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.

Filtering by Category: Beverage Book Review

Review: Gin Tonica

David T. Smith is an internationally recognized gin expert, he is the author of four books on gin, and writes the gin blog Summer Fruit Cup. Smith also serves as a lead judge for the International Wine and Spirits Competition, and as the lead steward for the ADI Judging of Craft Spirits. Most recently Smith has helped create the world's first independent gin bottler, That Boutique-y Gin Company, which works with gin distillers around the world to offer unique and creative expressions of gin not seen before. His latest book, Gin Tonica: 40 Recipes for Spanish-style Gin and Tonic Cocktails is a brief and informative guide to the incredible creativity and wide ranges of flavors possible in Spanish-style gin and tonics.

While the gin and tonic is most closely associated with England and the former British Empire in India, the G&T has be warmly embraced in Spain and transformed into a unique and tantalizing drinking experience. From Spain, it the Gin Tonica returned to the UK and more recently has started to pop up around the United States. As in introduction to this novel way of preparing and serving a gin and tonic, Smith breaks the book down into four basic sections. Sections one and two are separated based on the style of gin being used, either classic or contemporary gin. And, sections tree and four are differentiated by types of garnish that can be use, which Smith describes as experimental and seasonal.

While it is common for a distiller to promote his or her gin by serving it in a gin and tonic, the Gin Tonica provides an interesting alternative. Take for example Smith's Late Breakfast Gin Tonica. This cocktail features FEW Spirits' Breakfast Gin which includes bergamot and Earl Grey tea in the botanical mix. Smith includes a teaspoon of marmalade and a dried orange slice to garnish the drink which adds sweetness and plays well with the signature botanicals. Rather than offering a regular G&T, gin distillers can expand their creativity beyond their botanical mix and think about ways to highlight any unique or signature botanicals used in their gin by offering Gin Tonicas that use complementary and colorful garnishes. Gins that standout can sometimes make it harder for your average consumer to know how to use the spirit. Gin Tonicas, like those demonstrated in Smith's book offer a new way to present gins to the drinking public that are enticing and designed to complement the base spirit.

David T. Smith, Gin Tonica: 40 Recipes for Spanish-style Gin and Tonic Cocktails, (London: Ryland Peters & Small, 2017), 95 pages, $12.95. ISBN: 9781849758536

Review: Smuggler's Cove Excotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki

Martin Cate with Rebecca Cate, Smuggler's Cove: Excotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki, (Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2016), 352 pages, $30.00. ISBN: 9781607747321

Martin Cate has long been a champion of rum, exotic cocktails and the tiki community as well as a proprietor of several award-winning drinking establishments, including Smuggler’s Cove (San Francisco), Whitechapel (San Francisco), False Idol (San Diego), Hale Pele (Portland) and Lost Lake (Chicago). Along with his wife, Rebecca, Cate has created a comprehensive guide to tiki culture; it’s history, techniques and, most of all, the drinks— Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki.

Smuggler’s Cove is a fantastic achievement and a beautiful monument to the influence of tiki, rum and exotic cocktails on American culture, and it is a fun read, told with Cate’s impish sense of humor. Part one of the book tells the engaging story of the birth, rise, decline and revival of Polynesian Pop. In part
two, the Cates tell their own story of how Martin and Rebecca became captivated by tiki and built one of the country’s preeminent bars for rum and exotic cocktails. Part three describes the history of rum, how it is made and the various styles and categories that define it. For distillers who want to better understand how bartenders use different styles of rum to create exotic cocktails, this is a must-read. Part four covers the nuts and bolts of what goes into making the cocktails. And in part five, how to deck out your home and wardrobe for your new found (or long-held) love of tiki aesthetic is covered.

Smuggler’s Cove is a wonderful book in terms of its prose, humor, completeness and graphic design. The story of the rise,fall and rebirth of tiki culture is fascinating, and numerous photos connect readers to the people and places that made Polynesian Pop and exotica nationwide phenomena. The Cates intersperse more than 100 drink recipes within the book and close each chapter with a smattering of cocktails that match the narrative. Smuggler’s Cove allows the audience to not only read the history of exotic cocktails but also to drink that history, if they choose.

First appeared in Distiller. (Summer 2017): 167

Review: The Maturation of Distilled Spirits

Hubert Germain-Robin, The Maturation of Distilled Spirits: Vision & Patience (Hayward: White Mule Press, 2016), 146 pages, $35.00. ISBN: 9780996827706

Hubert Germain-Robin comes from a long line of Cognac producers in France. But after years of training in traditional methods of distillation and maturation he moved to California to explore new possibilities. Free of the strict laws and traditions of Cognac, Germain-Robin was able to experiment and take chances in some areas while keeping the most effective traditional methods of making brandy. What resulted were some of the finest American brandies ever produced.

Germain-Robin’s newest book The Maturation of Distilled Spirits: Vision & Patience, is the follow up to Traditional Distillation: Art & Passion. In the new book Germain-Robin walks the reader through the entirety of the maturation process, from the oak that goes into the barrels, cellaring, proofing, blending and bottling the finished spirit all focused on the central theme of vision and patience. However, at 146 pages this book is more akin to a seminar than years of apprenticeship. To fully capture the wealth of knowledge that Germain-Robin learned over his lifetime of work would probably be near impossible, but the purpose of the book is to invite the reader into thinking about the active role the cellar master takes in guiding the maturation of the spirit as it sits in barrels for years or even decades.

The Maturation of Distilled Spirits is a good place to start for any distiller who wants to explore and employ traditional methods of maturation. Each chapter offers a brief explanation of a variety of maturation techniques, some of which are common in Cognac but completely novel for American whiskey. Following the theme of vision and patience, Germain-Robin explains the important role of the cellar master and how their choices and decisions serve both themselves and future generations. While creating a spirit that can age for 70-plus years is an obvious skill, so too is the patience and ability to know when to allow barrels to keep aging, when to transfer them to glass demijohns, and when to blend and bottle these older spirits.

Germain-Robin is a proponent of what some are calling “Slow Distillation,” a movement that looks to encourage the production of great spirits made from high quality ingredients with traditional techniques. U.S. craft distillers can learn much from masters like Germain-Robin and develop new traditions that will allow future generations to reap the benefits of their vision and patience.

Originally published in Distiller (Winter 2016): 151

Review: Bourbon by Fred Minnick

Fred Minnick, Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey, (Minneapolis: Voyageur Press, 2016), 240 pages $25.00 ISBN 9780760351727

Fred Minnick is the author of five 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.

Minnick’s newest book, Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey is a thorough history of bourbon, which for over 200 years has been one of the nation’s most important spirits. The book is broken down into 12 chapters that chart, as the subtitle says, the rise, fall and rebirth of an American whiskey. Minnick quickly jumps into contested waters by exploring who has the most legitimate claim to be called the “Father of Bourbon.” Unlike many other whiskey books that just repeat marketing myths, Minnick has done the work of diving into the historical record and offers a better picture of the history of bourbon than has been seen in some time. He traces the large social movements as well as the lives of individuals that supported and fought the bourbon industry throughout U.S. history.

In an attempt to appeal to more readers, the pages are illustrated, and Minnick uses quite a few sidebars in each chapter to give quick details or extrapolate on an interesting moment or person in bourbon history. Bourbon is one of the best histories on the subject to come along in a while. 

Originally published in Distiller Magazine (Winter2016):  151

Review: Dead Distillers

Colin Spoelman and David Haskell, Dead Distillers: A History of the Upstarts and Outlaws Who Made American Spirits, (New York: Abrams Image, 2016), 224 pages, $24.95. ISBN: 9781419720215

Colin Spoelman and David Haskell are cofounders of Kings County Distillery and co-authors of now two books. Spoelman, the head distiller of Kings County Distillery, grew up in the dry Harlan County of eastern Kentucky and only began experimenting with distilling after moving to New York. When Spoelman met Haskell, an editor of New York magazine and the great-grandson of a former New York bootlegger, the idea for Kings County Distillery was born. Since 2010, Kings County Distillery has won a number of medals for its spirits, and most recently it was named 2016 Distillery of the Year by ADI.

An employee of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery inspired Spoelman and Haskell to write their newest book after organizing a tour of the graves of distillers interred there. As they looked at cemeteries around the country, they realized that the buried distillers all had intriguing stories to tell that were uniquely American. The book retells shortened biographies of 76 distillers who ranged the gamut from slaves and outlaws to successful businessmen and U.S. presidents. The stories are arranged by the distillers’ death dates, and are interspersed with newspaper clippings of distillery accidents that have lamentably taken the lives of workers, neighbors and rescue personnel for the past 400 years.

Dead Distillers is an excellent book that pays tribute to and humanizes those whose stories are included. For the average consumer, spirits named after dead distillers are seen as marketing depicting them as whiskey gods in an American pantheon. However, Dead Distillers succeeds at honoring real people who led fascinating and complicated lives with their biographies and two fantastic infographics. While most infographics try to simplify data to the point that it is immediately digestible in a single glance, the two included in the book are more akin to topographical maps that only reveal the depth of their content through close inspection. And finally, while Spoelman and Haskell wrote the book for anyone interested in distilling, it offers living distillers a memorial as real as any graveyard headstone that they can visit and remember both the successes and failures of those who came before them.

Originally published in Distiller Magazine (Fall 2016):  145