Aspen/Snowmass Hosts Inaugural ‘Après Ski Cocktail Classic,’ March 14-17

cocktail shakerWhat’s more fun than drinking an après ski beer at altitude? Attending a post-slopes cocktail festival at altitude. The first-annual Après Ski Cocktail Classic debuts in Aspen/Snowmass March 14-17, and will feature superstar mixologists and boozy experts such as Tony Abou-Ganim and Steve “Wine Geek” Olson, as well as chefs, sommeliers, spirit aficionados and “professional tipplers.”

Events at the Westin and Wildwood Resorts include a Grand Tasting “Village”; a private reserve room of top-shelf spirits; craft cocktails; seminars; snow parties; pop-up bars; demos; “fireside chats”; special on-mountain events; and “The Great Irish Whisky Pub Crawl.”

Pace yourselves. And get your tickets here.

[Photo credit: Flickr user RLHyde]

Five Alcohol Factories To Kick Off Spring Travel

Spring is in the air, which means that most of us will be swapping our mulled wine and spiked apple cider for beer gardens and rooftop bars. Behind every good brew, though, is a distillery that made your buzz possible. And many of those outlets have turned into touristic destinations for the curious traveler in search of an off-beat destination – something in contrast to the humdrum monument or public art gallery. Here are five factories to get your planning started.

Beer
The Guinness Storehouse: Ireland
Unlike many bartenders in the US, the Irish take their Guinness drinking very seriously and after a day at the Storehouse, you too can learn the “perfect pour.” Tickets cost around 13 Euros and include a free pint of Guinness at the rooftop bar, which arguably has one of the best views of the city. The building’s seven-story exhibit takes you though the brewing process, giving guests a better understanding of just how much effort goes into creating good tasting beer. Student discounts are available and for a more in-depth experience, schedule a specialty tour.
St James’s Gate, Dublin 8

Scotch
Glenkinchie Scotch Malt Whiskey Distillery: Scotland
If you find yourself in Scotland, good luck avoiding a Scotch tour, as malt whiskey distilleries are scattered throughout the country. The Glenkinchie Distillery is close to Edinburgh, making it an easy day trip for travelers. Tickets cost 6 GBP and tours are offered daily. A complimentary taste of Glenkinchie’s 12 year old single malt is given to anyone who pays the 3 GBP entrance fee. More extensive tours are available for a slightly higher price but more freebies are provided, making it a worthy investment.
Pencaitland, Tranent, East Lothian EH34 5ETGin
Plymouth Gin Distillery: England
Black Friars Distillery has been the happy home of Plymouth Gin since 1793 but the buildings themselves date back to the early 1400s. The Refectory Room is a medieval hall and cocktail lounge that is the highlight for many guests, as it’s said to be where the Pilgrim Fathers sat before sailing on the Mayflower. Tours are held daily but have limited space so make sure to plan your visit in advance. Don’t forget to drink your free and flavorful gin and tonic before leaving.
60 Southside Street, The Barbican, Plymouth, Devon

Vodka
Filliers Vodka Distillery: Belgium
Belgium is certainly known for top-tier chocolate but it is also home to Filliers Vodka Distillery. Tours are offered Monday-Saturday for groups of 15-20 people and last around an hour and a half, giving guests a sneak peak into the distillation process complete with vodka tasting. The minimum price for guided group tours is 120 Euros. For travelers craving a bit or solitude, Filliers is perfectly situated in the middle of the countryside and surrounded by meadows and picturesque fields. The distillery produces a number of liquors including Goldlys Belgian Whisky, Van Hoo Vodka and the traditional Bols Genever.
Leernsesteenweg 5, Deinze, Belgium

Rum
Bacardi Rum Factory: Puerto Rico
Those who prefer a little rum to their drink should head straight to Casa Bacardi in Cantano, Puerto Rico. Starting in Santiago de Cuba, the popular brand has since made its way to Havanna, San Juan, Miami, Bermuda and almost certainly your local bar. Daily tours run every 20 minutes and include an interactive glance at Bacardi’s history starting with the origins of rum making to a demonstration of how to make mojitos. Each guest is given two free drink tickets but drinks during the tour are not allowed, so make sure to hold onto your vouchers for the outdoor Bacardi bar.
Road 165, Rte. 888, Km 2.6, Cataño, 00962

[flickr image via chacrebleu]

Exploring Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail

When the world descends on Louisville for the Kentucky Derby the first weekend in May, those breathtaking thoroughbreds may be first on visitors’ minds, but you can bet bourbon is a close second. Bourbon’s legacy is intertwined with Louisville’s history going back even further than the Derby.

Pioneers in 18th-century Virginia’s Kentucky County found a source of liquid income farming on the 60 acres Thomas Jefferson granted them for raising native corn – they distilled their surplus corn into whiskey. With the local limestone-filtered water and the hardwood trees for barrels, the settlers put their whiskey-making knowledge to work. No matter that the land didn’t suit plowing or traditional rye – they hand-planted and raised indigenous corn. By the late 1700s this area had become part of Kentucky, and thanks to help from the French during the Revolution, one of the counties – one with a great number of the corn whiskey distilleries – was named Bourbon county (today it’s a dry county – go figure).

After the steamboat’s arrival in the Ohio River port town of Louisville in 1811, bourbon found new markets, particularly downriver in New Orleans. Much of the bourbon was shipped out of the original Bourbon county, and some say the Frenchmen reloading the barrels at the Falls of the Ohio (everything had to be unloaded and carried back to the ship on the other side) naturally preferred the name Bourbon.

So what exactly is bourbon, anyway? You may have heard this but it bears repeating. All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. There are some specific requirements about proof, but the gist of it is this: Bourbon is made of more than half corn (at least 51%, though usually much more, among the rye, wheat and barley also used) and it must be aged in new charred-oak barrels. The best way to learn about bourbon, of course is to taste it, and the more open you are to learning from the local bartenders, the more they’ll be happy to impart. Just don’t confuse Jack Daniels Tennessee whiskey with bourbon and you’ll get along fine.Louisville owes its bourbon dominance to Prohibition: Out of the six permits issued in the country during Prohibition to sell whiskey for “medicinal purposes,” four were in Louisville. Still today a third of Kentucky bourbon is distilled in city limits. And a new education and training center andartisan distillery opening this month downtown, the Distilled Spirits Epicenter, will offer hands-on distilling instruction, classes and bottling servicesto small bottlers and those who want to be. Moonshine University, in particular, promises to be fun for enthusiasts.

More importantly to most visitors, though, Louisville is the center of the universe fortastingbourbon. Whether you’re still recovering from college shots or are a whiskey connoisseur, Louisville’s bourbon scene is as multi-faceted as the spirit itself. A day on the Urban Bourbon Trailcan introduce you to the Louisville beyond the cloying mint juleps and floppy hats of Derby.

First, be smart. Especially if you’re not used to it, bourbon sneaks up on you if you imbibe too fast, don’t drink enough water, or consume on an empty stomach. Stay hydrated, eat at every stop, and seriously, take taxis!

Your day starts at Dish on Market, housed in Louisville’s first color motion picture theater. Marshall, one of the two brothers who own the place, loves to talk history. Ask him to tell you about the building and talk bourbon. Meanwhile, order the Presidential breakfast, inspired by Harry Truman’s purported daily meal of toast, eggs, bacon, fruit, milk, and a shot of whiskey, in this case a generous pour of Old Grandad. “This is not your grandma’s bourbon,” laughs Marshall. You may feel like people are staring as your whiskey fumes waft about. That’s OK. They’re just too chicken to go hardcore this early. But like Marshall’s family motto says, you can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning. The key is to eat your breakfast first so you have a cushion for your bourbon.

Consider exploring the shops of NuLu (go east on Market) before lunch at Avalonon Bardstown Road, where you’ll want to wander later to check out the fun and funky shops. Like every stop on the trail, folks here know their stuff. If you like drama you might opt for the Flaming Pyroses, a Four Roses Manhattan set on fire (with Grand Marnier – “no bourbon was harmed in the making of this drink,” says Ryan, the bartender). For a less potent option, go for the Kentucky Mule, a twist on the classic bourbon and ginger, and familiar to fans of the vodka-based Moscow Mule. A range of lunch options well below $10 leaves you plenty to spend on drinks if you want to spring for the George T. Stagg, a $30 pour of liquid fire that will singe your lashes as you inhale, but burns oh so smoothly.

If it’s not madness at the track (that is, if you’re visiting outside of Derby week), hit the Derby Cafe in the afternoon to study up on your bourbon, and if you must have a mint julep, kick back at the bar.

After a rest, head for the old-fashioned opulence of The Brown Hotel. Piano music in the lobby bar will set the tone for your genteel sipping. Since this is your first evening stop, ease your way in with a Kentucky Cider – the light Basil Hayden joins sparkling apple cider and lemon for a lovely aperitif. Order a small plate or two – a recent option showcased country ham on brioche with a crayfish salsa, the perfect bite to whet your appetite.

A few blocks, and light years away, next up is the bar at Proof on Main. The restaurant for 21C Museum Hotel, repeatedly ranked among the top 10 hotels in the world, this is your “see and be seen” hotspot stop. Craft cocktails are offered with a selection of heartbreakingly delectable snacks. Don’t miss the cured meats plate, lonzino, lardo, and smoked grapes. The bar menu changes seasonally, but you could ask nicely for a Gold Rush for an all-too-easy-to-down honey, lemon and bourbon drink. Sip among the well-heeled crowd, then take a spin around the confrontingly contemporary art collection.

If you’ve paced yourself, you’re ready for dinner. You’re off to Baxter Station, where you’re unlikely to bump into tourists. Instead, this joint serves comfort fare to a regular crowd of its Irish Hill neighbors, families, white-haired long-timers and a sprinkling of hipsters. Traces of its past remain – once a saloon popular with nearby train station employees (no women allowed in those days), then a grocery during Prohibition, and back to a tavern until a rave restaurant review of the food turned it into a restaurant. Leftover door signage to the twinkly-lit back room remains because they don’t see any need to scratch away the past. This is pretense-free food and drink, no craft cocktails or fusion fuss here. The bourbon fried chicken, hot and crispy as nature intended, will fill you up nicely. Try Old Fashioned with Woodford (invented in Louisville) or choose your bourbon neat from the bar-tab friendly list.

Wrap up your night with dessert at Bourbons Bistro, a mecca for bourbon-lovers with more than 130 selections. Grab a chair at the bar for serious discussion. Tell the bartender what you like – caramel and vanilla, for instance – and he’ll give you a knowledgeable recommendation, like Vintage 17 Year. If you’re not up to straight bourbon, order the Bourbon Cobbler. Dessert in a glass, this sweet cocktail will go down so easily you might find yourself at the bottom tempted to order the 1969 Old Crow, a rare bourbon in a ceramic chess piece – you’ll see the face scowling as he keeps watch over the bar – that costs a cool $125. You might actually see someone order it, and watching a patron sip a drink that spendy is entertainment in and of itself. To finish the night, have the bread pudding. The towering carb-fest not only tastes amazing, but soaks up all that bourbon. You’ll need it – tomorrow is another day in Louisville.

Dana McMahanis a Louisville-based travel, food and fitness writer. Her articles have appeared in Delta Sky magazine, Fodors.com, TheDailyMeal.com, the Huffington Post, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, among other outlets. She blogs here.

Whiskey and chocolate: the next big food pairing?

whiskey chocolateWhiskey and chocolate are two of my favorite things — but together? I was suspicious. That is, until I attended a pairing event at Union Square Wines here in New York City, hosted by Pacari Chocolate and Compass Box Whisky. Somehow, the flavors came together perfectly, and not just because of my whiskey buzz and sugar high (though those were there too).

The tasting consisted of five pairings, some traditional and others more off-beat. The one that blew me away was a pairing of the award-winning Hedonism, a vanilla and toffee-flavored Scotch grain whisky blend, with Pacari’s Amazonian Lemongrass chocolate. When the high citrus notes of the chocolate hit the sweetness of the whiskey a whole other flavor emerged, which lingered nicely in my mouth for quite some time.

Another popular pairing was Compass Box’s Orangerie, a Scotch whisky infused with hand-zested orange, cassia bark and clove, with Pacari’s Aji Chili-Coriander Spiced Chocolate. The sweet and the spicy came together just right and the coriander added an extra kick.One reason the pairing event worked so well is that both Pacari and Compass Box are artisan brands. Pacari is the first single-origin organic chocolate produced entirely in Ecuador with biodynamically-grown ingredients. Compass Box is a boutique Scotch whiskymaker and craft blender, known for blending specially-selected whiskeys from Scotland using natural processes, without chill filtering or artificial coloring. Because both the whiskey and chocolate are produced naturally and in small batches, they are able to retain many of the lipids that get lost in large-scale manufacturing — a big contributor to the flavor explosions I experienced from many of the pairings.

Drooling over your keyboard yet? New York-area foodies hankering for a taste can attend a pairing event on March 27 at the St Giles Hotel New York — The Court. Tickets are $35 and available here.

Photo of the day – Cocktail hour

photo of the day
It’s always cocktail hour somewhere in the world, they say, though if you’re 8 months pregnant like me, it’s not for another 5 weeks or so. Even as a non-whiskey drinker, I looked at this and wanted a nice warming glass of scotch and perhaps a fire to drink it by. Flickr user JRodmanJr snapped this drink (and presumably drank it) in Basel, Switzerland; it’s a 14-year-old single malt from the Scottish distillery Oban. A beverage like this one can inspire a trip to taste the drink at its source, or just provide a mini-vacation in a glass.

Photograph any refreshing beverages on your travels? Upload your pix to the Gadling Flickr page and we may use it for a future Photo of the Day.