From Black Cow Vodka made from milk to Ancho Reyes Verde liqueur made from mild poblano chiles and House of Lustau unique Sherry food pairings, Tales of the Cocktail conference in New Orleans is a terrific place to find what’s new in the spirits world. I discovered several new spirits at the 2016 Tales and have bumped into several notable ones since then.
Black Cow Vodka
Holy cow, milk vodka has been made before, and yes, Black Cow Vodka is an excellent choice for a variety of cocktails from a Dirty Cow witholive juice to the Twisted Cow with a lemon twist.
The back story of Black Cow Vodka begins in Paul “Archie” Archard’s kitchen in Dorset, England. Archard’s neighbor and owner of a 250-head dairy herd, Jason Barber stopped by and mentioned he yearned to diversity beyond milk. Barber knew that Tibetans made vodka from yak’s milk—it could be done, and Archie was game to join the spirits party.
After much research, the pair fermented whey into a beer using a special yeast that can convert the milk sugars to alcohol. The milk beer is distilled and then undergoes a proprietary blending process with more milk. Other “milk” vodkas add water at this point in the process, but Black Cow is made entirely from milk.
The curds from the grass-fed pasteurized, non-antibiotic raised cows is made into Barber’s renowned 1833 cheddar, sold at London’s high-end Fortnum and Mason, and Black Cow Cheddar, both available in the U.K. Black Cow Vodka is available in California, soon to be distributed in other states, and several countries such as Denmark, Spain and Hong Kong.
Archaud is the creative, artistic force in the project. “We like the spirit of the artist and work directly with packagers and the marketers. We chose “black” in the name because it denotes luxury and the gold top on the top evokes high-end quality,” said Archard.
I found Black Cow to be smooth and creamy for any number of cocktails from an Espresso Mootini to a Nutty Cow.
Ancho Verde Verde
Okay, true confessions. I’m not into heavy spice. When I heard about Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur and this year’s launch of Ancho Reyes Verde, I was skeptical. The original chile liqueur was smoky hot, like sriracha alcohol on steroids. But after a tasting with Camille Austin, brand ambassador for Ancho Reyes liqueurs, I’m a convert. The product, made from the milder poblano chile— rather than the hot chipotle (smoked jalapeño)—relies on traditional methods of hand-picking and processing that are used. The brighter, smoother flavor of the Ancho Reyes Verde is much more my style—and accessible to bartenders looking for a drink that is not dominated by a smoky profile.
The spirit is made in Puebla, Mexico, a town known for “menjurjes” or homemade liquor concoctions. Based on a old “menjurjes,” Ancho Reyes poblanos are macerated for six months. The flavor profile is rounded out by adding other chiles and a bit of sugar. Given that it is mescal based, Austin recommended the crisp, fresh Ancho Reyes Verde in a milk punch or my favorite, a Verde Mary. The “Rey de Reyes” with Verde and Original, lime, simple syrup, pinch of salt and a dash of Angsostura, is complex and intriguing.
Maker’s Mark Private Select with Maker’s 46®
Rob Samuels knows a thing or two about Kentucky Straight Bourbon. He is an eighth-generation whisky maker and COO of Maker’s Mark who proudly follow the traditions of his family. After all, his grandmother was the first woman to brand and market Bourbon with their distinctive, hand-poured, red-waxed cap.
The Samuels family has taken their oak selection seriously since the beginning. The Private Select ™ program offers customers an opportunity to make custom expressions of their Maker’s Mark with uncut product in a selection of barrels such as Roasted French Mocha or Baker American Pure 2, with a whopping 1,001 stave combinations to create your own flavor profile.
With Rob Samuels leading the tasting, I sampled Maker’s Mark select blends from barrels with diverse oak staves, and then paired the expressions in cocktails with Chef Philip Lopez’s food at New Orleans’ acclaimed Square Root restaurant. The “Amber” Maker’s Mark 46 cocktail with lemon, cinnamon, Campari with a mescal rinse paired well with grilled chanterelles, miso hominy, charred corn, and smoked steelhead roe. Another course called “Char” featured Louisiana Wagyu ribeye with Maker’s Mark Cask, black sesame, orgeat, lime and Angostura.
Martin Miller’s 9 Moons Gin
At Tales of the Cocktail several years ago, I met Martin Miller, the namesake ambassador for the gin. He was a fascinating man who sponsored literary salons and for many years, published an antiques guide. But he loved his gin and may continue to imbibe in heaven as he passed a few years ago. This year I caught up with David Bromige, co-founder of the company, and though he is not quite the character like Miller, he is a gin connoisseur and very excited about the new barrel-aged 9 Moons expression available in the U.S. now which joins Martin Miller’s Gin 80 Proof and Westbourne Strength.
“We knew that bartenders were messing around with aged gin for five years or so,” said Bromige. “I was skeptical, but I bought an empty Bourbon barrel and filled it with full strength gin. Nine months later, at my business partner’s birthday, we happily tasted it and celebrated the birth of 9 Moons. Most aged gins get overly woody and oaky from over-aging, and you lose the delicacy of the gin. Ours is the first aged gin you could pour for a gin and tonic.”
The gin, made with pure water from Iceland, is complex and delicate at the same time. In a few moons (months) when it arrives in the U.S., I’ll be ready for a 9 Moons gin and tonic.
House of Lustau Sherry
Okay, the House of Lustau was founded in 1896. But hey, solera-aged Sherry is on the leading edge when it comes to creative food pairings. During Tales I tasted some excellent pairings with Lustau Solera Gran Reserva at esteemed Herbsaint restaurant.
But first, Fernando Perez, Lustau's Assistant Cellar Master, spoke about the care taken in working with the solera method of producing Sherry. Perez’s older cousins worked in Sherry production, and he listened to their tales and observed them in the cellar. Intrigued, Perez studied chemistry with a postgraduate degree in viticulture and enology. With his experience as director of the main distillery, he has been appointed a member of the Sherry Regulatory Board tasting panel for quality control and assurance.
Link’s pairing of Lustau Almacenista Fino del Puerto González Obregón with Lousiana shrimp with Brabant potatoes and saffron ailoi was excellent. The ribeye was an excellent match with the Lustau Oloroso Emperatriz Eugenia.
The event at Herbsaint also featured Santa Teresa Rum. Santa Teresa uses Sherry casks and the solera method in aging their rums and brandies which brings depth and complexity to their products. The dessert of not-too-sweet bread pudding with rum sauce paired with Santa Teresa 1796 Rum was delightful, too.
Westland Distilling Garryana American Single Malt Whiskey
Since Tales, I’ve learned about Master Distiller Matt Hoffman’s fascination with oak, specifically American oak. Take Quercus garryana, a species of white oak found in the Pacific Northwest. At Westland Distillery in Seattle, Hoffman was eager to craft an American single malt whiskey aged in oak from the local terroir. Thus launched the company’s Native Oak Series.
Partnering with Anchor Distilling Co. for distribution, Westland Distillery is known for using Pacific Northwest wheat in its products launched in 2010. The Garryana expression, explained Hoffman, is different from his other single malt whiskeys aged in Quercus alba. which imparts notes of caramel, baking spices, and coconut. Garryana American single malt gives what he called “complex molasses, clove, smoke, coffee grounds and blackberry preserves.” I’m all in for a heartier whiskey full of terroir expressions and look forward to the next bottling from the Native Oak series.
Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky
In the spirits world, Aeneas Coffey is known for his 1920s patent on continuous-still design. Anchor Distilling Co. has partnered with Nikka Japanese Whisky to launch Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky to the U.S. Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky was launched in 2013. But this expression is unique. Distilling spirits from 100 percent malted barley through a Coffey still is rare indeed. The Coffey stills bring complexity and flavor to the spirit, attributes lost in most of today’s continuous stills.
With notes of cinnamon, clove, lemon and oak, the Coffey Malt Whisky is ideal for sipping neat or as a cocktail base spirit. I applaud the attention to detail in producing a 100 percent malt whiskey and for any whiskey full of flavor that is not either very bland or overly smoked. The Nikka Coffey Malt Old Fashioned with demerara syrup, bitters and lemon peel sounds fine indeed.
The Balveni Tun 1509 Batch 3
To top off the new spirits I’ve encountered, Balvenie’s brand Ambassador David Laird came to San Francisco recently with exclusive tastings of The Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 3. In Speyside, explained Laird, Balvenie does things the difficult, old-fashioned, hand crafted way. They grow their own barley and continue to employ a coppersmith to keep the copper stills at peak production. Maltmen are employed to manually rake the malting floor. The same Malt Master, David Stewart, has been at his job for 54 years—and still loves it.
When I asked Laird why Balvenie goes to such extremes to make their Scotch, he replied, “It’s the right way.” As simple as that.
The Tun 1509 Batch 3 selection is an example of what the company calls “raw craft.” Stewart selected 31 casks: 12 sherry butts distilled between 1989 and 1992, 11 American oak hogsheads distilled in 1989 and eight refill American Oak butts distilled in 1992 and 1993. In an unusual move, the content of the barrels was transferred to Tun 1509 in The Balvenie’s Warehouse 24 for several months of “marrying” before bottling.
The Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 3 strength at 52.2 percent is potent, and the price is high, too. But the rich, complex flavors add up to great sipping.
This complexity is what makes writing about spirits so interesting—so many new expressions and only so many cocktails to try every week.