Archives for January 2014

Ganbei! 8 things you probably don’t know about Chinese New Year

So just as the rest of the world is finally over their hangovers and dreading the arrival of the holiday credit card bills, the world’s largest population is about to kick off their new year’s celebration.  It’s Chinese New Year!  You’re probably saying to yourself, “What’s that have to do with craft liquor?” Well, keep going, intrepid reader, I’m about to enlighten you!

1. The Chinese calendar follows a twelve year cycle (called Earthly Branches), with each year symbolized by an animal that corresponds to the Chinese zodiac.  (Unlike the one you may be familiar with, the Chinese zodiac goes by your birth year, not birth month). 2014, Year of the Horse, is one of the Chinese people’s favorite animals; it is said to symbolize speedy success.  Horses are also considered elegant and confident.  Sounds like an auspicious year, right?  So let’s start it out right – make a Bloody Mary with your favorite craft vodka like Tito’s and a goodly dose of horseradish to start the year off right! 

2. Red and yellow/gold are considered lucky colors in Chinese culture.  It corresponds to fire and symbolizes good fortune and joy.  There’s a Chinese saying, “Yellow generates Yin and Yang,” which implies that yellow is the center of everything.  So have another Bloody Mary (or perhaps Caesar if you like clamato juice)!  Or you can try something like the Red Lotus, which is vodka and lychee, a sweet fruit with a delicate flavor (think pear-like) often found in Chinese cooking. 

3. Hong bao, or red envelopes, are used to give monetary gifts for holidays and special occasions like weddings.  The money should always end in an even number – odd numbers are for funerals.  And don’t give just $4 (cheapskate!) – the word for 4 sounds like the word for death.

4. Speaking of gifts that would be well-received when visiting for Chinese New Year, bring oranges.  The word for tangerine sounds like the word for gold, and the word for clementines sounds like the word for luck.  Who wouldn’t want a bag of gold and luck!? When in doubt, bring citrus.  If all else fails – you can make screwdrivers (boring) or a yummy whiskey sour with bourbon.  Check out’s variation called a Stone Sour, though try Michter’s or Breckenridge’s  bourbon in place of the suggested fowl bourbon.  (pun fully intended, I’ve never been much of a fan)Gung Hay Fat Choy from LikeYourLiquor!

5. Make sure you also avoid the color white – it represents death and mourning.  No white Russians or brandy Alexanders please.   And for the love of all holiday attire, now’s not the time for white pants.  Just sayin’.

6. Confucianism stresses the importance of maintaining a clear head – drinking games are won by the SOBER guy.  Who knew?? (apparently the guy that wrote this book did)

7. Firecrackers are used to ward off evil spirits. How about this firecracker cocktail? I’d try some Papa’s Pilar dark rum or Ballast Point’s barrel-aged Three Sheets in it.  And I know, you may be tempted to go for one of those fireball-flavored whiskeys, but please – have a little self respect.  You know better than to drink something like that! Firecrackers ward OFF evil spirits, not encourage you to suck them down.

8. And the best part?  Chinese New Year is FIFTEEN DAYS LONG.  Many of us have a hard time getting through a single night of that kind of fun – my hat is off to anyone that can do it for two weeks! Oh, and the 15 day thing? The new year celebration is a combination of lunar and solar movements, starting with the first new moon of each calendar year and ending on the full moon.

And you’re probably still wondering about the title: Ganbei is a traditional toast, like Bottoms Up or Cheers!  And 8 is the most auspicious number of all.  Not only does it sound like the words that mean prosper or wealth, the visual of 88 looks like the characters for double joy or double happiness.

 So, Ganbei! Gung Hay Fat Choy!

The dream of craft liquor

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.- Martin Luther King, Jr. 1963

More than 50 years after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial, we are still celebrating his life and his iconic speech.  A quarter of a million people showed up that day at the Lincoln Memorial to hear his speech, that we’re still being inspired by today.  It’s not simply the words, though to even say, “I have a dream” is powerful.  It’s the hope that a phrase like that embodies.  Hope for a better day, for everyone. Hope for the American dream.

Today, people from every corner of the nation are pursuing their dreams.  Some do it through words, by teaching those who don’t know.  Some do it through technology, by creating new gadgets that may help to save our dwindling resources. Others are trying to help such a hurried nation relax and reboot – by making great craft liquor. 

These American craft distillers have heard the whisper in their hearts. They’ve heard that voice that says, “This is what I’m meant to do”. They, too, have a dream and they’ve followed it.  Some to the cities, some to the farm, some to the mountains.

Take Troy Ball, of Troy & Sons (Asheville Distilling).  After raising three sons, two of which have special needs, Troy wanted to do something outside the home for herself. Raised in the South on stories of the moonshine you keep home and don’t “sell down the road”, she wanted to learn more. A trip to meet her first moonshiner and she was sold! Not simply on the moonshine, but also on the people that make it.  Read more of how they put their hearts (and Hearts!) into their Platinum Moonshine here

Tuthilltown Spirits takes their “grain to glass” belief very seriously, sourcing their grain and apples within less than ten miles from their distillery.  New York’s first bourbon, Hudson Baby Bourbon, is distilled from 100% New York corn.  Read about the diverse team that makes a fine selection of spirits here.

In Yiddish, Koval means “black sheep” or someone who forges ahead or does something new or out of the ordinary.  I’d say that KOVAL Distillery has definitely achieved that, making some truly unique spirits: from whiskey that’s made from 100% millet (which also makes it gluten-free – yay!), to Chrysanthemum & Honey liqueur.  KOVAL’s founders, Drs. Robert and Sonat Birnecker, were able to follow their dreams together. Robert’s love of traditional crafts and the pride of a small family business, along with Sonat’s desire to return to Chicago after a decade in the international education community resulted in Chicago’s first distillery since the mid-1800’s. Read more about their inspiration behind the KOVAL name here

Cheers to those that follow their dreams, wherever they may lead!


Don’t let cenosillicaphobia get you!

I know 2014 has already begun, with what I’m sure is a plethora of well-meaning, earnestly-conceived resolutions.  Lose weight, quit smoking, eat more green things (thanks to Colorado, you can smoke ’em if ya got ’em).  What I heard was, “I’m pretty sure I’m swearing off of fun for awhile and it probably won’t last”.  So, when you’re ready to come back to the fold, I’m here for you. And the one thing I can help you with in 2014 is keeping you from cenosillicaphobia: the fear of an empty glass.  [Read more…]

How I rate liquor

Ever go to the a liquor store and wonder what to buy?  Maybe you’d like to buy something new, but your budget can only take one new bottle…and what if it’s something you don’t like? Maybe you’re missing out on something completely fantastic, so let me help!  I can give you all the distilleries in the country to search, but it’s always helpful to have an opinion.  I’ll show you mine, if you…..promise to leave a comment.

Taste: Everyone wants something that tastes “good”.  But good is very subjective.  I recently read an article that talked about every time you taste a spirit, it’s almost like the first time, every time.  The weather, the time of day, the environment, the glassware – YOU – are all different than the last time you had it, even if it was yesterday. I’m going to give you an overall taste profile, with anything specific I pick up. But still no pandas.

Smell (or nose, for those of you in the know-s): Simply put, if it burns when you smell it, it may not taste that much better.  Smell is a big component of taste – taking a whiff OF a spirit first can, and does, affect the way it tastes. Some actually will taste better than the initial sniff.  Don’t open a bottle and immediately go all Hoover on it, trying to smell it.  And even if you don’t have glassware like this, don’t despair.  While you will likely pick up different things in a nosing glass, it’s not essential.  Just no bottle sniffing.

Color: I’ll note the color if applicable, but depending on the style, it’s not always an indicator of drink-ability. Irish whiskeys can be more “pale” in comparison to their American counterparts, but that makes them no less tasty, just different. Some of distillers actually add coloring to their whiskey, to make it darker.  Personally, I try not to eat food with additives – why would I drink a whiskey with one?

Finish: Ever notice that some things linger on your  tongue, while some don’t?  Hot sauce on Mexican food can remind you long after the tacos are gone, just how hot it was.  Wasabi on your sushi might make your eyes water immediately, but is gone almost as quickly.  That’s the best way I can describe finish.  With spirits, there’s also the possibility you’ll pick up a flavor that wasn’t noticeable in your first sip.  I tried a white whiskey that had the distinctive finish of Raisinettes.  No, really.  It started more like tequila, smell and all – but the finish was chocolate covered raisins. You may also find the 2nd sip tastes a bit different, as well.  You may have noticed when you were looking at the color, that your spirits coated the inside of the glass a bit if you swirled it around. If you’re a wino, excuse me, a wine drinker, you’ll probably know the term legs.  That’s what they call the bits that stick to the side of the glass.  Like wine, not all spirits do that.  If you notice it on your glass, it will be the same for your tongue.And check out what the folks at NPR reported on what your physical location has to do with the way whiskey tastes.

Other miscellaneous factors: I’ll try to include the ABV, average price point and anything else that seems helpful.  Sustainability is something I’ll also note, as it’s generally one of the main components of being a craft spirit.  While I won’t use these factors in the rating, it may be a factor in your purchase, so I’d like to give you as much info as I have available.  I’ll also tell you if a spirit was provided to me as a sample, if I tried it at an event, or if I purchased it myself. The last category is not necessarily an indicator of preference, but more of availability. Feel free to chime in on the comments if I missed something or you’d like to have a friendly debate.

On the topic of availability, don’t forget the awesomely complex laws that govern adult beverages in the US.  Not only is there the three tier system (if I distill it, I can’t currently sell it to you directly, but have to use a distributor to get it into stores and bars), but there are also additional state-by-state rules.  Some of the more interesting here in California include, “May a habitual drunkard or an obviously intoxicated person be sold alcoholic beverages?” and “How must spigot markers be placed for draught beer be placed?”.  (the answer to that is they should be attached to the spigot, faucet or outlet. Ya don’t say? I thought maybe on the ground next to the keg might be helpful). So while I’ll review and suggest craft liquor from many states, I’ll just say sorry in advance, you might simply not be able to get your hands on it. Yet. There are some strides being made in legislation every year, so there’s always hope (CA can finally sample spirits like they can for beer and wine, but still no cash-n-carry). Who knows – with the country hyper-focused on legalizing pot (or not), maybe we’ll make some progress on making things more equitable for all adult beverages.

And please – if you’re looking to argue that I missed the hint of BBQ chicken thighs in your favorite spirit, perhaps you should start you own blog.  😉 We’re friends here, let’s play nice.

Here’s the ratings scale:

My ratings: the whiskey glass system

Scotch glass_40

Please find the nearest project in need of paint stripping and use this spirit.  Smell and taste have combined into something pretty close to undrinkable.  I wouldn’t recommend it, even to people I don’t like.

Scotch glass_40Scotch glass_40This craft spirit has all the great characteristics combined into one glass: it both tastes and smell like something you want to drink. Mix it or not, it works either way.  Price-point makes for an affordable everyday drink and is definitely a good choice for a gift.

Scotch glass_40Scotch glass_40Scotch glass_40

This craft spirit has reached a level that few do (for me, at least), and it’s well worth the effort to acquire a bottle.  Price point isn’t even necessarily the highest in its class, which makes it even more awesome.  Buy it, buy it now…and invite over people you really like (so they know what to buy you for your birthday).

Grab the button!