I believe the most historically appropriate spirits to enjoy on Thanksgiving are rye whiskey and applejack/apple brandy. If you’re a stickler for historical accuracy, both spirits should be unaged, as was the style of Colonial America.
I don’t have any white lightning on hand, so I’m cheating a bit and having a taste of Laird’s Old Apple Brandy, 7 1/2 years old. Laird & Company is the oldest registered distillery in the United States, licensed in 1780 although in business for longer than that.
Before the Revolution, George Washington, who ran a small distillery at Mount Vernon, wrote to the Laird’s and asked for their applejack recipe, which they shared with him. All of Laird’s apples are grown here in Virginia — a couple million pounds a year — so Washington presumably had plenty of raw materials for his efforts.
The Pilgrims, although quite strict in many practices, had no problem with alcohol. While aboard the Mayflower they were allocated a gallon of beer per person per day. As a result, they were half in the bag most of the time. Including the kids! Supposedly they landed at Plymouth Rock* in Massachusetts, rather than their approved destination of Northern Virginia, because they were out of beer.
So drink up if you’re of a mind to do so. And Happy Thanksgiving!
*The story of Plymouth Rock is almost certainly fiction.
The holidays just aren’t the same without a little eggnog. And eggnog just isn’t the same without a little something extra.
I don’t generally care for most store-bought nogs, but I have to say, this Bolthouse Farms Holiday Nog is quite tasty. Rich and creamy and brown sugar sweet without being cloying or gloopy.
As for that little something extra…You can add any of your favorite brown spirits: whiskey, rum (especially spiced rum), brandy, whatever you desire. In this case I chose Delord Bas Armagnac X.O., a tasty blend of brandies 15 years and older that can be had for a reasonable price, usually around $50-60.
Top with a little freshly ground nutmeg and you’ve got a perfect little sweet treat. The holidays are hot on our heels! Better stock up now. You’re gonna need it.
Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac Brandy/Cognac Final Grade: B+ Price: $45 (750ml)
Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao Orange Liqueur Final Grade: A- Price: $30 (750ml)
Cognac Ferrand is one of the hottest companies in the spirits world today. Mixologists, critics and connoisseurs have been following the French distillery with great interest as they introduce one excellent product after another. The force behind the fine line of Plantation Rums, in addition to their cognacs, Pierre Ferrand is noted for spirits that are especially well suited both for cocktails and for enjoying on their own.
As a result, I was excited to try two of the companies latest products: Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac and Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao. Both were developed by the experts at Cognac Ferrand, with assistance from the esteemed cocktail and spirits historian David Wondrich.
The 1840 Original Formula Cognac is what was referred to in the 19th century as a "three star" cognac — the equivalent today to what is typically called "VS." It's a younger brandy, lively and with lots of flavor. It was modeled after an extremely rare cognac that had been preserved from 1840, and is designed primarily to be mixed in cocktails.
This cognac has a grapey, slightly floral aroma. Pleasant, although without a lot of complexity. The flavor is rich and slightly sweet, with just enough oak to give it some nice, spicy notes. It is very smooth for a 90-proof brandy, with a medium-long finish. You could certainly sip this cognac if you wanted, and enjoy it quite well.
Like the cognac, the Dry Curaçao was developed to mirror the style of a 19th-century predecessor. It's blended from brandy and cognac, flavored with the peels of Curaçao oranges and various spices, and then barrel aged to smooth out the rough edges. This is what traditional curaçao is supposed to taste like.
This curaçao opens with a bright and authentic smell of sweet oranges. It has none of the artificial aroma of cheap orange liqueur — this is the real stuff. The flavor follows in the same fashion: sweet and rich, bursting with orange flavor and hints of vanilla. It's not quite as complex as I might have wished. A touch more spice would have really sent it over the moon. But it's undeniably very tasty and well balanced. (And also extremely smooth for its 80 proof.)
Good enough as they are on their own, these products were both developed to be mixed in cocktails, so that's where the true proof lies. One of the cocktails suggested by the distillery is a Brandy Crusta, and I thought that would be an ideal way to sample these two spirits in conjunction with each other.
Brandy Crusta from Julie Reiner, Clover Club (NYC)
2 oz Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac 1/2 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao 1/2 oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur 1/2 oz Fresh Lemon Juice Dash of Angostura Bitters
Rim a snifter with sugar. Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into the snifter filled with ice cubes. Garnish with an orange peel.
What a delicious cocktail! The flavors blend together perfectly; the sweetness of the curaçao balancing with the lemon juice, the maraschino adding delightful floral notes, and the bitters adding some spice to bring it all together. I don't ordinarily drink brandy cocktails, but this one is definitely going in the repertoire.
As good as they are individually, the Pierre Ferrand cognac and curaçao mix up beautifully, especially when used together. They're definite winners.
Report Card: Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac
Congratulations to Pierre Ferrand Cognac, a brand that has been making a lot of noise in recent years.
Cognac Ferrand is honored to announce that Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac® has won Best New Product at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail® Spirited Awards. Pierre Ferrand 1840 was launched last year at the same cocktail festival to great fanfare and has since become the darling and go-to Cognac for bartenders across the world. At a time when outstanding bartenders are creating cocktails in the same manner that master chefs create great dishes, this win for a Cognac heralds the resurgence of Cognac and Cognac cocktails and puts this versatile spirit back where it once was a mainstay – behind the bar!
Created by Cognac Ferrand owner Alexandre Gabriel with help from cocktail historian David Wondrich to recapture the spirit of the quintessential cocktail days of the 1800s, Pierre Ferrand Cognac 1840 Original Formula is a revival of the classic three-star Cognac. Back in the nineteenth century, when the art of the cocktail as we know it first came together, barkeepers knew that nothing made for a better mixed drink than a good “three-star” Cognac. Pierre Ferrand 1840 is bottled at 90 proof, higher than most Cognacs, making it exceptionally mixable in cocktails like Crustas, Juleps and Punches. For more info, cocktail recipes/images, click here.
Alexandre Gabriel says, “Winning this recognition from my peers is both hugely gratifying and humbling. We are a small producer in the middle of the Cognac vineyards. At Cognac Ferrand we are a team of passionate characters doing what we love to do – make great spirits. Cognac deserves to be back behind the bar in a place of honor where it enjoyed decades of prominence as THE spirit for cocktails. We created Pierre Ferrand 1840 to be that kind of Cognac and to receive this honor shows that we did the right thing. We are very happy.”
The Spirited Awards are the highlight of Tales of the Cocktail, the annual five-day cocktail festival in New Orleans created by Ann and Paul Tuennerman that this year celebrates its 10th Anniversary. Each July, Tales attracts more than 22,000 people who are passionate about all things spirits-related. This year, 17 illustrious international judges – including world-class bartenders, bar owners, brand ambassadors and spirits/cocktail historians, experts and authors – voted in the Best New Product category and deemed Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula the winner. It is the first Cognac to win this prestigious award. For a list of judges, click here.
"Cognac has always been a well-respected spirit, but without a lot of visibility in modern cocktails,” says Ann Tuennerman, founder of Tales of the Cocktail. “Pierre Ferrand 1840, by winning Best New Product at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail, has shown that Cognac is also able to get the respect of bartenders, with a product that has the rich and sophisticated flavor for sipping as well as the depth and complexity necessary to let it shine in a cocktail."
Upon receiving the award, Gabriel dedicated part of his acceptance speech to the bartenders of the world. “Our job is to build fine instruments but it’s for you to play them,” he said. “It’s for you to make the music.”
Joaquin Simo, the 2012 Spirited Award winner for American Bartender of the Year, is one of the 1840 music makers, and says: “Cognac is a historically significant cocktail ingredient whose release from its imprisonment in a snifter is long overdue. Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac fills an important niche for cocktail bartenders, providing us with a delicious and high-proof spirit designed for mixing in both classic cocktails and modern interpretations. Fruity and floral notes provide a highly versatile base while the higher alcohol percentage boosts flavors and ensures the traditional character of Cognac remains front and center. Its combination of high quality and mixable price point ensure it will be found on the back bars and speed rails of great bars around the world.”
Mr. Simo was recently a bartender at acclaimed Death & Co. (2010 Spirited Award winner, Best American Bar) and will be owner/operator of Pouring Ribbons, a bar opening soon in NYC’s East Village where Pierre Ferrand 1840 will be available.
Armagnac is the "other French Brandy," the country cousin to the better known Cognac. Liquor.com has a thumbnail sketch of the spirit.
[Armagnac] comes from a small region in southwest France (the entire appellation contains less than 10,000 acres) that is home to 500 independent brands and 300 co-ops producing about six million bottles per year. (Compare that to nearby Cognac, where a few huge brands produce the vast majority of the roughly 150 million bottles sold per year.)
Armagnac can be made from 10 different types of grape, but four are the most common: ugni blanc, Baco blanc, folle blanche and colombard. The first two varieties make up nearly 90 percent of the harvest, but the latter two bring a lot to the final blend. Folle blanche is very acidic, which can turn into floral and fruity notes in the glass; colombard is spicy and vegetal.
The article also has information on the distillation process, the different ages of Armagnacs, and some of the brands.
Topping it off are two recipes for cocktails, including Toby Cecchini's Nippongi-San, a variation of the Japanese Cocktail made with Armagnac. I haven't made one of these yet — I don't have any Armagnac on hand — but I'm looking forward to trying it one of these days.
Nippongi-San By Toby Cecchini
2 oz XO Armagnac 1/2 oz Cointreau 1 oz Lemon juice 1/2 oz Orgeat 3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
This recipe is based on Jerry Thomas’ Japanese Cocktail.
Addendum: By coincidence last night, I read Jason Wilson's latest column in the Washington Post. The topic? "Armagnac appreciation 101." I guess something's in the air. It's a very interesting and useful column, as Jason's work always is.
Jason points out that there is a surplus of Armagnac in the storage houses of French distilleries, a result of the downturn in the world economy and the paucity of brands with major marketing budgets. As a result:
At $40 to $45 for VSOP or $50 to $60 for XO, you'll be drinking an unbelievable brandy that is a better value than similarly priced cognacs. And with Armagnac, you don't have to deal with the markup associated with cognacs that come in special crystal decanters. Look for brands such as Dartigalongue, Chateau du Busca, Delord, Castarede, Tariquet, Chateau Pellehaut, Larressingle and Chateau de Labaude. If your liquor store doesn't carry Armagnac, demand that it special-order some immediately.
My sister wrote to me yesterday to ask about adding liquor to store-bought egg nog. While I highly recommend making your own egg nog — it just tastes so much better than the stuff from the store — I realize a lot of people don't want to put in the time to do this.
In that case, you definitely want to add some spirits to your nog. Otherwise, the stuff is just nasty, with no redeeming alcoholic kick. But what kind to add?
Bourbon is the traditional accompaniment to egg nog, and it works well. Don't bother putting anything too expensive in it — the subtleties of the taste will just get lost. So use something like Evan Williams Black Label and you'll be off and running. If you want to go a little more upscale, you could always use Buffalo Trace.
There are some people, however, who are put off by the flavor of bourbon. For them, I would recommend using brandy as the spirit in your egg nog. You could go with a VS Cognac, although probably even that is overkill. Buy a bottle of good, cheap French brandy — Raynal VSOP is excellent and under $15 — and your nog will be more than worth drinking.
Your third option is rum. I love rum, and I do sometimes have it in my egg nog, but I don't think it works as well as brandy. It makes a nice change of pace, but it wouldn't be my go-to selection. If you do want to use rum, I would recommend a gold/dark Jamaican variety. Appleton VX would be great, but Coruba or Myers would work in a pinch.
The other question is: how much to use? This really depends on you. I would recommend something around 2 ounces of spirit per cup of egg nog to start. (Basically, one shot per mug.) You can always add more if you like it a little stronger.