The article I did on the wines I had in 2020 was a lot longer read than this will be, but since I do divide my time between reviewing both I wanted to share some of the spirits, and some of the cocktails, I enjoyed last year.
NEFT Vodka is made from pure Austrian spring water, is a San Francisco World Spirits Competition winner for BEST VODKA, and has been awarded many GOLD and DOUBLE GOLD medals from other competitions! Tasting: Aroma from two inches away and swirling: reminded me of a very fine sake, like a daiginjo where the sake rice has been milled down to 50%. With a gentle sweetness, as well as a creaminess, and some slightly buttery and even nutty notes. Flavor: Smooth, burn on the mid palate only and not immediate. Still reminding me of a fine cold sake but of course, this is definitely a smooth and creamy vodka. The mouthfeel makes me want to sip alone, not masked by ingredients in a cocktail or even with ice. If I hold on the palate, the way whisky master blender Richard Patterson instructs for tasting single malt scotch, the mouthfeel only becomes rounder and more balanced.
Gonzalez Byass Familia de Vino and The Dalmore: In three small wine tasting glasses we sampled the Alfonso, Apostoles and Matusalem sherries. Almost immediately we noted similar aromas and flavors found in The Dalmore definitely came from these three different sherry casks that they had aged in. Quite remarkable. Also of note, even though the three sherries grew sweeter on the nose as we tasted through them, that didn’t transfer to high sugar in the mouth… The Dalmore 12 yo was an entire bowl of fancy roasted and slightly salted nuts, vanilla bean and a hint of banana. The 15 yo, my favorite of the three, had a sweeter nose; rounder, more fruit, creamy, with a little toasted almond and pineapple. And the 18 yo, following a trend, had the sweetest nose, with lots of toasted oak and more spice. Simply outstanding.
Enjoyed a virtual tasting and happy hour via Zoom with the founder of Empress 1908 Gin, Peter Hunt, complete with a bottle of their gin, fancy bar tools, unique recipe cards and a list of ingredients I would need to make “seasonal focused cocktails…” I was already a fan of the gin, now even more so!
House of Suntory and their distilleries, blended and single malts, different oaks for aging, rare and some discontinued = amazing tasting and lesson! It was the Yamazaki 18 that stole Eddie’s heart, and wallet if we could ever find it! While I was completely content with the Hibiki Harmony blend that benefitted from five different types of oak barrels. Lots that we learned thanks to the Suntory Brand Ambassador Jonathan Armstrong and the Southern California Whiskey Club.
El Sativo, the 2020 Tequila of the Year at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, launched last summer. 100% Blue Agave – Single Estate – 100% USDA Organic – 100% NON-GMO – Certified OK Kosher… And this is what I thought: Notes of vanilla bean, heavy sweet cream and toasted popcorn kernel – with no burn whatsoever – on the nose. The taste was smooth yet peppery – so interesting – and flavors reminiscent of buttered popcorn, and that same cream, ending with a spicy finish. Really liked having it both smooth and spicy! Then tried it with a little bit of squeezed lemon and it was like a lo-cal Margarita. This is not a tequila to shoot!
Had a great time sampling Country Smooth whiskey with a bunch of Women Who Whiskey LA members as well as Country Smooth founder, Lori Carcich, and two members of her team, Kyle Cammon and Scott Touchton. The approximately $25 whiskey – find at Total Wine all over Cali – was both spicy and sweet and didn’t get washed down in the cocktails we made with it.
Gin Martini: 2-3 ounces of the highly aromatic and flavorful Monkey 47, 1/2 ounce of Lillet Blanc (a white Bordeaux wine with quinine and other botanicals), shaken or stirred, then drained into a chilled Martini glass, with orange peel on rim and as garnish.
Sazerac: Build in a shaker with ice: 2 ounces rye whiskey (husband prefers Bulleit), 3 dashes bitters, 1 teaspoon simple syrup, stir or shake. Grab an iced Coupe glass from your freezer (we keep a couple of Coupe and Martini glasses there), and pour about a tablespoon of Absinthe in to coat the empty glass. We like that flavor so I tend to make sure the entire inside of the Coupe is coated, then discard the Absinthe. Pour your cocktail into the coupe, garnish with one Luxardo cherry.
My Grand Negroni: When there’s only time for one, make it big! With 1.5 to 2 ounces gin (as opposed to only 1 ounce) to 1 ounce sweet vermouth and 1 ounce Campari, shaken over ice, poured into an iced Martini or Coupe glass and garnished with orange peel.
Gin and Tonic: Use Empress 1908 Gin that changes to a lighter purple/pink hue when you add tonic, and constructed the way we had G and Ts all over Spain: In a large round wine glass (aka a Pinot glass) 1/2 filled with ice, add 2 ounces gin, 4-6 ounces of tonic, garnish with lime or orange peel.
The go-to Martini: I’ve been making this one for my husband for years. Build in a martini shaker filled with ice: 2-3 ounces Ketel One Vodka, 1/2 ounce Domaine De Canton Ginger Liqueur (think candied ginger), shake like mad, pour into a chilled Martini or Coupe glass, use lemon peel on rim and garnish.
Whiskey Sour: In a martini shaker without any ice build 2 ounces your choice of whisky – I used Dewars 12 YO scotch whisky as I had taken a class on them years ago and loved all of the single malts that go into the blend. You can use single malt or Bourbon If that’s your preference. Then add 3/4 ounces of freshly squeezed lemon juice (not from a bottle), 1/2 ounce simple syrup, 3 generous dashes of Angostura bitters and 1 egg white. Shake for 7-10 seconds, then add a few ice cubes just to cool off your drink and shake again for an additional 7-10 seconds. Strain (super important as no one wants a glob of egg white in their glass) into a chilled coupe or serve on the rocks, add a Luxardo cherry for garnish.
My Blue Martini: In a martini shaker over ice build 2 parts Empress 1908 Gin, 1/4 to 1/2 creme de violette, shake like mad, pour into a chilled coupe or martini glass, garnish with orange peel and feel very refreshed!
The Queen Bee: With Empress 1908 Gin, lemon juice, honey syrup, apricot jam and grated cinnamon! I also tried my hand at the Cranberry 75, also with Empress 1908 Gin, lemon juice, cranberry juice, simple syrup and Prosecco on top! (Google Empress for the measurements.)
Amaro Spritz: You only need three ounces of soda, two ounces of Amaro and a little squeeze of lemon or orange! Build in a tall Collins glass, stir, add ice and enjoy as an aperitif before dinner like we did or as a digestif afterwards!
Gin Old Fashioned: Build in a shaker two ounces your choice of gin, 2 dashes bitters (which gives it some color), about 1/2 teaspoon of simple syrup based on your own preference (if you muddle a sugar cube that’s about one teaspoon) and garnish with orange peel. Shake or stir, pour into an iced coupe or rocks glass.
Whiskey Buck: over cracked ice in a copper mug add two ounces rye whisky, juice of 1/2 lemon, and then fill as far as you like with ginger beer and give it a stir. It has a LOT more flavor that the traditional Moscow Mule made with vodka, and that same kick from the ginger and tart from the lemon. Trust me, in times like this when the vodka may be running low, get into your rye whisky for a change!
From Restaurants, on patios and to-go
Margaritas from Dario’s, classic Mai Tai at Eighth and Rail, Martinis from Old Town Junction, Backwoods, The Social and Salt Creek Grille. Loved the new Espresso Martini at Newhall Press Room! At SY Kitchen in Santa Ynez William Perbellini made us his Smoked Old Fashioned and a Barrel Aged Negroni, both outstanding. And last but not least we sadly had our last cocktails from Newhall Refinery.
In Paso: We made a quick stop at Azeo Distillery but made the time to taste and grab some swag from our friend David Vondrasek, the distiller, who is also the winemaker for Artisan Uprising! We sampled through rum, tequila, vodka – all very good, and we also saw his giant still! Definitely visit with them the next time you are in Paso and tell them I sent you, you won’t regret it!
Hollywood: Went to the Japan House LA for a “fun evening of Japanese Craft Spirits”, specifically to learn about and taste distilled spirits Shochu and Awamori alone and in a wide range of amazing cocktails.
Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), a “certification in first globally-recognized course” as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), Level 1 Sake Award from WSET, was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video (over 16k views), authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Long Beach Grand Cru and the Global Wine Awards. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits.