Cognac: A Warm Beautiful (Cocktail) Memory

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It was a bright summer morning in Victoria. Mom and my aunties were in deep discussions over which beauty salon to go to. My uncle was waiting patiently with cup of coffee in one hand, and car keys in the other. I was sipping my coffee in the balcony, looking out at the marina, and watching planes skim over the water when I got a text from my brothers. They had all decided to go downtown right after an early breakfast. No doubt, I’ll meet up with one or all of them later today, after their afternoon of selfies and shopping.

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Until then, I decided to go exploring on my own. Our condo was just a five-minute walk to the Inner Harbour and Empress Hotel. As I wandered in and out of alleys along Government Street, I briefly checked out a number of trendy bars and cheery pubs, making mental notes of which ones I’ll visit later.

victoriabar baroffgovst

One shop I popped into sold beautifully-cut crystal liquor decanters imported from Ireland. Another had intricately carved chocolates that looked too amazing to eat. Was craving a snack at that point, but the dainty finger sandwiches and tiny cakes crowd at Murchie’s was ridiculous! I ended up lunching at a patio on Trounce Alley, and chatted with a sous chef from Montreal on his smoke break. He gave me his card and suggested, with his heavy French accent, that we have dinner at his place some evening. “I cook for you, we have some wine and…”, he let the sentence trail off with a nodding smile and a crook of his brow. I kept the card.

My brother Arthur texted me that he was cocktailing at a bar in Chinatown. He invited me to join him if I was nearby, before meeting up and dining with family in a couple of hours. Past the fruit stands and tea house, I found an alley that looked almost too narrow for two people to walk through, shoulder to shoulder. I took my time exploring the tiny shops and fragrant varieties of burning incense. It was summer, warm and perfect. And I had no intention of rushing anywhere.

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I found the bar just a block and a half away. Arthur wasn’t seated at the counter, where I expected him to be. I saw through a glass partition that he was sitting at a table, staring at an oil painting hanging directly in front of him.

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I wish I knew the name of the artist who did this painting

He was completely absorbed by that gorgeous painting of what appeared to be a (ahem) costume party, which took up half the wall. He could barely look away, even as he spoke or took pictures of it with his phone. More interesting to me was the cocktail my brother was sipping. He called it the Warm Beautiful.

The cocktail

The Beautiful is a delicious, potent and citrusy cocktail made of cognac and Grand Marnier orange liqeuer. Arthur preferred it topped with a lemon zest. Having worked part-time as a bartender while in medical school, he knew that cognac’s flavor and aroma deepened when warmed. Cognac lovers would often just cradle the snifter in the palm of their hand, warming the cognac with their body’s heat. My brother wanted something a bit more imaginative.

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The cocktail was served in a snifter. He then asked for a “heater”, a small glass half-filled with hot water. Arthur placed the snifter on top of the water-bearing glass. As my brother waited for the cognac cocktail to reach the proper temperature, he rotated the snifter now and again, still gazing in awe at the absurd yet fascinating painting across from us.

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Age of the cognacs

According to the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), there are three official classifications of cognac, depending on how long the cognac had been stored in casks:
VS (very special) – At least two years
VSOP (very superior old pale) – At least four years
XO (extra old) – At least ten years

Other classifications have also been used by producers when the cognac had been stored beyond official age scales, such as Extra and Hors d’age (beyond age), which can be as much as 100 years old.

“Rules” of enjoyment

Cognac connoisseurs have very strong feelings about cognacs being used in cocktails. One forbes.com article mentioned that, whereas it is acceptable to use a young VS or VSOP cognac as part of a cocktail mix, it is considered a tragedy to do so with an exceptional-tasting, wallet-busting XO or older cognac. Those can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars per bottle.

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My brother’s Warm Beautiful cocktail was created using Hennessey VS, but a Courvoisier VSOP could have also been used, instead. On the other hand, Remy Martin’s $3,000-a-bottle Louis XVIII, which is very popular in China (along with all the other premium cognacs), is an example of one that should be showcased as a solo act.

All drinking aside (for the moment), younger cognacs should also be used for flambe, marinades, sauces, chocolates and fruit preserves.

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And if you’re in the mood to immerse yourself in all things cognac, the French town this liquid luxury was named after hosts the annual La Fete du Cognac , where you can party for three days with cognac cocktails, crowds, cuisine and concerts.

Cheers!

The Beautiful cocktail recipe

1 oz Hennessey or Courvoisier VS/VSOP cognac
1 oz Grand Marnier orange liqueur

Add both ingredients into a brandy snifter, mix and serve. Optional: Top off with a lemon zest, the way my brother and I like it.

Enjoy!


All photos of Victoria BC, Canada by Alexandria Julaton
Remy Martin shop photo by Weng lei – Imaginechina/AP
Still shot of Cognac Festival, courtesy of La Fete du Cognac YouTube video

Soul Rejuvenation: Life Has More Flavor with Friends

drinks with a friend

I was getting ready to tuck into my favorite chair with a cocktail (well, maybe two) within reaching distance. It’s nice to have these quiet moments to yourself, a bit of meditation and Zen in one’s hectic life.

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However, one can have too much soul-searching solitude, and feel a bit cut off from the outside world. So I texted one of my girlfriends, and we checked out a fairly new bar downtown.

Lady Asya at Paymaster Lounge

The Paymaster Lounge in NW Portland successfully pulled off the “we’ve been your favorite neighborhood bar for years” feel, with edge-y posters, comfy leather lounge seats and turned-down lights, but was too clean and new to be dive-y. We explored a bit and came across their vending machine, filled with a nice selection of lip gloss, condoms, fangs, old movies, and packets containing info on finding your spirit animal.

Vending machine of oddities at Paymaster Lounge

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We made our way to the patio, where we enjoyed our cocktails and ordered from a menu with an impressive array of tater tots options. For the rest of the evening, it was all about girls gabbing happily and frivolously about boyfriends, family, fashion, cocktails with herb infusions, trips we wanted to take, etc.  The hours flew.

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For me, friends (and cocktails!) are good for the body and the soul. They remind us what are most important in our lives. Friends not only help us feel like we’re not alone in our burdens, but they also enrich the greater, more meaningful portions of our existence, as well as the quality of our lives.

When I look back at my life, I want memories of adventures and mayhem I shared with friends, not just the sacrifices to my time and life I made so I could work more and harder, until I woke up old and alone.

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Now get out there, call a friend, and share a cocktail moment with them. Cheers!

The Whiskey Library

Originally posted in Ladies Chillout Lounge over a year ago. Here it is for you to enjoy all over again. Cheers!

Ladies Chillout Lounge

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“Whiskey, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation. You gaze first, then it’s time to drink.” (Haruki Murakami)

I waited in line to get into the fairly new, and already very popular, Multnomah Whiskey Library one evening. According to the other customers I chatted with, there’s always a waiting list. If you wanted to make reservations and skip the lines, you’d have to purchase membership, and currently they’re full. The Library was a high-ceilinged, chandeliered modern pub of dark wood, leather and exposed brick, with two of its walls covered by shelves showcasing whiskies from around the world, along with other choice hard liquors. Jaunty Scottish and Irish instrumental classics played in the background, and yet the noise level was comfortably moderate; it never got so loud that you couldn’t hear what the person was saying to you from across your table, even with all the hard surfaces.

The Library made…

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A Quiet Cocktail Moment: The Journey

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There was a time when we threw fear and self-doubt to the wind, and imagined our bright, shiny futures with wild, joyous abandon. Pah! We didn’t temper our dreams because…why should we? We knew they could happen; and believed even more so that they would. The journey was beginning. Armed with reckless hope and far too much confidence, we were on our way to glorious conquests. That big, gorgeous world was waiting just for us.

Eventually, we found the world isn’t such a nice place, and the cold slaps of reality really began to sting. For some of us, a dream is not an easy thing to abandon, even as the road becomes less solid and more difficult to see. The world, once a paradise, becomes a hard place, with lots of sharp edges. Still you chase the shards of your dreams on an uncertain path, in what has increasingly become a desert of hope.

Over and over again, we run eagerly towards each oasis.  When we get there, we fall to our knees and grab a handful of that sand, disbelieving that this was yet another mirage. Every time it looks like paradise is on the horizon, it’s more desert. Just like with the last oasis. And the one before that.

Eyes, once again, fill with liquid rage; bitter disappointment carves another notch on your soul. The journey is hard, and the journey is long.  There are days when you believe your life’s story will just be tales of disappointed journeys, eventually ending in a disappointing death.

As the sand slowly falls from your cupped hands, you shove the pain back in and get up again, just like you’ve done many times before.

But this time, you look around. You see that the desert that was before you is actually many roads. And on either side of each road, there are people you’ve never met, places you’ve never seen. Martinis waiting to be tasted, and laughter yet to be shared.

You realize that while devoting most of every waking moment of your life to reaching that dream and destination, you forgot to live. The quality of the journey matters as much as the destination. Your life could be tales of interesting, adventurous journeys, eventually ending in a more meaningful death.

The sad reality is, many of us will not reach our destinations, although many will. You may, or you may not. In the meantime, there is a choice to be made: That is, to enjoy the journey, to embrace the experiences of people and places along the path, or to stare and trudge straight ahead – to see nothing but desert on either side of you and always an oasis on the horizon.


Orange Oasis

1/2 oz cherry brandy
1 1/2 oz gin
4 oz orange juice
Ginger ale

Shake brandy, gin and orange juice with ice, strain into highball glass. Fill with ginger ale, stir and serve.

(Recipe from barnonedrinks.com)

Green Chartreuse: What Sexy Tastes Like

“Chartreuse, the only liqueur so good they named a color after it.”   (From bartender Warren in the movie “Death Proof”)

Out of all the cocktail liqueurs I’ve ever tasted – and I have tasted many – Green Chartreuse has been the sexiest and most tantalizing. First created centuries ago by monks, it eventually found its way into classic cocktails and literature. The mysterious Jay Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”), whose parties were the stuff of legends, shared a bottle when lady love Daisy visited his mansion-size man cave. More importantly, it’s the main ingredient in my favorite cocktail – The Last Word. I like to hold a few drops in my mouth, slowly exhale, and feel the rush of 130+ herbs and plants distilled into a heady liquid made from a recipe known only to the Carthusian order of monks.  I wonder if they knew how much joy their “Elixir of Life” has given the world, helping to enrich it with bacchanalian delights that they denied themselves.

I held the martini glass up to the candlelight. So lovely. Its otherworldly color, indescribable. Its flavor, complex. With each sip, the world became slowly veiled by a comforting haze. Every bliss elevated, every trouble diminished. Green Chartreuse’s 110 proof guarantees no less than a robust experience.

I thought about the monks that have made this intriguing liqueur for over 400 years, initially as a medicine, to fund their call to prayer and meditation. Monks with structured, disciplined lives devoted to holiness and sacrifice, creating a potion flavored with mystery and wanton decadence. I sometimes imagined centuries of deeply buried desires somehow flowed into this arcane mixture.

Sexy tastes like forbidden pleasures.

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“Chartreuse is made only by Carthusian Monks of La Grande Chartreuse near Grenuble, France. Chartreuse today is still made from 130 alpine herbs according to an ancient 1605 formula. The secret method of preparation is shared by three Carthusian brothers and is protected by vows of silence.”

 


The Last Word

1 oz Green Chartreuse
1 oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
1 oz good gin (Aviation, Tann’s, etc.)
½ oz freshly squeezed lime juice (more if you prefer it less sweet)

Shake up in a cocktail shaker with some ice, serve neat in a Martini glass.

 

The Whiskey Library

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“Whiskey, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation. You gaze first, then it’s time to drink.” (Haruki Murakami)

I waited in line to get into the fairly new, and already very popular, Multnomah Whiskey Library one evening. According to the other customers I chatted with, there’s always a waiting list. If you wanted to make reservations and skip the lines, you’d have to purchase membership, and currently they’re full. The Library was a high-ceilinged, chandeliered modern pub of dark wood, leather and exposed brick, with two of its walls covered by shelves showcasing whiskies from around the world, along with other choice hard liquors. Jaunty Scottish and Irish instrumental classics played in the background, and yet the noise level was comfortably moderate; it never got so loud that you couldn’t hear what the person was saying to you from across your table, even with all the hard surfaces.

The Library made it a point to never exceed their maximum capacity of 50 customers in a room at a time, so there were never too many people loudly crowded into a room, bumping into each other and spilling their expensive drinks. As soon as I was seated and looked around, I noticed a majority of the patrons that night appeared to be in their late 20s to early 40s, with a slightly higher men-to-women ratio. My eyes explored the room and paused at a very well-dressed man sitting at a lounge chair a few feet away. He was slowly swirling a dark liquid in a snifter, possibly a Scotch.

According to the Scotch Whisky Association, Scotch connoisseurs recommend sipping from a tulip-shaped glass, or any glass with a wide base and narrow mouth, to improve the tasting experience. For example:

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I watched him quietly sip his beverage with such obvious pleasure, and realized I have never seen a man rush through a glass of premium Scotch, or toss it back quickly. Oh, to be a glass of really good Scotch – to be tasted slowly, savored completely, and enjoyed with complete focus.

This place had pretty much everything that will put you in a really good mood – world-class liquors, tasty appetizers (the bacon-wrapped dates and crab fritters were fabulous!), and a very attractive staff. Lovely ladies greeted you at the door, my server looked like he’d stepped out of a men’s clothing catalog, the bartender with the great smile and brawny good looks was very attentive…I could go on and on.

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I turned my attention to the menu. The prices were a bit steep, with whiskey tastings ranging from $14 to much higher. Expect to pay for the level of selection and superiority one prefers in fine beverages, as well as for the exclusivity and ambience of a place that offers them. Classic cocktails, gins, vodkas, rums, beers, wines, and so on, were also well represented. But if you’re at a place that calls itself a “whiskey library”, you order the whiskey.

I ordered a Talisker Storm single malt Scotch, from the shores of the Isle of Skye. As I raised the glass for a sip, I was pleasantly surprised by the peat-y, smokey aroma. Some people don’t like a smokey Scotch. With that first sip, a delicious warmth spread from my throat to throughout my body. I gasped softly and shut my eyes as the room swayed a bit and my cheeks tingled pleasantly.

Wow. The boldness, the smoothness. And interestingly, the flavor wasn’t nearly as smokey as I thought it would be, considering the first fragrant impression. With its blend of new and old scotches, Talisker Storm managed to smooth out the smokiness. Nicely done!

Interestingly, there are articles online on how to properly drink and enjoy a Scotch. According to an askmen.com article, entitled “10 Things to Know About Drinking Whiskey“, the process is as follows:

Aroma: Swirl the whisky around the glass and take in the aromas as they are released. Don’t poke your nose straight into the glass, as all you’ll pick up is alcohol.

Taste: Take a nice, long sip and let the whisky feel its way around your entire mouth before swallowing.

Finish: A good whisky should linger like a fond memory, and you will still be feeling and tasting it for minutes afterward.

According to a “How to Drink Scotch” article I found online:

“Before actually drinking the Scotch, take a moment to savor the scent of the Scotch. Doing so will help to prepare the taste buds for the flavor that is about to come. Sip a small amount of Scotch. Allow the Scotch to settle onto the tongue and gently move the liquid around the mouth. This action will distribute the flavor and enhance the pleasure derived from the drink. After a moment, swallow the Scotch and prepare to enjoy another sip.”

In my opinion, as with any all-encompassing, sensual experience, I’d say the only right way to enjoy such a moment is to do so completely and at your own pace.

Cheers!

Gie him strong drink until he wink, That’s sinking in despair; An’ liquor guid to fire his bluid, That’s prest wi’ grief and care: There let him bouse, an’ deep carouse, Wi’ bumpers flowing o’er, Till he forgets his loves or debts, An’ minds his griefs no more. (Robert Burns)


Photos #3 & 4 courtesy of Multnomah Whiskey Library website
Articles mentioned in blog: http://www.ehow.com/how_2304608_drink-scotch.html http://www.askmen.com/top_10/entertainment/the-expert-10-things-to-know-about-drinking-whiskey_3.html

Dark Matter and Irish Times

Image One of my biggest regrets about my visit to Victoria BC was not doing a pub crawl between the British, Scottish and Irish pubs downtown. However, being determined to die with little or no regrets in life, I endeavor to go forth with this worthy cause one way or another. It’s important to have goals, after all. With all the whirlwind of activity involving family gatherings, sightseeing and visits to local hot spots, I was able to fit in a few stops at various watering holes.

During a wander downtown, I suddenly stopped in my tracks. An Irish pub sat just to the right of the Scottish pub, which sat next to the British pub. Seeing them all lined up in a row like that, all just a stagger away from each other…well, that just put a smile on my face and made my eyes go all sparkly! Lovers of good beer, you know what I’m talking about! Unfortunately, I had dinner reservations soon, plus some freshening up to do beforehand (I am a girl, after all), so I could only pick one pub this time. My boyfriend, being Irish, recommended we try the Irish Times pub first, of course.

Irish Times

Unlike many Irish pubs I’ve been to in the U.S., the Irish Times pub doesn’t have the charmingly rustic feel of old neighborhood pubs in Dublin. High cream-colored ceilings, dark wood arches, crimson walls, gold etching and immense windows made this possibly the most stylish Irish pub I’ve ever tarried in. Still, they tried to make it feel less “uppity” with prominent displays of random, antique pub accessories, growlers and small kegs.


But enough about the ambience – let’s get to the beers! The Irish Times boasts an impressive array of domestic and imported beers (the picture only shows one section of the bar). As a bonus (and my boyfriend certainly thought it was), they get served to you by mini-kilted ladies with big friendly smiles. Looking around at the happy crowd around me, I’d say many would agree that this is a fine way to spend a gray, cold wintery afternoon.


I ordered a delicious pint of “Dark Matter”, a fills-your-mouth, sigh-inducing, dark-colored beauty of a beer that is part stout, part lager. Made with mild hops and roasted malt, the richness of this lovely brunette is balanced and smooth, with no trace of bitterness. I decided I must have this splendid craft beer.

Sadly, “Dark Matter” is made by Hoyne Brewing Company, which only distributes in Canada. Their “sin tax” would likely make it cost a small fortune to purchase a case online, assuming it was even possible. And so I’m back home reminiscing about that wondrous beer and the cozy Irish Times pub, and telling friends about it. Victoria BC has given me a few more reasons to visit again soon. In the meantime, I’m off to my comparative study of Irish/Scottish/British pubs.

Irish Times pub exterior shot courtesy of their website.