Ancient, revered, and utterly delicious, Armagnac is a fine spirit which is held in the highest regard by those who seek out the finer things in life. This unique and fascinating grape brandy is deeply entwined with the history and identity of South-West France, and yet it has long since captivated the world, thanks to its combination of finesse and rusticity, its depth of flavor and its ethereal bouquet of aromas.
While Armagnac, as we know it today, was granted its own AOC status back in the 1930s, the use of Ugni Blanc, Colombard and other key grape varietals for the production of this delightful brandy has a history which pre-dates most other spirits worldwide. Indeed, references to Armagnac exist in texts written in the early 15th century, making this particular spirit older even than those made in neighboring Cognac by a good two hundred years. The secrets of its success lie partly in the fact that production methods really haven’t changed much, even since the days of those medieval pioneers; unlike Cognac, the Armagnac distilleries are still largely family-run affairs, which employ time-honoured methods and traditional tools. The result? A surprisingly wide and deep array of characteristics, with each distillery able to clearly mark their Armagnac out as different, unique, and special.
many people are slightly intimidated by the idea of bringing food into the equation
With all this history and all this range, sommeliers and Armagnac fans alike have long since struggled when it comes to pairing dishes and ingredients with this particular brandy. Its power and depth, coupled with the expressive subtleties a good Armagnac displays – full of terroir, age and barrel characteristics – mean many people are slightly intimidated by the idea of bringing food into the equation, for fear one set of flavors might drown out the other. As such, Armagnac has long been considered a digestif (a role in which it undoubtedly excels), served with a mild cigar, an espresso, and savored slowly.
Despite Armagnac’s suitability as a digestif, to avoid pairing it with any food is to miss out on some truly unique and special sensory experiences. When paired expertly, the flavors, textures and aromas of certain dishes and ingredients elevate the qualities of the Armagnac and reveal that elusive ‘third taste’ which sommeliers get so excited about. In order to help you achieve this gastronomic nirvana, either in your own homes or next time you’re visiting a fine restaurant, we’ve had a chat with some top UK sommeliers, and have put together a handy guide to food pairing with various Armagnacs. Enjoy!
Which Dishes Pair with La Blanche Armagnac?
Let’s start with the newcomer. The ‘La Blanche’ category of Armagnac is a relatively recent innovation, and one which refines the artistry of Armagnac to its simplest, most direct, and some would say most elegant form. Clear, clean and truly delicious, it’s a welcome addition to the Armagnac family and one which is very well suited indeed to food pairing.
Because La Blanche Armagnac is not barrel aged, its flavor profile is a masterstroke of concentration and one which appeals as much to vodka enthusiasts as brandy drinkers. It pairs well with a number of refined foods, but most notably it should be paired with smoked salmon and blinis, and high-quality caviar. Along this same route, La Blanche works very well with raw oysters and lightly pan-fried fois-gras. You can also pair this Armagnac with certain charcuterie items which are made with a sweeter cure, to bring out the the gentle fruitfulness of the brandy.
Tariquet Blanche Armagnac
V.S and V.S.O.P Armagnac Food Pairing
These aged brandies have spent up to nine years in French Oak barrels (although V.S Armagnac need not spend more than a year in the barrel) and as such have an intensity of flavor which is hard to beat. The best V.S.O.P Armagnacs burst with ripe flavors of stone fruits, apricots, plums and vanilla, as well as several floral tones which make them a delight to sip alongside a wide range of foods, while V.S Armagnac is beautiful in a cocktail, and is also regularly used in fine French cuisine as a flambé.
If you’re cooking with V.S Armagnac, you want to use it in dishes which combine the sweet-and-savoury elements this brandy presents so readily on the palate. Sweet, sticky duck with a honey glaze is a classic favorite, although many variations on the same theme work just as well. As for serving these Armagnacs alongside dishes, they work best of all with several dessert options. Tarte Tatin, with its stewed fruits and caramelized pastry, is a match made in heaven, but it also pairs very well indeed with traditional cakes made with candied peel – a stollen, or English fruit cake, for example.
However, if you want to really reach new heights with contrast and combinations of flavors, we believe that the finest pairings for these Armagnacs are those which come with the cheese course. Almost any blue-veined cheese will delight the taste buds when nibbled alongside a glass of V.S or V.S.O.P, although Roquefort from France and aged Stilton from the UK are perhaps the crown-bearers in this respect. We’re reliably told that Pyrenees sheep’s cheeses are also a clear winner when it comes to this pairing, such as Ossau Iraty and Abbaye de Bel Loc.
Sempé V.S.O.P. Armagnac
Pairing Dishes with XO Armagnac
For many people, the experience you get when drinking an XO Armagnac – which is made from a blend of brandies in which the youngest has been barrel aged for at least twenty years – is something which redefines the palate, and opens one’s mind to a new and dazzling array of sensory experiences. The depth of flavor in these brandies is astonishing; they’re profoundly complex as a result of the lengthened aging process, and they express aromatic qualities which quite thoroughly surpass all others. When tasting an XO Armagnac, expect flavors of vintage marmalade, resplendent dried fruit such as figs, dates, prunes and apricots, and a decadent set of nutty, spicy, bittersweet notes, too.
It makes perfect sense that most people would want to pair an XO Armagnac with strong coffee, which brings out the deep sweetness of the brandy, or a mild cigar, the combination of which is nothing short of heavenly. However, there are plenty of exciting food pairings we can experiment with when it comes to this special Armagnac, many of which provide truly exhilarating results. Many people enjoy drinking XO Armagnac alongside petit fours, especially those made with candied peel, chocolate or coffee, or poured over a baba or similar cake – it’s worth mentioning that this brandy alongside a dark, heavy, rich chocolate cake is gastronomic decadence defined. However, we would argue that true pleasure can be found with an XO or Hors d’Age Armagnac served alongside savory dishes, thus allowing the truly expressive fruit qualities to come forwards on the palate. Try it with dishes featuring lots of porcini mushrooms (this brandy with a luxurious porcini-laden omelet is paradise on a plate), blackened guinea fowl or truffled cheeses.
The “Rum and Coke” is a staple instantly recognizable from the smallest, middle-of-nowhere bars to the most exclusive establishments in the world. But what isn’t so well recognized with that deceptively simple drink order is its origin; that is, it acts as a sort of everlasting liquid symbol of one of the biggest milestones in the birth of a nation.
Of course, as it’s such a seemingly straightforward combination of two ingredients of exceptional accessibility regardless of location, it really isn’t all too surprising that most of us would not stop to think about where this drink may have been derived from. Could it not have been everywhere?
But what isn’t so well recognized with the deceptively simple drink order of a Rum and Coke is its origin; that is, it acts as a sort of everlasting liquid symbol of one of the biggest milestones in the birth of a nation
I mean, perhaps. As we know how all alcohol history goes, it’s never really crystal clear where something was truly invented for the very first time. While there may always be some other tale to claim otherwise, the Rum and Coke or, as it should be known, the Cuba Libre, has a fairly linear history.
And this is that story.
The Spanish-American War
The Rum and Coke is a derivation of a dark Rum, lime, and cola concoction borne out of the aftermath of the Spanish-American War. A few years in the making, Cuba had been at odds with Spanish rule. While the United States had run into some conflict with Spain as well, it had been hesitant to enter the war as recovery from a significantly depressed economy was just being realized. But after the mysterious sinking of a significant American naval ship, the USS Maine, off the coast of Cuba in Havana Harbor, the Spanish-American War commenced for a ten-week period between April and August of 1898.
Raising of the flag in Cuba, circa 1902 (shortly after Independence granted to the nation)
The United States’ involvement provided a much-needed expeditive boost, resulting in the signing of the Treaty of Paris later that same year; along with Spain’s relinquishment of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, the United States gained temporary control of Cuba. The Spanish Empire was no more.
The Cuba Libre
Of course, after a years-long battle for the very independence of a nation and its beginning anew, what better cause for celebration? A free-Cuba (or Cuba Libre) movement birthed the drink in Havana in the early 1900s, when, of course, Coca-Cola entered Cuba via the United States and the movement’s namesake, from then on, lived forever in spirit.
The Rum and Coke is a derivation of a dark Rum, lime, and cola concoction borne out of the aftermath of the Spanish-American War
The original Cuba Libre recipe calls for light Rum, an undefined amount of Coca-Cola, and the fresh-squeezed juice of one lime over ice. Just a Rum and Coke with a little bit of lime in it? Perhaps. But the non-negligible amount of lime juice is really key to provide that sour, acidic break between the syrupy Rum and sugar-packed Coke.
Selecting the Proper Rum
For your most traditional Cuba Libre experience, you’ll, of course, want to start with a true Cuban Rum—s Rum does not have a designated region from which it can only be officially produced or an Appellation d’Origine, attention should be paid to the label on the bottle. Originally, it was a light Rum was first used.
However, in order to further balance the sugar bomb of a Coke, what you may want to try instead is a darker or heavier Cuban Rum—think a gold or anejo. For some initial ideas, both more and less traditional, I’d recommend taking a look at the three below.
Ron Cubay 3-Year-Old Carta Blanca
Of course, we must start with a traditional light Cuban Rum, and Ron Cubay makes us a mighty fine one.
Ron Cubay was established in 1964 in the dead center of the Cuban Island and didn’t start exporting any of its craft until 2010. All Rums are made entirely from Cuban-grown ingredients, and the entire process, from distilling to complete bottling, is done on-site.
A free-Cuba (or Cuba Libre) movement birthed the drink in the early 1900s, when, of course, Coca-Cola entered Cuba via the United States and the movement’s namesake forever lived on in spirit
The Ron Cubay 3-Year-Old Carta Blanca is very fresh and bright. Without a syrupy background (as it’s made from sugarcane and not molasses), it helps to balance the Cuba Libre’s sugar content without imparting any more of its own sweetness.
Papa’s Pilar Blonde
Traditional in the light Rum sense but an interesting, semi-global concoction out of Florida is Papa’s Pilar. It’s named after Ernest Hemingway’s fishing boat, and its Key West location is near his old home.
The Papa’s Pilar Blonde is solera aged in Bourbon barrels and is finished in Spanish Sherry casks after column distillation. It features a very minimal hint of sweetness, with strong citrus notes that marry well with most any cocktail companions—especially, of course, the lime in a Cuba Libre that it complements.
Havana Club Selección de Maestros
On the dark side of the Rum spectrum is Selección de Maestros. This exceptional Rum out of the well-known Havana Club, led by Don Jose Navarro with over 40 years of experience in Rum distilling, was created in collaboration with the very Guild of Masters of Cuba Rum itself. While you can’t go wrong with Havana Club in general (e.g., the Especial or 15-Year-Old Gran Reserva) as you likely know, the Gold Medal–awarded Club Seleccion is the best Havana for your Cuba Libre experience.
This molasses-based Rum features an incredible smoothness throughout, with the most pronounced notes of cocoa, coffee, and sweet tobacco rounded by some candied fruit and smoke from its time in hand-selected casks. And, at 45% ABV, it does a truly fantastic job of cutting through the aforementioned Coke sweetness.
When it comes to sharks, Las Vegas is primarily known for the card-playing variety. But for eight days in July, Sin City takes a deep dive into something a little fishier.
Television’s longest-running annual cable program, Shark Week, kicks off on Sunday, July 22, on the Discovery Channel, marking its 30th anniversary with nonstop specials and plenty of celebrities celebrating the sea’s most misunderstood creatures. Bars and other businesses in Las Vegas will join in on the fun with some special treats of their own, while others are home to sharks all year-round.
From drowning yourself in blue and bloody beverages to sliding through a 200,000-gallon tank containing actual sharks, here are six jawsome ways to commemorate Shark Week 2018 in Las Vegas.
Dive into the “Shark Tank”
Photo by Valerie Burke
Blood. Bones. Blue Curaçao. The “Shark Tank” is a killer cocktail and a cautionary shark tale, all rolled into one.
Served during Shark Week at Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina in the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, this daring drink is made with a vibrant mix of Absolut Lime Vodka, Blue Curaçao liqueur, sweet and sour, and ginger, all served in a souvenir glass. Skeletons float among the ice and ale in this shareable 50-ounce cocktail while deep inside the blue libation a gummy shark swims in wait for its next victim.
Of course no shark attack is complete without a little bloodshed. Hence the blood red cherry bomb, made with Grenadine and Vodka, shot straight from a plastic shark’s mouth. Will you take the bait?
Explore “The Unknown”
Courtesy Palms Casino Resort
As part of its $620 million renovations, Palms Casino Resort, located just off the Las Vegas Strip, recently unveiled its new lobby bar, The Unknown. At the center of the casino, bar is a highly controversial art exhibit that gives new meaning to the term “fish out of the water.” It features a 13-foot tiger shark separated into three segments and preserved in formaldehyde.
Entitled “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living,” the piece was created in 1991 by British artist Damien Hirst. Palms Casino Resort owners Frank and Lorenzo Feritta are major art collectors so they incorporated art by Hirst and other contemporary artists throughout the redesigned property.
Whether you’re offended or fascinated by Hirst’s artwork, Shark Week seems like the perfect time to raise your glass to this glass-enclosed chum.
Feed the Sharks
Courtesy MGM Resorts International
The true purpose of Shark Week is to promote conservation efforts and correct shark misconceptions. The same can be said for Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, the only Nevada facility accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.
Home to more than 2,000 animals, including 30 sharks, giant rays, endangered green sea turtles, piranha, and a Komodo dragon, the aquarium even provides guests with an opportunity to swim with the sand tiger, sandbar, and white tip reef sharks (if you’re dive certified) or feed the zebra sharks their lunch (don’t worry, it isn’t you). No matter what type of experience you choose, you’ll learn more about these fin-tastic sea creatures.
If your shark encounter makes you thirsty, pop into Border Grill a short walk away. Tame your predatory instincts at the spicy cantina from Food Network stars Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger with a Blood Orange Margarita, Sparkling Blood Orange Lemonade, or Border Bloody Mary.
Swim with the Sharks
Courtesy the Golden Nugget
The Tank at the Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas is a jaw-dropping three-story, $30 million dollar pool complex with a 200,000-gallon shark tank aquarium that’s accredited by the Zoological Association of America.
Splash around near these sleek sea creatures or wave to all five shark species as you woosh down a one-of-a-kind waterslide that safely passes through the tank. It’s the next best thing to jumping the shark. Before your close encounter of the shark kind, you may want to hit up the poolside H20 bar for a little liquid courage.
Chomping at the bit for more things shark? Golden Nugget offers Shark Tank Tours for $50 per person at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Sunday. Guided by a staff marine biologist, guests will discover the inner workings of the tank, witness feeding time for the sharks, and learn about the different species. Guests also take home a souvenir shark tooth after the tour.
“We’re excited to have the opportunity to educate our guests of the beauty behind sharks with our Shark Tank Tours,” said the Golden Nugget’s Life Sciences Manager Rob Brown. “We care for five different species of sharks and they’re all amazing in their own right. Children and adults alike are able to learn all there is to know about these fascinating creatures and even get to witness them during a live feeding—it’s quite a sight to see. We encourage locals and tourists to come check out a Shark Tour; trust me, you won’t be disappointed.”
Additionally at the Golden Nugget, the gift shop will be selling shark hats and The Chocolate Box will be selling shark cupcakes all week long.
Sink Your Teeth into Shark-Fin Cupcakes
Courtesy Freed’s Bakery
Freed’s Bakery, home to the hit Food Network show Vegas Cakes, is paying tribute to Shark Week’s 30th anniversary by filling their signature vanilla cupcakes with an oozy center of bright red strawberry puree. The creature cupcake is then topped with an ocean blue cream cheese frosting and garnished with a fondant gray shark fin.
Just as binge-worthy as Shark Week itself, these fin cupcakes are the perfect small bite for any viewing party.
Shirk the Sharks
Photo Courtesy Caesars Entertainment
Influence, the adults-only pool at The LINQ, will transform into a shark-themed retreat where you can shirk your responsibilities during Shark Week with poolside programming, drink specials, shark swag, and more.
Featured cocktails will include Blood in the Water (Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, Blue Curaçao, Fresh Squeezed Lemonade, Grenadine), Shark Bait (Sauza Blanco Tequila, Triple Sec, Fresh Squeezed Watermelon Juice, Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice, House-Made Simple Syrup), and Great White (Absolut Vodka, MTN Dew Ice, Splash of House Squeezed Lemonade, Grenadine Float).
Johan Belin of Chapters of Ampersand speaks about the Et No1, a really eye-catching design Cognac bottle at the WSWA convention in Orlando, Florida.The 300 Individually signed and numbered Crystal bottles contain a blend of Tiffon Grande Champagne Cognacs, from 1974 ,1943 and Tiffon Cognac from around 1870.
When it comes to food and wine pairing, the vast majority of classic marriages seem to come from ideas of harmony and similarity. The herbal and grassy notes of certain white wines are matched up with peppery salad leaves, white fish fillets slathered in sage butter, or the fresh greenness of steamed vegetables. Deep red wines, aged and complex, are celebrated for their spiciness and savory characters and paired with dishes which follow similar sets of adjectives.
However, when we think of some of the truly great combinations out there – by no means limited to the realm of flavor and aroma – don’t opposites attract rather well, too? Are your favorite discoveries of fascinating combinations ones which bring together similar components, or ones which exult in and accentuate difference and contrast? Think of every great double act – whether it’s in music, comedy or film – and childhood flavor mixes like peanut butter and jelly, apples and cheddar cheese, salt and caramel… this is where the magic really happens.
… be bold, be brave, and go forth with an open mind!
The problem with these types of combinations, though, is that they’re generally discovered by chance. My student days were typified by food and drink combinations led by needing to eat whatever happened to be in the cupboard – orange marmalade on ginger biscuits, for example, made for a thrifty and delicious evening snack on more than one occasion – and frankly, fine wine is something which we generally want to avoid ruining by pairing with an unsuitable food. There’s little room for risk, and so discoveries of unusual food and wine pairings don’t come along so often. When they do, though, they tend to be memorable and exciting, and definitely worth sharing. With that in mind, I’ve put together some of my favorite unusual food and wine combinations for you to try, and for you to take inspiration from for the future. Some of these pairings are unusual because they seem to clash flavors and characteristics, others are perhaps unusual in their irreverence. However, they’re all tried and tested meetings of the edible and drinkable, so be bold, be brave, and go forth with an open mind!
Full English Breakfast and Bordeaux
Here’s a voyage of discovery for you. If you’ve never tried the full English breakfast, you’re in for a treat. The best part of a hungover morning in London, usually eaten around lunchtime, it features sausages and bacon, eggs, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes and toast (regional variations also include fried potatoes and seaweed in Wales and blood pudding in the north and Scotland). Have a glass of Bordeaux with it, and you’re onto a real winner. There’s something about the multi-layered flavors and roundness that come with the classic Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot combination we get from a good Bordeaux that works brilliantly with fried bacon and eggs, and once tried, it’s never forgotten. It’s the kind of combination that would make French farmers pick up their burning torches and pitchforks and head for the channel tunnel, but when it works, it works.
Champagne and French Fries
In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that Champagne works brilliantly with most fast food, but there’s something about the saltiness and oiliness of the good old french fry that goes fantastically with a glass of bubbly. Steer away from the increasingly popular Proseccos and Cavas for this one – they tend to be a touch too fruity. A classic brut Champagne is bone dry, acidic and has that elegant biscuit flavor that cleanses the palate perfectly when eating salty foods, from peanuts to pizza, and many others in between. Give it a try – it’ll taste fantastic, and you’ll look like a rock star to boot.
Cured Meat Selections and Lambrusco
Cured ham and Lambrusco
When I was a teenager, Lambrusco was something which girls would ask their older cousins to buy for them before going to a party. It has never quite shaken off that bargain-bucket, supermarket standard reputation, typified by dull sweetness and bland character. Now, this is a bit of a disservice to what can be a fine Italian wine – the more expensive examples are delicious floral wines, bursting with red fruit flavors – and it ignores the fact that it can be great for food pairing. Serve it with your salami, prosciutto, and spicy sausages, and enjoy that uncomplicated fruitiness, lightness freshness, as it really does work as well as any other ‘sophisticated’ choice. If you’re a bit self-conscious of bringing out a bottle of Lambrusco, just decant it first and call it an Emilia-Romagna. Nobody will ever know.
Sherry and Sushi
There is plenty written out there about pairing wines with sushi, as this has generally been a pairing which is difficult to achieve. However, there’s no doubt that sushi has become a dominant force in the world of 21st-century global cuisine, and it’s worth thinking outside the box when it comes to finding something great to drink alongside the staples of Japanese food. The problem I find with many typical sushi and wine pairings is that they tend to focus on the most delicate aspects of the cuisine, but so much of a sushi dinner is quite robustly flavored – just think of all that tuna, ginger, wasabi and soy sauce! Get yourself a good bottle of Manzanilla Sherry (even if you don’t eat sushi, this fortified wine is a real treasure and belongs in everyone’s cabinet) and sip it with your raw fish and pickled rice. Its floral fragrances and intriguing saltiness will win you over and prove this combination a modern classic.
Australian Shiraz and Chocolate Cake
A good, dark, unctuous chocolate cake, all bittersweet and temptingly moist, goes brilliantly with a decent bottle of Australian Shiraz. There’s something about those deep red fruit flavors and smooth tannins that reminds me of kirsch-spiked black forest gateaux, and it’s one of those pairings that goes against intuition but delights on the palate.
Give these brilliantly odd combinations a try, and don’t be afraid to play with other salt-and-sweet combinations, either. There are some amazing pairings out there just waiting to be discovered and shared among your friends – throw caution to the wind, trust your instincts and your palate, and let us know how you get on!
The Japanese Whisky production, though only recently becoming prominent globally, isn’t new. The first Whisky distilling started in the early 1920s and largely stayed under the radar, with awareness of it restricted to within Japan’s borders.
But it gained traction and worldwide attention when Suntory’s Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 made it into the top five in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015. The world has been paying more attention — and paying higher prices because of its limited availability — since then.
The foundation of Japanese Whisky lies in Scotland. The first master distiller at Suntory, Masataka Taketsuru, studied his craft there and brought the twice-distilled pot stills method back to Japan. But after that the seed was planted, Japan’s Whisky sector grew to a whole different level.
It is done correctly or not done at all
Today, there are hundreds of Japanese Whiskies — from all types, sizes, and shapes of stills — with the larger producers Nikka and Suntory leading the way. Japanese distillers make a staggering number of grain, malt, and peated-malt varieties, creating dozens of unique blends from standalone distilleries.
What is the secret to Japan’s Whisky success?
The distilling process, like many things in Japan, is regarded as an art. It is approached with precision and care, with the utmost attention to detail taken at every step of production. It is done correctly or not done at all, with the best ingredients used in the best environments to carry out the entire process, from grain to water to nooks in forested mountains.
Japanese Whisky also developed its own very distinct taste and profile, thanks to the need to align it with the prevalent Japanese preferences. While with American Bourbon you’ll mostly find a deep and full-bodied sweetness, while with Rye you’ll find a dry spice, you won’t find a heavy hitting smokiness or a bold bite with Japanese Whiskies. Rather, the approach is softer, with a more subtle and nuanced profile, one that is complex and light so as not to be overbearing, letting the drinker capture all of the flavors present.
So, where to start in sampling the wonderful world of Japanese Whiskies? The United States has been importing more and more of them each year and with demand as high as it is, they can be a bit tricky to find. Here is a brief list to get you going.
Yoichi Single Malt
Nikka Yoichi 10 Year
The Nikka 10 Year is a peaty single malt from the Yoichi distillery in Hokkaido. It opens with plenty of fruit and unravels with light vanilla and just a few hints of smoke and nutmeg.
This is a single malt, peated, and pot-distilled Whisky from Suntory’s Mt. Kaikomagatake distillery and is most reminiscent of Scottish Whisky practices. It’s very fresh, green, and a little fruity, with notes of orange and pear and just a hint of smoke through its delightful smoothness.
As mentioned above, Yamazaki bears the title “Best Whisky in the World.”
While the 2013 might be hard to find, the 2016 is on the market (though only 5,000 bottles were released). It is deep and rich, even more subtly complex than other Whiskies reviewed here. With notes of cocoa, raisin, and clove, the finish on the Yamazaki Sherry Cask is said to be in a league all its own and must be experienced to be believed. Look for it here.
Yamazaki Sherry Cask
The most accessible Whisky under review, both with regards to price and availability, is Suntory Toki. It’s a very good introduction to Japanese Whiskies; you really can’t tell it’s one of the most affordable options. It’s incredibly smooth, perfectly light, and tastes of honey and green apple. Just a bit of vanilla and white pepper also come forward. You can find Toki at well-stocked liquor stores.
Vodka, for better or worse, tends to get a bad rap in the industry. As it’s at its best when it doesn’t taste like anything, blending into the rest of the cocktail as if it isn’t there, it is not particularly seen as a very interesting or complex spirit, and is nearly a base or unfinished product itself for a more “complete” spirit like Gin.
Indeed, Vodka is the spirit of focus for many industry innovators
That said, as the craft cocktail and spirits world has grown exponentially, Vodka has not, wholly, been left behind. Indeed, it’s the spirit of focus for many industry innovators, one of which goes by the name of Black Cow. And, as the name may suggest, the innovation of the distillery lies in the use of cow’s milk for its basis, making it the first milk Vodka ever created.
The Men Behind Black Cow
Behind Black Cow Vodka, which made its debut in 2012, are two innovative gentlemen and co-founders: Jason Barber and Paul “Archie” Archard.
Source: Black Cow Vodka
Jason Barber is the inventor of the cow’s milk-based spirit, doubling as a farmer with his own dairy operation as its sixth-generation owner. The Barber family is known as the world’s oldest surviving family of cheddar makers, with over 200 years behind the family’s practice and experience. To this day, he still maintains and runs the production portion of Black Cow Vodka.
Mr. Barber, with his intimate knowledge of the dairy industry and knack for thinking out of the box, saw this byproduct whey as a magnificent and untapped resource for the spirits industry, and began finding new ways to repurpose the surplus
Paul Archard has a background in the arts, working in a variety of creative roles, from production designer and commercial director, with some time in the mix spent running his own production company. It is this creative spirit, experience, and energy that goes into the unique branding and aesthetic of Black Cow to distinguish it and its mission in the ever-saturating spirits market.
Why Cow’s Milk? How Black Cow Is Made
The basis of Black Cow Vodka comes from the pure milk of just over 250 grass-fed cows in West Dorset, England. After the whole milk product has been used to make cheese, the curds remain while most of the whey is removed and discarded as a byproduct (or used for things like protein powders or pig feed). However, Mr. Barber, with his intimate knowledge of the dairy industry and knack for thinking out of the box, saw this as a magnificent and untapped resource for the spirits industry and began finding new ways to repurpose the surplus for this new cause.
Source: Black Cow Vodka
Whey from cow’s milk contains a lot of natural sugars, which lend themselves well to the fermentation process. The whey is combined with a special yeast and eventually ferments into a sort of frothy, soft, and milk-heavy beer.
Black Cow Vodka is naturally mineral-free, which gives it a distinct, velvety softness that makes it stand far away from the usual Vodka pack
Once the beer has finished its fermentation stage, it is distilled and then filtered using a proprietary filtration method known to the Black Cow distillery alone. The finished Vodka is then bottled with nothing removed, added to it, or mixed with it. For this finished product, it takes around 20 liters of milk to yield the whey that goes into it.
Black Cow Vodka is naturally mineral-free, which gives it a distinct, velvety softness that makes it stand far away from the usual Vodka pack. While neither its flavor nor color do too much to hint at its pure milk origins—in a good way—it features pleasantly sweet vanilla notes with just a touch of cinnamon and finishes through a clean warmth.
Source: Black Cow Vodka
Among many other awards, Black Cow Vodka took home the 2015 Gold Medal for the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Production hit around 120,000 bottles in 2016 and trends toward doubling production annually.
Black Cow in Cocktails
As Black Cow prides itself (and delivers) on the purity and smoothness of its Vodka, it’s best to use it in cocktails with more subtle flavors and lighter accents that may let the Vodka still shine through—much unlike a traditional Vodka cocktail. Of course, it is always best to try it on its own; truly unique, it can’t be a missed opportunity.
Lemon and Cardamom Nymph
A very minimalist, clean, and straightforward cocktail by Black Cow’s Creative Director, Helen Archard. It is bright with citrus and the soda water with a lack of added sugar helps to carry the true taste of Black Cow through the entire cocktail.
Source: Black Cow Vodka
25 ml Black Cow Vodka
3-4 Cardamom pods, steeped in a little Black Cow
Muddle the cardamom pods in the bottom of a rocks glass with a little of the steeping Vodka.
Fill the glass with ice.
Add the Black Cow Vodka and top with soda water.
Twist the lemon zest over the drink to the release the oils into the glass, and run the zest around the rim before adding to the glass as a garnish.
Stiff Upper Lip
Initially, Mr. Barber had experimented with apples and potatoes as the basis for his Vodka. But, evidenced by his Black Cow label, neither had really worked out. That said, it’s best to add in our apple after the Vodka is made, which is done in this cocktail; it introduces a bit of sugar in floral cordial form, but balances it out with an interesting and uncommon addition of apple cider vinegar to the mix.
Steve the Bartender lives in Australia near Adelaide where he runs a website called Cocktail Kit. Steve has set out on a Cocktail-a-Day Challenge. We decided to follow Steve on his 365-day journey and cheer him on. Let Steve know which of his Cocktails you like by Upvoting the ones that make your mouth water.
Each day we are going to add a video to this list, so keep coming back.
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Witnessing the Big Five is an unforgettable experience. The “Big Five” pertains to five different animal species that should be on everyone’s safari bucket list. These animals are the African elephant, Cape buffalo, the black rhinoceros, and the African leopard and lion. A visit to Africa, and specifically the beautiful country Namibia means getting the opportunity to see the Big Five up close and personal. These creatures are basically the face of the African Safari. Not many get to be so lucky and catch a glimpse of one or two of the Big Five; let alone all of them.
There’s no place in the world to have a more luxuriously amazing safari than in Namibia
Don’t let this discourage your chances of crossing these beautiful animals off your list. The best way to up your chances of seeing the Big Five is on a Luxury Big Five Safari. And there’s no place in the world to have a more luxuriously amazing safari than in Namibia.
The trick to choosing a Luxury Big Five Safari is the looking for a 4- or 5-star safari camp or lodge. These high-caliber safaris will emphasis exclusivity, true luxury, and the best guides in the industry that virtually guarantees superior game viewing. Namibia’s Luxury Big Five Safaris can’t seem to get any better.
Namibia’s population is one of the continent’s smallest. But it also has one of the highest literacy rates and most stable democracies. Located in the southwest Namib Desert, Namibia tends to be skipped over by travelers during their African Safari vacation. However, Namibia actually follows many safaris in East Africa, like Tanzania and Kenya. The desert, a dune-filled country is also often an add-on to safaris held in South Africa, Zambia, and Botswana. Don’t let this fool you though, visiting only Namibia on safari is just as special, if not more so, than any other African Safari.
Big Five, Elephant and Leopard
Being the fourth-largest country in Africa, Namibia’s region is as colorful and varietal as it gets. Sunbleach whalebones and centuries-old shipwrecks lie along the Atlantic coast, the vast desert beckons visitors and locals alike, even green albida tree-filled oases dazzle those lucky enough to visit. The Namibia wilderness, with its volcanic mountains and epic sun-drenched sands, sets the perfect stage at one of the biggest game parks on the planet, yet it’s also the least-known.Tourism here is pretty low, meaning each and every visitor can be a part of the exclusively handcrafted experience in Namibia. Safaris here are small, both wonderfully and thoughtfully designed as they are environmentally sensitive.
The selling point of Namibia is the heartwarming hospitality
But in all honesty, the selling point of Namibia is the heartwarming hospitality at many of these locations and enjoying outdoor fine dining in the African bush after a day out on safari. These private parks in Namibia make for a pristine getaway to a Luxury Big Five Safari.
Little Kulala, Namib Desert
Little Kulala, Kulala Wilderness Reserve
Over a decade ago, the travel company Wilderness Safaris bought 90,000 acres of the Namib Desert to build the Kulala Wilderness Reserve. One of the newest additions to the Kulala Wilderness Reserve, Little Kulala features 11 different villas to stay in, each with gorgeous and distinctive cement-, glass-, and wood-thatched roofs. These Namibia-glamour living quarters each have their own deck with a plunge pool, a studio with a platform bed, bleached plank floor, and leather shag rugs. Head to your roof at night for stargazing on the rooftop terrace in your own “sky bed.”
NamibRand Nature Reserve is a 444,000-acre private conservation project. Dating back in the 1980s, Namibian environmentalist Albi Bruckner transformed these rolling dunes and tall grass area into a few small lodges known as the Wolwedans Collection. There’s the Dunes Lodge, 10 skillfully crafted and environmentally sensitive wood-and-canvas cottages strung together by walkways, large lanterns, and even potted cacti. An aboveground pool stays shaded from the desert heat by a sailcloth awning, creating an oasis within this already mesmerizingly beautiful desert setting.
Little Ongava, sources: Namibia Tours & Safaris and &Beyond
Little Ongava, Ongava Game Reserve
Considered to be one the country’s most luxurious compounds is Little Ongava. This 75,000-acre private enclave makes up northern Namibia’s south-central edge of the 9,000-square-mile Etosha National Park. Perched upon a hillside of giant cacti and pockmarked boulders, only three cottages await. The infinity pools seem to almost make this desert compound too glamorous…almost. The inside of the cottages is heavily and tastefully decorated with African artists’ work. Wooden bowls from Zambia, masks from Burkina Faso, trays from Ethiopia, Congolese wall hangings, and Namibian paintings surround guests as they rest up from a safari trip in the African bush.
Namibia Safari, photo credit: Jeremey T. Hetzel
No matter what your preference is while visiting Namibia, a desert resort with furnished tents, cottages where luxury meets exclusivity or a casbah-style fort with jaw-dropping views, Namibian safaris are there for every desire, well-worth the journey. Stunning wilderness, fabulous living quarters, and close-up encounters with the Big Five are all possible in Namibia. First-class service and fine Namibian dining add memorable touches to anyone lucky enough to visit this beautiful African country on a honeymoon, family vacation, a solo trip, or just another exploration.
Big Five, Lion, Rhino and Buffalo
Nowadays, with the number of these majestic Big Five animals reaching a dangerous low, catching sight of these endangered creatures has become an immense privilege. Embarking on a Namibian Luxury Big Five Safari is an experience that should be allowed to everyone. Exploring the vast lands of Namibia in an open 4×4 jeep, being within mere feet of an African leopard or elephant at a waterhole, is something truly special that can’t be put into words. Namibia and the Big Five await.
Summertime and the living are easy. With the warm weather and long days languishing in the sun, this is the best time of year to break out the Gin and keep cool in the shade with a few G&Ts.
Thankfully for all of us who love that juniper-seasoned spirit, the craft Gin movement is not just alive and well, it’s simply booming. From across the states to across the pond and beyond, there are almost too many great Gins to choose from. Almost. Have your wallets at the ready—here are a few favorites to whet your whistle.
Pale Pink Eden
Located in St. Andrews just north of Edinburgh, Scotland, Eden Mill has quickly established itself as one of today’s top craft Gin producers. Eden Mill has a lineup of core Gins in addition to a series of wonderful limited release seasonal Gins which capture the essence of what they’re all about: bespoke, craft spirits. Traditional copper pots are used in the distillation process but the approach is all modern.
We recommend starting with their core Gins as they are not only delicious but also offer variety to the discerning Gin lover. Pale pink Gin, a hop Gin, an oak-aged Gin, and the original sea buckthorn berry Gin. The pale pink, in particular, is stunning. Getting its color from rose petals and hibiscus, it is more berry-driven than your typical Gin-tinged spirit. If you’re looking to broaden your horizons, you can enjoy their Whiskeys, beers, and even bottled cocktails—Gin-based, naturally.
Hand-Foraged Classic Botanicals
Bruichladdich of Islay Whiskey fame is the tour de force behind The Botanist. It’s the island’s first and only Gin, flavored with a whopping twenty-two hand-foraged botanicals, all found on Islay. Even the juniper used for this gorgeous Gin is local to the island. Along with classic botanicals like angelica root, coriander, orris root, and orange peel (with worldwide origins), you’ll find ingredients like bog myrtle, heather, gorse, and elderflower. Complex and floral aromas intermingled with mint and citrus, The Botanist is well worth getting acquainted with.
Evergreen Cliffside Spirits
Juniper takes a backseat in this Northern California, New World–style Gin. The distillery behind Farallon is Coastal Spirits which started out with Vodka and graduated to making Gin. Farallon comes from the Spanish word for cliffs and in so naming his line, owner Brad Plummer gives a tip of the hat to both the region where his spirits are made and the cliffside springs where he gets his water from.
The Botanist | Farallon | BLOOM
Farallon Gin is proving to be a favorite of 2017 and with good reason. Leading with evergreen pine notes and the less oft-used grapefruit and lavender, Farallon rounds out with cucumber and lemongrass. This micro-craft Gin deserves a spot in your home bar, especially if you’re partial to pine in your Gin.
Floral Gin with a Female Twist
More than anything else, Gin is the quintessential spirit of England. We’d be remiss not to include one of the up-and-comers from the sceptered isle. Bloom is a London Dry with old roots, although its modern face dates back to 2009. It boasts one of the world’s few female master distillers, Joanne Moore, who has perfected what is perhaps the gold standard in craft Gin made for summer enjoyment. As its name suggests, Bloom is a floral Gin which features honeysuckle, pomelo, and chamomile while still having a strong juniper presence. It’s fresh and refreshing and balanced to boot. A must for as long as summer lingers.
Spring-Sourced Colorado Rock-y
A London-style Gin made in the wilds of Hotchkiss, Colorado, Cap Rock deviates from the standard grain base and is instead made from distilled apples. It’s also completely organic and the masterminds at Peak Spirits Farm Distillery, the visionaries behind Cap Rock, were one of the early pioneers in the world of organic Gin.
Whiskey drinkers will know that water is an important factor in how that honey-colored nectar will taste. This is no less true for Gin or any other spirit. The folks at Cap Rock take this to heart and the water used in the distillation process is sourced from a nearby spring. This spring is located under, you guessed it, a cap rock, a type of hard rock formation that covers a weaker one and gives this excellent Gin its name.
Germanic Black Forest Gin
And now for something completely different, Monkey 47 is a Gin made in the British tradition but coming to you straight out of Germany’s Black Forest. Why 47? Well, 47 different botanicals make their way into this unique Gin and the final bottling clocks in at 47 percent ABV. It packs a bit of a punch. But that’s not the only thing setting Monkey 47 apart from others on the market. They also use cranberries to help give this spectacular Gin its distinctive taste. It is as woodsy as the Schwarzwald it calls home, framed by citrus, herbs, and a touch of sweetness. But there’s spice in there, too, and Monkey 47 has a lot to offer anyone who appreciates a generous, well-rounded, and intricate spirit.
The brainchild of Chicago-based bartender Brenton Engel, Letherbee sets itself apart from so many other Gins on the market with its creative limited edition seasonal bottlings. Released twice a year (autumn/winter and spring/summer), Letherbee offers Gin-oisseurs something utterly unique.
Alas, the 2016 Autumnal is sold out on their website, however, you can still pick up a bottle or two of their outstanding Vernal. It was quite literally made for summer enjoyment. With the palest green hue, Vernal gets its flavor from an unorthodox mix of lemongrass, holy basil, and ginger, alongside more traditional Gin botanicals.
We may be getting into the final stretch of summer but there’s still plenty out there for the curious Gin-thusiast to discover. With the explosion of the craft Gin scene and the incredible talent found in so many of these distilleries, any Gin lover worth their juniper berries needs to branch out and get to know this exciting brave new world of craft Gin.