to share this recipe with y'all again since it is my Christmas cocktail staple, but the original blog post was just too cute to revise. So if you've been along this blogging journey with me for a few years now, hopefully you can appreciate the nostalgia of what you're about to read as much as I do. Just a couple things are different now...Andrew and I are of course married, we live in our new (old) house with a REAL fireplace, and we no longer have to dream about snow...this time of year we get plenty of it in our new hometown of Reno. Enjoy the post, and enjoy your hot buttered rum.

Get this easy, warming, festive hot buttered rum into your belly right now! Recipe for hot buttered rum on CaretoPair.com

Hot Butt Rum, Hot Butt Rum, na-na-na-na na-na-na-na Hot Butt Rum.

That is the tune that Andrew sings every time he makes me Hot Buttered Rum, replacing the lyrics of "Hot Cross Buns". He actually does this quite frequently, replacing lyrics to songs, especially around Christmas time. His favorite one (and secretly mine too) is replacing "kids jingle-belling and Dani Grams yelling" during the "most wonderful time of the year" song.  I gotta love our relationship. :)

Here in Las Vegas, we have to force ourselves into the holidays spirit. For those of us used to crappy, cold weather and dreary days around Christmas time, its difficult even after 10 years to adjust to the endless sunny days, palm trees, cacti, and warm daytime temperatures of the desert.

Get this easy, warming, festive hot buttered rum into your belly right now! Recipe for hot buttered rum on CaretoPair.com

Despite having gotten our Christmas tree in t-shirts this year, our holiday season has been merry and bright thanks to one seasonally special drink: hot buttered rum. An irresistible cocktail with a funny name, this has been Andrew’s and my favorite holiday drink for the last few years. This is the go-to holiday concoction if you’re looking for something sweet and warming but don’t want the heaviness you’d get from creamy drinks like eggnog or baileys.

Get this easy, warming, festive hot buttered rum into your belly right now! Recipe for hot buttered rum on CaretoPair.com

No matter how hot it may still be outside, a glass of hot buttered rum makes me want to snuggle in front of the (dvd) fireplace with the illusion that its snowy and cold out. And it’s a great one for your holiday guests—who doesn’t like butter, and who doesn’t like rum? You may get the occasional friend or family member who will look at you when you offer one with the look on their face like “butter in a cocktail??” You may even be thinking that right now. But trust me, this cocktail will be the hit while you’re decorating, while you’re eating cookies, while you’re opening presents…the opportunities are endless!

 Merry Christmas! I hope this cocktail enhances all the cheer in your home for the holidays!

Hot Buttered Rum Recipe

Author: Dani (CaretoPair.com)

Total time: 5 mins

Serves: 1

Ingredients

  • 1/2 Cup unsalted butter, softened (1 stick)
  • 2 Cups light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1 pinch salt
  • dark rum (we often use spiced!)
  • hot water

Instructions

  1. With an electric mixer, blend butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt together in a medium bowl. Place in a sealable container and put in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  2. For each cocktail you make, spoon 1 Tablespoon of the butter mixture into a small mug. Top with 2-3 oz of dark rum, then fill the rest of the mug with hot water. Mix the contents of the mug together with a spoon or small whisk.
  3. Keep the butter mixture in the fridge and use whenever you are in the mood for another hot buttered rum! (Makes about 12 drinks total)
Get this easy, warming, festive hot buttered rum into your belly right now! Recipe for hot buttered rum on CaretoPair.com

Salted Caramel Apple Flip

The Salted Caramel Apple Flip Cocktail using Stoli salted caramel vodka, simple syrup, and an egg white. One of the best cocktails for fall! CaretoPair.com
The Salted Caramel Apple Flip Cocktail using Stoli salted caramel vodka, simple syrup, and an egg white. One of the best cocktails for fall! CaretoPair.com

This Salted Caramel Apple Flip cocktail is one of the best drinks to bring in the chilly season! Made with Salted Caramel vodka and apple spice syrup, its the best dessert cocktail you'll have all fall.

I really hate talking about the weather but I just have to give you a little Reno weather update--last week it was 90 degrees and the thought of pumpkin-spice-anything seemed wrong. Last night IT SNOWED. And I mean snowed. I shoveled 2 inches of snow off my car this morning.

Let's just say Reno likes to be very clear when the seasons are changing. It'll be back in the 70s in a few days, but this snow served as a reminder that summer is definitely over. Thanks, October!

The Salted Caramel Apple Flip Cocktail using Stoli salted caramel vodka, simple syrup, and an egg white. One of the best cocktails for fall! CaretoPair.com
The Salted Caramel Apple Flip Cocktail using Stoli salted caramel vodka, simple syrup, and an egg white. One of the best cocktails for fall! CaretoPair.com

So I've decided to welcome autumn with a little salted caramel apple cocktail. This baby is better than dessert, y'all. I'm simply in love. For those of you that know me well, you know you'll never see me at a bar ordering sweet froo-froo cocktails made from some crazy flavored vodka. But that's exactly what this cocktail is and I love it.

A little backstory--a week ago I saw that October 3rd is National Vodka Day. Usually I don't care about these national-whatever-days (because there seems to be one every week!) but I decided to take on the challenge. After all, I am not a big vodka drinker and the only post I've ever done on vodka is the gypsy queen (back when my blog was a whole 6 months old...don't mind the pictures!).

I tell Andrew about my challenge...which really just means its his challenge since he's the bartender in this household...and he immediately goes through our pitiful vodka stash. He takes out the Stoli Salted Caramel flavored vodka. My first thought? "Absolutely Not".

Then he makes me this sweet, caramelly, rich, better-than-any-dessert cocktail using some homemade apple simple syrup we had made, an egg white, and garnished it with some walnuts. And allllll my reservations about flavored vodka went out the window.

The Salted Caramel Apple Flip Cocktail using Stoli salted caramel vodka, simple syrup, and an egg white. One of the best cocktails for fall! CaretoPair.com
The Salted Caramel Apple Flip Cocktail using Stoli salted caramel vodka, simple syrup, and an egg white. One of the best cocktails for fall! CaretoPair.com

For all my vodka-haters out there, stop hatin. Even if you don't generally care for sweet, dessert-style cocktails, give this one a try. Trust me, I am the queeeeeeen of hating on flavored vodka and sweet drinks but I have been stopped in my tracks with this one!

The Recipe

This cocktail takes a little bit of work to get there, but once you have all your ingredients, it is super simple to make. First, buy the Stoli Salted Caramel Vodka if you don't already randomly have it in your bar inventory (and if you do, I applaud you...I have no idea where ours came from). Then, make the simple syrup (recipe follows). The simple syrup isn't hard to make but you'll have to wait a whole two hours for it to infuse, so maybe make this before you plan on drinking. Then all you need is an egg white and some chopped walnuts and you've got yourself a cocktail! Don't be thrown off by the egg white in this recipe, by the way. Egg whites are common in many cocktails to make them frothy. This cocktail wouldn't be called a flip if you didn't add it!

Salted Caramel Apple Flip

Recipe Type

:

Cocktail

Cuisine:

Fall Cocktails

Author:

Dani (CaretoPair.com)

Prep time:

5 mins

Cook time:

5 mins

Total time:

10 mins

Serves:

1

This Salted Caramel Apple Flip is the perfect way to welcome chilly weather!

Ingredients

  • 2 oz Stolichinaya Salted Caramel Vodka
  • 1 oz apple spice simple syrup (recipe follows)
  • 1 egg white
  • chopped walnuts, to garnish

Instructions

  1. Pour vodka, simple syrup, and egg white into an ice-filled cocktail shaker.
  2. Shake vigorously for 1 minute.
  3. Strain into a martini glass and sprinkle with chopped walnuts as a garnish.

3.5.3208

To Make the Apple Spice Simple Syrup:

1 cup water 1 cup sugar 1 apple, cored and diced 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Add sugar and water to a pot and bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Once the sugar is dissolved, take the pot off heat and add the diced apple and cinnamon. Let steep for 2 hours. Strain the mixture through a fine strainer. Store in the refrigerator.

The Salted Caramel Apple Flip Cocktail using Stoli salted caramel vodka, simple syrup, and an egg white. One of the best cocktails for fall! 

The Salted Caramel Apple Flip Cocktail using Stoli salted caramel vodka, simple syrup, and an egg white. One of the best cocktails for fall! 

The Chapala Cocktail

If you're like me and get sick of Margaritas really fast, here's a new option for you. The Chapala is a tequila-based cocktail using fresh oranges and lemons perfectly intertwined with tequila and Cointreau.

We all know about margaritas, we all know about tequila sunrises, but what if you want to try a different tequila-based cocktail? That's how I was feeling yesterday when I found this little recipe for the Chapala Cocktail. To say I'm a fanatic about orange flavors in my drinks is an understatement--I'm flat out obsessed. Blame it on my love for the Old Fashioned Cocktail or my association with oranges and warm weather (which, I know, oranges are in season in the winter). Oranges must be in stock at my house at all times for all these cocktails I'm making.

Needless to say, when I was in the mood for a new tequila drink and found the Chapala recipe that called for fresh oranges and Cointreau (an orange-based aperitif), within minutes I was ready for this new concoction. Don't mind the girly pink color, that's from the grenadine! The Chapala is refreshing and integrates the flavors of tequila well instead of hiding them like so many other tequila drinks do. Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think of it below in the comments!

Here's a little lesson of tequila, if you care to learn more.

The Chapala Cocktail

  • 1 1/2 oz silver tequila
  • 1/2 tsp Cointreau (or triple sec)
  • 1 oz fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz grenadine
  • orange slice, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Fill a double old-fashioned glass with ice
  2. In an ice-filled cocktail shaker, shake the first 5 ingredients vigorously. Strain into the double old-fashioned glass
  3. Garnish with the orange slice

 

Thirsty for more? Check out the Oaxaca Old Fashioned or Gimlet Cocktail.

The Foghorn Cocktail

The Foghorn Cocktail; It's like a moscow mule with gin! CaretoPair.com

Simply made with fresh lime, gin, and ginger beer, the Foghorn Cocktail is one of the classics. Think of this as the gin version of the currently popular moscow mule--sans fancy copper mug.

This cocktail goes out to all you vodka drinkers that loooooove your moscow mules. How in the world has that drink become so popular? Could it be the fancy copper mug? Nope. Its because its a legitimate cocktail that got everyone off of vodka-redbulls and rum and cokes. Its a fancier option that will have even the pickiest drinker able to enjoy a libation other than a cake-shot...or whatever we used to order at bars. Okay, off the vodka tangent--this drink is about gin.

The Foghorn Cocktail: Gin, Lime Juice, and Ginger Beer | CaretoPair.com

So I hate to have to call The Foghorn Cocktail the "gin" version of a moscow mule. But since most of us are familiar with the moscow mule, its an easy connection.

If you are a vodka drinker and want to branch out into the beautiful world of gin, this is your new drink! Let's face it, ginger beer dominates any cocktail it's a part of. If you don't think you like gin yet, this is the cocktail to try it in. The gin flavors will be subtle as the ginger beer will take center stage. The squeeze of the fresh lime over the top will have you focusing on how refreshing the drink is. You may not even notice that there's a difference than your regular vodka-made moscow mule. But let me assure you, the Foghorn will have more flavor.

The Foghorn Cocktail: Gin, Lime Juice, Ginger Beer | CaretoPair.com

The Foghorn Cocktail originally called for Old Tom gin which is a sweeter style of the very popular London Dry style. You won't find too many Old Toms these days, however I have a bottle of Tanqueray Old Tom which is on a limited release (so buy one if you see one). Any London Dry Gin will do as well, so pick your favorite. This is a great little libation if you're feeling extra-lazy as it doesn't require any muddling, shaking, or straining. Just measure out your gin, pour your ginger beer, and squeeze a fresh lime over the top! Boom. You have yourself a cocktail.

The Foghorn Cocktail | CaretoPair.com

The Foghorn Cocktail

Ingredients

  • 2 oz gin
  • 1/2 oz fresh lime juice (squeeze from a lime)
  • ginger beer
  • lime wedge, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Pour the gin and lime juice into an ice-filled old fashioned glass (or low ball, or whatever you have)
  2. Top with ginger beer and give it a quick, gentle stir
  3. Squeeze the lime wedge over the drink and drop it in. Enjoy your new cocktail.

The Old Fashioned Cocktail

The Old Fashioned Cocktail made with Bourbon, Orange, and Simple Syrup | CaretoPair.com

We live in a great time for cocktails, don’t we? Its the 21st century with bartenders who actually know how to make a drink. We have countless options when it comes to choosing what kind of spirit we want in our cocktail, and there decades-worth of the best recipes to choose from. It’s a great time to be over 21, my friends.

I love going to my favorite mixology bar and ordering whatever smoked, herb-infused, ingredient-I’ve-never-heard-of cocktail my bartender has concocted that evening. Lately, however, I’ve been going back to the classics. Some cocktails have stood the test of time for a reason--they are straightforward, uncomplicated, and showcase a spirit the way it is intended to be showcased.

Enter the Old Fashioned, one of the most classic of the classics. The Old Fashioned has always been my go-to cocktail and always will be (at least I hope). Everyone needs a go-to cocktail. It's the drink you can order at a bar when you have no idea what else to order. It's got to be your comfort zone.

It Runs in the Family

My mom was so happy to hear that the Old Fashioned is my favorite cocktail. I vividly remember her shrieking with excitement saying “that was your Grandfather’s drink!”. Apparently, as a kid my mom would make her dad an old fashioned every day after work. She says “he’d walk through the door and I’d have an old fashioned waiting for him”. First of all, way to be awesome, Grandpa. Second, kudos to my mom for knowing how to make a cocktail as a kid. Those were the days…

The Old Fashioned Cocktail: Bourbon, Orange, Maraschino, and Simple Syrup | CaretoPair.com

Ordering an Old Fashioned is perfect if you want to get into bourbon…but don’t particularly enjoy it. The orange and simple syrup (yes, I use simple syrup instead of sugar and water) sweeten up the flavor and hide the heat a bit. Plus, if you’re at a bar with no menu and you don’t want to be boring and order that vodka-soda or whatever, most bartenders know how to make an old fashioned, even at the holiest of hole-in-the-wall bars. Better yet, this is a great cocktail for your home bar, as it requires hardly any ingredients. Just make sure you keep a steady inventory of oranges and maraschino cherries on your grocery list so you too can enjoy an old fashioned while waiting for dinner to cook.

The Old Fashioned Cocktail Made with Bourbon, Orange, and Simple Syrup | CaretoPair.com
The Old Fashioned Cocktail Made with Bourbon, Orange, and Simple Syrup | CaretoPair.com

The Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned and Manhattan are the two most famous cocktails associated with bourbon (I also enjoy a fresh mint julep in the summer). The Old Fashioned was first concocted in the Louisville Pendennis Club in the 1880s where a member didn’t like bourbon, but didn’t want to offend his friends who were distillers. The bartender came up with the Old Fashioned to fix the situation, and the patrons loved it. The Old Fashioned became such a success throughout the years that it eventually even got its own specific glass—the double low-ball glass we make so many drinks from is also referred to as an “old fashioned glass”.

Note: Definitely use your favorite bourbon in this cocktail, but if you're just starting out, Evan Williams makes a pretty sweet old fashioned (literally). And its my favorite value-bourbon when I'm not feeling fancy.

Ingredients

  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 2 oz water
  • 1 Tbsp simple syrup
  • 6 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 orange wedge
  • 1 red Maraschino cherry

Instructions

  1. Measure out the simple syrup and bitters into an old-fashioned glass (or whatever glass you have, of course). Add the orange wedge and cherry and muddle, releasing the aromas and juices but not pulverizing the fruit.
  2. Add a few ice cubes, 2 oz bourbon and 2 oz water. Stir to combine. Garnish with an orange wedge or additional cherry.

 

The Old Fashioned Cocktail | CaretoPair.com

The Andalucia Cocktail: Paired with Chorizo and Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates

In collaboration with my favorite Paleo Blog, South of Vanilla, we bring you this impeccable appetizer and cocktail pairing, perfect to kick off any holiday party!

Friends, I cannot believe it has taken me this long to share this cocktail with you. Of all the (new age) cocktails of the world, this one is my favorite. And I know, that's saying a lot! When I first tried the Andalucia in the Downtown Cocktail Room in Las Vegas, my world was changed. Andrew and I raved about it to friends. We kept going back for more. It was such a unique concoction. Then, a few months later, they shared the recipe in a local newspaper. I immediately wrote it down on whatever piece of scrap paper I could find--and I still have it.

This had to have been about 4 years ago now. Since Downtown Cocktail Room changes their menu seasonally, the Andalucia cocktail is long gone. But it still reigns as the seasonal winter cocktail in our house!

The Andalucia Cocktail

What makes this drink so special? Let's just start with the garnish, shall we? This cocktail comes with a slice of manchego cheese and golden raisins. What cocktail have you ever had that is garnished with CHEESE? Besides that, the drink itself is concocted from cream sherry, Nocello (walnut liqueur), and sherry vinegar. Think of a slightly sweet, slightly warming, nutty cocktail that is perfect for the chilliest of nights.

Now, these are all ingredients that I don't necessarily expect you to have just lying around the house. But its soooo worth it to buy them just to make this drink. Trust me on this one.

The Pairing

When Kristina gave me the recipe for her chorizo and goat cheese stuffed dates with honey balsamic drizzle, I was stumped on what to pair it with. These lovely little appetizers are sweet, spicy, fatty and acidic all at the same time. Wine was out of the question and beer was skeptical. But then I realized these would be perfect for cocktail hour, and so is the Andalucia. Winner!

By the way, the chorizo and goat cheese stuffed dates were a cinch to make. They also made me feel super fancy while sipping my Andalucia. This combination will be really great to welcome your guests at your next holiday party this season. Its also a great end to the night, especially if you're a fan of having cocktails for dessert.

To get Kristina's recipe for chorizo and goat cheese stuffed dates with honey balsamic drizzle, click here.

The Andalucia Cocktail

Ingredients

  • 2 oz Cream Sherry
  • 1 oz Nocello (walnut liqueur)
  • 1/4 tsp Sherry Vinegar
  • 4 golden raisins, for garnish
  • 1 small wedge of manchego cheese, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Fill a martini glass with ice and water and allow it to chill while you prepare the cocktail
  2. Place a few ice cubes into a cocktail shaker and add the cream sherry, nocello, and sherry vinegar. Stir with the ice until chilled.
  3. Dump out the ice and water in the martini glass. Strain the contents of the cocktail shaker (leave out the ice) into the chilled martini glass.
  4. Place 2 golden raisins, then the wedge of manchego, then the last 2 raisins onto a cocktail pick. Serve over the martini glass and enjoy!

Happy Pairing!

Alaskan Brewing Heritage Coffee Brown Ale Paired with Coffee-Rub Steak

Beer? Coffee? Steak? Yes please.

A few weeks ago, I received a treat in the mail.

It was the new "Pilot Series" release from Alaskan Brewery: a Heritage Coffee Brown Ale. Plus I got a packet of coffee beans from Heritage Coffee Roasting Co. (also from Juneau, Alaska) which were the same blend used to make the beer.

I'm not a coffee drinker, but I have enjoyed some coffee stouts and porters in the past. But a coffee brown ale? I had never seen one before. I was immediately intrigued by this new style.

Andrew and I opened up the bottle to taste it. Since I'm not a coffee drinker, I didn't really know what to expect. Sometimes coffee stouts and porters accentuate coffee flavors so much that it turns out too roasted, too intense, and sometimes even on the edge of burnt and bitter.These attributes are usually too much for me. The Alaskan Coffee Brown Ale had none of these overpowering attributes. Because its a brown ale, everything is scaled back and the true essence of the coffee beans take center stage.  I was pleasantly surprised and never thought I would enjoy something so coffee-flavored before!

After doing a bit of research, I learned that Alaskan Brewing made the beer by roasting some of the malt for it in the coffee roaster used at Heritage Coffee company. Since malt roasts at a much lower temperature than coffee beans, they had to be very careful not to start a fire. Doing this clearly was well worth it!

The Pairing

I made Andrew go to the store and buy two more bottles of the Alaskan Coffee Brown Ale so we could play around with them. I wanted to pair our next bottle with a nice batch of brownies, but he had the idea of using the coffee beans to make a coffee-rub steak. Winner!

I often warn people about pairing flavors in drinks with the same exact flavors in food. For example, I once made some spicy tacos and paired them with a chile-flavored beer. On its own, the beer was amazing. But with the food, it didn't taste like anything. Quite often if you pair food and drinks together with too-similar flavors, they'll end up cancelling each other out.

I was afraid that would happen to this meal, but that was not the case! In fact, giving the steak a little coffee flavor with the rub accentuated the Alaskan Coffee Brown Ale just perfectly. Nothing about either was too overwhelming for its partner.

If you live in a state that carries Alaskan Brewery beers, I strongly suggest treating yourself to this Coffee Brown Ale! Like I said, I don't even drink coffee, yet I loved this beer. It goes great with steak but will also pair nicely with anything that you'd eat with coffee. Beer for breakfast, anyone?

Side note, this beer is a limited release so if you're not reading this in the fall/wintertime, it might not be available for purchase. But you can sub a different coffee-flavored beer in if you'd like.

Coffee Rubbed Steak with Alaskan Brewing Coffee Brown Ale | CaretoPair.com
Coffee Rubbed Steak with Alaskan Brewing Coffee Brown Ale | CaretoPair.com

The Recipe

Andrew created this simple rub by grinding the coffee beans down to espresso and adding other ingredients to complement the steak. We didn't want to make things too spicy, which might contrast with the beer, so we kept the cayenne pepper low. If you prefer a bit more spice, feel free to add more cayenne to the rub. To cook your steaks, we suggest following our recipe for the reverse-sear method. Its the only way we make steak anymore because they turn out perfectly every time!

Rub recipe adapted from food.com.

Coffee-Rub for Steaks

Serves: 4 Steaks

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp finely ground espresso
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (or sea salt)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper, freshly ground
  • 1 1⁄2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix. Coat your steaks on all sides with the mixture and rub in well.
  2. Follow our instructions for reverse-seared steak (link above) or cook normally to your own preferred method.

Happy Pairing!

Wine Pairing: Cedar Plank Salmon with Garlic Basil Aioli

This recipe pairing is inspired by the incredible experience I had last year at Oregon Pinot Camp. Can you guess what wine I paired it with?! Read on to discover this awesome dish and my love for Oregon wines.

Last summer I attended Oregon Pinot Camp (OPC) 2014 and it was INCREDIBLE. I may not have shown it much on the blog yet but I am absolutely in love with Oregon wine. Its perhaps my favorite region to visit in the US and the wines are some of my favorite to promote. Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are the two most planted grape varietals from there, but personally I'm a huge fan of their Chardonnay. More of that on another post though.

Pinot Camp elevated my love for Oregon to a whole new level. From camp, I learned just how much the wineries stick together and promote one another. Instead of competing with each other for wine sales, they understand that if they support the region as a whole, everyone will be successful. So sweet!

Oregon Wine Regions Plus a Pinot Noir Salmon Pairing | CaretoPair.com
Oregon Wine Regions Plus a Pinot Noir Salmon Pairing | CaretoPair.com

Oregon Pinot Noir

Oregon Pinot is different. Or should I say...different than what we're used to. The trend these days seems to be big, juicy, over-extracted, high-alcohol Pinot Noir. Personally I don't understand it--why not just drink a bottle of syrah if you're going down that route? Since Oregon has a very cool climate for grape-growing, their Pinot Noir generally can't get that ripe and juicy. The result? Very light, aromatic wines with great acidity and medium alcohol. Which means these wines go great with food.

Common Descriptors of Oregon Pinot Noir:

  •  Red Cherry
  • Strawberry
  • Cranberry
  • Mushroom
  • Potting Soil
  • Dried Leaves

Speaking of food, I had a revelation towards salmon while at Pinot Camp (FINALLY I tell you why I'm featuring Salmon but talking about Oregon in this post!). Long terrorized by the worst salmon my Mom had ever made me eat as a kid, baked with ZERO seasonings, its the truth when I say I have never been a fan of the fish. Its just so...fishy. On the last night of Pinot Camp, however, the wineries hosted a traditional Oregon salmon bake. It was a crazy party and the best salmon I've ever had. Check out that fire!

OPC Oregon PInot Camp Salmon Bake 2014 Recipe and Wine Pairing | CaretoPair.com
OPC Oregon PInot Camp Salmon Bake 2014 Recipe and Wine Pairing | CaretoPair.com

As you can see in the picture, they get this huge fire going and hang the salmon fillets on wooden spikes. Let me tell you, that fire was HOT. We tried to roast marshmallows on it after dinner and no one could get near it.

The salmon was fantastic just in the way it was prepared, but what I really fell in love with was the garlic basil aioli they served it with. So much that I told myself that I would make a blog post about it. A year later, I finally did it!

The Pairing

Obviously if salmon is a traditional dish of Oregon, its a natural match for Pinot Noir. Salmon is a heavy, oily fish that can stand up to red wine better than most fish. However, since Oregon Pinot Noir is not a heavy red wine, it does not overwhelm the fish like other reds would. The garlic and basil in the aioli can be difficult ingredients to pair with wine, but the herbal characteristics in Oregon Pinot complement those flavors. On top of all that, the char you get on the salmon and all those delicious flavors from the cedar plank resonate with the fruit in the wine, tying the whole meal together.

My favorite Oregon Pinot Noirs (it was so hard to only pick a few!)

  • Adelsheim Vineyards
  • Benton-Lane Winery
  • Cooper Mountain Vineyards
  • Domaine Drouhin
  • Domaine Serene
  • Elk Cove Vineyards
  • Panther Creek
  • Penner-Ash Cellars
  • Roco Winery
  • Soter Vineyards

Okay lets be honest...I love them all.

The Recipe

This recipe does not require a huge fire in your backyard like the one above (although that would be awesome if you had that setup). To make the salmon in a similar way, all you have to do is buy a cedar plank from the grocery store. These planks are usually right in the seafood section for your convenience! We served the salmon with a delicious homemade rice pilaf and grilled summer squash. Its a beautiful and delicious weekend meal for date-night in.

Cedar Plank Salmon with Garlic Basil Aioli

Author: Dani 

Prep time: 2 hours 15 mins

Cook time: 40 mins

Total time: 2 hours 55 mins

Serves: 2

Garlic-Basil Aioli Inspired by selfproclaimedfoodie.com

Ingredients

  • 1 Wild Caught Salmon Fillet (skin-on okay)
  • olive oil
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp garlic, minced (about 3 cloves)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 Cup basil leaves
  • 1/4 Cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 Cup vegetable oil

Instructions

  1. Soak the cedar plank in water or wine (to give it some flavor) for 2 hours (or at least 20 minutes). The longer the better on this one
  2. Preheat a gas grill to high. After 15 minutes, reduce it to medium low
  3. To make the garlic aioli: combine the minced garlic, yolks, lemon juice, and basil leaves in a food processor; pulse to combine. Slowly add the olive oil and vegetable oil in a small stream while processor is running. Combine the black pepper, smoked paprika, and garlic salt in a small bowl
  4. Rinse the salmon thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels. Brush it with the olive oil, then with the black pepper, paprika, and garlic salt mixture
  5. Place the salmon onto the cedar plank, skin-side down (we had to use two planks since our salmon was so big!)
  6. Place the salmon on the plank onto the grill grates and cook for about 30-40 minutes. When the salmon is cooked through but slightly pink in the middle, it is done. Try not to lift the lid during the cooking process until you think the salmon might be done--it is tempting, but lifting the lid will let the smoke and heat escape, cooking the salmon inconsistently.

Okay....one more picture. This was the sunset as seen from Anne Amie Vineyards. Sooooo beautiful.

Willamette Valley Sunset | CaretoPair.com
Willamette Valley Sunset | CaretoPair.com

Happy Pairing!

Oaxaca Old Fashioned

This version of the Old Fashioned uses both tequila and mezcal to create a refreshing cocktail perfect for Cinco de Mayo!

Andrew and I FINALLY bought our first bottle of mezcal just last week...and its already almost gone. The motive for buying it, of course, was to create this awesome recipe in collaboration with South of Vanilla's Grain-free tequila lime bars for cinco de mayo, and let me tell you, orange and lime? A weird combination. Not sure about that pairing haha. Regardless, this is a great cocktail, and I had to share it with you. If you're looking for some tasty dessert for cinco (after you make these awesome southwestern sweet potatoes), have yourself some salted tequila lime bars...and my Oaxaca Old Fashioned.

Mezcal is already making waves as the next big thing in the spirits world. Relatively rare in this country, the majority of Mezcals being imported are well-crafted, boutique-y expressions.  Mixologists are having a field day crafting new cocktails from this smoky, unique-tasting version of our commonly-known tequila. And drinkers that want to be drinking something "trendy" that no one knows about yet have hit a gold mine!

What is Mezcal again?

Why is mezcal fairly rare in this country? Well for one, it has always been looked down upon compared to the ever-popular tequila in both Mexico and America. Although historically cheaper, many mezcals today stand up in quality to the finest tequilas, thanks to the recent movement in small-batch mezcals and craft distilleries. My last post highlighted the differences between mezcal and tequila and why the latter is vastly superior in popularity. In a nutshell, tequila has very strict regulations as far as what it is made from and how it is made. Mezcal, on the other hand, can be made from any agave plant. It is the original form of tequila, back in the day when distillers had to heat the agaves over direct fire (giving it that smoky taste). Mezcals often have a worm in the bottle, which yes you're supposed to eat but...I don't think I could...

Most mezcals are made in Oaxaca, and many brands have emerged as boutique expressions of the local culture. Just as tequila has become very exclusive and specialized, most mezcals we see in America are just as unique and of high-quality, which is why the majority you'll see have high price tags attached to them.

The Oaxaca Old Fashioned

Anyway, this cocktail is no joke. Its not hard to make, but you do need some different ingredients I bet you don't have in your bar right now (and if you do, congrats to you!). First weird ingredient--agave nectar. This can be found at any grocery store. Second ingredient--chocolate bitters (or mole bitters). These bitters are awesome and can make a ton of fun different drinks. Find them at your local specialty liquor store, if you are near one. Luckily, they can also be bought online (thank you internet!). Third weird ingredient--mezcal. I'm not going to lie, these aren't widely available either. Up here in Reno, Total Wine had 3 options. My biggest advice is if you have a nice selection, go and buy the $30-$50 mezcal. You won't regret it, and there is a huge difference between those and the selections of "value". Same goes for tequila.

One last thing--mezcal in Mexico is usually drank straight, not in cocktails. If you are a scotch lover, you will love the similar smokiness you get from mezcal. For those of us that don't care for straight spirits or are just adventuring into the world of cocktails, this is a great starting point.


Oaxaca Old Fashioned

Ingredients

  • 1 orange slice
  • ice
  • 1 1/2 oz tequila reposado
  • 1 oz mezcal
  • 3 dashes of aztec chocolate bitters or mole bitters
  • 1 tsp agave nectar

Instructions

  1. Place orange in old fashioned (low ball) glass. Muddle it with a muddler to release aromas/flavors.
  2. Fill glass with ice.
  3. In a separate ice-filled mixing glass, combine remaining ingredidients and stir vigorously until the agave nectar is dissolved. Strain into old fashioned glass.
  4. Garnish with an orange twist and enjoy.

A Lesson on Tequila

Lets talk tequila. My blogging buddy from South of Vanilla just posted this awesome blood orange margarita recipe and admitted she “knows nothing about tequila” which got me thinking—do any of us really know much about tequila? Its one of those spirits we all love to sip in our margaritas on hot days, or our most dreaded shot of choice at the bar, but beyond that, not much thought has gone into this delicious libation.But let me tell you....tequila is freaking awesome.

The fact is, a lot of hard work goes into making tequila. First off, tequila comes from the blue weber agave plant, which looks like a cactus but is actually a succulent, part of the lily family. We had a lot of agaves growing around Las Vegas. Tequila-makers have to wait 8-10 years for this blue agave to ripen (that’s a long time!) then chop off all the spines to reveal the heart, or pina, of the plant. Here’s a few pictures to give you a visual:

Look at how huge those things are! That poor horse! Pinas can actually weigh up to 150 pounds, which is madness. I had no idea it took that long or was that labor-intensive to harvest the fundamental product to make tequila. Anyway, after the pinas are harvested, they are brought to the distillery and cut in half. Then they are cooked in slow-baked ovens for 1-3 days. By baking the pina, it converts the starches of the plant into fermentable sugars, which is what we need to make any sort of liquor. After that, the pina is shredded, fermented in a large tank, and then distilled in either copper, stainless steel stills, or continuous stills.

So what is the difference between mezcal and tequila? Obviously, as I just said, mezcal uses other agaves besides the blue weber variety. Mezcal is also older than tequila in that it was the traditional way of making distilled spirits by roasting the pinas over direct fire which gave them a distinct smokey character. In the 16th century, the best known mezcal was produced in a small town called Tequila (see where this is going?). Perhaps this was so popular, because the weber blue agave grew wild around the town, and the distilleries used it to make their mezcal. All distilleries used the name “tequila” to denote where their tequila came from, so the best of the best soon became affiliated with the name “tequila”.

Then, Don Cenobio Sauza (of Sauza tequila, yes) figured out if he steamed or baked the pinas to make his tequila, they wouldn’t taste smokey anymore. Mexicans went crazy over this new style of tequila, so other distillers followed. Tequila became famous as “the drink of Mexico”, so that is the resulting style we know and drink today!

Categories of Tequila

All tequila is categorized by how it long it has been aged. Just like whiskey and scotch however, the longer it has been aged, the higher its price tag will be. I will admit my tequila collection at home is...pretty pathetic...but that's because good tequila is EXPENSIVE! (blame it on the 150 lb pinas they have to wait 10 years to harvest PLUS that aging time...) My biggest advice? Buy the cheaper silver and gold tequilas for your cocktails, and splurge on a nice anejo if you want to start enjoying the good stuff.

Side note--a few weeks ago I made the terrible mistake of ordering a super sugary margarita that immediately messed with my stomach. My friend ordered me a shot of good tequila in which I sipped on for the next 20 minutes. My stomach immediately settled and I felt better. I had no idea tequila could act as a stomach-settler!

The 5 Categories of Tequila

  • Silver (White) (Blanco)
    • tequila that has not been aged in wooden barrels
    • often the most value-driven, designed for everyday consumption
    • Gold (Young) (Joven)
      • may be aged
      • caramel color, sugar syrup, or oak extract may be added to soften flavor
      • Reposado (Aged Tequila)
        • aged at least 2 months (but up to a year) in oak casks
        • Anejo (Aged Tequila)
          • Aged in oak a minimum of 1 year (and up to 3 years)
          • Extra Anejo (Ultra Aged Tequila)
            • Aged in oak a minimum of 3 years

Kumbocha Gin Rickey Cocktail

Happy New Year everyone! I can't think of any better way to start this blog's new year than to post....a celebratory cocktail!

My great friend Kristi, author of the Paleo Blog South of Vanilla, asked me to do a collaboration post with her on a Kombucha cocktail. So what in the world is Kombucha? When I visited her in DC last winter, it seemed to be all the rage. In short, it is fermented tea. Its very common to make your own using proprietary yeast (much like you would to make your own beer), but you can also buy various flavors of Kombucha at specialty grocery stores (I found the one I used for this cocktail at target--GT's Organic Raw Synergy "Trilogy" Kombucha. For more information on Kombucha, head over to South of Vanilla to see Kristi's part of this post!

The Cocktail

The Gin Rickey is a classic cocktail originally created with bourbon, but became very popular when it was perfected by gin. It is simply made with gin, lime, and seltzer water. For the purposes of this cocktail, I subbed the Kombucha (which is carbonated, by the way) for the seltzer water and added simple syrup for a little sweetness. This in turn made a beautiful colored drink with great fruity flavor from the Kombucha.

A few notes:

  • I used the "trilogy" flavor of the GT's Kombucha, but I think you could really use any flavored Kombucha you find. Just ask yourself if the Kombucha you've picked would go good with a squeeze of lime. If the answer is yes, use it in this cocktail!
  • If you're new to making cocktails, this is a very easy one to start out with. Simply shake all ingredients besides the Kombucha in a cocktail strainer (go buy one if you don't have one) and strain into an ice-filled tall glass like the one in the picture below. The Kombucha is used as a "float", which means you pour it on last on top of the other ingredients. This is what makes the cocktail two-toned and so pretty. Feel free to stir the drink to incorporate the flavors after you've admired the pretty colors.

Kumbocha Gin Rickey

Ingredients

  • 2 oz gin (we used Tanqueray)
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 oz simple syrup
  • 2 oz Kombucha (use as needed)
  • basil sprig (for garnish)

Instructions

  1. Combine gin, lime juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain over ice-filled high-ball or collins glass.
  2. Top with Kombucha. Garnish with a sprig of basil.

3.2.2802

Dani's Picks for Celebrating NYE with Champagne

Ah, Champagne. We drink it at weddings, we drink it at birthdays. We drink it at graduations, we drink it on holidays. We drink it at restaurants and nightclubs, swanky bars, and cocktail parties. Whenever there's a reason to celebrate, you can be sure Champagne will show up to the party.

There really isn’t any myth to why we drink bubbles while we're celebrating. Sparkling wine has more than a hundred years on soda pop, and although beer is our other BFF in the carbonated world, back in the day, the elite wouldn’t dare associate with it. With the help of the Noveau-Riche generation in the late 1800s and some great advertisements associating champagne with the high life, society has recognized Champagne as the drink of celebrations ever since.

For my drink-loving readers who may not know too much about Champagne, this is the one thing you should take away from this post: Not all sparkling wines are "Champagne". Champagne is a region in France and the most famous in the world for sparkling wines. Thanks to the demand of their wines around the world, Champagne prices are much higher than those, say, made in America, Italy, or Australia. However, their prices are definitely worth it--there is nothing in the world like Champagne, and if you're celebrating....anything...I definitely advocate paying the extra few bucks. (Champagne generally has a more bready, toasty character than most other sparkling wines of the world.)

Check out these pretty glasses from Perrier-Jouet. I've got about a hundred of them for some reason (available in gift packs around the holidays):

Anyway, I've been very lucky to taste some of the famous Champagne houses side-by-side blindly in the past, thus truly distinguishing my favorites. And although through in those tastings I realized I don't really care for the lightly-flavored Dom Perignon but am absolutely crazy about Krug, there was not one Champagne that I did not like. Here are my suggestions if you're looking to celebrate the new year with Champagne but have no idea what to get!

My Champagne Suggestions:

  • Nicolas Feuillatte—my go-to Champagne, and my favorite to share with friends ($36.99 totalwine.com)
  • Pommery Brut Royal ($44.99 totalwine.com)
  • Taittinger La Francais Brut ($39.99 totalwine.com)
  • Perrier Jouet Grand Brut—another one of my favorites for the price ($37.99 totalwine.com)
  • Billecart Salmon Brut Rose—my favorite Rose under $100 ($84.99 total wine)
  • Krug Brut NV—my absolute favorite (non-vintage) bottle! ($180 totalwine.com)
  • Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque—beautiful bottle/presentation, makes a great hostess gift ($160 totalwine.com)
  • Veuve Clicquot La Grand Dame—my favorite “elegant-style” Champagne. Skip the yellow-label Veuve and splurge on this one. ($149.97 totalwine.com)

My Non-Champagne Picks:

Don’t feel like paying Champagne prices? No one said you can’t drink other Sparkling Wines on New Years!

  • Roederer Estate Brut $19.99 totalwine,com
  • Mumm Napa Brut Prestige $16.97 totalwine.com
  • Domaine Carneros Brut $22.99 totalwine.com
  • La Marca Prosecco $13.49 totalwine.com
  • Any fully sparkling Asti (Moscato grape) for those of you with sweet-tooths!

Finally, if you're looking at your bottle of Champagne but don't understand some of the lingo on it, here's a cheat sheet:

Champagne Terms

  • Brut—Dry (meaning not sweet) (most common style)
  • Extra Brut—Even more dry than Brut, meaning even less sugar is in the final mix (for purposes of your taste buds, there is very little difference between Brut and Extra Brut)
  • Extra Dry—a bit sweeter than the brut style, but for purposes of your taste buds, there is very little difference (isn't that confusing?)
  • Demi-Sec—relatively sweet style of Champagne
  • Sec—although this literally means “dry” in French, it refers to a sweeter style in Champagne
  • Doux—sweet, dessert style Champagne (very rare to find today)
  • Blanc de Blancs—Champagne made with 100% white grapes, which are almost always Chardonnay
  • Blanc de Noirs—Champagne made with 100% red grapes, either Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier. Although it is made with red grapes, the juice is still white! (so don’t let that confuse you)
  • NV—Non-vintage, which is the majority of all bottles (Champagnes use blends of wine from different years in their signature “house” style)
  • Methode Traditional—the traditional method of making champagne or sparkling wine. All wines from Champagne must be made in the method traditional.

Happy New Years everyone and thanks for reading! I'm looking forward to a lot of blog progress in 2015! :) Please post any questions you may have about sparkling wine in the comments of this post, and I'll be sure to answer them!

What I'm Sipping--Terra d'Oro Vineyard Lunch

As I sipped my glass of zinfandel, standing in the vineyard from which it came, I had a solid moment of realization. Wow, do I love my career. I was in the one of the oldest vineyards in America (planted in the 1880s) watching the vines do their work to produce the same wine in my glass. We were in the historic Deaver Vineyard in Amador County, and it was the end of our incredible tour of Terra d'Oro Winery.

Lets start at the beginning, shall we? My friend Nikki and I found ourselves in Amador County this past August while on a trip to see a concert in Sacramento. About an hour south of the city, Amador County is most famous for its historic and quaint towns from the gold-rush era, but it also is home to many wineries specializing in Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the newest sensation in the area, Barbera.

Nikki and I were excited to go see Terra d'Oro winery after driving around the previous day and getting completely lost through windy-roads with no shoulder, no cell phone service, and thus no GPS. But that's all part of the fun. Upon our arrival, we were welcomed by Jeff Meyers, Terra d'Oro's VP, General Manager and previous, but still very involved, winemaker. He immediately piled us up into his pickup truck and we went for a little off-road adventure into their vineyards. A pretty awesome "welcome" if you ask me.

Terra d'Oro Winery Amador County | CaretoPair.com

Low and behold as we're going through the vineyard he starts telling us all about the different varietals planted in the different plots, when they were planted, when they were pruned, why the leaves are turned a certain way...yeah, this guy knew his stuff. I immediately sensed this wasn't going to be our typical "this is how wine is made" basic tour I sometimes get with wineries. Jeff was passionate and he wasn't afraid to show it. We had questions, and he had ALL the answers.

We made our way through the first vineyard, passing an awesome dead tree that they purposely never cut down because it was so creepy, and reached a shady little grove with a picnic table, bottle of wine, sandwiches, salad, cookies, and even a vase of fresh flowers for lunch. What hospitality! They served us Terra d'Oro's Chenin Blanc-Viognier white blend which went perfectly with our assortment of sandwiches. It inspired me to do the Chicken Salad Sandwich pairing featured at the end of this post.

At the time, I didn't think it got much better than this. A little wine, a little lunch, and a great view of the vineyards makes for an awesome tour for me! But we were just beginning. We piled back into the truck and made our trek back to the winery for THIS ridiculous tasting. Yes, that's 16 wines, a water glass, and a spit cup. Thank God for that spit cup!

Wine Tasting

If I wasn't convinced that this winery's wines wouldn't equal the amazing hospitality we'd already been getting, this was my confirmation. We tasted almost all of Terra d'Oro's current offerings as well as their sister winery, Montevina, which offers even more approachable, affordable wines that I would suggest to friends any day of the week. They were all great, but my favorites were Terra d'Oro's  Barbera, “Home Vineyard” Zinfandel, and small-batch Aglianico which is unfortunately not distributed much. They also do a lovely Pinot Grigio and Moscato for the white-wine lovers out there.

After that, we did an actual tour of their SPOTLESS winery--I'm telling you, I've never seen a winery floor so clean! Crazy! This was Jeff's time to shine. He told me more about winemaking in an hour than I've learned in the last 4 years of studying it. It was great. He finished up with doing an extensive barrel sampling of perhaps 10 or 12 wines. Man, were we spoiled! My favorite of that batch of tastings, again, was the aglianico. It was a cool little grape that unfortunately has such small production, its hard to find.

And then, after all that, we piled up into the car and made our way to the historic Deaver Vineyard, home to 130 year-old vines, with yet another spread of cheese, fruit, and a glass of Deaver-Vineyard zinfandel waiting for us at the top. The vineyard was weedy and unkempt, but Jeff was proud to say they leave it that way on purpose. In a vineyard that old, you just have to let the vines do their own thing and make minimal impact. See how different it looks than a normal vineyard? Zinfandel vines are so cool.

 It was a 5-hour winery visit and an incredible day. With his passion for what he does and all he knows, Jeff inspired me to also stay passionate, keep learning, and remember why I entered this industry in the first place. I hope I can inspire anyone reading this blog to enjoy wine as much as I do and encourage you to keep learning and appreciate it. If you ever make your way to Sacramento, I definitely suggest you make a day trip down to Amador County and visit this winery and a few others. If you can't make it there, lucky for you these wines can be found at wine shops and some grocery stores. Pick up a bottle and have it at your next outdoor picnic!

Chicken Salad Sandwich Paired with Viognier Blend

As I just described, Terra d'Oro's Chenin-Blanc and Viognier white blend went really well with our picnic lunch. I recreated this pairing with a chicken salad sandwich I made for myself one Saturday afternoon. This wine will go with almost any sandwich or lunch entree (except peanut butter and jelly--keep the milk for that one). The wine works so well with lunch because it is a heavy-bodied wine, weighing out almost any flavor combination that comes its way. With every bite of sandwich, chips, or salad, this wine will stand up to it. Despite its weight, however, the flavor is light enough not to overpower any delicate, complex flavors you'll get in all the lunch goodies. With common flavors of tropical fruits, peaches, and floral notes, its a great choice as a day-drinking wine. The Cranberry-Chicken Salad Sandwich recipe I made for myself can be found on Ari's Menu Blog. Enjoy!

I Don't Hate Vodka

"Why do you have to hate on Vodka? What did vodka ever do to you?" This is the statement Tony Abou-Gani, author of Vodka Distilled, opened up with in the Spirits Academy vodka seminar a few weeks ago. Ask me what I would have told you had you asked me if I liked vodka two minutes prior to that statement. I would have told you I hate vodka, I can't stand it, and I don't understand why its still the number one selling distilled spirit in the world.

Why did I hate vodka? Because since I have been old enough to drink, the only drinks I ever hear ordered at bars are vodka-redbulls, vodka-cranberries, and vodka-sodas. Vodka this, vodka that. Shots of vodka (ugh...college days). No wonder I hated vodka, I didn't know how to drink it! Why add vodka to orange juice? I'll just have the orange juice, thanks. I just didn't get it, and when I started discovering cocktails, I wanted anything but vodka in them to prove I was better than that.

It's not just me, its a growing trend in the mixology world to hate on vodka right now since we don't want to be associated with the vodka-redbull fad. I think all of us enthusiasts think we're too cool for it. Tony told us a story of one time recently that he went to a great cocktail bar in town. He asked the bartender what vodkas they had available as he didn't see any on the back bar. The bartender told him (in a wonderful snobby voice) that they had two, "and in his opinion, that was two too many". Okay, maybe this hatred has gotten out of hand. Too good to have vodka at your bar? You've crossed the line.

Needless to say, after a wonderful presentation, an awesome 11-vodka tasting flight, and another 6 flavored vodkas tasting, my mind has been changed about vodka. (And yes, we were spitting all of those vodkas. C'mon.) I was so excited when I went home that night to tell Andrew all about my new appreciation for vodka. He immediately went to our vodka stash and presented a tasting of all the vodkas we had in the cabinet. Unfortunately, our selection was pretty pitiful:

Seriously, all we had was vodka in a gun-shaped bottle, a plastic bottle of "Potters" (I highly do not recommend), a vodka in a skull bottle he had signed by Dan Akroyd, and another one shaped like a fire extinguisher. Most of these were left over from college or gifts; shows you what kind of vodka drinkers we are! (Shortly after, I purchased a bottle of Belvedere, one of my favorites from the tasting.)

The Cocktail

So I have come to realize that our hatred of vodka stems from Americans not knowing how to drink vodka. There's a lot of great cocktails out there with vodka in them, and no I'm not talking about the strawberry martini made with strawberry-flavored vodka. These are real cocktails that use vodka to enhance the flavor of the overall drink, not hide it. I will admit...I'm still not a vodka drinker. That tasting I did of straight vodkas was pretty hard for me, so I know I wouldn't enjoy straight vodka poured over ice (as most skilled vodka drinkers do), but I have learned how to appreciate it in our cocktail culture.

Tony's book has lots of classic cocktail recipes in it, so Andrew made me this "Gypsy Queen"cocktail I'm sharing with you on this post. I absolutely loved it! It is very easy to make, but be careful, it is boozy! (It is actually straight booze, no mixers added.) Since it has benedictine in it, think of it as an herbal-floral concoction that has flavor and fruitiness but is not necessarily sweet. If you are a new cocktail drinker, this might be a little strong, so order another classic vodka-based cocktail, like a moscow mule or harvey wallbanger next time you're out at a bar.

Recipe

2 oz vodka of choice

1 oz Benedictine

2 dashes Angostura bitters

thin slice of lemon peel (for garnish)

Instructions

In an ice-filled mixing glass add vodka, benedictine, and angostura bitters. Stir until very cold. Strain into a chilled low-ball glass. Garnish with a thin slice of lemon peel.

How to Rediscover Vodka

Okay, so I hope my spiel above has changed your mind about vodka. If you know its still not your cup of tea, no worries. As I said, the tasting I did in my class was tough as I don't particularly enjoy drinking vodka straight. However, it was so cool to taste the differences between the different brands; if you have the opportunity to taste through 3 or more in a sitting, do it (but make sure you're spitting those out, no need to get plastered from it!). My favorites from the tasting were Russian Standard, Belvedere, and Zyr--they were all different, but all appealing. Others, that I'll leave unnamed, were awful to me. But that's just my preferences, yours could be completely different.

Also--next time you're at a mixology bar, don't be afraid to order a vodka-based cocktail. Try to keep it classic though, like a gypsy queen, moscow mule, harvey wallbanger, cosmopolitan, or lemon drop. Hopefully these drinks will change your mind about vodka, as my mind has certainly been changed.

A Little Info on Vodka

  • Vodka can be made from anything that contains fermentable sugars, but most are made from wheat, potato, or rye
  • Its highly debated whether vodka originated in Poland or Russia (no one knows the factual answer)
  • Historically Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland, and Greenland all have a rich heritage and tradition with vodka production, so we call these countries the "Vodka Belt"
  • Vodka struggled in America for the first part of the 20th century. The first vodka distillery built in America was Smirnoff, which was built in 1934. It was unsucessful at first and had to be marketed as "white whiskey".
  • Ian Fleming invented the vesper cocktail through his James Bond series, and we can thank him for the vodka martini, as the classic martini was gin-based prior to his phenomenon

What I'm Sipping--Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA

"If you truly believe in what you're doing, nothing can stop you" --Sam Calagione, owner of Dogfish Head Brewery, Brewing Up a Business Ahhh. So here is the first of many "What I'm Sipping" posts. Consider this a beer memoir, not a review. I won't, after all, put anything on this blog that I don't believe you should try, nor put anything on here that I don't like! Of course my first beer memoir must be from one of my favorite breweries in the entire nation--Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA. Do read on if this picture entices you...

I was fortunate to enjoy a Dogfish Head 120 minute IPA (India Pale Ale)  a few weeks ago. As I was sipping it, a great idea came to my head...why not share this beer with everyone? This beer is a meal on its own, but that doesn't mean it should be neglected on my blog! On top of that, I visited the brewery a few months ago, why not share that experience as well?! Brilliant.

I had the pleasure of visiting Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware this past February with my friend Kristi, whose life I’m pretty sure was changed forever after our experience ;) I've become a big fan of Dogfish Head after reading Sam Calagione's book Brewing Up a Business, where he shares his rough beginnings, determination, and ultimate success from building Dogfish Head brewery from the ground up. When I realized the original brewery would be just a short road trip away, we jumped in the car...and went to Delaware! Visiting the brewery after reading the book confirmed how all of his hard work paid off. Check out these two pictures. The first is the original brewing room…the second is just a snippet of their current bottling warehouse.  It is bigger than any facility I’ve ever seen:

Dogfish Head is truly a unique brewery—there’s really no other brewery like it. In his book, Sam talks about how he was always throwing random fruits, herbs, spices, anything into his batches of beer…he could never just stick to the normal recipe! And the brewery reflects this in all their beers…they’ve got an IPA brewed with syrah grapes, a brown ale aged in Paraguayan wood, a pilsner brewed with pear juice…there’s just nothing normal about these beers, which is absolutely fantastic.

My brewery tour was phenomenal...I will let the pictures tell the rest of the story. I was lucky enough to be invited to their employee happy hour after closing for the day—everyone was so nice; it was obvious what an incredible community the company has built with its employees. For that reason alone, it is definitely a brewery I am proud to support.

Okay, now on to our featured beer…Dogfish Head 120 minute IPA. I should note that this beer is brewed only a few times a year (because it is a difficult beer to brew), so it is hard to find. If you come across any, buy a few (I’ve had good luck at Whole Foods). I just saw on their Facebook page that they will be releasing their latest batch in a few weeks...so now is the time to look for it! Drink one whenever you like, but save another to drink in a few years—the beer ages beautifully (flavors mellow out/change into a completely new experience). Andrew and I opened this bottle after about a year of aging. Maybe we should have waited, but sometimes you’ve gotta live a little, right?

120 Minute IPA is boiled for an entire TWO hours…most IPAs are boiled for 1 hour...and they continually add hops during that entire boil.  On top of that, it is then dry-hopped every day for a month and then aged for another month on whole leaf hops! People say it is the ultimate beer for hop-heads; it comes in at 120 IBUs (International Bitterness Units) after all, which is way more than most IPAs. However, I don’t really put this beer in the IPA category…to me, it drinks more like a barleywine than anything.

The aroma immediately enticed me with a beautiful, subtle sweetness of cherry pie and raisins. There may have been some hoppy aromas, but what really drew me in were these dark red fruits that made me feel as if I were smelling an aged tawny port. When I took that first sip, I got all those fruit characteristics and more—it was complex, but somehow subtle, and bitterness was restrained, hidden by the warming alcohol and balanced maltiness. It is a meal on its own, but would go well with an assortment of cheese, charcuterie, and crusty French bread…nothing more. And with its alcohol percentage around 18%...you might want to share a bottle with a friend :)

If you are looking for that “ultimate hophead” beer, look elsewhere—the bitterness is so balanced that, no matter how much you want it to ruin your palette, it won’t.   It really is a beer you have to experience for yourself, because there is nothing like it. If you’re lucky to get your hands on a few, drink one now, and age the rest—each one will probably be a completely different experience than the others.