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October 2010

Pumpkin Liqueur for Halloween Fun Times!; or, How I Failed at Pumpkin Juicing.

PPumpkinCrush I try to keep my food and beverage choices on the natural and local side, but sometimes that plan goes awry. See this week when I got a hankering for a pumpkin cocktail, and decided that what I needed was some pumpkin juice, which I was pretty certain I could make myself. So I bought myself a 1 1/2 lb pumpkin at the friendly neighborhood Whole Foods (Yeah, I know the pumpkin was probably from Idaho; so sue me), chopped it up, and chucked it in a food grinder. I then squeezed the resulting pumpkin slurry through cheesecloth, and retained the sweet, sweet pumpkin juice that trickled out.

PPumpkinJuice Ever try to juice a pumpkin without a proper juicer? Don't know what you ended up with, but I got about 50ml of liquid and a sink full of dishes for my trouble. There's got to be a better way! A lot of the top mixologists these days are using canned pumpkin to add some autumn flavor to their creations; I shunned this option pretty much out of spite. Screw that devil's fruit, and natural be damned -- suddenly I wanted something orange in a bottle!

PSpiceLiqueur In my line of work, I see a lot of wacky liqueurs, but I've only ever seen one flavored of pumpkin. Apparently, the value-for-cost ratio for producers is on the low side, so the only game in town is from good 'ol Hiram Walker, makers of the finest garish-colored, sugar-loaded mixers money can buy! I picked up a bottle of their Pumpkin Spice Liqueur at One West Dupont Wine and Spirits for about $10.

So what to say about the Hiram Walker Pumpkin Spice Liqueur? How about this from the producer's website?:

"The bold pumpkin pie, graham cracker and vanilla taste of Hiram Walker Pumpkin Spice mix(es) deliciously with any spirit for unique and festive seasonal cocktails."


PTriaminic On its own, this stuff is undeniably awful: The color, though, is truly amazing, reminding me of that bright, mesmerizing, other-earthly orange of Triaminic Cold Syrup. The nose is medicinal and slightly creamy, with a high note of some sort of undefinable fruit. On the palate, it very sweet and corn syrup smooth, with some of the advertised graham cracker, along with more of that unpleasant, bizarre medicinal thing.

PMartini I was skeptical, but I have to say, though absolutely undrinkable on its own, this stuff is really not a bad mixer. Oh, sure, when mixed 1:1 with vodka as suggested on the back label it's almost WORSE, but when used in an ensemble, this player has quite a bit to add.

 First, I tried a simple Manhattan recipe using two parts rye whisky, substituting one part Pumpkin Liqueur for red vermouth, with a couple dashes of bitters. Even with the brown spirit as a base, the cocktail came out a festive neon orange. The medicinal flavors are completely sublimated by the other spirits, and the sweetness is nicely tempered by the dry, spicy whisky; most of the liqueur's influence is asserted in the finish as pleasing vanilla and cinnamon notes.

PMargarita I also took the classic Margarita and squashed that shit up. The recipe was as follows:

2 Parts Tequila
1 Part Pumpkin Spice Liqueur
1/2 Part Triple Sec

When shaken and poured over ice, the end result was similar to the Manhattan; a BRIGHT ORANGE expression of the original, made slightly sweeter, with notes of vanilla and cinnamon on the finish. Not bad at all, highly festive, and easy to whip up as a pitcher drink, if you stir instead of shake.

PPunch Speaking of pitcher drinks, I came up with a pretty tasty punch amongst my experiments with my new Tang-colored friend. Behold, the Autumn Harvest Punch!


1 1/2 Parts Rye
1 Part Pumpkin Liqueur
1 Part Apple Cider
Dash of Bitters

Thanks to the opaque brown cider the Autumn Harvest came out a bit more naturally colored, though still very seasonally appropriate. This one had the perfect amalgamation of fruit, spice, vanilla, and bite. I tried it on the rocks with a bit of cinnamon on top, but I also imagine it would be great served hot. (Note: I used a very dry rye for this; if you make it with a sweeter whisky like Jack, up the whisky percentage to keep things balanced).

PSpiceMartini Finally, I thought it would be good to try something a little more on the highbrow side. Believe it or not, it's hard to find a complex cocktail based on a $10 rail liquor, but there was  one promising candidate from Colleen Graham of

Pumpkin Spice Martini

1 1/2 oz rye whiskey
1 1/2 oz Modern Spirits Pumpkin Pie Vodka or Hiram Walker Pumpkin Spice Liqueur
1/2 oz triple sec
1/4 oz anise liqueur
1 egg white
3 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters
grated nutmeg for garnish (optional)

Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
Shake vigorously (to ensure the egg is properly mixed)
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Sprinkle grated nutmeg on top if desired.

This was an amazing cocktail, and also pretty easy to assemble. On the nose, this one was heavy on the rye spice, with an assertive licorice note. The texture was full and silky, with mulling spices mingling well with orange and anise, leading to a creamy, smooth, easy going vanilla finish.

I have become used to being a failure, but rarely does it turn out this well. While I am sure pumpkin juice is great and all (apparently its all the rage at Hogwarts), it turns out the Hiram Walker Frog is actually a bright orange Prince. As I said, I picked mine up at One West Dupont Wine and Spirits, but it should be pretty widely available this time of year. Got a shindig goin' down this weekend? Grab a bottle, and have yourself a spicy, road-cone orange Halloween!




Autumn Menu: Grilled Tenderloin and Fall Hash

Whoever decided that Labor Day marks the end of the "grilling season" has never stood in front of a warm Weber on a crisp fall afternoon. Between the football and the drop in temperatures, fall is a fantastic time of year to cook outdoors.

The change in seasons also changes what I like to grill. The fish, shrimp and seafood that grill in the summer is replaced by lamb, pork and heartier cuts of meat. Roasted tomatoes and young garlic are replaced by sauteed brussel sprouts, and roasted turnips and potatoes. Despite the fact that my house has central heat, I plan meals like I have to stay warm in a yurt.

Much of this is due to the fact that vegetables like tomatoes are no longer in season, while brussel sprouts are just coming on. But I can get either product all year. No, the real reason is the trigger the weather flips. I no more want shepherd's pie in August as I want ceviche in February. 

That being said, pork tenderloin is my meat of all seasons. It's easy to cook, flavorful as hell and a relatively cheap cut of meat. A few years ago, when my wife and I lived in North Carolina, a lot of pork tenderloin moved through our little Chapel Hill apartment. She was going to grad school and I was working a couple jobs to help make that happen, so a four pound tenderloin that could feed us for several days was a household favorite.

DSCN5692 Now that we're into the fall, I like to pair the tenderloin with a seasonal hash of carrots, apples, onions and potatoes. You could even swap out the potatoes for squash or pumpkin, or just add it to the mix. I also add a bit of bacon to punch up the flavor and because I like bacon. A poached egg works real well, too.

To go with the dish, I like brown ales and dark beers. Honestly though, any fall seasonal would work. We've moved from the light, refreshing pilsners and pale lagers of summer to the darker, richer beers better suited for fall and winter.

In fact, I've been sitting on the bottle of Autumn Maple from The Bruery that I picked up in August. I bought it with this post in mind, but it was also just too damn hot at the time. Who wants a sweet, malty high alcohol (10.5%) beer when it's 96 degrees outside? Screw that and pass the hefeweizen.

To make this Belgian-style dark ale, the Placentia, Ca., brewery uses yams - lots of yams - molasses and spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. The result is deeply rich, spicy ale that's just a bit sour and more than a bit sweet.

DSCN5717 If you can't find a bottle of Autumn Maple or just want to try something else, grab a six pack of Sierra Nevada's Tumbler brown ale. The craft brewing community has gone wild for big, hoppy India Pale Ales during the past few years, but Tumbler shows that the heavy weights of craft beer do other styles of beer just as well (that said, Sierra Nevada's Tornado Extra India Pale Ale is an outstanding hoppy beer).

So grab a coat and get outside, there's grilling to be done.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin and Fall Hash
(Makes six servings)

DSCN5681 1 4-5 pound pork tenderloin
1 apple, Granny Smith or similarly crisp apple, diced
4 carrots, pealed and diced
6 potatoes, diced
3 cloves of garlic, diced
2 red onions, pealed and diced
3 strips of bacon, fried and diced
1 lemon, halved
1 egg, poached (optional)
Salt and black pepper

Generously season the tenderloin with salt and pepper, and set aside while you prepare the grill. For this recipe, you'll need two zones - one hot, one cool - so you can sear the tenderloin before allowing it to cook slowly for 90 minutes.

When the grill is ready, sear all sides of the meat until brown and then place the tenderloin on the cool side of the grill with the fat cap up and close the lid.

As the pork cooks, prep the rest of the ingredients, making sure the apples, carrots, potatoes and onions are diced the same size so they cook at the same rate. The dice should also be small, so it cooks fairly quickly.

After the pork has been on for an hour, place a pan on the sideburner or on the grill and fry the bacon. Remove the bacon from the pan and add the diced carrots, potatoes, garlic and onions, and season with salt and pepper. Sautee for 20 minutes or until the potato browns and softens (as an alternative, you can sautee the vegetables for 10 minutes and then stick the pan on the grill for 10 minutes). Add the diced bacon and apple, and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove everything from the pan so the apples don't overcook.

DSCN5696 (If you want to add a poached or fried egg - and you do - now is the time to cook the egg.)

After an hour and 20 minutes, the pork should be about ready to come off the grill. Using a meat thermometer, the internal temperature should be 165 degrees. If it's fully cooked, allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Before serving, squeeze a little lemon on the pork.

And if you haven't already, pop open the beer and enjoy.

A Trip to St. Michaels: Local Beer and Wine on Maryland's Eastern Shore

BREWERYFRONT1 After a long and arduous summer of work and family obligations, Eliza and I found ourselves with an oh-so-rare free weekend recently. On an only moderately planned "whim" (which is as whimmy as we get these days), we took a trip to St. Michaels, a small resort community on Maryland's Eastern Shore, or, the Riviera of the Chesapeake! Or something! Located about an hour's drive down the shore from Annapolis, St. Michaels has all the trappings of your usual sleepy bay-side tourist town; antique shops, cafes, purveyors of $200 critter pants and... a winery and a microbrewery? Hells yes, they do.

BREWERYFRONT2 On Route 33, right at the beginning of town in the "Old Mill Complex" reside St. Michaels Winery and Eastern Shore Brewing. Though unaffiliated, the two work in tandem as the perfect one-stop-shop for the vacationing lover of local fermented treats. Sticking by the old axiom "Beer before Wine, your Feeling Fine; Wine before Beer, towards This you Shouldn't Steer," we visited the latter first.

BREWERYPADDLE1 It's no coincidence that these two establishments find themselves so close together; Adrian and Lori Moritz, avid homebrewers from upstate NY, founded the Eastern Shore Brewing right next door to the young winery in 2008, rightfully thinking it a perfect complement. Using their two sizable fermenters, Eastern Shore puts out about 450 gallons of beer every 10 days, according to The Star Democrat.

BREWERYBAR3 The tasting room is an unpretentious, sparsely furnished space featuring an eclectic selection of tables and seats, and, why not, a number of trophy animal heads. The wood and marble bar featured five brews on draught for sampling: The Lighthause Ale, Duck Duck Goose Porter, Magic Hefeweizen, St. Michaels Ale, and Knot-So Pale Ale IPA. $8.95 gets you a five ounce pour of each of the beers, which equates to a little over two full beers, which ain't too shabby.

BREWERYBEERS1 All in all, the beers tasted of pretty high quality, with a propensity towards cleaner, crisper, dryer flavors. The St. Michaels Ale (which, unbeknownst to me, I had sampled earlier at a local crab smashery) is a fantastic session beer with low alcohol (5.2%), and just a hint of hops. The Magic Hefe, though not my bushel of BREWERYBAR2 crabs, is a great example of the style, with just the right amount of banana and yeasty flavors. Far and away the best of the bunch was the Porter, which had a classic British porter texture, a hint of hops, a slight note of burnt coffee, and a pleasing, dry finish. This is just the perfect local brew to have in oyster country.

Unfortunately, licensing does not allow Eastern Shore to sell by the pint -- they do, however, sell all their beers by the six-pack, and will gladly let you pick and choose your sampler, even to include 5 pours of the same. Though production on this stuff is far too low to make it to this area, the barman told me they sell heavily up and down the shore and have recently made inroads across the bridge, so who knows what the future holds?

MICHAELSSIGN1 A quick stumble behind the brewery is St. Michaels Winery. Founded in 2005, the winery uses a combination of local and Cali grown grapes, which they vinify on premise into a staggering number of wines -- 19 in total were available the day we visited!

MIACHELSOUTSIDE1 The big, barn-like structure houses a small four-seater bar and a half dozen or so tables, situated in a quaint, high-ceilinged, nautically themed room. Though it took a bit longer than we would have liked to be seated, the staff was lovely, and the wait gave us plenty of time to plan our tastings. As I said before, St. Michaels has almost 20 wines available to try, ranging from well-known French varietals like Pinot Grigio and Syrah, to more obscure native varietals and hybrids like Niagra, Seyval and Concord. Unlike some wineries I have visited, they make it pretty simple for you, offering up everything for $1 a taste.

MICHAELSBAR2 My experience with Maryland wines, previously limited to a handful of fruit wines, was greatly expanded that day, and what I found was generally pleasant. The 2007 Chenin Blanc -- made from grapes from Lodi, California -- had some nice floral notes, and ample acidity. The Sangiovese, made from local grapes, was also amply acidic, with the high MICHAELSAWARDS1 cherry notes of a light Chianti. We brought home a bottle of 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, which had great balance, and pleasing, tropical fruit notes. I wish I had had a chance to try more of the native grape wines, but what we had were generally quite good. Prices were pretty high at $16 to $35 a bottle, but that is not unexpected of a small winery that, because of Maryland's draconian wine-shipping laws, must rely almost exclusively on on-site purchases.

MICHALESFERMENTERS1 An interesting side note on both locations is that they were MUCH more free and open with their production space that any other brewery or winery I have ever visited. Eastern Shore's brewing tanks are right there to see and touch, and the winery staff were more than happy for their patrons to wander about their facilities, completely unsupervised! Maybe its a function of looser health codes, but I like to believe it is indicative of the laid back, relaxed atmosphere of the place. The Eastern Shore is a beautiful place to spend a long weekend, particularly for that leisurely attitude. Though I don't think Eastern Shore Brewery and St. Michaels constitute in and of themselves enough to draw a visit, they certainly make for a fun stop while you're there.

Eastern Shore Brewing Company
605 S Talbot St
St Michaels, MD 21663
(410) 745-8010

St. Michaels Winery
605 South Talbot Street, #6
St. Michaels, MD 21663
(410) 745-0808



The Manhattan, A Great Cocktail However You Make It

The Manhattan is one of our most popular, if not most beloved, cocktails. References to the drink date back more than a hundred years, meaning it survived Prohibition and countless cocktail trends that had people consuming all manner of drinks (Buttery Nipple, anyone?).

The strength of the Manhattan lies in the brevity of the ingredient list and how well they play together. After all, it doesn't get much simpler than bourbon and sweet vermouth.

Or is that rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters? Wait, maybe it's Canadian Whisky, orange bitters and equal parts sweet and dry vermouth. What about the garnish? Should it be a maraschino cherry or twist of lemon? And which of these versions is "perfect?" (Is there an imperfect Manhattan?)

Google "Manhattan cocktail recipe" and you'll get a more than 2.8 million (mostly porn) results, and I would venture nearly as many unique takes on the classic drink.

Some Manhattans I've ordered were simple affairs: bourbon and sweet vermouth. A nice enough drink, but technically the lack of bitters makes it a sling, not a cocktail. I think it also makes for a cheap bar.

More often than not, though, I come across Manhattans that are made with bourbon, sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters and garnished with a frighteningly red cherry. Although this drink looks and (more or less) tastes like a Manhattan, it's not quite.

To help figure out what makes a Manhattan a Manhattan, I e-mailed noted cocktail expert and proprietor of The Passenger and Columbia Room, Derek Brown.

"A Manhattan is a cocktail with rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters," he wrote. "Often, Bourbon is substituted for rye. The varying proportions are important dinstinctions(sp) but don't necessarily constitute a separate category."

So while the ingredients are important, they don't have to be in the traditional amounts of two parts whiskey, one part vermouth and three dashes of bitters. Brown cited the reverse Manhattan, which is two parts sweet vermouth and one part whiskey.

While Brown noted that bourbon can be substituted for rye, in parts of the Midwest, there's no substitute for brandy.

My wife's family and part of mine come from the great state of Wisconsin. Order a Manhattan in Mosinee and no one will bat an eye. Order it with bourbon or rye and they'll know you're not local.

For many Midwesterners, the typical Manhattan also uses equal parts sweet and dry vermouth, which is commonly known as the perfect Manhattan.

Whenever I get together with my father-in-law, the day ends with a Manhattan. He grew up on them in central Wisconsin and seems to enjoy my take on the drink (or the fact that I'm making them).

Of course, my recipe is different. Both recipes, actually.

With all these variations of the drink, what makes a true Manhattan and what doesn't?

When I posed this question to Brown, he sought counsel.

"Former judge and judicial scholar Robert Bork had this to say about martinis in a letter to the Wall Street Journal in 2005," Brown wrote, "which was his response to an article by Eric Felten: 'What counts in mixology is the 'original understanding' of the martini's essence by those who first consumed it. The essence remains unaltered but allows proportions to evolve as circumstances change. Mr. Felten's 'near-perfect martini' is the same in principle as the 'original-understanding martini' and therefore its legitimate descendant. Such latter-day travesties as the chocolate martini and the raspberry martini, on the other hand, are the work of activist bartenders.' Hope that helps."

It does.

It seems that fans of the Manhattan are attracted to the spirit of the drink - the rich, sweet amber whiskey (or whisky) cocktail - not necessarily the specifics of the ingredient list. While one man's Manhattan might be technically different than another's, when it comes down to it, we're all enjoying the same great cocktail.

The "Perfect Manhattan" and Little Italy

Perfect Manhattan

2 ounces of rye whiskey or bourbon (Wild Turkey 101-Proof Rye or Early Times Kentucky bourbon)
1 ounce of sweet vermouth (Dolin if you can find it.)
1/2 ounce of dry vermouth (Dolin again.)
4 dashes of Angostura bitters
1 brandied cherry (Les Parisiennes or similar brand)

DSCN5555 When I make a Manhattan, I always use dry vermouth. It balances out the sweetness of the sweet vermouth and richness of the bourbon.

In a cocktail shaker, combine the whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters and stir. Add the dry vermouth to the cocktail glass and gently swirl so the vermouth coats the walls of the glass (a process known as rinsing), and then discard the rest into the sink or drink it like I do. (If you like your Manhattan on the rocks, pour the dry vermouth over the ice, swirl and remove the rest. This way, the ice will be nicely coated.) Add the cherry to the glass.

(A quick word on the cherry. It's time to graduate from the candy-red cherry you're used to using. A couple years ago, I picked up a jar of Les Parisiennes brandied cherries and haven't looked back. These cherries are sweet, but not cloying, and a little boozy, which is appropriate for, well, booze.)

Fill the shaker half way with ice and stir for 20-30 seconds or until the whiskey, vermouth and bitters are thoroughly combined. Strain the ingredients into the cocktail glass and enjoy.

Little Italy

If you find the Manhattan a bit too sweet, this might be the drink for you. I replace the sweet vermouth with amaro, a bitter Italian liquor. It's sweet enough to stand in place of the sweet vermouth, but the added bitter levels things out. I also like to use Fee Brothers' Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters instead of Angostura for the caramel and nutmeg flavors they bring to this drink.

2 ounces of rye whiskey or bourbon (Wild Turkey 101-Proof Rye or Early Times Kentucky Bourbon)
1 ounce of amaro (I like Ramazzotti.)
1/2 ounce of dry vermouth (Dolin once again.)
4 dashes of Fee Brothers' Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters
1 brandied cherry

In a cocktail shaker, combine the whiskey, amaro, bitters and stir. Add the dry vermouth to the cocktail glass and gently swirl so the vermouth coats to walls of the glass, and then discard the rest. Add the cherry.

Fill the shaker half way with ice and stir for 20-30 seconds or until the whiskey, amaro and bitters are thoroughly combined. Strain the ingredients into the cocktail glass and enjoy.

Recession Refreshment: Cantina Novelli BiancoCube 2008

BiancoBottle Whoa. So I guess I have been way off on this whole "Recession Refreshment" column, as apparently the recession has been over since... June of '09? Does it feel like that to you? Yeah, didn't think so. I blame that foreign-born, Muslim president of ours. Grr! angrily

So screw it; bring on the cheap wine!

This latest one I have actually been sitting on for awhile. Back in June, the importer was kind enough to send me a bottle, which I drank without reviewing; I bought another, which I also drank without reviewing. Lather, rinse, repeat, and here we are in late September, on bottle number five. So either I am really irresponsible, or this wine is really good (answer: both).

Founded in 2000, Cantina Novelli is a thoroughly modern winery in the central-Italian region of Umbria. As is typical of the Umbrian wineries, Novelli tips its hat to both the past and the present, producing both classic regional wines, and forward-thinking, innovative blends. The BiancoCube 2008 falls firmly in the latter category, being an atypical expression of three of the region's native grapes: Trebbiano Spoletino, Grechetto and Pecorino.

BiancoGlass Though not aged in wood, thanks to a lengthy period of skin-contact during fermentation, this wine pours a rich shade of lemon yellow with golden highlights. The nose is a complex and intense melange of lemon, violets, peach, and pineapple. The attack is bracingly acidic, with bright, sweet pineapple flavors and some flinty notes. From there, this light-bodied but velvety wine becomes exceedingly dry, with typical Italian straw flavors on mid-palate, and more yellow fruit. The finish is intensely acidic and dry, and heavily flavored of grapefruit.

The blending of a modern fruit profile with classic Italian acidity make this wine an absolutely brilliant food-pairer. Whether with salad or fish, chicken or veal, pasta or pork, this wine is going to add something to the equation, almost regardless of preparation. And best of all, this one only runs about $12.99 per bottle!

So far, I have purchased the wine at two locations in Washington DC: MacArthur Beverage, in Palisades, and Griffin Market, in Georgetown. I am confident that it is more widely available, and will update here as I find out more. In the meantime, ask your favorite retailer to track down the importer, Red Ink, and see what they can find!