Thursday, July 23, 2015

Proof Positive: Old Forester Signature 100 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Proof Positive Cocktail
@ Proof on Main
If you want positive proof of the excellence of fine bourbon in a cocktail, all you need do is travel to Louisville, Kentucky and visit “Proof on Main” at the artsy/cool 21c Museum/Hotel, a mere stone’s throw from the once and future famous ‘Whiskey Row’, soon to be the new home of Old Forester Bourbon.

(Proof is an archaic English term from the practice of ‘proving’ to suspicious British sailors that their legal daily ration of booze was of sufficient alcoholic strength and not diluted. If you mixed an alcohol spirit with gunpowder and it burned with a clear blue flame, that was proof it was full strength. Eventually the standard in America was established as 50% alcohol by volume equaling 100 Proof---or 100% proof that it was at least 50% alcohol.)

Settle in at the bar at Proof. The best seat might be near the leering bronze satyr statue, one of the more artistic touches in this exceedingly artistic combination of art museum/hotel/restaurant/bar, where you can enjoy the art---in physical, culinary and cocktail form---while looking out over the restoration of the historical center of Main Street and the ceaseless flow of the Ohio River.

Whiskey Row facade; soon to be the home of Old Forester.
There is an impressive selection of cocktails, whiskey flights and special collections that makes it difficult to decide. But whiskey aficionados looking for a superb bourbon cocktail need look no further than the most popular cocktail on the list, the “Proof Positive.” 

It is, without question, one of the finest bourbon cocktails I’ve had, a near-perfect, exquisitely balanced, boozy bourbon blast that evokes the classic Old Fashioned and the Manhattan at the same time. And, amazingly enough, it outdoes both of those icons.

But there’s more proof at hand in the Proof Positive.

First, there is the proof in Old Forester Signature 100 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon of the richness and depth of an old-style bourbon from the 1800s; then there’s proof that the “rye-heavy” recipe makes for a profoundly pleasing dram; and finally there’s the proof that high proof in a bourbon can be rich and flavorful and surpassingly mellow without being in the least bit harsh or hot. The proof is in the bottle and in the glass.

Old Forester Signature 100 Proof
Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Old Forester is as classic as bourbon can get. In Bluegrass Country, heritage is as important in bourbon as it is in horseflesh. It began in 1870 when George Garvin Brown had the brilliant idea of selling bourbon not by the cask but by the bottle, sealed and labeled and signed by Mr. Brown as his personal guarantee of quality. He even named it (with a slight spelling change) after Old Doc Forrester, the then most respected medical doctor in genteel Louisville.  In those days, doctors prescribed as much bourbon medicinally as bartenders dispensed recreationally, so purity was important.

Today, Old Forester Straight Kentucky Bourbon is the only continually producing family-owned bourbon since 1870, all the way through Prohibition until today.

Old Forester has an impressive portfolio of bourbons, with the standard 86 Proof leading the sales; the Signature 100 Proof, which used to be the old designation of “Bottled in Bond” cherished by whiskey lovers who also love bargains; the prized collector’s single-vintage edition released each year in honor of its founder, George Garvin Brown’s Birthday Bourbon; and now the addition of new iterations that are taking the bourbon world by storm, the 1870 and the 1897 Bottled In Bond, both created to reflect the style of those significant years in Old Forester’s history. The latest iteration, a limited release, is the Old Forester Single Barrel 90 Proof---which reportedly already has a backlog of orders for several months.

Cocchi Rosa
Aperitivo Americano
Proof on Main uses the Old Forester Signature 100 Proof for its Proof Positive. The Signature may be the finest expression possible of bourbon at a high proof mark; it certainly makes that case in this, um, signature cocktail.

Combine the rich, mellow, intensely aromatic Signature with bright and lively Cocchi Americano Rosa, a rosé version of a bitter Italian aperitivo imported by Haus Alpenz, house-made bitters, orange bitters, and a touch of local Kentucky sorghum syrup and you have one of the best whiskey cocktails imaginable.  It is perfectly balanced in every way, profoundly rich and mouth-filling, a compelling combination of oak, fruit, corn and sorghum sweetness and leathery rye spice. It begins as an orange-laced Old Fashioned that changes mid-taste to a spicy, tangy vermouth-driven Manhattan without ever losing the strong central core of lush bourbon whiskey, all the way down to the last few drops in the glass.

So there you are. The proof is in the Proof Positive at Proof.

Need more proof? If you can’t travel to Louisville, buy a bottle of Old Forester Signature 100 Proof Straight Kentucky Bourbon. You can thank me later.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Things I've Learned from Bartenders: Radler Stiegl

Craft bartenders are the most focused people in the world. They have their antenna out for any new thing, or for any improvement on an old thing. They’re tuned in to a vast social network, partaking in but far beyond Facebook and Twitter.  These people are the earliest of ‘early adapter’ types; if there is something trending, they’ll know of it, and probably have already experienced it. And if it’s not trending, they have the capability to make it so.

Fernet Branca was one of those things that languished in obscurity in the U.S. Only a handful of people even knew of it, and most of those from traveling in Europe.  But it became a thing with craft bartenders, and suddenly it was “their” drink. Nothing fancy, a shot of Fernet Branca with a beer back. The beer was usually something bland and relatively insipid, a PBR or Miller Lite or Shiner. And pretty soon, once bartenders started talking about it, and finding more and more uses for Fernet Branca in their cocktails, it became a “thing”.

Fernet Branca is still going strong. It’s still the leader of the pack of astoundingly austere black bitter brews, but other Fernets are gaining traction now that there’s a perceived market.  (In case you don’t know, “Fernet” is the name of a type of bitter spirit; Branca is the particular brand name.)

But now, there’s a new thing. Fizzy/fruity beer/soda.

Have you heard of Radler Stiegl?  What whatsit, you say?

No, Radler Stiegl is not a guy with a cool name; it’s a popular beverage from Salzburg, Austria with a cool name, and it’s a thing with bartenders. Try one and you’ll see why.

Radler Stiegl is a beer beverage laced with grapefruit, 40% beer and 60% grapefruit. It is wickedly delicious by itself, served chilled or on the rocks, with a twist of fruit.  It is even more profoundly tasty with a shot of Mezcal, something smoky like the del Maguey La Vida or the exotic Mezcal Vago. With Tequila, the Radler Stiegl is a total winner---tequila and grapefruit are a natural marriage, soul mates, one complimenting the other. Add beer and you’ve got a sortakinda La Paloma, Mexico's favorite way to consume tequila..

The Stiegl is only 3.2% alcohol, so even with a stiff shot of tequila or mezcal it’s not an alcohol bomb. Much like a Paloma or Mojito, it’s a drink designed to promote a fairly moderate way of consuming an alcohol beverage. (Of course, as always, responsible consumption is appropriate.) The Radler Stiegl is packed in a shrink-wrapped four pack of pint cans (16.9 ounces each). One can should be good for a couple of tall glasses with ice.

It’s not that easy to find---you are at the beginning of a trend, remember---but it is out there. You’ll begin to see it in trendy bars first, then in the better liquor stores (PDX Peeps: Hollywood Liquors has it). It’s packaged in colorful shrink-wrapped four packs.

Better move fast, though, if you want to be out on the cutting edge: a bartender buddy just told me about the Schőfferhofer Grapefruit, a Hefe-Weizen beer mix
ed with grapefruit juice.

Sounds good; of course, I’ll have to try it.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Rum Club: a Treffehn Trifecta

The Lawn Dart
So I’m meeting Justin Siemer, bartender buddy, late night at the Rum Club. Sunday night and the place is jumping. Guys come wandering in with new bloody tattoos, one sporting a ‘Wisconskull” with great panache, another a moustache of classic proportions---no, not a moustache tattoo, a moustache, waxed and coiled and handsome. The patio is socked full, there’s vaping in one corner and in the other a couple swallowing each other’s tongues con mucho gusto.

Mike Treffehn is at the bar, headband already soaked in sweat, moving as fast as he can in the rushes, taking the spare moments to relax in between. And there aren’t a lot of spare moments.

You can also use Squirt
It was the end of Negroni Week, and I was obligated to do my part, so I ordered their odd, totally unexpected but nonetheless delightfully refreshing Negroni of the Week, the Lawn Dart.  All in a good cause, I said. Don’t know what the cause was, but I’m sure it was good. The Negroni sure was.

The Lawn Dart is a light, fizzy, pink grapefruit cooler in a Collins glass. Fresh, lively, zingy but cool and refreshing too, it’s a combination of gin, Cocchi Americano, Campari, house made tonic syrup and grapefruit soda (they used Jarritos Grapefruit).

With a touch of sea salt to bring out the grapefruit even more clearly, this one is an ideal summertime cooler, with restrained bitterness. Not as bold and dominating as a full-blown classic Negroni, but then, this version would be easy to knock back three or four of on a warm sunny day.

A lovely little bitter thing, this Cocchi Americano.
Armagnac/Rhum Sidecar

Freshly juiced with the Lawn Dart (like its namesake, fun but dangerous), I felt the old yearning for a nice, brisk, cleansing sour, so I asked Treffehn to whip up a Sidecar/Between The Sheets-ish one-off with a half part cognac and half part rum and a full part triple sec.

Wow! One tasty little creation this is---only I didn’t end up with cognac (didn’t care for their one selection available at that moment) and Treffehn pulled out a De Montal Armagnac.  Whoa! Interesting.  So it turned out to be Armagnac and the Rhum St. Barth Cool white rum sharing the bill.

The improvised cocktail worked perfectly, with the earthiness and wood tones of the Armagnac making a lovely solid base and the Rhum St. Barth driving a rich aromatic grassiness out of the glass.  Funny; sometimes it’s those things you don’t normally think of putting together that work out so well.

De Montal Armagnac
When Siemer arrived he went straight for the Rhum St. Barth, asking Treffehn to whip up something, anything, surprise him. When it was delivered up I asked for a taste. And I did not at first recognize it for a piña colada.

Which it was. Treffehn puffed up a little with some (well-earned) indignation and pride, explaining that piña coladas are most often made wrong and are most often too sweet and sticky and unbalanced and all clogged up and clabbered with chunky-slimy texture.  Which he’s right, of course.  And where have I heard this before? Oh, hello Morgenthaler. Nice Grasshopper you’ve got there.

Do you like Pina Colada's?
Treffehn’s Piña Colada is none of the aforementioned. 

The Rhum St. Barth comes out first (again a lovely sweet floral grassiness driven by its 100 Proof), then a light, almost coconut-water fruit, not as thick and creamy as coconut cream, followed by a restrained pineapple character, not too sweet. It is not heavy, or clunky, or chunky or slimy.  It is not over-balanced toward either coconut or pineapple and doesn't have the artificial tinny taste of canned fruit. In short, a well-made, carefully crafted, and nicely balanced drink.

Rhum St. Barth.
Cool Runnings
Upon successive sips, the Rhum St. Barth continues to hold its own with the coconut and pineapple, keeping the balance intact, never letting eirther element dominate.  This is not a fruit drink: it is an agricole rhum drink. There's a difference.


So, a trifecta. Three drinks; all winners. Major payout. Don’t know why I’m suddenly going with horseracing metaphors. Maybe it’s the still buzzing high of the Triple Crown. Maybe it's the unaccustomed giddiness of midnight communion in the Rum Club.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Obscure Delights: Grosjean Freres Torrette, Valle d'Aoste, 2012

Nostrana’s superbly maintained wine list and a late evening dinner with Jake Parrot, omni-connoisseur  of alcoholic beverages, conjoined to re-acquaint me with the wines of the Vallee d’Aoste (or Val d’Aosta, depending upon your language preference) via the Vinirari Balteo 2010.

We all need reminders, from time to time, of wines we like but just don’t get enough of, in part because they are simply not available on most wine lists.

When I came across another good Valle d’Aosta red at Bar Avignon, I didn’t even hesitate.

I’m a sucker for alpine wines and the Grosjean FreresTorrette 2012 is a great example of why: exceptionally clean, precise, bright, high acidity, well developed red fruit aromas and flavors and usually not a lot of either vanilla oak or tannin to fight through.

This small and gorgeous valley has always been a conduit  for merchants and tourists, located as it is in far northwestern Italy, sitting at the northernmost stretch of the Piedmont just underneath the Swiss Alps, and offering a comfortable passageway to France immediately next door. The multilingual and multicultural influences are obvious, combining Swiss-German, French and Italian.

Valle d’Aoste wines profited little from the wine boom of the last fifty years or so. Volume was not high---the valley wine growers are neither numerous nor export-oriented and most quietly make their wines primarily for local consumption; this DOC is the smallest of Italy’s wine regions, both in area and production. Alpine wines seemed to focus on obscure, unknown, and hard to pronounce indigenous varieties and blends (Fumin or Vien de Nus, anyone?), with grapes better known from other regions sprinkled around, as in Nebbiolo, Gamay, Chardonnay, which leaves the Valle d’Aosta with its own style.

During the greatest growth of wine culture, alpine wines, with their lean, often tart and acidic and nervy style, did not seem to resonate with the drinking public that wanted massively tannic reds and opulent vanilla-spiced whites drowned in oak. The Italian Valle d’Aosta and Trentino-Alto Adige, the wines from the Austrian and German Alps, the French wines of the Haut-Savoie and the lean and chiseled Swiss wines continued to languish in relative obscurity, consumed mostly by skiers and tourists.

But times, and tastes, change. And even though many Americans still prefer the big and boisterous attention-grabbing wines, the ones that announce themselves in loud voices and shove everything else aside (often including the food on the table), the Grosjean Torrette impresses with its balance, its restraint, its remarkable flexibility with foods.

Along with the suave silkiness of the French and the angular precision of the Swiss, the Grosjean Torrette also displays a particularly Italian quality:  it is a quiet, polite and utterly charming table companion and speaks, as the Italians say, sotto voce.

Grosjean makes several wines. The Torrette is an indigenous blend of 80% Petit Rouge together with a varying amount of Vien de Nus, Doucet, Fumin and Mayolet.  (Recall that I mentioned the indigenous and obscure nature of the grapes here?) The vineyard sites are at an altitude of 550-650m and trained using the Guyot system, allowing the vines to drape down the terraced hillside.  In a marginal climate where ripeness is paramount and sometimes not easily attainable, this form of trellising gives the growers a slight but noticeable edge in that regard. The wine ages in both stainless steel and oak casks.

Grosjean Torrette is similar to Beaujolais more than anything.  But not just Beaujolais, a stellar Cru Beaujolais from a top producer, and most specifically a Morgon by respected producers Burgaud, Desvignes or Foillard.  Tart and mouth-watering with ripe but not over-ripe red fruits---mingled cherries, strawberries and a bit of blackberry plumpness---and bright with lively acidity, while relatively low in tannins, the Torrette is smooth, light to medium-bodied with a hint of earth and smoke. 

When served with food, the balanced combination of tart fruit and bright acidity is a perfect companion, livening up the tastebuds to bring out the flavors of lighter foods, while providing a pleasant cleansing astringency for heavier, fattier fare. The wine suits the delicious cuisine at Bar Avignon with an easy versatility.

Grosjean Torrette. Because sometimes you don’t want a blockbuster wine.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Portland Bar Scene: Justin Siemer has the Last (Mezcal) Word

 I visited Ración for dinner on the occasion of bar manager Justin Siemer’s last night there (he has gone on to other things, as bartenders often do) and I experienced a salient reminder of why I appreciate good bartenders.

We had a great dinner courtesy of Chef Anthony Cafiero. Ración’s concept is not so much the typical idea of tapas, but more an extended dinner of several complex and enticing plates.  You really should try the sous vide egg dish here. It would have been a revelation for me, had I not had it previously, but it was a pure delight to watch my wife enjoy it for the first time. (Yes; I like to watch.) It is a well-conceived and beautifully plated dish; one of the finest egg dishes I have ever enjoyed.

I played around with the cocktail list, musing over the fact that little bursts of creative energy like this were virtually unknown ten years ago but are now as common as can be in bars and restaurant all over Portland.  I also noticed a quirky oddity that perhaps gave a bit of insight to the cocktail designer: the main spirits were almost always generically cited….”Rye Whiskey” or “Old Tom Gin”…but the adjuncts, especially the amari, were identified carefully and precisely. Flip to the list of spirits for the establishment and the Amari portion is larger than any other segment of major spirits.  There is mixability at work here.

As a final nightcap at the end of a particularly fine evening, I was in the mood for one of my favorite drinks. At the MultnomahWhiskey Library I had been felicitously introduced to a Last Word, a classic gin and Chartreuse and maraschino sour, but this one had the gin switched out for del Maguey Vida Mezcal with its enticing smoky aromatics. I asked Justin if he could do one of those.

He mixed a drink and delivered it, with what seemed like a tiny bit of…trepidation?, concern?...and watched intently as I took my first sip.  It was great, and I told him so.  His shoulders relaxed a bit; he smiled and moved away.

A bit later, Justin returned and confessed he had been concerned because he had just run out of Luxardo Maraschino liqueur and had to use a different brand, Maraska, which had a slightly different flavor profile. He subbed in the Maraska according to standard portions, but felt it wasn’t.quite.right: the balance was off somehow. So he added  a touch more Maraska, less than a teaspoonful, to bring the cocktail back to harmony.

And that is a perfect example of why I appreciate good bartenders!  They pay attention to detail. They are conscientious. They strive for perfection, or as close as they can get, for that moment and that cocktail experience.  In short, they care: they take pride, personal pride, in doing things “the right way.”

We’re lucky here in Portland. Some would say spoiled (but not me). We have an abundance of this pride in craft throughout our bartending community.   Here’s to them. And here’s to you, Justin: your Mezcal Last Word was perfect.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Wine With Jake: Vinirari Balteo 2010, Val d'Aosta, Italy at Nostrana

I really love convergences. Even more so when there is wine involved.

Old friend Jake Parrott is in town.  Jake is a guy who works hard and plays hard, the kind of guy that energizes you by being in the vicinity.  After a rather long day for him we managed to rendezvous at Nostrana, reminisce, laugh a lot, and nosh.

With a Funghi Verde pizza shared, tagliata for him and pasta for me, we agreed a lighter wine was in order.  Jake quite liked the Nostrana list with some perceptive Italian selections from all around the 20 regions, a few choice nuggets from neighboring Slovenia, and some local stuff from the Willamette.

It’s always difficult to quickly pick a wine from the Nostrana list. There’s so much there, and from so many directions, if you choose one you almost always regret not selecting another.

But Jake picked the Vinirari Balteo Val d’Aosta, 2010.  And holy schnikies (a technical expletive popular with wine professionals) was he right!

I’ll be honest here: I thought the Balteo was Petite Rouge.  They did have a Petite Rouge on the list, by the way, but it wasn’t the Balteo.  Although, in a way, the Balteo was at least partly Petite Rouge.  Allow me to use the Louis/Dressner website info to…um…clarify things:

85% fumin and 15% cornalin. Little known fact, cornalin in Aosta is not the same as cornalin in the Valais of Switzerland. It's what would be called humagne rouge in Switzerland, a descendent of Swiss cornalin. However, Swiss cornalin is descended from petit rouge and vien de nus from Aosta.

Now THAT, my friends is inherent winegeekery of the highest order! Bravo!! I particularly like the “little known fact” touch.  Dude, Cornalin, Petite Rouge, the Swiss Valais (see what I did there?), humagne rouge and vien du nus---hell, for that matter, even Aosta as a region---are all and sundry little known facts to all but the very, very few.

And for all of you who don’t know what the terms mean, the Aosta, or Val d’Aosta (your ear may hear it as “Valdosta”) refers to a tiny, tiny, tiny valley that is the entirety of the DOC.  I believe it is the smallest designated region in Italy, although I could be wrong, because who the heck ever knows in Italy. 

The Aosta has its own little idiosyncrasies that make it distinctive.  As a remainder of the once large and powerful House of Savoy, the valley was strategically situated near France and south of Switzerland and including the Piedmont. Eventually, of course, the valley was incorporated into the newly born state of unified Italy---with the first King of all Italy being the reigning King of the House of Savoy!  Hence, the valley is dual in its languages, and you’ll see road signs in both French and Italian.

Whether French or Italian accented, the wines of the Aosta, in their sequestered little valley, have always remained largely local and authochthonous; many appear nowhere else than in this particular area of the Alps.  Hence the references to Fumin and Petite Rouge and others.

But let’s speak to this particular wine, rather than to its varietal makeup. It is light-bodied, smooth, and elegant, without any forceful braggadocio of over-ripe fruit or fresh oak.  It is a berry-focused fruit---for me, raspberry---but much, much more. Its lightness and delicacy---well, apparent delicacy---belies its complexity. Tasty and quaffable, sure.  But the Balteo has some depths to explore.  First the raspberry, in a clean, bright, fresh fruit way. Then there’s the unexpected  but pleasant bite of white pepper that enlivens the fruit and draws you further into the wine. Texturally, it begins silky-soft, then manages to fill out a bit in the middle before letting its ghost of aroma and flavor linger around for a while.

Jake ordered the Vinirari Balteo because he wanted a wine that would match with the food on the table…and because he can’t resist the more obscure and exotic wines when he (rarely) sees them on a list. The wine was delightful with the multi-mushroom and arugula pizza on a charred crust, the slightly bloody tagliata and more arugula, and my paglia e fieno pasta with smoked white trout and English peas.

(Side note here: I hesitated on the paglia e fieno because I didn’t want the usual culinary aberration of a badly made paglia e fieno, the kind where they drown the damn thing in cream and butter so much you’re left with oily soup at the end. Blah.  But Nostrana, as always, did it right: delicate, fresh egg pasta, al dente English peas, delicious house-smoked trout, and a respectable restraint with the cream pitcher so it was sauce, not gravy.)

Pizza gone. Steak and pasta gone. Wine remained. Our dessert was the rest of the wine with one small wedge of absolutely delicious cheese, a Briar Ridge Waterloo Sunset soft cow cheese from Dundee, OR, selected by the wine steward.

If you haven’t tried a Val d’Aosta wine as yet, hie thee to Nostrana; they have several well-chosen ones on the list. (Suggestion: try a white Petite Arvine from Aosta. Word.) You’ll be experiencing something you’ve literally never had before, with varieties you probably never knew about before, in the best possible culinary environment for the wines.

Now, that's a convergence!

Monday, April 13, 2015

50 year old Laubade Armagnac in a cocktail? Cue the outrage!

Would you put a 50 year old single estate Armagnac in a cocktail?

Many people would call you crazy, or at the very least a perpetrator of high crimes and misdemeanors, for desecrating such a venerable brandy by mixing it in a ***shudder*** cocktail. Your parentage would be questioned; teeth would be gnashed; veins would throb; and heads would explode.

But when Kevin Tuan, reputed to be one of the top bartenders in Hanoi, created two delicious cocktails based on Chateau de Laubade 1965 Single Estate Armagnac, the owners of Chateau de Laubade were delighted, and couldn’t wait to post it on their Facebook feed.

Kevin Tuan crafts his cocktail creations at the Bar Pharaoh in the Lotte Hoteld’Hanoi.  When he discovered the remarkable single estate/single vineyard/vintage dated Armagnacs of Chateau de Laubade, he immediately created two new cocktails. 

The Laubade de Pharaoh was a classic take on a brandy sour, laced with orange and lemon juice and emboldened with a dash of Angostura bitters.  Wild Mint in 1965 was a whimsical variation on the minty mojito, or you might call it “thyme on time” in reference to Kevin’s inspired use of selfsame herb, whether pun intended or not.

Bar Pharaoh,, Lotte Hotel Hanoi

These two cocktails were so intriguing, with the heretical idea of using such a superlative base as the vintage dated Armagnac, I had to try them both---or at least, my home-styled variation of both, since I could not hop a plane to Hanoi.

I also, alack and alas, did not possess any 1965 Armagnac from Chateau de Laubade.  Fresh out, darn it! So I “made do” with a Chateau de Laubade XO. That was okay, I figured, because I would get the essential element of a well-aged Laubade while still causing sweats and heart palpitations among the purists. Desecration of sacred objects is a terrible thing, innit? So I laboriously climbed up my trophy wall, took the XO Armagnac off its pedestal, dusted it off, polished it up a bit so it would reflect the lights of the crystal chandelier (details are important) and proceeded to mix and mingle my cocktails. (Mind you, I'm somewhat cheap. If you're not miserly you can easily find the Chateau de Laubade around the country---see,---ranging from $300 to $349 a bottle.  Which, come to think of it, is actually a startling price for a 50 year old single-vintage Armagnac.)

The results?  Pretty damned tasty.

The Laubade de Pharaoh worked beautifully with the XO.  This was a sour with substance!  That characteristic earthy tang of Armagnac was there, with the lacy fringes of fruit and flower peeking through. The nose was particularly charming---bright and citrusy, of course; nicely balanced between the sweet orange and the tart lemon; with the responsive dried orange peel and spice of the Armagnac---and the flavor was compelling enough that the cocktail disappeared in amazingly short order.  This could easily be a standard of the house.

The Wild Mint in 1965 was an even more whimsical twist on a now-familiar modern classic, the mojito. But here, the addition of Chateau de Laubade XO made a seismic difference. A basic, simple quaffing Collins/Highball drink, primarily designed so one could hydrate while dancing wildly to Cubano music in the sweltering streets while getting enough alcohol to sustain the frenzy but not enough to put you face down on the cobblestones, had amazingly transformed itself into a fresh, lively, but sleek and sophisticated tall drink. The contrast of bright, fresh, green mint (I used spearmint) on top, with the entirely different bass tones of the thyme underneath, were perfectly balanced by the robust body and earthy appeal of the Armagnac, making for a surprisingly complex and satisfying drink.I altered my version to eliminate the mojito/mint syrup, preferring natural aromas of
 the crushed spearmint instead

Not wishing to deprive you of the experience, courtesy of Chateau de Laubade here are the two recipes from Kevin.  Make them up today…or better yet, stop off at the Bar Pharaoh in Hanoi and ask Kevin to whip them right up for you.

Laubade de Pharaoh :- 1965 Chateau de Laubade Bas Armagnac: 60 mL- Orange : 20 mL- Fresh Lemon Juice : 10 mL- Syrup Sugar Cane : 10 mL- Angostura bitters : 3 dash 

Wild Mint in 1965 :- 1965 Chateau de Laubade : 80 mL- Mint Syrup (Dolin): 10 mL- Mojito Syrup: 10mL- Fresh Lime Juice: 10 mL- Thyme : 2 sprigs- Mint: 2 sprigs

And, sorry, but if you make these at home, you’ll have to supply your own Chateau de Laubade Armagnac.