Spirit Review: Cobble Ridge Grappa Moonshine

img_2481{ Grappa Moonshine, c/o Cobble Ridge Artisan Distillery }

Introducing a new series, Distillerista Spirit Reviews! All spirits featured in this series are products I’ve personally purchased/acquired unless stated otherwise.

Product: Grappa Moonshine

Category: unaged grape-based spirit

Distillery: Cobble Ridge Artisan Distillery of Bangor, CA

ABV: 80 proof / 40% ABV

Price: $50

Tasting Notes: Fruit-forward and floral. Full-bodied. Pleasantly sweet and smooth.

Ideal Cocktail Pairings: I can’t say I have a soft spot for Grappas or Moonshines, so I’m choosing to approach this spirit as a grape-based vodka. I happen to love grape-based vodkas and this spirit would certainly fit well in any vodka cocktail application. A few of my favorites are my pineapple vodka limeades, simple but elegant vodka sodas and hibiscus greyhounds. I also specially created this Grape and Basil Smash to highlight and enhance the flavor profile of this Moonshine, so definitely check that out.

Similar Products: As I mentioned, I would most accurately compare this to a grape-based vodka such as Hangar 1 or Ciroc. You will also find several similarities among this spirit and unaged grape brandies.

Final Thoughts: A well-crafted and enjoyable spirit. It definitely opened my eyes in terms of what assumptions I make internally when I hear “Moonshine,” or “Grappa.” This product has taught me not to judge a spirit by it’s category.

Be sure to check out Cobble Ridge Artisan Distillery if you ever happen to be in the Sacramento area!

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{ Basil Grape Smash feat. Cobble Ridge Grappa Moonshine }

Past Spirit Reviews:

All photos by Caroline Potter.

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Basil & Grape Smash

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Blogging is weird. You write about stuff you like and hope people enjoy it. But more so, you also kind of hope people start sending you things and maybe you even hope to make a little cash money, #LBH. When the former finally happens and a brand reaches out to you, it’s kind of the coolest thing ever. Now don’t you worry, I am highly aware that Distillerista is VERY small potatoes when it comes to my little corner of the interwebs… but when I received a sample bottle of product for review from Cobble Ridge Artisan Distillery earlier this year, it felt like my little craft spirits blog was really something! And now that I’m finally sharing some Cobble Ridge content here, it felt like a good time to say thank you! Thank you for reading and thank you for being here! :)

Now that my baby blogger update is complete, let’s get down to what you came for: this gorgeous grape and basil grappa smash! It’s base spirit, Cobble Ridge Grappa Moonshine, is an interesting product partly because it labels itself a moonshine. Although a trendy product category, in today’s craft spirit world, pretty much any unaged alcohol can be considered a “moonshine.” It’s worth noting though that in the early days of bootleg/bathtub distilling, “moonshine” referred to a very specific mash bill, consisting of mostly corn and other grains. Once the corn-heavy white whiskey came off the still, it was consumed immediately without seeing any oak or age whatsoever. And there you have it – moonshine was born.

This “moonshine” from Cobble Ridge however is made from grapes, making it a grappa-style spirit. Grappa is a traditionally Italian spirit, most often distilled from winemakers’ leftover grape must. The base material of spent grape skins tends to result in an extremely hot and unrefined end product, IMO but there are a few grappas on the market that manage to temper that hot grape-y bite. I would have to say Cobble Ridge is definitely one of them.

When creating a cocktail around this spirit, I knew I wanted to incorporate grapes because I knew they’d naturally play nice with the spirit. I love grape and gorgonzola salads (don’t worry, no blue cheese here) and thought of the garnish I’d pair – basil. I happened to have some basil simple syrup in the fridge and bam – the drink was done. This gorgeous drink is perfect for Halloween celebrations or a more elegant holiday dinner party. I hope you enjoy!

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Ingredients:

  • 1.5 oz. Cobble Ridge Grappa Moonshine (can substitute with a grape-based vodka like Ciroc)
  • 8 concord grapes
  • 3/4 oz. lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz. basil simple syrup, recipe to follow
  • baby or micro basil for garnish, optional

for the basil simple syrup: combine 1/4 cup superfine sugar and 1/4 cup water over medium-low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves, one minute. Add a packed cup of basil leaves and turn the heat off. Let basil steep as syrup cools to room temp, about an hour. Strain and discard basil. Store in an air-tight jar or container in the fridge for up to 1 month.

Directions:

  1. Muddle grapes in the bottom of a cocktail shaker using a muddler or wooden spoon.
  2. Add lemon juice, Grappa, simple syrup, and ice and shake for 10 seconds.
  3. Strain into a coupe and garnish with a sprig of basil

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{ Photos by the lovely & talented Caroline Potter. }

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Six Tips for Incorporating Cocktails into Your Wedding

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I recently had the honor of contributing to Exquisite Weddings Magazine’s Fall/Winter 2016 issue – I wrote about my favorite ways to incorporate craft spirits and cocktails into your wedding celebrations. Although the finished piece only ended up including a few small blurbs (see article above), I wanted to share the entirety of the tips here. Wedding season might be coming to coming to a close but that can only mean one thing: engagement season is right around the corner! Send these tips to a bride- or groom-to-be and you’ll be one happy guest. 😉

1. Choose a cocktail with significance.

Not surprisingly, I’m a big fan of featuring signature cocktails at your wedding. They provide a little something extra, compared to just beer and wine, and are a great way to placate the liquor-loving crowd without blowing your budget on a full bar. Having said that, I feel strongly that the cocktail(s) chosen should mean something to the bride and groom. Don’t just go with the trend of the moment – I can’t tell you how many weddings I’ve been to where the same tired version of a Moscow Mule was being served, much to my judgy chagrin. If your favorite cocktail truly is a Mule then, by all means, serve them (extra points for then offering the – engraved perhaps?! – copper mugs as favors). But what I really find special is when the bride and groom feature something with a story. Perhaps the drink your fiancé made you when you had dinner at his/her place the first time or, the cocktail you shared on your first weekend away together.

2. Cocktail kits as favors.

Another cocktail-inspired idea I love is putting together or purchasing cocktail kits for your wedding favors. My Youtube crush Claire Thomas (of The Kitchy Kitchen) really set the bar with this idea. She and her now husband made their own bitters (!!!) then included little bottles of them in a mini cocktail kit, along with the rest of the ingredients to mix up an Old Fashioned (her favorite drink) for each guest to take home. Talk about a meaningful, intentional and totally useful wedding favor. If that seems like a bit more effort than you’re willing to put in for wedding favors, bid guests adieu with W&P Design’s Carry-On cocktail kits for the plane ride home!

3. Take Champagne to the next level.

One way to easily incorporate cocktails into your wedding is with a champagne toast. Champagne cocktails are easy and affordable to throw together for a crowd (just sparkling wine and your favorite liqueur or juice) while being elegant and celebratory at the same time. Or perhaps consider greeting guests after the ceremony with a simple champagne cocktail (sugar cube + dash of bitters + bubbles) instead of plain Brut.

4. Feature both light and dark spirits in contrasting applications.

If featuring more than one signature cocktail, try to choose one that calls for a clear liquor and one aged liquor to give all imbibers an option. I.e. my two favorites – a fresh gin gimlet and a Bourbon boulevardier – create a nice contrast. The gimlet is light and refreshing while the boulevardier is more direct and warming.  

5. Call in the experts.

There are some fabulous cocktail-centric caterers out there these days. Work with companies like Barçon or Snake Oil to create a unique, custom cocktail (or two!) and offer hand lettered recipe cards with your names and the date of your wedding for a special touch. Guests can then think of the happy couple when they recreate the drink at home!

6. Add a little touch of home.

Craft distilleries are popping up everywhere – did you know that there’s now a craft distillery in every state? If your wedding celebration is far from home, incorporate spirits from a distillery in your hometown or state as a little nod to your provenance. Some of my favorite California distillers are St. George Spirits in Alameda, Spirit Works in Sebastopol, Green Bar Distillery in LA and Malahat Spirit Co. here in San Diego. Each has a wide range of spirits to choose from. Alternatively, offer an airplane-sized or other small format bottle (250 or 375 mL) of a local spirit as wedding favors if you’re having a destination wedding in a locale where there exist popular local craft distilleries.

 

Looking for more entertaining tips? I shared how to throw a craft spirits-inspired football brunch here

 

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Spirit Review: St. George Dry Rye Gin

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Introducing a new series, Distillerista Spirit Reviews! All spirits featured in this series are products I’ve personally purchased/acquired unless stated otherwise.

Product: Dry Rye Gin

Category: Dry, juniper-forward gin

Distillery: St. George Spirits of Alameda, CA

ABV: 90 proof / 45% ABV

Price: $38

Tasting Notes: Rich, bold and slightly spicy base (from the rye) with a near perfect amount of juniper. This 100% unaged rye-based gin is reminiscent of Genever thanks to the spicy, cereal-y texture of the rye. At 45% I expected the unaged rye base to taste little hot but the geniuses at St. George have once again struck a perfect balance.

Ideal Cocktail Pairings: Anything. This gin is gorgeous and interesting enough to shine on it’s own but also hearty enough to stand up to other flavors.

Similar Products: As mentioned, it’s reminiscent of Genever while also identifying with the London Dry style due to it’s unabashed amount of juniper.

Final Thoughts: An elegant, impressive gin for those looking for something just a bit different.

Check out other past Spirit Reviews:

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Spirit Review: Leopold Bros. Tart Cherry Liqueur

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Introducing a new series, Distillerista Spirit Reviews! All spirits featured in this series are products I’ve personally purchased unless stated otherwise.

Product: Michigan Tart Cherry Liqueur

Category: Liqueurs

Distillery: Leopold Bros. of Denver, CO

ABV: 40 proof or 20% ABV

Tasting Notes: Jammy, sweet… good cherry pie filling comes to mind. A subtle tartness keeps it from being too cloying.

Ideal Cocktail Pairings: This would be amazing in red sangria but I ‘m also obsessed with using it in place of sweet vermouth i.e. in a Negroni, Manhattan or my Summer Cherry Boulevardier (my most popular cocktail post to date!). You could also drizzle this over ice cream or add it to aforementioned pie filling… but my personal favorite application: splashed into champagne!

Similar Products: As far as main stream liqueurs go, it probably most closely resembles Chambord (raspberry liqueur) or Crème de cassis (black current liqueur) because of it’s red fruit flavor profile and distinct jammy-ness. Heering is another classic cherry liqueur.

Final Thoughts: Amazing true fruit flavor makes this an ideal choice for when you want a berry/red fruit liqueur but don’t want to default to those pricey, mainstream brands. Leopold Bros. products have great placement in Bevmo and other liquor stores so you should be able to find them pretty easily. (Find a bottle near you here.) I simply love that Leopold Bros. uses all natural cherries from Michigan in each batch. The flavor and texture of this liqueur is second to none.

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Spirit Review: KROBĀR Gin

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Introducing a new series, Distillerista Spirit Reviews! All spirits featured in this series are products I’ve personally purchased unless stated otherwise.

Product: KROBĀR Gin a.k.a. “Botanical Brandy,” as you see in the photo above, a descriptive name used to circumvent pesky California distilling license regulations.

Category: American Gin, but I find it leans a touch toward London Dry in terms of style

Distillery: KROBĀR Distillery of Paso Robles, CA

ABV: 87 Proof or 43.5%

Tasting Notes: Lots of warm spice – anise, cardamom, coriander – and well balanced juniper.

Ideal Cocktail Pairings: Any cocktail where you’d use a textbook London Dry. This gin has no shortage of big dried spice and botanical flavor. If full bodied, spicy London Drys are your thing, you’ll love it in a Martini.

Similar Products: Not much comes to mind, but it reminds me slightly of Portland, OR’s Aria Gin.

Final Thoughts: I find the anise and other spice notes a bit overwhelming. It’s worth noting however that I’m typically a fan of more citrus forward gins rather than big, dusty London Drys. If you love London Dry styles though, this gin would definitely be worth a try. Speaking of my tendency to reach for citrus forward gins, I recently infused the last bits of this KROBĀR gin with Meyer Lemon peels and end result was phenomenal. (Combine the peel of 3 Meyer lemons with roughly 25 oz gin and let sit for 5 days at room temp, giving a good shake daily.)

Whether or love gin or hate it, if you find yourself in Paso Robles you must stop by the KROBĀR distillery. Owners Stephen and Joe are lovely hosts and super knowledgeable wine business vets. They also have a Rye whiskey and a barrel aged version of this gin (which I LOVED) to try!

3 min read: A local news article highlighting the burgeoning craft distilling scene in Paso Robles + be sure to check out previous reviews of Leopold Bros. Aperitivo and Liberty Call White Rum.

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Spirit Review: Liberty Call White Rum

Distillerista-Product-Review-LC-WRUM

Introducing a new series, Distillerista Spirit Reviews! All spirits featured in this series are products I’ve personally purchased to try unless stated otherwise.

Product: White Rum (A gift from distiller Bill Rogers!)

Distillery: Liberty Call Distilling Co. of Spring Valley, CA

Category: White/Silver/Unoaked Rums

ABV: 45% or 90 proof

Price: $25  (Find a bottle here.)

Tasting notes: Tons of stone fruit, especially apricot plus a healthy dose of tropical fruit on the nose and the finish – banana, pineapple, melon.

Ideal cocktail pairings: The tropical fruit notes beg for classics like a daiquiri or mojito and speaking of classics, I happen to love it in a Cuba Libre (classy name for a rum + coke). I also recommend it in my beet juice daiquiri.

Similar products: Other local rums Malahat and Old Harbor provide stiff competition but I have to say Liberty Call is my favorite of the three when it comes to white rum specifically.

Final thoughts: I don’t count myself as an avid rum drinker or connoisseur by any means but this rum makes me have second thoughts when I would otherwise reach for gin or vodka. I love the fruity sweetness and the tropical fruit notes it has thanks to Bill‘s Dunder pit fermentation system. If you’re not familiar, using a Dunder pit is a tactic (historically used by rum distillers in the Caribbean) where some of the mash is kept back from the batch each time and allowed to sit, ferment further and get super funky. The strawberry and banana flavors that come from this rarely used technique are out of this world!

3 min read: Great Rum Without Rotting Goat Heads, The Daily Beast (Interesting article on how one distiller was determined to match the fruitiness of dunder rum without using a dunder pit)

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{ You might also like: Beet Juice Daiquiri &  Distiller Interview: Bill Rogers of Liberty Call }

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Spirit Review: Leopold Brothers Aperitivo

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Introducing a new series, Distillerista Spirit Reviews! All spirits featured in this series are products I’ve personally purchased to try unless stated otherwise.

Product: Aperitivo Liqueur

Distillery: Leopold Brothers of Denver, CO

Category: Italian style Bitter Liqueurs

ABV: 24% or 48 proof

Price: $30

Tasting notes: Plenty of the traditional bitter goodness you expect but softer and more pleasant than Italian favorites Campari or Aperol. Complex and balanced thanks to bright citrus flavor and pleasing floral qualities. Full of flavor and absolutely gorgeous color.

Ideal cocktail pairings: An American Negroni with Leopold Brothers Navy Strength Gin is an obvious choice. I’m also loving it in Boulevardiers at night and Spritzes by day. Try it splashed into my famous gin punch for something unexpected.

Similar products: St. George Spirits has recently released their version of this addictively bitter spirit, Bruto Americano. I haven’t had a chance to try it yet but let’s be honest, when has St.George ever f’ed anything up? Definitely worth checking out.

Final thoughts: A stellar American version of a beloved Italian product. I’m definitely keeping this one in heavy rotation, as evidenced by the half empty bottle above.

3 min read: A Guide to Italian Bitter Aperitivo Liqueurs, Punch.

{ You might also like: Peach Craft Spirits & Guide to American Vodkas }

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A Beginner’s Guide to Mezcal: Part 2

A Beginner’s Guide to Mezcal, Part 2: IS IT REALLY THAT GOOD, OR IS IT JUST THE COOL NEW THING?

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Short answer: it’s really that good.

The vast majority of tequila production has, over the decades, become a thoroughly industrial process, with the big dominating producers cutting every corner available in service of making a low-quality spirit that can net their corporation the most amount of money.

To be clear, there are brilliant tequilas being made today by dedicated and passionate individuals all over Mexico, but those aren’t the ones people have heard of. The ones people have heard of are the ones in the supermarket, on which you had that terrible experience in college that still makes you hesitate to drink tequila to this day. As we like to say: there’s no such thing as a bad tequila experience, only an experience with bad tequila.

Enter mezcal, which thus far is relatively untouched by the hungry capitalistic maw. Mezcal yields are measured in hundreds of bottles, not millions of cases. They’re distilling out of clay pots and tree trunks south of the border. In tequila there are only two or three brands that still crush all their agaves with the traditional volcanic stone, while in mezcal that’s the norm. A small minority of quality minded tequila producers still slow-cook their agaves to render the sugars, while literally every single mezcal producer still does.

That’s why mezcal is so exciting. We cocktail enthusiasts want more flavor, not less, and mezcal has a complexity and a dynamic nature that no other spirit can touch. There’s no cheats, no shortcuts, no bottom line nonsense. It’s generations of tradition, hand harvested, packed on burros and walked down mountains to ferment and distill, and completely isolated from marketing budgets and board meetings. It’s been made the same way for hundreds of years and it tastes like the land from which it comes. Artisanal mezcal still has its soul completely intact, and you can taste every single wisp of it in the glass. That’s why you don’t meet mezcal fans so much as mezcal zealots. It’s because we fall in love with it.

FYI: The worm in the bottle was actually never a worm at all, but the larva of a moth that likes to live in agave plants. It is not tradition, but rather added early on as a gimmick. Few distillers continue to do so.

{This post originally appeared on cocktail subscription service Thirty3Club’s blog.}

A few of our favorite Distillerista approved spots to enjoy Mezcal:

Tijuana… La Mezcalera, Misión 19

Mexico City… La Clandestina, La Lavandería, El Bósforo, Hotel Condesa DF, Mercado Roma

Valle de Guadalupe… Deckman’s El Mogor, Finca Altozano

San Diego… Bracero

You might also like: Distillerista Guide to the Valle de Guadalupe & Summer Drink Diary

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A Beginner’s Guide to Mezcal: Part 1

Some friends and I just returned from an amazing long weekend in Mexico City and I’ve fallen head over heels in love with the Mezcal culture there. Although I’ve been a fan of the smoky, earthy, agave-based spirit for a while now, experiencing the charm of D.F.’s endless Mezcalerías these past few days solidified my obsession.

Seeing as Mezcal is the darling du jour of the craft cocktail world, I thought I’d share some 101 knowledge on the obscure cult spirit. In partnership with Thirty3Club.

Distillerista-Mezcal-KK{The traditional way to enjoy mezcal: neat, slightly chilled, with an orange slice & chili salt}

What mezcal is NOT:

– Low class tequila
– Made from cacti
– Related to psychedelic mescaline
– Any bottle with a worm in it
– A liquor that will kill you or blind you

So, what is mezcal?

Mezcal is a spirit made in Mexico, from any of the more than 30 different types of agave. The vast majority of mezcals are made from a quick-growing, high-yield version called Espadin (Es-pa-DEEN). Mezcal can be made in one of 8 different states of Mexico, but the heart is undoubtedly the southern, mountainous state of Oaxaca (Wa-ha-ka).

Tequila, on the other hand, is a mezcal, just a specific type (like how all bees are insects but not all insects are bees). Tequila must be produced in one of 5 designated states, with the vast majority coming from the western state of Jalisco, home of the town Tequila. Additionally, tequila must be made from a specific type of agave, blue weber.

How mezcal is cooked

Tequila producers (the good ones, anyway) steam their agaves in brick ovens for 24-48 hours, while mezcal producers dig a pit, and smoke their agaves over underground coals for up to 10 days. This is why most mezcals will have a smoky, sometimes rubbery, or meaty character, in intensities ranging from “oh, that’s interesting” to “OHMYGOD.”

How mezcal is distilled

Almost all spirits in the world are distilled to a high proof, and then watered down before bottling, which makes it smoother and milder. The higher the spirit is distilled, the more flavor is removed.

Mezcal has one of the lowest distillation proofs of any spirit in the world, traditionally between 45% and 52%, and is bottled however it comes out without adding water. Because of this, mezcal is an incredibly — startlingly — full-bodied and character-driven spirit. In other words, literally no effort at all has been made on the part of the distiller to make the product “mild.” They want as much flavor as can fit in the bottle.

What are other sprits distilled to?

– Bourbon ~70%
– Rum ~90%
– Vodka ~97%
– Tequila ~55%

What Does This All Mean For Taste?

Mezcal is an artisanal and dynamic product, that depending on how and from what it is made, can be earthy, smoky, fruity, creamy, or any combination thereof. It is monstrously flavorful, which is simultaneously a barrier to entry for the uninitiated, and the favorite trait of aficionados. Put simply: if it’s your first time drinking mezcal, it will be unusual and a little challenging. But like most acquired tastes, it’s worth it.

Stay tuned for part two next week! Until then, I leave you with this little gem of Oaxacan wisdom…

“Por todo mal, mezcal, y por todo bien también” — “For everything wrong, mezcal, and for everything right, mezcal as well.”

{ This post originally appeared on cocktail subscription service Thirty3Club’s blog // top image via }

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