EZdrinking

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary.

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary. EZdrinking is a drinks blog by Eric Zandona that focuses on distilled spirits, wine, craft beer and specialty coffee. Here you can find reviews of drinks, drink books, articles about current & historical trends, as well as how to make liqueurs, bitters, and other spirit based drinks at home.

Review: The Gin Dictionary

David T. Smith, The Gin Dictionary: An A-Z of All Things Gin from Juniper Berries to the G & T, (London: Mitchell Beazley, 2018), 256 pages, $19.99. ISBN: 9781784724894

International gin expert, David T. Smith has written four books on gin, is the author of the gin blog Summer Fruit Cup, contributed numerous articles on gin history, production and cocktails. In addition, Smith has taught numerous gin classes and seminars and consulted for several brands.  The Gin Dictionary: An A-Z of all things gin, from juniper berries to the G&T is Smith’s fifth book and an encapsulation of his deep passion and knowledge of all things gin.

As the title suggests, the book is a dictionary about gin, organized alphabetically and covering botanicals, gin brands, chemical compounds found in gin, cocktails, cocktail ingredients, flavor profiles, gin styles, history, production, as well as mixology terms and practices. The book is very thorough in its scope physically it is very lovely with a well textured hard cover and simple illustrations that supports the the content of the book. Physical appearance aside, The Gin Dictionary is a fantastic reference book for complete beginners and for experts.

For gin distillers, The Gin Dictionary can be both an excellent reference book and a potential item to sell to your guests in tasting rooms. The book contains about 200 entries which in the distillery can be a good source of inspiration to experiment with different production techniques or potential botanicals to add to a gin recipe. In the tasting room, The Gin Dictionary can be an excellent tool to educate your staff and your customers. Craft distillers have endless stories about how their gin has converted once gun shy customers to gin drinkers. Offering The Gin Dictionary at retail can continue their gin education once they leave which benefits everyone, because and educated gin drinker is likely to return to premium and craft gins for their next purchase.

First appeared in Distiller (Summer 2018): 215

Rundown of ADI's 2018 Judging of Craft Spirits

In 2007, when the American Distilling Institute held its first annual spirits competition there were less than 100 craft distilleries in the US and the Judging awarded just 12 medals. Eleven years later the number of craft distillers in the US has grown over 1000% and the number of small and independently owned distilleries are multiplying around the world. ADI’s Judging of Craft Spirits continues to track this growth and the maturing of our industry, receiving 1003 spirits from 16 countries spread across five continents. Of those entered, 9 spirits earned Double Gold Medals, 58 earned Gold Medals, 223 earned Silver Medals and 434 earned Bronze Medals.

The mission of the ADI competition is to promote excellence where it is found and help distillers hone their craft by providing unbiased feedback from our expert judges. With these goals in mind, the Judging runs a blind competition where each entry is evaluated solely on quality of the spirit in the glass.  Seasoned stewards spend 5 days, sorting and flighting spirits by class, category, and sub-categories, taking into consideration factors such as ABV, intensity, and length of maturation, if any. During the two and a half days of our competition, the 10 panels of four judges were asked to evaluate about 50 spirits a day, about half the rate of other competitions. We do this to mitigate against plate fatigue and to give them time to give constructive feedback about each spirit.

Each year the competition offers an interesting insight into the current market of craft spirits. Whiskey remained king in total number of entries comprised mostly of bourbon, rye and malt whiskeys. However, the number of whiskeys finished in a secondary cask from craft distillers has increased substantially. For the second year running, gin replaced vodka as the second largest class overall, with aged gin accounting for almost 20% of all gin entries. And, as may have predicted, brandy is making a significant comeback. In 2018, the number of brandy entries grew by 366% over 2017! A few other small categories, such as honey spirits and spirits made from agave syrup also grew. One of most surprising declines came from Moonshine which shrank by 60% compared to 2017. Of course, it hard to know if the number of moonshines in the market are decreasing though at a minimum it seems like the marketing of some of these are shifting from moonshine to corn whiskey, for those that qualify, and from flavored moonshine to liqueurs.

As always, ADI is grateful to the stewards, judges, and all those who entered who have made the Judging of Craft Spirits the worlds largest spirits competition dedicated to craft spirits. A full list of the 2018 awards can be found here

First appeared in Distiller (Summer 2018): 40

Review: Rum Curious

Fred Minnick, Rum Curious: The Indispensable Tasting Guide to the World's Spirit, (Minneapolis: Voyageur Press, 2017), 240 pages, $25.00. ISBN: 9780760351734

Fred Minnick is the author of seven books, three of which are about whiskey and the history of bourbon. His book Whiskey Women earned a Gold Medal at the ForeWord Reviews Book Awards and a Silver at the Indie Publisher Awards. Minnick serves as a judge for the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the World Whiskies Awards. Minnick is also an Iraq War veteran where he served as a U.S. Army public affairs photojournalist.

Rum Curious: The Indispensable Tasting Guide to the World's Spirit is Minnick’s fifth book and the first he has written on the world’s most well know cane spirit. The book is meant as a consumer introduction to the history or rum, how it is made, the laws that govern rum, production information about several unaged, aged, and flavored rums, as well as recipes for well know rum cocktails. Overall the book provides good information and it is interesting to see ABV levels coming off the still and going into the barrel for a wide array of brands.

Minnick also joins the chorus of rum enthusiasts and experts advocating for a shift in the language that describes rum. For a long time, rum has been described simply by color, white, gold, and dark. However, a new movement is advancing the idea that rum categories, similarly to Scotch, should be labeled by production methods, pot still, pot-column still, and column still rum which ques the drinker into the flavor intensity of the spirit versus the color which can be manipulated with the addition of caramel coloring and have no relationship to age or intensity of flavor. This is an important conversation for US craft distillers to join. The US rum market is dominated by Bacardi and Captain Morgan, if small producers hope to shift the tide in their favor, it will be necessary to adopt common terminology.

First appeared in Distiller (Summer 2018): 215

Review: Calvados - The Spirit of Normandy

Charles Neal, Calvados: The Spirit of Normandy, (San Francisco: Board and Bench Publishing, 2011), 700 pages, $60.00. ISBN: 9780615446400

Charles Neal is the owner of Charles Neal Selections, an importer and distributor based in San Francisco, CA and the author of Armagnac:The Definitive Guide to France's Premier Brandy. Neal's most recent book is Calvados: The Spirit of Normandy. During the course of his research, Neal traveled extensively throughout France and conducted over 200 interviews with calvados producers in Normandy. This experience as well as his work writing Armagnac and import business makes Neal one the country's top proponents and experts on French spirits.

At over 700 pages Calvados is not just a thorough catalog of calvados producers, but an attempt to understand calvados by contextualizing it in the place that it comes from. Neal begins the book with a social and ecological history of Normandy, a survey of how calvados is made, how to read calvados labels and age statements. From there, Neal divides his producer profiles into three major sections: agricultural producers, who are farm distillers who manage their own orchards, ferments his own cider and distills it; Industrial Producers, who are incorporated businesses that by in large purchase the majority of their fruit from other growers and distill and blend the majority of their own distillate; and, Negociants, who purchase 100% of their distillate from other producers, but age, blend and bottle the calvados in house.

For a variety of market reasons, American drinkers are beginning to show more interest in drinking brandy whether neat or in a cocktail. Neal's Calvados can be an instructive guide for both consumers and for US distillers who are interested in learning how some of the world's best apple brandy is made. Neal outlines a variety of techniques that craft distillers can emulate though there are some disadvantages that will not be overcome quickly. Because of a lack of demand, US apple grower have largely torn out the old varieties of cider apples that once filled American orchards. Like with non-GMO and heirloom varieties or grain, craft distillers can partner with local growers to replant the cider varieties needed to make complex, flavorful and interesting apple brandy that can withstand the test of time.

First appeared in Distiller (Winter 2017/18): 175

Review: The Soul of Brasil

Anastasia Miller and Jared Brown, The Soul of Brasil, (United Kingdom: Jared Brown, 2008), 188 pages, $17.95. ISBN: 9780976093770

Since 1992, Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown have been writing, speaking and teaching about the history of cocktails and spirits. Together they have written more than a dozen books on Champagne, vermouth, cocktails, and spirits as well as articles for Imbibe, Wine Spectator, and the Financial Times. In 2009, Brown became the head distiller at Sipsmith in London and he has helped to develop spirits in Sweden, Norway, Vietnam and the US.

In 2008, Miller and Brown wrote The Soul of Brasil, which is a short history of distillation, of Brazil, and the important cultural role cachaça plays in that country. While the book seems to have been sponsored by the cachaça distillery Sagatiba, it is very well written, and serves as a good introduction to the world's ninth largest spirits category. The book is broken down into two parts; part one traces the history of beverage alcohol since 7000 BC, European conquest of the New World, the creation of cachaça, its decline in popularity and its resurgence. In part two, Miller and Brown describe what makes cachaça unique, how it is made, its categories and flavors, as well as popular food and drink combinations.

Despite the fact that Brazil only exports about 1% of the 1.5 billion liters of cachaça sold each year, the story of cachaça is interesting for other small distillers. Though approximately one-third of the cachaça market is controlled by one brand, more than 30,000 cachaça distillers exist in Brazil. These local micro-distillers are able to remain relevant by fully embracing the local music, dance, food, and drinks of their region. By becoming enmeshed in the community, their community has a reason to buy their spirit over the national brands.

First appeared in Distiller (Winter 2017/18): 175