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Vodka | Manolo's Food Blog - Part 2
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But Ossifer!

I haz an alibi!

Busted!

Busted!

It seems some people just can’t get enough of Canada’s Second Greatest Export (after that avatar of grace and elegance, Pamela Anderson). Yes, according to TMZ someone in California today hijacked hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of Dan Aykroyd’s Crystal Head Vodka, about which we’ve blogged elsewhere.

“My partners and I are sorry to lose this much vodka to theft and do not condone criminal activity in any fashion, but we are happy that some consumers will be afforded the opportunity of tasting it at significantly lower than retail price.”

Think about it: if they’d hijacked the same volume of Iceberg vodka, they could have saved about $150,000!

Alas Poor Aykroyd

Alas Poor Aykroyd

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To Żubrówka and memories

Zubors. Zuborii. Zuborz.

Zubors. Zuborii. Zuborz.

“It smells of freshly mown hay and spring flowers, of thyme and lavender, and it is so soft on the palate and so comfortable, it’s like listening to music by moonlight…”

Somerset Maugham on Zubrowka

Listen closely and I will tell you a story. And it will be, without doubt, the best story you will read today and you will carry it with you, close to your heart like a flask of something warming and clear as a forest spring. Yes, some spirits just put me in the spirit to be metaphorical, and this bison grass vodka is one of them.

I have a Christmas tradition, and like most of my traditions, it’s a little un-traditional. You see, I collect Christmas ghost stories (and what, you may be asking, does this have to do with the subject matter of a food and beverage blog, and quite right you are but bear with me, the payoff is worth it). Great authors have written great examples of the genre, from Le Fanu to Dickens, from de Maupassant to Damon Runyon, and of these the greatest is a man of whom you have never heard.

Sarban.

Sarban was the nom de plume of a British diplomat who produced one slim volume of stories in his lifetime, and if you find it, grab it. And if you’re still wondering why, read on past my food and beverage blog subject appropriate digression to read his story A Christmas Story in its entirety, and then you’ll see why my Christmas isn’t complete until I’ve read this and why Zubrowka is near and dear to me and would be so even if it tasted like rotten myaso, which it does not.

It tastes exactly like Somerset Maugham has described above.

It’s an unprepossessing-looking liquid, almost exactly the colour and texture of gasoline, and in each bottle is one long, thin blade of bison grass from the Bialowieza Forest in north-eastern Poland, last refuge of the European bison, the Zubor. If you go ahead and uncork the bottle you uncork, essentially, Spring, the fragrance of forest clearings and wildflowers remaining noticeable even when the vodka is chilled to zero Celsius, which THIS vodka should not be. Vanilla is the dominant note, with hay and a touch of citrus zest, I’d say pomelo since it’s softer than lemon or grapefruit, and some floral notes as well, marigoldish although quite subtle. It’s sweet to the taste, because of the sugar, of course, which can make it challenging to mix if you forget it’s not like regular common-or-garden vodka. I enjoy this on the rocks, but at the urging of the company rep who sent me the bottle (hey, there have to be SOME compensations in blogging for a living, eh?) I asked a bartender of reknown for his best Zubrowka recipe, and marvelous it is, too.

Jay Jones’s Krasinski Cocktail

1.5 oz Zubrowka bison grass vodka

0.5 oz Liquore Strega

2 oz Rhubarb Syrup (fresh rhubarb, sugar, elderflower cordial)

2 dashes Fee Brothers’ Plum Bitters

Shake, strain into cocktail glass. You could, if the rep had sent YOU a promo bottle, garnish it with a tiny blade of bison grass, a packet of which she also sent along, and very snazzy that is too; let’s see your friends try to figure out what it is and then one-up you with “oh, I get MY bison grass from Mummy’s farm up on the Island” not that any of my friends would ever pull that on me.

Jay also suggests a cocktail of two parts cloudy apple juice (also known as cider in places where “cider” doesn’t mean alcohol) and one part Zubrowka, but you hardly need a recipe for that, do you?

Altogether, although this seems like a novelty liquor, you’re going to find that it’s extremely adaptable, interesting and fine enough to enjoy on its own, and likely to prove an esoteric favorite without being perverse or pretentious (Absinthe, I’m looking at you). Just don’t mistake it for regular old vodka and serve it frozen, in a shot glass. This is not the stuff of shooters, my friends.

And so, to the story. This entire tale is bracketed (and punctuated, frequently) with boozes of various types, but the magical story-within-a-story is entirely framed by Zubrowka, consumed in the Russian Consul’s house in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on a roasting Christmas Eve, 1928. Pour yourself something warming and pull up a chair; you’ll want to read the whole thing.

(more…)

Tee Many Martooni (Glasses)

As regular raincoaster readers know, we at the ol’ ManoloFood blog are of Catholic tastes, although quite happy to take a Protestant on a quiet night. We are well-pleased both with the offerings of one of the greatest chefs in the world and with the humble pierogies from a drag queen burger bar. We are on the record as 100% down with wine tumblers (red wines only). And so, this may come as something of a shock to you, but there are a few things on this Earth about which we are entirely, stone-cold orthodox.

And Martini (or, more properly, Cocktail) Glasses are one of those things.

It’s fun to have glassware of different shapes and sizes, or even different colours: in my house, you can have 63 consecutive beverages chez moi without ever having the same kind of glass. You cannot, however, drive home afterwards. I have at least one of everything, including a frosted plastic Martini glass that lights up in rotating primary colours like a 60’s Christmas tree, thanks to the miracles of fiberoptics and LEDs, but I generally save that for parties where even the dog wears a lampshade.

Now that is one deluxe cab service

Now that is one deluxe cab service, but which one do you tip?

Did you know it was legal to ride your horse when you’re drunk, as long as you do it in Montana? Sensible if you’re using a Western saddle, otherwise the risk of slippage is too great. You dressage artistes are out of luck. My grandfather used to have a draft horse that would take him and the wagon safely home from the pub without any input from him, but unfortunately it meant he could never sell that horse, as it would always end up taking whoever it was home to his farm. But I digress…

Anyhoodle, to steal an expression from Plumcake, I’m also going to steal Plumcake’s Yes/No/Maybe post style and apply it to glasses for the classic Martini. I don’t really care what you serve your FunTinis in, as long as you do it well away from me, but if you’re going to serve a proper Martini, even to yourself, you must, repeat MUST, do it in one of the following.

Yes:

Reidel Vinum Martini Glass
Riedel Vinum Martini Glass. I don’t care what else you own; if you drink proper Martinis, you need the proper glass. This is it. You don’t have to do Riedel specifically: you can make do with any very, very plain version in good-quality glass or crystal, and yes, quality matters. Buying a heavy, clumsy Martini glass with a thick rim and a stem like a redwood is just throwing good money after bad design. There are solid practical reasons that beverageware evolved the way it has, and it pays to use the right container if you care enough to make the drink well. Don’t stick yourself with a bunch of Martini glasses that aren’t a positive pleasure to hold, because if it’s not a gratifying sensual experience, why bother in the first place? Just get yourself a paper bag and two straws and you’re good to go, right? It’s not as if “Plymouth 6:1 with a Twist” is on your diet anyway.

Now on to the No’s:

These are the Martini glasses you cannot buy for Martinis. You can buy them for your FunTinis and your blended drinks or whatever godforsaken Jagermeister concoctions your roommate (it IS your roommate’s Jagermeister, right?) whips up, but you are not allowed to spend your hard-earned money on these until you have one set of perfect Martini Glasses as described above.

Sagaform Martini stubby
The Sagaform Martini glass. It’s pretty. It’s hand-blown. It is very well-made. But it’s shallow, which will warm your drink up in no time even if you keep the glass in the freezer (they don’t get dusty in there, and the solid knob is supposed to hold the cold) and it’s anything but graceful or sexy. Grownups should never drink anything, even juice from glasses that could be described as “stubby” (Old Fashioned glasses aren’t stubby; they’re just impressively broad for their height, like so many of their aficionados)!

Also No, the classic “Frat Bar “Martini Glass” even if it’s by Riedel, which it is in this case.

Riedel Martini Tumblers

and the stemless version, which looks about as dignified as a man in a Hugo Boss suit who has forgotten his pants.

What is this? I don't even...

What is this? I don’t even...

Now, you may think I’m just being arbitrary and contrarian (moi?) but the fact is a Martini must be cold, very cold, to be very good. And the only Martinis you should drink are those which have been made very well, and served in glasses that will not interfere with your experience. Any glass that forces you to hold it by the bowl interferes, by turning you into a big, handsy gin warming device. And don’t try to kid me. “I’ll only hold it up near the rim” is the drinker’s version of “I didn’t inhale.”

Now the Maybes.

Once you’ve got a set of those perfect glasses mentioned first, just one for each friend you positively treasure enough to have over for the good stuff, you can add these and serve real Martinis in them. Yes, they’re slightly bizarre. And no, you can’t get these first. But they are ingenious, charming, attractive, and very practical. I’d bring them out with some adventurous friends, or possibly some people in the cocktail industry because although they never get tired of perfection, after your five hundredth perfect cocktail in a perfect cocktail glass, you might want to go just a little crazy.

Nachtmann Dancing Stars Bossa Nova Martini GlassThe Nachtmann Dancing Stars Bossa Nova Martini Glass from, yes, Riedel. And no, they don’t pay me for this fetish of mine. This one is a Maybe because that stem is just sooooo thick. With these proportions it teeters on the edge of clumsy, but the beautiful cuts (click through and look at the zoomed pic) and the great quality of the crystal bring it back to the right side. It’s also nearly ten inches tall, so this is quite an imposing glass; singles will barely wet the bottom, so store these in the freezer and serve larger drinks in these. For all the “Dancing Stars” marketing, these are very macho glasses.

Libbey Swerve Martini GlassesLibbey Swerve Martini Glasses. Because, just, why not? Libbey is decent utilitarian glass and these are cocktails we’re talking about, not holy water: some things just go better with a twist.

Stemless Martini Glass setThe actually useful stemless Martini glass. Unlike the above-mentioned atrocity, it will actually keep your drink cold; the downside is that you must be sitting down in order to use it (or freeze your left hand while turning the ice into water) and that it best suits drinks that are sipped slowly, as otherwise it’s completely unnecessary. If you’re a slow drinker, it might be just the thing for you, as it will keep your Martini good and cold for a very long time indeed, but coasters are going to be an essential accoutrement with the condensation. And word to the wise: shaved or crushed ice works: cubes, no matter how small, do not. Snow works really well, actually.

And now, my absolute favorite of the New Wave of glassware (“New” here meaning post-Prohibition):

Starfrit Double Wall Martini GlassThe Starfrit Double Wall Martini Glass. It’s got a seven ounce capacity, which is just too big, but otherwise I love this little thing. That little pigtail at the bottom is just the right amount of crazy, even if cleaning this thing will drive you in that general direction. The clever double-walled design is not only useful for insulatory purposes, it’s also quite attractive. Just be sure to buy the extra-large olives and you’ll be all good.

Vodka: is there anything it can’t do?

Joan Rivers may have bent the elbow prior to this photo being taken

Joan Rivers may have bent the elbow prior to this photo being taken

Joan Rivers is the latest celebrity spokesperson for vodka, taking up the mantle still worn by a no-doubt confused Diddy and Dan Ackroyd (“I thought we had this gig sewn up?”).

I am thinking it’s an improvement, actually.

Diddy, dude, when you distill grapes you get brandy and when you distill dead, post wine-making grape crap you get marc. It doesn’t matter how much you distill it, it doesn’t become vodka: no matter how long you bake a butter tart, it doesn’t turn into a custard tart. And we know you know your way around tarts.

It's crystal clear, my dear Watson

It's crystal clear, my dear Watson

As for Ackroyd and his Crystal Head Vodka, I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret. Well, first I’ll avow that it’s actually not half bad. And it does come in one of the world’s great decanters. But it actually tastes pretty much or entirely indistinguishable from the much less expensive Iceberg Vodka (also produced in Newfoundland, and how many can there be, really?). Iceberg is a perfectly good mixing vodka, quite underrated probably because of the price, but it’s not exactly sippin’ likker. So, if you want to save money and pull an old trick from Prohibition, buy the Crystal Head and treasure the skull, but refill it with Iceberg.

Hey, I never said I was classy, but I never said I was rich, either, knowmasayin’?

A little tacky makes the cocktail go down better, as Tallulah Bankhead knew.

Now, speaking of tacky, we come to the above Joan, delightfully protean siren of stage and screen, all the way back to the days of zoetropes. Today, Joan came out with a Better Housekeeping Tip for the Ages, and not-incidentally tipped us off that she buys cheap vodka. Is she a skull-refiller herself? Who knows? But read on and file this away in your I Want To Be Betty Draper index card box.

“I always spray my costumes with vodka and water. It’s an old Broadway trick — two-thirds water and one-third vodka, spray your armpits and you’ll never smell again.”

via PageSix

And here’s Joan, fresh as a Daisy (a double, though) at an Aussie awards show.

BONUS TIP:

My friend, a cocktail fancier and pharmacist, suggested to me that if I can neither swallow the horse pills that my medicine comes in nor dissolve them in water, that I dissolve them in vodka instead. Yay, Science!

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