Happy Halloween: A Week of Spirits

This Halloween has consisted of a week of Spirits! What better way to celebrate than to imbibe with a libation and enjoy a cigar?

Building up to the Holiday for me this year has meant being fortunate enough to attend some very special spirit focused events, including a Balvenie tasting (with a bottle of The Balvenie 40 yr present in the room) at Downing Street Pub, a Bruichladdich tasting with Jim McEwan (wow!), a Cognac Ferrand tasting, and an infused tequilla tasting at El Gran Malo.

First, let’s begin with The Balvenie Tasting at Downing Street Pub.

Nicholas Pollacchi was our wonderful host for the The Balvenie Tasting at Downing Street Pub. The tasting began with a classic cocktail, The Blood and Sand, using the 12 year Doublewood. I adore the Doublewood on its own, mixing it in a cocktail definitely brought the cocktail up a level. For those who are curious, a Blood and Sand cocktail consists of scotch, orange juice, sweet vermouth, and cherry brandy. It’s a classic cocktail which gets its name from the 1922 Rudolph Valentino film, “Blood and Sand”.

Moving right along we began tasting the 14 year Carribean cask, 17 year Peated cask, and 21 year Portwood. For those who are not too particular about peat, I will say that staying in the Balvenie style, this is balanced and shouldn’t overwhelm you. It is a nice ingredient that gives the whisky a beautiful characteristic without dominating the palate. Peat is definitely present, but non-peat drinkers may still enjoy this beautiful whisky. The 21 Portwood has been a personal favorite of mine for some time now, well- that is until this evening.

Once we had gone through the tasting, Nicholas made a speech and produced a taste of The Balvenie 30 year and revealed the bottle of the 40 year. I want to thank Nicholas and everyone at Downing Street Pub for allowing me a smell and a sip of this beautiful Scotch. The 40 year was an amazing treat I am still thinking about right now. It is extremely limited in availability and worth tracking down if you can. It will be on my mind for some time… at almost $400 a shot I’m truly considering it. There is only one bottle of The Balvenie 40 year in Texas, and it is located at Downing Street Pub. I might regret telling you that but now you know.

The next tasting of the week was a Bruichladdich tasting at the downtown Spec’s location featuring Jim McEwan! Jim McEwan is a legend, having started in the industry at the age of 15 with Bowmore where he stayed for 38 years, he is currently the “madman” behind the newest Bruichladdich creations.

We began the tasting with the Bruichladdich Rocks which is their unpeated edition. Though unpeated, there is a wonderful taste of the Islay characteristic present which is very lovely. For me, when I think of Islay I think of the sea- I love the smell and taste of the ocean. The whisky is matured in cellars by the sea in Islay giving it a truly unique characteristic. Peat provides a very smoky taste, and the intensity can vary. If you are not a fan of peat I wouldn’t rule out everything with peat all together as there are some fantastic whiskies in which peat is a complimenting ingredient rather than the dominant flavor.

Having said that, Bruichladdich is now known for breaking barriers and bringing new styles of Single Malts that both new and existing whisky drinkers may appreciate. They very proudly distill, mature, and bottle their whisky in Islay and do not chill-filter or add any coloring. As a cigar smoker I can especially appreciate this because the natural minerals and oils in a cigar equal flavor (and color has very little true meaning in translation of flavor). The same is true of whisky.

During the tasting we had the pleasure of being among the first to taste the Bruichladdich 10 year, in celebration of their ten year anniversary since the distillery was resurrected. This was a special treat to be able to enjoy with Jim McEwan himself in the room. When he noses and tastes this drink, he thinks of the people both past and present who were involved in the creation of this new child. At 10 years of age, this whisky has remarkable complexities. Being a part of the launch was priceless.

The next tasting of the week was a Cognac Ferrand tasting with Hugo Chambon Rothlisberger and was hosted by our dear friend, Bob, better known as “The Whisk(e)y Man”. This was a great education on not only the details involved in making Cognac, but of the history, the people, the land, the laws, and the options involved in creating such a beautiful spirit.

One of my favorite things about this tasting is that Hugo shares the different soils and explains their natural characteristics and the effect that translates to the grapes.  Pierre Ferrand Cognac consists  100% of grapes from the Grand Champagne region, which is rich in a chalk quality that absorbs the natural water beautifully and allows the characteristics and acidity that contribute well for making Cognac. Hugo also shares with us the different barrel options from the grains within the wood to the various toasting levels. It’s wonderful to be able to touch the soil, feel the wood of the barrel, and then nose and taste the cognac for the complete story.

It was also very lovely to have a cigar outside with the Pierre Ferrand “Cigare” (which even has a cigar band on the bottle- love it) and a glass of the Selection Des Anges. The Cigare would balance well with a variety of medium to full bodied cigars as it has enough character to compliment and keep up. It made me crave a cigar as I had my first sip, mostly because I was mentally looking for how certain flavors would combine. I’m very delighted to see this become more available, and as lovely as it is alone it is exceptional with a cigar.

What was most exciting for me from this tasting was a sampling of the soon to be released Pierre Ferrand 1840 1st Cru de Cognac. This is a cocktail focused spirit which looks to recreate what cognac would have tasted like in 1840, and the significance that those flavors and characteristics had in the cocktail scene. One of my all time favorite cocktails is the Champs-Elysées which calls for a nice portion of Cognac. When I tasted the new 1840 1st Cru de Cognac, the first thing that came to mind is how much better my favorite cocktail is going to become. From the association I have, I could almost taste the Green Chartreuse, lemon, simple syrup, and bitters… or at least imagine each ingredient becoming a part of the drink. This cognac is meant to be a part of the cocktail, rather than to be sipped alone. I am very excited!

A week of spirits comes to a close with a night at El Gran Malo, or “The Big Bad..” with an amazing assortment of infused tequilas. They begin with 100% Agave tequila and add fresh, organic ingredients. The infusions available are an impressive list, with everything from pumpkin, vanilla, sea salt, black pepper, cucumber, celery root, and more. I noticed a beef jerky infusion in the works, so there is much to still look forward to. My favorite of the night was a beet and thymus infused tequila, which also made a magnificent margarita!

I also really enjoyed having the tequila in its original state as a side by side comparison to the infused creations. I would recommend ordering a shot of the tequila sans infusion for comparison as well. You can definitely still appreciate the original tequila’s qualities and see how the infusions are enhancing rather than replacing flavors. This is a sipping tequila- so please do enjoy a taste rather than a quick shot. If you must shoot it, at least have one sip before you do, ha.

One special treat we had was a sampling of the Pumpkin Pie infused tequila. Wow, I’ve never had a beverage in my life so much remind me of food. Each sip tasted as though I had just finished a bite of pumpkin pie- the mouth feel was creamy and flavors were reminiscent of everything from the spices to the crust. Very impressive.

As someone who tends to prefer bitter flavors over sweet ones, I love how they have experimented in all directions. There is something for everyone, and you are bound to find something that will feel as though it was designed purely for you. The use of natural, seasonal ingredients truly shines through.

..and now for the cocktail I mentioned! I enjoy searching for new recipes, especially ones focused around a certain season or celebration. The weather for Halloween here was lovely and cool, but not cool enough for a Hot Toddy or Tom and Jerry cocktail. So I wanted something with character that would meet the mood for the night. I discovered “The Devil’s Own” cocktail from Sloshed, and I must say the cocktail truly smells and tastes of Halloween. I don’t even think that last statement will make sense until you taste it and see for yourself.

1½ oz Zaya rum
½ oz Fernet Branca
¼ oz Gran Gala
1tsp vanilla syrup

lemon zest/twist
Absinthe, Pernod or Herbsaint (to rinse glass)

Rinse your cocktail glass in Absinthe or absinthe substitute and then set aside. In a glass with ice, mix all the remaining ingredients (except for the lemon zest) and stir until chilled. Strain into your Absinthe rinsed cocktail glass and squeeze the lemon twist over the cocktail to release the oils. Disregard the remaining lemon and enjoy your cocktail!

Also in celebration of Halloween, I decided to light up this year’s Monster series from Tatuaje: The Wolfman. It’s fun to involve your drinks, cigars, and attire with the theme of a holiday or special occasion. It keeps things fun and interesting!

Please share your Halloween cigars, spirits, and costumes in the comments! I’d love to hear how you celebrated the evening.


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