Notes from the Oscars of beveraging
FIRST TASTES OF UNRELEASED SPIRITS
Meeting with distillers and previewing unreleased spirits are key reasons I go to Tales, even if there wasn't an overwhelming amount of new offerings in 2012. This year, I spent time with WhistlePig master distiller Dave Pickerell, who was also a Maker's Mark master distiller for 14 years. Pickerell told me I was the very first to try his upcoming October Whistlepig release, TripleOne. This is a 111 proof rye versus the standard 100, aged 11 years in place of the typical 10. The bracing TripleOne doesn't boast quite as long a finish as Whistlepig's flagship rye, but it's even more complex, surprisingly akin to applejack or Calvados at first sip, opening up into spicy rye body with citrus and chocolate notes. American whiskey fans, watch for this one.
You say amaros, but I say amari (short grammar lesson about the plural for amaro). The bottom line is amaro (Italian for "bitter"), the wide range of herbal liqueurs commonly sipped as after-dinner digestifs in Italy, has been hot for the past few years and only continues to get hotter. Though there are still countless amari not yet imported from Europe, big names like Fernet and Cynar have ushered bitter liqueurs into the mainstream. Amari popped up all over Tales, most notably in the fortified and aromatized wines tasting room highlighting port, sherry, etc. Not to mention some of the US' best vermouths like SF's Sutton Cellars and Imbue in Portland. The highlight of the tasting was Neil Kopplin pouring Imbue's debut of brand new Petal & Thorn, a gorgeously bitter gentian liqueur using homegrown beets for color, alongside cinnamon and menthol.
On the Italian front, The Spirit of Italy threw a two-morning brunch hosted by Francesco Lafranconi and featuring seven producers: Amaro Lucano, Luxardo, Moccia, Nardini, Pallini, Toschi and Varnelli. Lafranconi's cocktails stole the show, there was an addictive Amaro Lucano-bourbon milk punch and Zabov NOLA coffee. Zabov is essentially zabaglione (the Italian dessert of whipped egg yolks, sugar, sweet wine) in a bottle. It was a little sweet on its own but fascinating in texture and in the coffee cocktail. On the other end of the spectrum, Varnelli's expensive ($52), uber-bitter Amaro Sibilla is a complex delight, unfolding with chestnuts, coffee, honey, and intense bitter notes. This one is not for the novice amaro drinker.
INDIE SPIRITS ROCK
Kudos to Dave Schmier for Indie Spirits That Rock, a version of his Indy Spirits Expo here in San Francisco. Crowds thronged around small, independent spirits -- methinks they need a bigger tasting room next year. I even discovered a few new spirits I had not tasted before, including West Virginia's Smooth Ambler Spirits' (I'd had their Old Scout bourbon before) fascinating Barrel-Aged Gin, aromatic with orange marmalade, bitter subtleties, pine, cinnamon, and their Very Old Scout bourbon, earthy with oak, nuts, toast and butter. Few Spirits (from Evanston, IL) also offered an intriguing rye and bourbon, the former spicy, sweet, bracing, the latter smooth but not lacking in character. I look forward to revisiting each of these.
FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA's NOLA HOME