Spirits of Americas – new event

IWSC Group launches Spirits of the Americas

10-02-2012

The IWSC Group, the world leading event company specializing in wines and spirits has launched the Spirits of the Americas, an exciting new spirits competition based in Florida.
Catering to all spirits produced in North, Central and South American countries and the Caribbean, the competition is set to be the ultimate recognition of distilled products that use a variety of base materials from grain through agave to sugar cane and beyond.
IWSC Group Managing Director, Allen Gibbons comments: “We believe launching Spirits of the Americas will highlight the huge variety and quality of products produced across the Americas. We are excited to have an event that highlights the excitement and diversity of the region”.
Dori Bryant, IWSC Group Event Director commented: “the Americas have always had traditionally strong regional spirits whether it is the rums of the Caribbean, the tequilas of Mexico or the bourbons of Kentucky. However recent years have seen spirits being produced in the most surprising of places such as vodka from Maine and Argentina, gin from San Francisco and absinthe from Philadelphia.”
Products will be judged on a 100-point basis, concentrating on appearance, aromatics, flavor, mouth feel and finish. Each entry will be evaluated, [on its own merit] by a panel of highly qualified judges through a series of blind-tastings, ensuring impartial judgment of the spirits. All judging at the Spirits of the Americas is by region, area, variety, style, type, vintage and age.
Hosting the judging is Jack Robertiello, an expert in the fields of spirits and mixology, who commented: “the Americas are home to a great range of wonderful distillers, old and new, and I am thrilled to be a part of the recognition of that talent”.
Other judges include Robert Plotkin of Bar Media, Pat McCarthy of Bayway World of Liquors who each have 30 years plus experience in the spirits industry. Starwood Hotels N.A. Food & Beverage Director Thomas ‘Mac’ McFarland Gregory III, author along with award-winning sommelier Olie Berlic and Dean Hurst, Director of Sprits, Bern’s Steak House also join the judging team.
The competition will take place in quarter one 2013.

Tequila, agave’s answer to the cane!

My apologies to readers and visitors. I have been working on a book on Tequila, travelling, and suffering from a heart condition, but am now back in business. And this shows some of what I have been working on.

GP Libations No.1: TEQUILA

PERHAPS THE BEST PLACE TO START IS WITH THE DISTINCTIVELY RUGGED BOTTLE OF PATRÓN, which pioneered taking tequila upmarket. Made, of course, in Mexico, the company that owns it is registered in Switzerland and COO John McDonnell says, “If the tequila is no good, then no amount of packaging and marketing can make it up – and ours is fantastic. We only use the best agaves, we cook them in clay ovens for 72 hours; we use a tahona wheel along with a roller mill.”

 

Harvesting the Blue Agave “pina”

Patrón’s expansion was based on its existing customer base being affluent travelers, and, says McDonnell: “When they fly into major cities globally and can’t find Patrón, they might try something else and then we could end up losing them, so we made sure that Patrón was available at all the high-end restaurants, bars and hotels.” And of course, the locals have been getting the hint of “agavaciousness” as well expanding sales. For example affluent Russian women in particular are taking to tequila on a huge scale.

Premium is as premium does. Over the last decade, tequileros have refined their art to give premium tequilas the smoothly assured maturity of cask aged malts and cognacs without masking the subtle vegetal and spicy undertones that make the spirit of Mexico what it is. As with all luxury items, hands-on work and attention to details make the difference – which is reflected in the prices and sales of the premium tequilas that soared

Readying the pina for roasting

worldwide during the Crash.

The premium tequila makers point out that for tequila distillation – the genesis for most spirits – is merely the culmination of an eight-year process where they have planted and nurtured the long-lived agave pinas to maturity.

Each maker swears by their own methods:  the pinas are cut to different leaf stub lengths, cooked in different types of ovens, and then while some use the traditional  tahona, the stone mill to grind the Agave, others put them through a grinder.  Each swears by their own choice of yeast, some like Olmeca, using local culture they have selected, while Herradura claims to use natural yeast from the air around the courtly tree-shaded hacienda nestling at the core of their modern plant.

Tequila aging in Oak Barrels

Each bottle has the number of the distillery in which it is made and by international treaty tequila can be made only in Mexico, using only one species of agave grown in a designated area, like champagne or cognac. In fact, tequila is protected in the US as well, unlike champagne!

Casa Noble’s Jose “Pepe” Hermosilla joined with several local families and between them they took 20 years from buying the fields to bringing the product to market, earning the strictest all-organic certification.  “We grow our agave in the mountains, to stress them, and they take ten years to be ready.” They experimented with different woods for aging before settling on French oak in which Casa Noble’s latest offering is aged five years, which, Hermosillo points out, represents the equivalent of 15 years in other products. He considers its price of $130 a bottle to be very reasonable with all that care and capital invested in it – and hid appreciation is shared by superstar Carlos Santana who has bought into the company.

Ian WIlliams nosing a blanco

Hermosillo relishes “how many different notes and aromas it can have, based on the different contributions of the terroir where the agave is produced.” Casa Noble has, he says, “complex fruit notes, spices, white pepper, peppermint.”

But while, impelled by the success (and added value) of oak aged spirits, the tequileros point out, and many connoisseurs agree, that the rigorous attention to detail produces excellent white tequilas.

Also advancing rapidly on the luxury front is tequila’s stepbrother, Mezcal which now has its own marque. Artisinal mezcals each made and bottled in different Zapotec villages Oaxaca like Del Maguey Single Village Mezcals, which won Distiller of the Year Award at the San Francisco Spirits Festival last year,  or the varietals made from different types of agave  and aged for up to seven years by Scorpion are also claiming big prices from aficionados.

There’s liquid gold and silver in them thar’ hills down south of the border. IW

GP RECOMMENDATIONS

 

 

 

 

 

LOOK FOR Ian William’s (IW) forthcoming book, “Tequila: A Global History” from Reaktion Press later this year.

[Photos via Ian William + Respective Tequilas]

Rum, first love is best!

GP Libations No. 2: RUM

 

JAMES BEARD, THE RENOWNED CHEF, FOOD WRITER and seminal figure in advancing American gastronomy, whom Julia Child once accurately described as, “the quintessential American cook” said of rum, “Of all the spirits in your home, rum is the most romantic.”

And in many ways Mr. Beard was right. One of the pivotal characteristic that is supports the enduring interest in rum is that of all the spirits, it has the most exciting back story, one that includes: pirates, slavery, the British Navy and of course the Caribbean sun and sand of its original home to back it up.

While Bedouin tribes had apparently distilled alcohol from sugar products, and used it medicinally, its first explicitly recorded modern appearance as a beverage was in Barbados in the 1640’s, where it was variously called kill-devil, Barbadoes Waters, rumbullion, and finally rum, the name which, with some variations, Spanish (ron), French (rhum) and other languages adopted. While some writers claim that a Martinicans and Brazilians might have made a spirit from sugar earlier, it was certainly Barbadian planters who first made rum a commodity distilled in commercial quantities and traded. Regardless rum, irrespective of its spelling, has been around a long, long time…

And from its Caribbean origins, rum has expanded world wide with distinctive varieties produced almost everywhere sugar cane is grown. Today, India, Philippines and Brazil are now some of the world’s largest producers of rum, hosting between them six of the world’s top ten brands, but they are also among the world’s biggest consumers, and like Australia, another large market, they consume most of their production locally.

The Rum Sugarcane Field Harvest yesterday…

Rum comes in an infinite variety of colors and flavors. White rums, used for cocktails, are sometimes unaged, and in many Caribbean islands even aged white rums are subsequently charcoal filtered to remove the color they acquire from the oak barrels.

Each Caribbean island produces its own distinctive variation of rum; Cuba and Puerto Rico for example, sport a lighter style of rum for export. The demands of the French forces in World War One hugely boosted production in Martinique and Guadeloupe.   After the war they developed their distinctive rhums agricoles made from the full sugar cane, which they contrast with rhum industriel, made from molasses, which they shrewdly market as superior. In the English speaking Caribbean it is produced in relatively small quantities and often called sugar cane brandy

and today.

Some rums, especially those from “The Spanish Main” around the Caribbean are using the solera method, derived from sherry production, in which the rums are decanted into a variety of casks previously used for other drinks, such as port and sherry, and then blended. Aged rum based on these, from Venezuela, Guatemala, Panama, Honduras and Nicaragua are increasingly penetrating global markets.

From its earliest days, rum has been a prime constituent of mixed drinks, beginning with punch (from the Hindi word for five, which was the number of ingredients) which are typically rum, water, sugar, spice and citrus. Variations on theme included the Cuban mohito, the mint julep, the Franco- Caribbean ‘tit ponche and the Brazilian Caiparinha.

Premium aged rums, also known as “sipping rums” are enjoyed unmixed and have seen a growing recognition among the world spirits elite connoisseurs, but no matter how rum aficionados might bridle, manufacturers are of course entirely happy with bars mixing premium rums into cocktails! IW

GP RECOMMENDATIONS

MoS ARCHIVES

[All Photos by  Fredi Marcarini from his forthcoming book “Rum: A Journey”]

Age in Palate of Besniffer

GP Libations No. 3: Aging Spirits

A PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION: Given a choice between the Mona Lisa and an identical copy thereof, which would you prefer? Understandably, albeit perhaps illogically, most of us would select the original. In a similar vein, we prefer a fine spirit that has actually been aged a quarter-century over one that merely tastes as though it has been.

For generations, aging has improved, not lessened, the attractiveness of brown spirits. The oak barrels in which they’re stored transmute them, making them richer and smoother. Cognacs, dependent on judicious balancing of different years, are stuck with “VSOP” and other subjective designations to indicate their age. Whiskeys, though, stick to clearly defined rules and straightforward numbers. The general consensus: Older is better.

Well, maybe. Accepted industry wisdom used to be that anything that spent more than 25 years in a cask would be undrinkable. Then cellar masters at The Macallan discovered a cask that had been hiding in the back of a cold, damp warehouse for 53 years. It was, they discovered, very, very good. What’s more, collectors were eager to pay a premium for it. As such, Appleton has just introduced a 50-year-old at $5,000 a bottle. Island rum producers, meanwhile, have introduced a truth-in-labeling regulation that will require bottlers to list the youngest rum therein. Authenticity costs.

Other companies have been somewhat more cavalier about age — particularly those from the Spanish Main, who claimed anything up to 20-plus years. Havana Club, for example, has told me its ages are uno medio — an average. The rum producers’ labeling law seems to have shamed some of the Hispanic bottlers: Many of them still use numbers, but without “years” or “aged for” alongside.

I’m a firm believer in authenticity, so I can now stop denouncing consumer fraud and admit that these spirits are as good as, and often better than, those that are simply stored in barrels for a long time. The rums, for example, are made according to the solera method, in which the cellar master decants the rum into different barrels and blends it with different ages. It’s labor-intensive, but not especially time-consuming.

As ever, it all comes down to the consumer. You can purchase a spirit whose authentic age is listed on the bottle, but whose quality might not live up to its billing. Or you can seek out those that have benefited from true artistry and therefore hit all the notes of an aged spirit despite being relatively young. You need not wait decades to enjoy a superb spirit — and you can spend the extra time philosophizing as you sip. – IW
MoS ARCHIVES

GP Libations No. 1: Tequila
GP Libations No. 2: Rum

[Opening photo + The Macallan Bottle photographs via The Macallan + The Macallan Masters of Photography photos by Albert Watson + Cognac photos via Sig]

Posted on October 29th, 2012