Epic Weekend: Drinking Edition, Part One

The original plan for the weekend was just the Adria talk and tasting at Mia, then we added a tour of 45th Parallel on Sunday because my coupon was close to expiring, then we added a class at 11 Wells because it was free and we wanted to check out all their new stuff, then we added on two breweries because they were close to the distilleries, and finally we added a stop at Marvel Bar because, well, Marvel Bar. And because they would be open to the public just as a fancy dinner got out upstairs – I’m a sucker for good people watching.

Friday Night – Notes on Creativity Talk & Tasting  – Minneapolis Institute of Art

beer2The highlight of this event was definitely the food, but it also promised cocktails from Bradstreet Crafthouse and wines chosen by Bill Summerville. Beer, however, was a surprise. As we entered the event, we were greeted and handed a glass of the beer Ferran Adria helped create. It was a very light and refreshing beer with just a hint of spice. Enjoyable, but as a beer that was developed to pair with food, I think we missed it’s best features because it’s hard to stand, drink, and eat tiny plates of food. I’d like to try it again with a meal.

Bill Summerville was in charge of the wine program at La Belle Vie (*sigh*) for many years before heading to Spoon and DSC00339Stable and then moved to a local wine distributor, New France Wine Co. For the tasting event, he had two tables of wines set up, one each for reds and whites. I never got much of an explanation of the wine choices because there were two tables, hundreds of thirsty people, and only one Bill. I did, however, grab a glass of a 2003 Burgundy that was light, fruity and just generally enjoyable. We never made it over to the table of white wine so I’m not sure what was on offer there.

Bradstreet Crafthouse brought a punch, which is a perfect idea for a large event. With so many people in so small a space, the last thing you want is lines forming while you try to finish something fussy. I wasn’t able to learn much about the punch from the person serving when we got there, except that it had Rebel Yell and St. Elder. The punch was good but forgettable, I know it’s a challenge to make a bulk cocktail but I feel like some sort of surprising flavor or texture could have been incorporated to celebrate the creative genius of the guest of honor.

Saturday – 11 Wells, Flat Earth Brewing, Marvel Bar

Our last visit to 11 Wells was for an open house in July of 2014, I’m not sure they had released anything but their white whiskey at that point. Fifteen months later they have a product lineup that includes the first Minnesota Vermouth, a beautiful Allspice Liqueur, and an Orange Curacao that I want to drink all day long (maybe with a drop of the Allspice??). While we waited for our “Know Your Spirits” class to get started, we were able to sample just about everything and chat with Christine, who helped blend the vermouth and also happens to make great drinks at Spoon and Stable.

11WellsClassThe class was taught by head distiller Lee Egbert, who is also behind Dashfire Bitters (the first Minnesota-made bitters). Because he started with bitters, Lee seems to approach distilling from the cocktail down instead of from the spirit up. When I asked him if it’s unique to have distilleries popping up from the cocktail world (like his, and Tattersall), he said that in his travels he found maybe 10% of the distilleries out there are coming at it from the cocktail angle. If you make a spirits with bartenders in mind, you end up making something that is palatable both straight and mixed. Control is especially important with liqueurs and the like – too many products are made with lots of added sugar. Bartenders would rather work with a pure flavor and sweeten to their liking, it allows for more flexibility in drink creations.

So if only 10% of distilleries are being started by someone with a cocktail background, how lucky are we to have two of them? Well, Lee joked that there’s a friendly race between him and Dan Oskey of Tattersall to get new products out. Oskey won on fernet, Egbert won on vermouth. The local drinking public just wins, period. (P.S. 11 Wells is now releasing their gin which has a lovely and warm botanical base. Keep an eye out for a custom tonic syrup perfectly paired for the gin. It’s been only a matter of time before someone made a custom gin and tonic pairing, I’m excited that it might be close!)

While we were waiting for the class and chatting with people at the distillery, someone mentioned that Flat Earth Brewing was just around the corner. We knew DSC00362they had moved into the area but had no idea it was so close – of course we had to go check it out! Flat Earth has taken over a wing of the old Hamm’s Brewing complex and managed to make a taproom that retains some historic character while also feeling welcoming, warm, and airy. When you walk in, you’ll find a small bar in the first room that sells merch and bottles. Keep going around to the left and suddenly you find yourself walking up to a long wooden bar. When we got there, the head brewer was pouring the pints he’d made. I love it! Flat Earth has gone through a lot of changes lately, both in their space and their staff.

DSC00363My partner ordered the Cygnus X-1 Porter, a long time favorite, to see how it had fared through the shakeup. The answer is, quite well. Still smooth and roasty, the porter has a rich coffee flavor that gets more pronounced as it warms. Having just tasted EVERYTHING at 11 Wells, I opted for the housemade ginger beer at Flat Earth. The brewer wouldn’t tell me his secret ingredients, but the ginger beer had a mild and pleasant ginger flavor (not enough burn for my tastes, but he said when it was spicier too many kids complained, I realize I’m a ginger freak) with a sort of “green” herbal note and aroma. It was tasty at first but as it warmed up, the green overpowered the ginger and I ended up leaving half of it behind. Given the natural pairing of ginger and things like lemongrass, I think I know what he was trying to do – but it didn’t work for me. That said, I’ve always like Flat Earth best for their dark beers so ordering the polar opposite was probably a mistake on my part.

After our Flat Earth expedition, we did a bit of wandering around the brewery complex (You can check out MSP365 for photos of the historic structure.) before heading back towards Minneapolis and Marvel Bar. You see, I had gotten word of a private event at The Bachelor Farmer and in doing a bit more research, realized it was kind of the Friday night tasting, but on steroids – great local chefs preparing Adria inspired food on a grander scale (and for 15 times the price) as a fundraiser for Mia. But I had also gotten word that Marvel would be open for business as usual, despite the special event, and so we decided to “crash” the party in hopes of some great people watching. And let’s be honest, it doesn’t take much to convince us to go to Marvel.

MarvelThe party was just winding down when we got into the bar, but we did see a lot of well dressed patrons and a brief appearance of Chef Adria. Peder, the bar manager, had already popped outside and given us a head’s up to several seats at the bar (our favorite place to perch) and as soon as we sat down, Keith dropped off a flight of the four cocktails made for the event. First in line was a calvados eggnog that was spicy and sweet, with all the richness of eggnog but also a bit of lightness from the apple spirit. Next was a gin and tonic made with the Letherbee Autumnal gin, a barreled gin with notes of maple and spice. Then we had a blend of celery and aquavit, a cocktail which I still can’t decide if I liked or not – but I want to drink more of. In his talk, Adria said he didn’t make food so people would like it, he made food so people would think about it. This cocktail was everything I wanted a cocktail to be for this event, I can’t decide how I feel about it but I can’t stop thinking about it. Finally there was a beautiful Manhattan. We’re arguing a bit over the details because I hear “barrel aged” and he heard “bottle conditioned.” I think the story was that the Manhattan used one of their private barrels of whiskey, and then aged the cocktail in said barrel. I could be wrong, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it was beautiful.

There were other cocktails as well, I had a Remember the Maine because Lee had talked it up in class. My date had a martini which was apparently perfect in it’s simplicity – he’s had a lot of martinis at Marvel, home, and elsewhere but for some reason this was his favorite. No fancy ingredients or special tricks, just a damn good martini. Props to bartender Stephen for being the first person to get Chris to say a bar made martini was better than the ones he makes at home. I don’t have a trophy, but I probably should. I asked for something refreshing, gingery, and low alcohol to finish the evening and Matthew made me a concoction of ginger, kombucha, soda water, and just a splash of gin. Even when it’s busier than our usual outings to Marvel, they will tailor make you something if you just know what you want, I love it.


Drinking at Home: Marshmallow Vodka, Two Ways

Jars, cheap (but tasty!) vodka, and marshmallows ready to go.

I ended up visiting two distilleries, two breweries, and a cocktail bar this weekend and I should be posting about those. But since apparently the first few snow flakes fell today, I’m postponing the epic weekend post for the perfect winter booze project – marshmallow vodka, two ways.

These days it seems like you can buy every flavor under the sun in vodka form. Sriracha, bacon, whipped cream, cake, etc etc etc. Someone is taking this idea to the bank, literally. You can get a decently clean vodka for under $10 and infuse it at home with a little bit of research, or you can buy a bottle of vodka and flavoring. Sure, the bottle says “Natural Flavors” on it, but that doesn’t mean it bears any resemblance to the source of the flavor. Wouldn’t you rather get flavors from your kitchen than a laboratory?

Jars stuffed full of marshmallows.

Now that I’ve made it sound like I hate chemistry, let me just point out that I actually really like flavored vodkas. When I first discovered the marshmallow and whipped cream vodkas, I owned them both. The marshmallow vodka went in most of my hot chocolates and the whipped cream went with orange soda for a creamsicle concoction. And they were delicious! (And I was in my late 20s/early 30s at this point.)

That said, if I can make something at home and control the process, I’m going to give it a try. With winter lurking just behind the corner, it was time to try my hand at homemade marshmallow vodka. I’m by no means the first to give this a shot, I found several versions online (mixthatdrink.com, Craig’s Concoctions, Rosalilium). The process couldn’t be simpler – cut marshmallows to expose as much of the gooey center as possible*, fill jar with marshmallows, top off with vodka, wait. The hardest part was getting the marshmallows to stay in the jar when adding the vodka – they are buoyant little buggers.

Immediately after filling, the vodka picked up color right away.

I wanted to try something just a little different, so I did one plain jar and one jar with toasted marshmallows. I don’t have a fire pit and I didn’t want to toast them one by one over my gas burner, so I borrowed a trick from my childhood and used the toaster oven. (I also used “Stackers” flat marshmallows, this was unintentional. I just wasn’t paying enough attention at the store.) The toasted marshmallows tore apart quite a bit, which ended up being a good thing as they dissolved much better. The outer layer of the raw mallows got goopy but never disappeared. Other sites range from a 24 hour to two week infusion time – I sampled a few times and finally strained them after a week. I used half-pint jars for this as it was just to test the concept. I’d go bigger for a full batch.

After straining.

So tonight, after the first few flakes decide to fall, I strained my vodkas and whipped up some homemade hot chocolate (loosely based on the Hershey powder recipe). The raw marshmallow jar yielded far less vodka because it was harder to fill and some strained out in a thick and unappetizing goo. The resulting vodka is milky white and sweet, but with a definite taste of raw marshmallow. The toasted marshmallow jar yielded almost twice as much vodka because I was better able to fill it, the stickiness kept things from floating. What was in there dissolved far better and ended up as an almost clear brown. The toasted flavor is pronounced without edging to just burnt sugar – there’s still a distinctly marshmallow flavor.

You can’t see the vodka, but I promise it’s in there!

I tried each one in hot chocolate with one tablespoon of the vodka. The plain vodka got lost in the richness of the chocolate but the toasted one added a nice nuttiness and depth of flavor. I’ve never really been one to eat raw marshmallows (unless they are homemade) but I *love* a toasted marshmallow (s’more optional) so I guess it’s no surprise that toasted won this battle. Toasted marshmallow vodka has earned a spot on my winter bar!

*I am going to try one more test batch of raw marshmallow, using either larger mallows that I can cut apart more, or using marshmallow fluff because that’s ALL gooey center!

Drinking in Context

Okay, so my long term goal here is to talk about booze. But specifically, making an effort to experience beer, booze, and cocktails differently based on context. I know from experience that a gin and tonic can be more than just a drink, it can be an experience. While I’ve had plenty of G&Ts on boats or decks here in Minnesota, there was a very different experience when I drank one in a safari lodge in Tanzania. Here, watching elephants wander across the plains below, I *experienced* a gin & tonic, with all it’s cultural background built in to the experience. It was painfully colonial.
I enjoy drinking in context. I love having a beer at the brewery, or sampling alcohol straight from the still. I like drinking and talking to the people who make the product. Just like an author might explain a reference in a book that you missed, so might a brewer talk about the process in a way that helps you discover or appreciate a new flavor.
To kick things off, I’m headed off to Ireland, London, and Cardiff. To be fair, the trip was planned before the blog and I don’t have a ton of free time while I’m there because I’m tagging along with my Mom and a tour group. This isn’t how I usually travel (love traveling solo and combining plans with whim) but I’m not one to turn down a trip no matter the format. But hey, I will probably need the distraction of good craft beer more than ever.
I will be staying in Galway, Fossa/Killarney, Dublin, London, and Cardiff.
Here are the daily highlights as stolen from my itinerary:
  • 21-9-13 Fly to Shannon
  • 22-9-13 Cliffs of Moher, Burren, Galway
  • 23-9-13 Galway, Connemara, Kylemore Abbey
  • 24-9-13 Bunratty Castle, Adare, Killarney
  • 25-9-13 Ring of Kerry
  • 26-9-13 Blarney, Midleton (Jameson), Rock of Cashel, Dublin
  • 27-9-13 Dublin, Trinity College, Guinness
  • 28-9-13 Dublin, Fly to London
  • 29-9-13 London, Buckingham Palace
  • 30-9-13 London
  • 1-10-13 London
  • 2-10-13 London, Bus to Cardiff
  • 3-10-13 Cardiff
  • 4-10-13 Cardiff
  • 5-10-13 Fly Home