Zen Spirit Guide: A Visit to Japan’s Distilleries With Seven Grand San Diego’s Own Brett Winfield

May 22nd, 2013 — 11:52am

Hello out there whiskey freaks, my fellow Seven Grand Whisky hooligans and I have just returned from Japan where we visited the Suntory distilleries of Hakushu, Yamazaki, countless whisky bars, Ramen joints, and any other trouble we could muster up.  But this piece is about whisky, Japanese Whisky to be specific, so we will forgo the delicious Ramen and other mischievous activities to hone in on our true passion.  We went to Japan, in typical cocky bartender fashion, thinking we knew a great deal about Japanese Whiskey, we had all done our homework – read all the books, checked out all the relevant blogs and tasted anything we could get our hands on and yet we still found our selves at a loss for words at the depth and complexity that is Japanese Single Malt Whiskey.  Bottom line we didn’t know shit about Japanese Whiskey and continued to be reminded of this point time and again as we tasted our way through the malts of the distilleries currently producing and most of the closed distilleries as well.

By far the most rewarding part of our trip was the distillery tours of Yamazaki and Hakushu.  These are two of the greats when it comes to Japanese Single Malt Whisky.  Each distillery has at least six pairs of Copper Pot Stills of different sizes and shapes and use up to five different types casks, which allow them to produce a staggering 100 different styles of malt between the two distilleries.  These malts are combined in different proportions to make up the various bottlings in the Suntory line up.  The stand out malts from the two distilleries were the Hakushu 18 year and the Yamazaki Mizunara Cask.  The Hakushu 18yr is deeply complex with lovely hints of sherry and the typical fresh piney note, which Hakushu is known for.   The Yamazaki Mizunara Cask is a truly special whisky; each year less than 200 of these casks can be made from the Japanese Mizunara Oak.  This hard to work, loose grained and Leaky Oak imparts an incense and sandalwood like characteristic to the Whisky, which is simply magical.  Among the other Japanese malts the whiskies from the closed distilleries of Hanyu and Karuizawa were among the best we had the pleasure to taste.

Beyond amazing whisky the most impressive aspect of the trip was the hospitality of the Japanese people.  At each bar we went to the level of care and respect for the customer and the drinks was elevated to a higher level.  We could all learn a thing or two from the Japanese in the hospitality department.  I could go on and on but I’ll save you some time and just tell you to go to Japan, drink the Whisky, eat the Ramen, meet the people, and enjoy yourself – you will not be disappointed.

Brett Winfield / Seven Grand San Diego / GM

How The Los Angeles Cocktail Scene Is Different From Other Cities’, 5/10/13 – Bon Appetit

May 22nd, 2013 — 11:22am

How The Los Angeles Cocktail Scene Is Different From Other Cities’, 5/10/13 – Bon Appetit
With the cocktail craze having spread to every corner of the country, and bartenders flying from city to city to compete against one other, we wondered: Is there any regionality left in the noble art of the tipple? After all, when you can get an authentic Tiki drink at Manhattan’s Death & Co. in midwinter, or order a Queens Park Swizzle in Seattle with impunity, you might find yourself needing Foursquare to remember where you are.  Read more here!

“Is The Varnish the Best Bar in the World? Spirited Bar Awards Finalists Announced” 5/17/13 – LA Weekly

May 21st, 2013 — 11:09am

Is The Varnish The Best Bar In The World? Spirited Bar Awards Finalists Announced, 5/17/13 – LA Weekly
Hot on the heels of last year’s Best American Cocktail Bar award at Tales of the Cocktail, The Varnish is this year a finalist for World’s Best Cocktail Bar, along with 9 other finalists. Eric Alperin, who leads the crew at The Varnish, is also up for American Bartender of the Year. Read the article in its entirety here!

What We’re Reading: School for Spirits, Cracking Down On Drinking And Driving, Rare Cognac With World-Record Pedigree To Be Sold For $157,000, Stand And Deliver

May 20th, 2013 — 5:38pm

In Louisville, A School For Spirits, 5/17/13 – New York Times
Whether its products are called moonshine or artisanal spirits, the small-batch distilling movement has expanded in recent years, bringing to market whiskey from Brooklyn, vodka born in Wisconsin and brandy made in Portland, Ore. Now Louisville, the gateway to Kentucky’s bourbon country, is ensuring that it maintains a reputation as a prime player in the spirits world with Moonshine University, an educational program from the grandly named Distilled Spirits Epicenter where Mr. Blake is creative director. The institution is meant to instill liquor appreciation as well as the craft of booze-making, bottling and marketing. The Distilled Spirits Epicenter’s Moonshine University classes, which began in December, revisit homemade Prohibition-era bathtub gin and whiskey — and such cocktails as the aptly named Scofflaw, created from them — that were ubiquitous before the 1933 repeal of the 18th Amendment. In addition, since February the center has held monthly one-night bourbon-focused classes ($50) meant to explore food pairings, the aging process and bourbon cocktails, among other themes. There are also five-day distilling courses ($5,500), covering everything from how to mill grain and make spirits to finding a distributor for the finished product. Presenters include professionals from some of the biggest distillers in the area, including Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey and Brown-Forman. The next one, titled “So You Want to Build a Distillery?” starts in mid-June. Read more here!

Cracking Down On Drinking And Driving,  5/14/13 – New York Times
A revived plan by the National Transportation Safety Board, an independent federal agency charged with investigating transportation-related crashes, aims to lower the legal blood alcohol concentration to 0.05 percent. The safety board’s report, “Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving,” was released on Tuesday.
The United States has long lagged behind most other countries, which have blood alcohol limits of 0.05 percent or lower. The time has finally come to put Mr. Plymat’s plan into action. Drunken driving raised few hackles in the mid-20th century. Two decades out of Prohibition, Americans — and alcohol manufacturers — were more likely to extol the virtues of drinking as opposed to warning of its dangers. This mind-set extended to drunken driving, which resulted in relatively few successful prosecutions, even in instances where people were injured or killed. Law enforcement officials told grieving relatives that their loved ones had been “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Read more here!

Rare Cognac With World-Record Pedigree To Be Sold For $157,000,  5/13/2013 – Forbes
Want to throw one back like a billionaire? This bottle of Croizet Cuvée Léonie predates both the French wine blight and the American Civil War. One of a handful of such bottles in existence, the 1858 vintage will be available at New York’s Financial District Wine & Liquor in July for $157,000. Its sister bottle from the same batch broke the price record for cognac sold at auction when Hong Kong’s Maggie Vong bid 1 million yuan (roughly $156,760) in 2011. The rumor is that Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower tippled this vintage while planning the Normandy invasion. Now you too can quaff Croizet as you lay siege–to your savings, that is. Read more here!

Stand And Deliver: Kickstand Coffee Goes For The Tea Bag,  5/15/2013 – Tasting Table
The cold-brew method has received a zealous embrace from the coffee-drinking community; now tea drinkers are waiting with open arms. Kickstand, a bicoastal pioneer of bottled cold-brew coffee, has now expanded its line to include coffee’s morning cohost. Founder Aaron Davis was inspired to explore tea on behalf of his brother, who doesn’t drink coffee. After tinkering with a few different tea blends and various extraction times using the same cold-brew process he uses for coffee, Davis landed on an Indian black tea ($20 for 32 ounces of concentrate). To reach his desired level of concentrated flavor, he steeps the tea for double the time as he does coffee, up to 36 hours. The resulting liquid is viscous, and powerfully flavored with sharp tannins and notes of plum. Dilute it 1:1 with water over ice for one of the better glasses of iced tea we’ve ever had. Or use it in cocktails: Mixed with equal parts vodka and lemonade, it makes a dangerous spiked Arnold Palmer. Read more here!