The Rum Diary: Creole Apertif
Before reading this post, it may be helpful to reference this one. That link is to the introductory article on The Rum Diary Spiritual. The Rum Diary is intended to be absorbed in couplets and the Creole Apertif is best assessed by also taking into account its sibling, Agricole Punch. If you’d rather jump right in, feel free to do so and cross reference the previous one if the words byrrh or agricole are foreign ones.
Creole Apertif vs. Agricole Punch
How to best describe the Creole Apertif? It’s very, well…agricoley. The Rhum Agricole has no place to hide. And that’s just the point. Imagine Agricole Punch (or as we’ll see later, the Classique) in the context of a first date. The idea is to show yourself, but just enough. Certainly there is more depth and rougher edges behind the politeness of a first impression, but it is intrigue, not comfort that you’re after. Once you grow more comfortable, the closer we come to the authentic you. The Creole is the authentic you.
The stripped down Creole Apertif is aromatically savory, almost sherry like in its salinity. But on the palate, there’s an interesting interplay of La Favorite and Byrrh. It was surprising that the Byrrh stood up to the burl of Agricole, enveloping it with an embrace of purple fruit. It was experienced as immensely concentrated, raisiny and jammy even. Since this cocktail is not the least bit sweet, this is an enlightened expression. We found a few soft pockets in an otherwise stern cocktail.
The Important Role of Vermouth
The silent partner in all of this is Dolin Dry Vermouth. Dolin, from Chambéry, is our vermouth of choice. It is seen in no less than a half-dozen of our most popular cocktails. Vermouths from Chambéry are dry in nature (served alone, Dolin is drier than Ben Stein stand-up), lean and tastes of the Alps- its place of origin along France’s Eastern borders.
True the Vin de Savoie AC is a bit further north, it is hard to overlook its comparable flavor profile to the white grapes of Savoie, like Jacquère or Altesse.
Today, Dolin stands alone as the torchbearer of Chambéry vermouth tradition. They are the only producer in the AOC of Chambéry. Perhaps we’ll cover vermouths role in greater detail at some point in the future, but for now, this cocktail is a perfect microcosm for how it works. It is the role of a jazz bassist. To an indifferent ear, the blast of the horn or giggle of piano is perceived. But it is the bass that is the enabler. It is a thankless foundation from which the other elements are granted room for vibrant expression. The same is true of vermouth in cocktails.
Check out this awesome map highlighting vermouths from around Europe. The flurry of activity seen around Torino is to be expected. Piedmont’s capital city has a long history of vermouth production. Their style, Carpano’s are usually red, richer and spicier than the mellow herbal driven ones of Chambéry.
Of all the cocktails in this spiritual, the Creole appears the most exacting and demanding. You can scarcely avoid “forgetting” about this drink even as you’re engrossed in other matters. The Creole Apertif is well suited for the first drink of the night (dry and lean, yet robust) and also for those interested in furthering their experiences with Rhum Agricole.
The Rum Diary: Agricole Punch
Because we put so much energy into it, it’s easy to forget that the Nopa beverage program is not immediately understood by many of our guests. Internally, words like Feature, Insert and Spiritual are commonly used. They are important words in the vocabulary of our restaurant, but more importantly, an essential part of our identity. The Spiritual and Wine Feature are composed by distinctive and passionate artists who fill this platform with great care and intention. But intention is not the same as attention, and in the bustle of dinner, it easy to pay very little to a beverage menu. Understandable. So, as we’ve done before, we’ll do a series of posts on the current spiritual to bridge the gap.
The current Spiritual is entitled, The Rum Diary, named after Hunter S. Thompson’s classic novel. Clearly, the cocktails are all rum-based. The sound of it is very lighthearted- a departure from Yanni’s typical approach to drink making. But upon examination, the veil lowers.
It’s easy to miss the intellectual vibe of the Spiritual, but basically it’s this:
Two cocktails from three rum producers; one stern and spirituous, the other juicier and more open, but the ingredients for both are basically the same. It’s like one little tweak here or there and you’ve got something completely different. The idea is to show subtle changes can make big differences. It’s a really fun and challenging exercise since rum is our medium. For instance, consider the Manhattan drinker. Even the adventurous within the category are don’t stray far from whiskey. It’s sort of that way with rum. It carries a particularly juvenile stigma. But the dualistic nature of this Spiritual has offered a great awakening. Rum can be serious.
Agricole Punch: The opening cocktail is the Agricole Punch. It is the juice based offering from La Favorite. This type of rhum is what’s known as an agricole. If you wanted to put to the test that serious nature, you’d definitely drink agricole. Rhum Agricole is dry, very warm (read, high alcohol), savory and pungent. It’s made from fermented sugar cane juice. Whether we’re talking beer or tea, once something ferments, the nature of that thing is changed. What’s left is an individual, a highly stylized character that keeps it interesting. In case, the aromatics are of spiced pears and the palate has a slight vegetal quality and lots of depth.
The Agricole is mixed with an even more obscure element. Byrrh Grand Quinquina. Byrrh is pronounced “beer”, but is actually a wine-based apertif. It is blended with quinine and and other botanicals and fortified. Byrrh has been in production for 125 years sourcing Grenache grapes from the Languedoc Roussillon in France. The leading brand was acquired by the mega-producer/shipper Pernot in 1977 and held dormant until now, revived as a result of the appetite for stuff like this from people like Yanni. It has a rich, almost dessert wine like quality on the palate. It is similar to the Bonal Quinquina, but is a bit fruiter on entering the palate. The mid-palate shifts predictably to dark herbs as quinquinas do. Served chilled, it’s a really great apertif.
Construction: The Rhum, Byrrh, and Lemon Juice are put into a pint glass. There’s just a little but of ice added, followed by a quick shake. A really quick shake since the idea is not to dilute it, rather chill it (the final iteration is served on the rocks anyhow). The drink is then strained into a Collins glass and ginger beer is added. Though everything is measured, as I watched Yanni make the drink, there was a whimsical nature to the ginger beer addition. It was still jiggered, but it was done with such liberty, that it reinforced the vibe of this “dualing” spiritual. The glass is filled to the top with ice. Now, the best part: the garnish is a heavy-handed topping of Angostura bitters. The Byrrh has given the drink a high-toned pink color, that looks strikingly dissimilar to most of the things that come from behind our bar. It does in fact look quite punchy.
The bitters float is visually interesting, providing a sharp contrast to the look of the drink. With a quick glance, it could be mistaken for Coke, but if you’re close enough to smell, that theory goes quickly. For bitters lovers, the blast of on the surface of the cocktail is a cheap thrill. (Admittedly, this was my method). But the idea is for the bitters to be applied as desired by the user, eventually making its way throughout the cocktail and adding a measure of restraint to the lemon and ginger. The best part about the drink though, is that the La Favorite does not run and hide. It can’t. We’re still left with a persistent vegetal undertone, which shows well with the other elements of the cocktail. This is the second most approachable cocktail in The Rum Diary Spiritual. It looks great and is super fun to drink. Come check it out!
On Bosco Agostino Barbera d’Alba & Wine Schools
Bosco Agostino is a winery in the region of Alba, a town in the famed Piedmont wine region in northwest Italy. For oenophiles and gourmands (the town is also revered for their white truffles) the Alba brand is an impeccable one. Last month, Arron, one of our managers, took a trip to Italy, and predictably, allotted some time for the sacred gastronomic grounds. Even better, he was led around the countryside of Barolo by Andrea Bosco the third-generation grape grower, whose winery bears the same name as his. When Arron returned, he spoke excitedly about many of the wines and people he encountered, but perhaps none more so than Andrea. When the wines were listed this week, I was excited to tap in to Arron’s nostalgia. Even more exciting was to find the Barbera so substantive.
Check out the Piedmont wine map. Can you see Alba? Just south of the Tanaro River
New Old School
A common thing among winey people is to assess the character of the wine as “old school” or “new school”. Frankly, I haven’t been drinking long enough (or even around long enough) to really understand the distinction. It is generally accepted that “new school” is akin to New World. Translated, it is experienced as lots of fruit, alcohol and/or oak.
But now it seems that old school is the new new school. It is no coincidence that many of our favorite producers are anti- interventionist, and some proclaim to make wine completely naturally. Since technology was not historically a word used to describe the winemaking process, it’s hard to argue the point. But as Chris pointed out in his Syrah article earlier this week, a lot of “New World” producers are making wine with “Old World” sensibilities. To explore the idea further, I referenced Hugh Johnson and James Halliday’s Vintner’s Art, which tackles this very subject.
For the purposes of that particuliar text, Piedmont is synonomous to the prestigious Nebbiolo grape. But when discussing Nebbiolo, the next breath can be spent on the native Barbera. It is an essential threading in the proud fabric of Piemont’s wine tradition. It is a fair expectation that it can be found alongside Nebbiolo on most of the region’s top sites. For producers like Andrea, whose grandfather starting farming grapes in 1904, he has the benefit of familial tradition (especially crucial when farming the same land) and modern application; ie, old school and new school. Looking at the wine from this perspective, it looks something like this:
The 2007 vintage in Piedmont was warm, even and early. The grapes were picked a full three weeks prior to the harvest from the 2006 vintage. While the earlier picking is somewhat indicative of the vintage (producers did not want overly ripe fruit), the same reasoning is now commonplace in Piedmont. In Vintners Art Johnson and Halliday talk about the declining favor of late harvest, high alcohol, high tannin wine. This is seen incrementally over the last 30 years and validated in tasting. So that's old school viticulture in Piedmont.
In the cellar, the wine is vinified in stainless steel tanks (definitely modern) and “pumped over”. This refers to a method in which a valve siphons juice from just underneath the dense cap of floating grape skins and pumps it over the top. The juice filters through the cap, along the way, picking up color and weight. This happens 3-4 times daily.
Then comes the cellaring regiment. The cellaring program is a series of decisions that critically affect the personality of a wine, and is probably the most hotly contested element in “new/old-school” winemaking debate. In Piedmont, large wooden casks are less common than the (59 gallon) French barriques. In this case, 30% of the wood is new and the remaining 70% used. The wine is stored in these barrels for 14-15 months before bottling. This, by “old-school” (Nebbiolo) standards, is a short amount of time.
And though Barbera doesn’t have always the constitution to withstand that kind of barrel aging (mainly because its lush aromatics would be sacrificed), the new norm in Piedmont still seems to be less time in oak.
Perhaps the economy, perhaps the generation, perhaps the consumer are to blame, but at least in this example, the approach has been a success. We’re left with a supple wine with exceedingly generous black cherry aroma. The palate is soft and full, unmistakably oaked, but not overly, high acid, but no sharp edges. In all, this would be considered a “modern” wine-suited for international palates, yet technically correct for Barbera d’Alba.
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