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Friday, July 25, 2014

Details from Tales: Sugar, the Necessary Evil?

These days, it seems like anything that passes between our lips must not only please the palate, but also meet an exceedingly stiff criteria of dietary responsibility. Our favorite cocktails should be no exception. Sugar has been a staple of mixology for hundreds of years, and at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans last week, Claire Smith hosted a seminar focusing on both the uplifting effects and damaging consequences of your bartender's sweet little friend.

Scientifically known as sucrose, basic table sugar is a disaccharide mainly comprised of two primary components: fructose and glucose. While these two simple sugars both occur naturally and are indiscernible to our taste buds, there is a stark contrast between their effects on the rest of our body. At one end of the spectrum is glucose, a vital building block of life and the preferred energy source for human metabolism. It is abundant in nature and can even be created by our own cells when needed. Simply stated, it is essential for survival. On the other end is fructose, the enemy. Unusable to the vast majority of our internal organs, fructose can only be processed and expelled by the liver, with any surplus being converted exclusively to body fat. It is used as fuel only by the bacteria in our mouth which damage the gums and teeth, and it weakens the lining of our stomachs, raising sensitivity to things such as gluten. It is directly linked to the onset of Type II Diabetes, and a recent explosion in the number of people diagnosed with gout. Despite these and a myriad of other negative health consequences, fructose is being consumed at an alarming rate, especially during Happy Hour.

Sweet cocktails are popular; there is no getting around that. Many people would much rather enjoy the buzz of alcohol without the burn, and for centuries sugar has been used to complement or outright mask the sting and bitterness of countless concoctions. This inevitable desire for a tasty drink has led many of our most trusted barkeeps to load up their cocktails with what we now realize are hazardous amounts of the sweet stuff. But fear not, a new day is dawning in the world of mixology, and navigating that line between a happy mouth and healthy body is becoming easier than ever.

Artificial sweeteners are everywhere and have been synthesized for over 100 years, but the current trends in sensible sugar consumption originate in the farmhouse, not the chem lab. Fresh, cold-pressed fruit juices are leaps and bounds ahead of any syrupy “juice” concentrate, and today's finest craft bartenders are leading the charge to mixing with Nature's pantry. On top of the indisputable health benefits, such as consuming its fibrous pulp, raw fruit juice is also bursting with flavor and can turn even the simplest of cocktails into an eye-opening experience. It does still contain a significant amount of naturally occurring sugar however, and in order to omit that completely, one man is looking back even further, to the ancient art of tinctures.

According to bartender extraordinaire, Ben Carlotto, tinctures are an ideal solution to flavoring cocktails without worrying about the quantity and quality of added sugar. The process is a simple one, merely steeping various herbs, roots and flowers in different concentrations of alcohol and allowing their characteristics to infuse the liquid. Using this technique, Mr. Carlotto has created a veritable home library of flavor. With row after row of small jars and bottles at his disposal, the possible combinations of tincture and spirit seem endless, creating a system to satisfy any palate while leaving sugar off the table.

Contributor Ian Gregory is a child of the 80's and a Tulane graduate, with a BA in History. Born and raised in Manhattan, NYC, he has called New Orleans his home for the last 10 years.

An experienced bartender, Ian has appeared in the Where Y'at Best Bartenders of New Orleans Guide on 3 separate occasions. Now testing the waters of freelance writing as a contributor for MicroShiner, he doesn't have a twitter handle, but feel free to find him on Facebook (

Thursday, July 24, 2014

3rd Distillery to Open in Missoula

We recently learned that a 3rd distillery will be opening in Missoula, Montana, joining Montgomery Distillery and Montana Distillery. To be fair, the only one of these actually producing and selling spirits is Montgomery, but given the craft love (Missoula already hosts no less than 5 breweries) in this small college town, home to the University of Montana, we knew it is only a matter of time before somebody else jumped into the game.

The Hogan brothers seem up to the task, with a plan in mind and a location picked out next to downtown icon Double Front Chicken and across the street from the upscale watering hole James Bar. They've named their distillery after local waterway Rattlesnake Creek, which runs through town, and hope to take advantage of the state's abundance of raw materials, namely water and grain.

Read more in this story from the local paper.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dark Corner Makes History

Our friends at Dark Corner Distillery are making history in South Carolina with the release of their first ever straight rye whiskey. Here are the details from their press release: 

Dark Corner Distillery continues to live up to their reputation as pioneers of the craft distilled spirits movement in the Palmetto State. This Friday, July the 25th at 11:00am, guests of the distillery will have the opportunity to purchase a bottle of Dark Corner’s most esteemed release to date; Carolina Straight Rye Whiskey. “It’s extremely limited (only 115 bottles), aged for over 2 years, and will be a welcomed first for South Carolina” says distillery founder, Joe Fenten.

 "Notes of porridge, dried fruit, rice pudding and honeyed tobacco waft the air, followed by a welcomed dose of salt & pepper, coconut and vanilla toffee on the palate. A deep, bold rye whiskey that's sure to delight any true whiskey aficionado” notes  Head Distiller, Paul Fulmer.

Founded in 2011, Dark Corner Distillery is a Greenville, SC based micro distillery most famous for producing the World’s Best Moonshine. Defined by heritage, the distillery offers visitors to the store on Greenville’s Main Street a unique experience, including product tastings and distillery tours.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Oregon Distillers Festival

The emergence of Oregon as a mecca of craft distilling was showcased for the curious front and center recently at the adult playland known as McMenamins’ Edgefield just outside of Portland. Here, under a big top tent on a hot Saturday in July, were poured some of the Beaver State’s finest spirits for those in attendance at the Oregon Distillers Festival.

Around 20 distilleries took part in the four hour event at the flagship property of the brewpub chain known throughout the Pacific Northwest for taking old unique properties and turning them into fanciful watering holes. To be certain, McMenamins’ had both of its distilleries, one at Edgefield itself and another from its Cornelius Pass Roadhouse property, represented, but also on display were small shop operations ranging from the Oregon coast to the high desert and beyond.

One of the newest Oregon distilleries offering up samples of its spirits was Cannon Beach Distillery. Owner Mike Selberg and a female companion were showcasing two rums and an agave spirit. Selberg’s liquors are award winning, he noted, which is impressive when you consider his is mostly a one man operation producing only 400 to 500 cases a year.

Down the row a bit from Cannon Beach was Bull Run DistillingCompany, whose primary focus is upon whiskey. Lee Medoff, one of those heading operations at the distillery, ironically spent some of his formative time in the industry as a brewer at McMenamins. Bull Run was pouring two of its whiskies, one of which was described taste wise as starting like a Canadian whiskey and finishing like an Irish, along with a rum as well.

While most distilleries were showing off whiskies, rums, vodkas and other well known spirit types, a few were also offering samples of what would best be described as pre-mixed cocktails. One of these was Northwest Distillery. Owner Meghan Zonich had at the ready Hello Lovely, a refreshing concoction best enjoyed when served chilled and characterized as a “spirited strawberry lemonade” made from Oregon vodka, natural strawberry/lemon flavor, and pure cane sugar.

Not to be outdone by the visiting distilleries, theMcMenamins’ offerings on display at its two tables had plenty takers during the festival. The Edgefield distillery showcased its regular stable of spirits as well a new offering known as Aval Pota. This malt whiskey distillation, consisting of freshly pressed Oregon apples as well as organic brown sugar and cinnamon, was described by one event goer as tasting like “apple pie.”

As for Cornelius Pass Roadhouse, it was pouring samples of a new, and as yet unreleased, aged whiskey beside a tasty hazelnut liqueur.

All in all, it was a solid showing by members of the Oregon distilling crowd and a reminder that the emerging craft spirits movement is taking the liquor industry in directions it has never really considered before.

Nino Marchetti, a freelance writer out of Portland, runs his own whiskey blog known as The Whiskey Wash ( and writes about lifestyle and consumer technology topics. Nino has over 10 years of freelancing experience writing for print and online ventures. When not writing, he can be found exploring his favorite haunts around the city or enjoying a good glass of whiskey or beer. Look for more on the Oregon craft spirit scene from Nino here @MicroShiner.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Spotlight: Raff Distillerie

We only recently learned about Raff Distillerie, a craft distiller located on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. The distillery utilizes a hybrid still hand built by owner and master distiller Carter Raff to craft absinthe and gin.

Keep an eye out for more from MicroShiner on Raff Distillerie and its products. Until then, please take a moment to visit them here

Monday, July 7, 2014

Drinking Music: The Tribe - Vol. 1

When it comes to epicenters of hip hop music, the college town of Missoula doesn't immediately leap to mind. Known more for selling out Pearl Jam and Yonder Mountain shows, this small city in Western Montana actually has a surprisingly active hip hop scene, and RezErected Records is at its center. 

With roots on the Flathead Reservation, RezErected just dropped a compilation album aptly named The Tribe: Volume 1, which features a number of tracks from their stable of artists. If you're in the mood for some solid beats and an interesting perspective, give it a try.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Alchemy Bottle Shop Celebrates with Free Tasting

We're big fans of Alchemy Bottle Shop, and if you're in the Bay Area, we recommend them for all your spirit needs. They were recently granted license to provide tastings on-site, and are celebrating this and the holiday weekend with a free tasting of Caledonia Spirits on Saturday, July 5th at their Grand Avenue location from 4 to 7 pm.

Here it is in their own words:

At Long Last...We finally have our distilled spirits tasting license!

Come celebrate as we kick off our tastings with Caledonia Spirits from Vermont, makers of the incredible Barr Hill Vodka and Gins. Stop by on Saturday July 5th from 4-7pm to join in on the fun. As always tastings are free, so bring some friends!

Here's a preview of what we'll be tasting:

Barr Hill Vodka: made entirely from honey, this vodka is unlike anything else out there. Floral, creamy, ridiculously smooth, and lightly sweet, you've got to taste this to believe it.

Barr Hill Gin: made with pure grain spirit, juniper berry, and raw honey. Fresh and aromatic, with light notes of orange blossom.

Tom Cat Barrel Aged Gin: a play on the Old Tom style, this is Barr Hill Gin transformed by time in new American oak barrels. Reborn with added flavors of toasted nuts, woody spice, and creamy texture, this is yet again proof that time in a barrel can do fantastic things for gin.

Hope to see you there!

Alchemy Bottle Shop
3256 Grand Ave
Oakland, CA 94610