In the Night Bar

drink, lifestyle

We’ve all experienced something that we think we could do better than an expert. We’ve all looked at a piece of art, drank a cup of coffee, or heard someone sing and thought “well, I could do that too.” First of all, no you can’t. If you could, you would. But it’s fun to pretend.

Recently I was at a bar. I remember seeing the stone archway from the sidewalk thinking how cool it was to open a bar in an old train tunnel. Then I walked in – so far so good: the dimly lit room had oil lamps on tables and funky chandeliers from times past. Leather arm chairs were positioned around small round tables. The dark wood bar was inviting and behind the bartenders were more cavernous spaces all furnished with old-timey lighting fixtures.

Unfortunately, the drinks left something to be desired and even worse, bartenders served drinks in novelty martini glasses, which is probably the worst of both worlds. It made me think at that moment “man, if I opened a bar I would have x, y and z.” So here’s a glimpse into my dream bar.

First of all, there are only six types of glasses I’m willing to stock. First, the necessary pint glass. Does someone want a beer? How about just a tall glass of water? Boom, pint glass. They are not as aesthetically pleasing as tulip or teku glasses favored by craft beer buffs, myself included, but they are multi-functional and overall classic. No doubt, I would have some local craft beers on tap and maybe a few craft cans if I’m so inclined.

Second, there will be absolutely no martini glasses. Not only are they ugly but they’re cumbersome and no one needs a martini that large. I’m willing to fight someone about this. Plus, have you ever ordered a drink like a manhattan and had it arrive in a martini glass, and go “what do I do with this?” Yeah, it throws you off. To solve this problem, I will stock those elegant coup glasses that fit right in the curve of your hand. A bonus if I could find vintage coup glasses with character. Still a great choice for martinis, but also make manhattans, old fashioneds and other boozy, straight-up cocktails look classic.

Third, there will be rocks glasses. You can’t go wrong with a rocks glass. Whiskey on the rocks? Rocks glass. Margarita? Put a salt rim on it and boom. Negronis? No problem. The rocks glass is the perfect vessels for on-the-rocks drinks and frozen beverages. No novelty needed here, the drink should speak for itself. Plus there’s nothing quite like the ambient sound of a large ice cube gently bumping into the side of a rocks glass. Eat your heart out ASMR.

For your crushed ice, muddled mint drinks, the collins glass. Tall, slim and timeless. These are great for soda based drinks and anything remotely tropical. If it’s got a sprig of anything in it, it’ll probably be in a collins glass. Gin and tonic, Moscow mule (no need to take up space with copper mugs, but I’m not against them) and Bloody Marys would fare well in your hand in a classic, sleek collins glass. Also, a great sub-in for water when your pint glasses are all full of brews.

Then we have wine glasses. Will my bar have wine? Absolutely. It’ll have a Wine Spectator award-winning wine list. Maybe some natural wines if you ask nicely. While wine glasses are not controversial glasses, there are variations that make my skin crawl. Like stemless wine glasses? Those glasses where the stem and bulb meet at a right angle? Who are those for? Not me. Not my bar.

Last but not least, shot glasses. Measuring is important and sometimes you just need a shot of tequila. No explanation necessary.

As for drinks I don’t have a menu set in stone but I know what I do not want at my bar. One time I saw a woman order a chocolate martini at a bar and the bartender, without hesitation, just said “no.” Not all heroes wear capes, am I right? There will be no chocolate martinis or bright-blue potions with umbrellas or anything that’s also the name of a cake or candy. Make your peppermint patty shots at home with your girlfriends the way God intended.

When do I have time to think about this? Well, I’ve had this dream to own an old-timey Italian bar ever since encountering the experience abroad. Did you ever read the Maurice Sendak book In the Night Kitchen? A little boy wanders into a dream kitchen only a child could imagine. It was one of my favorite children’s books. I feel that now as an adult my night kitchen is this dream bar. Marble counter, spherical light fixtures, a small buffet of snacks at the start of the evening, aperitivo-style, and sparkling spritzes and amaro flowing from the hands of a dreamy bartender. The dreamy bartender is me, sorry folks. There’s no menu with catchy drink names and no CBD add-ons that will run you an extra $5. What you see is what you get. Buying a drink will get you crumbly taralli, olives and roasted nuts, the antidote to your crazy workday. Sit down and quietly sip a glass of chianti while processing the wins and losses of the day. Have a low-key chat with a friend or whisper intimately close to your significant other. Absolutely no one is yelling. Maybe someone is eating pasta at a nearby table. I think the beauty of these fantasies are not to undermine the work that actual restaurant and bar owners put into a spot, but encourage you to find your peaceful bar sanctuary. Either that, or I’ve been watching too much Cheers while dreaming about a simpler life.

Vintage Amaro

Wipe Off the Dust and Drink the Old Amaro

drink, Vintage

Infatuated with the bittersweet, syrupy allure of the Aperol spritz, Americans have rediscovered a taste for aperitivo and digestivo bitters. Enter amaro. While Campari is the ruby red king of bitter aperitivi, other darker, herbaceous digestivi have resurrected in it’s wake, ready to tackle cocktail menus and bar carts across the country.

But the history of amaro goes back. Waaaay back. And in cleaning my great grandma’s house my grandma found a cardboard box of amaro from yesteryear. You see, my great grandma didn’t drink. Her amaro stash grew from generous house guests who graciously brought a bottle upon each visit. Stubborn enough to not indulge in a drop but kind enough to hold on to each bottle, my great grandma unknowingly bestowed a treasure trove of flavors unto me. Thanks Grandma Maria.

Now normally I would not condone eating old food. Don’t eat the candy you found in your closet from a Halloween of yore. But properly stored vintage alcohol? Dive in. A barrel aged bourbon develops its unique flavor because of age. A vintage red wine has subtleties that a younger wine has not yet developed. Not to say all old alcohol remains drinkable, proceed with sensible caution.

What’s in amaro?

I realize I’ve been drinking this stuff for a while and have no idea what’s in it. Oops. Each one is different, ranging from sweet like caramel to bitter like licorice, with unique secret recipes like mystical potions. Some even taste medicinal.

I’m lucky to have two vintage amari in my house: Amaro dell’Etna and Cynar. Amaro dell’Etna‘s ingredient list contains orange peel, licorice and vanilla. The recipe dates back to 1901, but is still available new in sores today. Cynar, a name derived from the latin botanical name for artichoke, is surprise surprise made of artichoke along with 13 other herbs and plants. Younger than Amaro dell’Etna, Cynar debuted in Italy in 1952.

The bitterness makes them adequate swaps for bitters in classic cocktails. Each unique blend also can suffice as the base for a contact and/or enjoyed on it’s own or with seltzer. The versatility alone makes a no-brainer case for keeping amaro in your home bar. Don’t worry, there’s one for everyone.

Is old amaro safe to drink?

Short answer, yes. Finding a bottle of Campari from 1950 is an incredible feat for negroni aficionados. But proper storage can make or break a vintage. Like Campari and Cynar, liqueurs don’t need to be refrigerated due to the sugar content. Approach vintage vermouth, lillet and any other fortified wines with caution. Opened or unopened, when exposed to light and heat, fortified wines can lose umf.

Where to store vintage amaro?

To reiterate, amaro’s sugar content keeps it shelf stable. So room temperature storage should not be a problem. However, take caution when drinking an old amaro that’s already been open. While oxidation won’t harm you, it will impact the thickness as the sugars turn into glycerin. It’s just a recipe for meh amaro experience. Best to keep vintage amaro unopened and out of direct sunlight until ready to drink.

What happens to the flavor?

The resulting flavor of aged amari varies greatly between styles. Additionally, due to changes in machinery and ownership, while ingredients might be the same every time, amari can vary between decades as well. Flavor can become sweeter and more syrupy or mellow as the bitter herbs meld together further. It’s an adventurous way to taste beyond switching between styles of amaro. Trying today’s version of Cynar, for example, alongside my beloved found bottle can showcase how the flavors evolved over time.

Let’s talk labels

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve had an infatuation with vintage alcohol labels for a very long time: the art nouveau styles of absinthe ads to the futurism era Campari posters shaped my appreciation for the liqueurs. The text and colors of these labels tell so much about when they were conceived. The Amaro dell’Etna, with an older formula, uses embellished text and a painted landscape paying homage to a classic style, while the Cynar label uses block text and a modern design ringing in the 1950’s idea of the future. While both labels now reflect the past, each exists in its own era forever, reflecting the art and sentiment of each era.

Cocktail connoisseurs and vintage collectors can appreciate the impact these liqueurs have had on the culinary and advertising worlds. If you aren’t lucky enough to inherit a dusty cardboard box of amaro, you can taste older bottles at specialty wine shops and cocktail bars. If you’re curious to try an amaro at all, the next time you’re interested in an Aperol spritz at the bar, ask for one with a different bitter liqueur instead.

We can’t storm Area 51 anymore so I stormed Area 2

beer, drink, Travel

I hate it when someone tells me something is overrated after I express interest in going. Let me find that out for myself. Or not. I felt that way about Two Roads Brewery in Stratford, CT.

Two Roads is Connecticut’s largest brewery occupying 10 acres of land for brewing, tasting, entertaining and growing. Pretty impressive. The building’s post-industrial aesthetic and the collection of branded Air Streams gave the OG Two Roads an injection of 2010s zeitgeist. The tattoo event and french fry food truck added to that millennial vibe. So yeah, I guess if you’re over that crowd, then this place isn’t for you.

However, who cares what the place looks like when the beer is this good. Now, Two Roads is fun and the standards are abundant whether you like IPAs, sours or even hard seltzer, but if you want a wild time head over to Area 2, Two Roads’ experimental facility accessible via walkway from the brewery. While Two Roads might be perfect for tossing a frisbee, crushing a beer and dog watching, Area 2 is ideal for finding something rare and new.

In my 5-beer tasting I tried a farmhouse ale, a saison and a “hard kombucha” among the long list of uniquely funky and off-beat varieties. Of course, this is a lot of beer to drink without having any food so be sure to grab some cheese and crackers while you’re sippin’ and maybe pack a snack so you aren’t like us, waiting for french fries to sober you up.

Now for the run-down of all the beers:

  • Norwegian Farmhouse Ale (5% ABV) – this beer satisfied a craving I had for months. After leaving the Hudson Valley, a land abundant with beers and wines that taste like a full on barnyard, I needed a refreshing beer that still delivered that sour, earthy stink. This was it.
  • Table Terroir (3.7% ABV) – table wine feels like a lost tradition. In Europe, it’s easy to walk into a restaurant or tavern and grab a cask of inexpensive table wine. It goes with everything in a complimentary way, not an overpowering way. This low ABV, easy drinking beer is a three-way crossroad between an IPA, a wheat beer and a saison.
  • Brett Saison (6.6% ABV) – dude, I know I love sours and fruity beers, but the french farmhouse saison is really rocking my world. As I constantly yearn for funky flavors, I find myself ordering saisons more frequently and finding more to love with each sip. You’ll want to tuck into a wheel of brie after taking one sip.
  • Hard Kombucha (4.5% ABV) – did someone say pink beer? This deep magenta rooibos and sour cherry concoction tasted just like unsweetened iced tea. My mom introduced me to rooibos years ago and it always had a magical quality to it: earthy and beet-like. This felt remarkably healthy to drink, justifying its name.
  • Crooked Roads (5.7% ABV) – AKA the fried chicken beer. Now, I’m not sure if its because this was our last beer of the day (after a full pour AND 4 tastes) but we took a loopy turn upon tasting this. “It tastes like fried chicken.” What? Nick said this and I was confused at first until it hit me. It tasted like fried chicken. A thigh. Right off the bone. I deduced that this was from the oak aging, giving the sour ale a woody, meaty flavor.

These were only five of the 16 possibilities and you bet I’m going back for more. Area 2 can abduct me into their spacecraft of dope beer any weekend of the year.

Obercreek Brewing

Hudson Valley Hidden Gems

Travel

Diamonds in the rough. Underdogs. After living in the Hudson Valley post-college, I ventured to those smaller places off the beaten path that promise personality and uniqueness compared to the busy hot-spots covered by big New York City publications. Though those spots deserve the coverage they receive and I adore them, let’s give it up for the little local spots that more than hold a candle to competition.

Obercreek Brewing Company

Located on Obercreek Farm, this brewery barely distributes which makes my proximity EVERYTHING. I first visited in the winter and remember the beers were deep gemstone colors. The style I tried was deep magenta and flavored with currants. The IPAs are refreshing and floral, unlike the bitter IPAs that I tend to avoid. Some beers are peachy and sour and some are thirst-quenching, but all deserve a taste. A newcomer to the craft beer scene, only in the game for just shy of 2 years, Obercreek is a contender against Hudson Valley Brewery and Plan Bee, two phenomenal breweries in neighboring towns.

Palace Dumplings

Honestly, I thought this place was just called “dumplings.” From where it’s visible on route 9, the large block letters against the green background are all that’s legible. The exterior is underwhelming. It looks like a run-of-the-mill take-out spot. But there’s wizardry in that kitchen. Plates of steamy dumplings arrive, wrapped in the thinnest dough wrappers so the plate of 12 is manageable. The pork and scallion are classic, but the flavors get more interesting: lamb, egg and sour cabbage are only some of the options from multi-page menu. You’ll wait a long time on a busy night, but the result is worth the wait ten-fold.

Armadillo

I remember the first time we ever visited Armadillo. It was our first time in Kingston and we were hanging out at Rough Draft (a noteworthy spot) looking up places to eat. Stomach rumbling, I said “fine, let’s just go there.” Enthusiastic, right? I should’ve been. Hands-down the best house margarita, neither skimping on quality nor tequila. Portions are huge and of equally high quality. I remember the burrito I ordered fed me for days and I only craved more. The creamy green sauce served with chips? Life-changing. It’s just the perfect low-key spot meant for nothing but good times.

The Vinyl Room

We all know I love multi-functional spaces. Maybe it’s from Alton Brown’s aversion to uni-taskers and my affinity for Good Eats. Regardless, this vinyl shop/bar combo is genius. The beer on tap is a mix of stellar local beers and in-the-moment craft brews. You want food? There’s a pizza window. There’s constantly good music spinning, creating the ideal ambiance for flipping through rows of vinyl. Not looking to buy? The arcade games are already loaded and ready for play. So yeah, you could go there, drink beer and play PacMan.

Kettleborough Cider House

So I’ve only been able to visit this location once, but it’s somewhat of a seasonal treat. One crisp fall day we wanted to try some of the smaller cideries in the area. No offense to Angry Orchard, but we wanted a quieter experience with a different cider variety. This honestly came up in a quick map search while we were driving through New Paltz, and I’m so glad it did. The orchard sells donuts and apples, but the shack out back does cider flights. The seating area overlooks the beautiful Shawangunk ridge, an unexpected, breathtaking surprise, and the cider selection ranged from farmy to dry. Next time, I’d bring a blanket and sit outside overlooking the foliage all day.

I move out of the Hudson Valley in a week. It’s a bittersweet feeling, but I’m so fortunate to have been able to find these places and support the amazing work of the folks who put their whole hearts into a craft. Do me a favor and keep these places packed while I’m gone. Okay?

Does “natural wine” even mean ANYTHING?

drink, lifestyle, wine

So maybe you read my post about natural wine (psst, it’s over here) where I talk about my first experience trying a “natural wine.” I liked it, it tasted natural as one might imagine. But what does “natural wine” mean? Well, nothing apparently.

Now I’m no expert. I just probe poor store clerks whenever I get the chance. Last week while I was killing time in Artisan Wine Shop in Beacon I had to ask the clerk about the signage in the store. What does “low intervention” mean? Is that like “natural wine?” Well, he put it into perspective: when something says “all natural” what qualifies it as natural? Are certain things more “natural” than others? Does “natural wine” mean anything other than a marketing ploy to feign wellness? All I could think about was how could I succumb to this trick? Well because I’m a millennial and I love to know what’s trending and what I could or should be drinking.

Not to say “natural wine” means nothing but there’s no distinction or certification to classify wines as natural or not. All natural wines are, however, produced from organic grapes. But that doesn’t meant that organic wine is “natural wine.” GUH??

I was sort of right when I asked if “low intervention” was “natural wine.” When a wine is produced with “low intervention” that means during the fermentation process there is little technological involvement or additives. There is likely no sugar added to jumpstart the fermentation process, and nothing added to reduce acidity. “Low intervention” is a generic term because the wine making process involves A LOT of intervention to begin with.

Some natural wines will have that funky “barnyard” taste but many are softer. Natural wine essentially enables grapes to run their natural course in the fermentation process producing different tastes each time. Saying non-natural wine is bad would be false: additives and general intervention might be for the sake of consistency in batches, not necessarily producing a lesser quality wine.

So like, yes? It means something? But just barely. Does it define quality or guarantee the best taste? No. Use your best judgment and, as always, befriend the folks at your local wine store. Ask questions to find the wine that suits you best. Ask questions to find out which wine might have that funky “natural wine” flavor versus asking which wines are “natural wines.”

 

Natty Wine

drink, food, lifestyle

I’m a lady that loves wine. The words “natural wine” make me think one sip will turn me into this picturesque woman drinking wine on horseback at sunset. Or something. I don’t know, just my brain illustrating my impressions.

Nonetheless, I finally explored the realm of natural wines this weekend when I picked up my first bottle at Kingston Wine Company on Saturday. While intimidating to invest in a new wine that you may or may not love, this particular wine shop made it easy with friendly, knowledgable staff and handy labels on certain bottles marking flavor and whether staff recommend it. This bottle was a shop favorite and a customer favorite and I was lucky enough to snag the last bottle.

We decided on a French red. Domaine Le Briseau Coteaux du Loir Patapon Rouge (wow, a mouthful). Since the natural part makes this a little tannic and quite funky, the light red had dry elements without it being heavy. Without carbonation, it had a effervescent feel, like kombucha. In fact, it tasted like if someone made kombucha from grape juice. Does that sound bad? It was gamay-like but this is not a wine you want to chug on it’s own. That would be a crime. Food deserves to be paired with this wine. This is a wine I can drink with a big fat (phat) bowl of pasta or a lot of cheese and salami. Salty, cheesy foods need to have a real love affair with natural wine. It really be like that.

I enjoyed this probably because I love funky farm ales, which tend to have tannic qualities and are usually fermented without interruptions or additions. However, this was more akin to a farm cider. Ciders are technically apples wines, and this wine (for me at least) evoked the same feel as Graft’s Farm Flor cider: not-too-sweet, funkalicious and dry without that overbearing, headache-giving mouthfeel.

And hey, just because it’s trendy doesn’t mean you have to like it. I went on a wine tasting and the owner of the vineyard told me something I’ll never forget: the best wine is not always the wine with the award, the best wine is the one you like drinking. For you, the best wine may not be the trendy natural wine, but I highly recommend trying a one to explore that decision for yourself.