Posted: Nov 17, 2008 10:08am ETAlmost everyone is feeling the pinch right now, but as the holidays come on it is important to keep in context that having to settle for VSOP instead of going for the XO Cognac isn't really roughing it. One out of eight people in America is struggling with the reality of hunger—and that doesn't mean they skipped lunch—they actually aren't sure where their next meal may come from. Hunger is a pervasive problem, affecting millions and not limited to certain areas, social groups or neighborhoods.
Even while we all are tightening our belts in reaction to the severe economic crisis that besets us, we should remember those who have it even worse. One organization that has a heritage for this kind of consideration going back almost half a century is Feeding America (feedingamerica.org), formerly America's Second Harvest). It is a hunger-relief charity that comprises a nationwide network of food banks that feed the needy with surplus food in very tangible outlets like soup kitchens.
One reason I bring this up now is that from now until November 23 there is an ongoing auction on eBay called The Give Hope Campaign that benefits Feeding America. It is a partnership with Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, which itself with match donations made to Feeding America until December 31. The auction includes once-in-a-lifetime experiences, many of which include celebrities. You may bid, for instance, to have celebrity bartender Tony Abou-Ganim host your Mojito party or join Food Network Star Ted Allen for dinner at Mario Batali's Del Posto. There are also gourmet dinners at places like Craft, Bouley and Nobu and travel packages to the California wine country and the Sawgrass TPC golf course.
If you are one of the lucky ones, I urge you to think up about this discreet way to target your discretionary funds. Visit
Posted: Oct 30, 2008 4:17pm ETTwo bottles of moonshine just landed on my desk.
Well, not technically moonshine, but it's labeled as such. The 'shine in question is Junior Johnson's Midnight Moon and Catdaddy Carolina Moonshine, and it does have the seal of approval from Mr. Johnson, himself a certified and convicted moonshiner, as well as a legendary NASCAR driver.
Johnson was a frequent winner on the driving circuit from 1955 to 1965. You may know him from a Tom Wolfe magazine story published in Esquire or the movie The Last American Hero, both of which championed his exploits as a runner of the illegal alcohol his father made in copper stills in the hills of North Carolina. You needed a fast car and steel nerve to outrun the federal agents. Johnson had both in spades. He souped up his car to outrun the revenuers and then developed a slew of maneuvers to outfox them. The power slide was his, as well as the bootleg turn, a 180-degree about-face when confronted with a roadblock. Never caught behind the wheel, Junior finally did time when captured tending his daddy's still. After paying his debt to society, he figured it would be more lucrative to put his driving skills to use on the burgeoning stock car circuit, where he became an instant success and folk hero. In 1986, Ronald Reagan pardoned him, restoring his right to vote. (A Democrat, Johnson recently endorsed Barack Obama.)
Anyway, he joined forces with Piedmont Distillers in Madison, N.C. to market Junior Johnson's Midnight Moon, which he describes as, "Smoother than vodka. Better than whiskey. Best shine ever."
I would agree that the product is quite vodka-like and very smooth. I would, however, take exception to the middle statement, but anyone who knows my affinity for whiskey could figure that out. The last pronouncement I would agree with, except that this is not really "shine" as it isn't illegal and it's triple-distilled in column stills, which would entail a high-profile operation that few savvy moonshiners would attempt.
Posted: Oct 6, 2008 11:25am ETA seven-course meal is elegant. A different wine with every course would be a luxury. But pairing each dish with a single-malt Scotch, well that’s downright decadent.
Maybe so, but that was the plan Thursday night when I and about a dozen others were hosted by Evan Cattanach, master distiller emeritus of the Classic Malts Selection, at the New York Palace Hotel. Instead of matching wines with the meal, Evan took it upon himself to pair each exquisite course with a different new release from the whisky collection.
And I have to say that what may sound like a daunting night of drinking was actually an unqualified culinary success.
Pairing spirits with food is not a new concept. I’ve experienced it done quite well on a few occasions (particularly once at a lavish lunch thrown by Remy Martin with its range of excellent Cognacs and at meals planned by Chef Jim Gerhardt, of Louisville’s Limestone Restaurant, who has long championed Kentucky cuisine by pairing its produce, fish and game with local Bourbon). Moreover, Evan remembers that he would have seen whisky, not wine, as a matter course at his father’s table when he grew up in Scotland. He laid part of that to the shortage of wine during the Second World War when he was a lad.
Formerly a distillery manager and now a whisky ambassador, Evan knows whereof he speaks when it comes to the Classic Malts Selection—he managed four of the distilleries that make up the collection as part of his 33-year hands-on career in whisky-making and has been representing all of the whiskeys for many years.
We met in the Chairman’s Office at the New York Palace, a wood-appointed room, lined with bookcases and centered with a huge banquet table, all of which made it perfect for this event. We were welcomed with hors d’oeuvres and the light whisky of Dalwhinnie, the winter-snow-buffeted distillery of the Highlands that, at 1,073 feet, is the greatest elevation at which the Scots make whisky.
Posted: Aug 28, 2008 1:03pm ETMost of my interaction involving cigars goes in one of two possible directions: I encounter people who either love and want to have a smoke or people who hate them and want me to put mine out. Recently, I was treated to a third possibility.
I was at an impromptu cocktail party outside a cottage on Pennsylvania's Highland Lake just south of Binghamton, N.Y., enjoying the summer evening, a Sam Houston Bourbon Manhattan and an Alec Bradley Tempus Genesis, when someone approached me. The gentleman’s name was Alan Jewell, and he remarked that he liked the smell of the corona I was smoking. I assumed that this was the category of the above-mentioned cigar encounters and immediately offered him a smoke.
Alan begged off, citing sinus problems, but implored me to keep smoking as the aroma brought back memories, smell being the sense most closely associated with remembering. He then spun a story about Binghamton back in the day when the small city on New York’s Southern Tier was dominated by the Endicott Johnson Shoe Co. The company was the benevolent employer of many of the people in the Triple Cities area, which includes Endicott and Johnson City, both named in honor of the founders, and created housing and educational and recreational facilities for its workers.
Alan particularly recalled going to the baseball games of the Binghamton Triplets, a Yankee farm team. The shoe company would arrange for a block of seat for its employees, and he said that most of them took the occasion to light up White Owls courtesy of General Cigar, which had a factory there from 1928 to 1938 (later an Ansco camera facility). “All those shoemakers from all over Eastern Europe and Italy—they talk about diversity now, we had real diversity then—would gather in the seats and light up and this wonderful aroma would waft out over the stadium…"
Alan waxed on with other fascinating tales about Binghamton of old, and I was happy to have supplied the impetus of those pleasant memories via my smoke and to have had a cigar encounter of a third kind. Thanks, Alan.
Posted: Aug 11, 2008 1:43pm ETI'm stoked at the moment because half of my summertime-guilty-pleasure-television regimen has recently returned to broadcast: "Mad Men."
"Mad Men" is the American Movie Classics series set in the early 1960s in a Madison Avenue advertising agency. Conceived and produced by a "Sopranos" alumnus, it is very true to the time with all excesses of the era intact: plenty of smoking, drinking and carousing, and very little of the now-pervasive Nanny State to be seen. For something that is a bit of a soap opera, it is quite a lot of fun, and I anticipate each new episode (Sunday night at 10 p.m. EDT) with excitement. Is anybody else hooked on this?
But what I really want to talk about here is last season. That's because my sainted wife went out and bought me the DVD box set of season one to rewatch as a prelude to season two. It is cleverly packaged in a gun-metal-gray case shaped like a Zippo lighter and sports a hinged top just like the original.
Not only is that a kick for smokers, but the packaging includes offers to buy real Zippo lighters with Mad Men logos on them. One is a limited-edition (production of 1,000, consecutively numbered) lighter, chromed out to a high polish and packaged in a Zippo velour collector's box. The other is on classic satin chrome and packaged in a black gift box. (Visit here to order).
Of course, if you are planning to light cigars, you'll probably prefer the companies Zippo Blu (see our review).
And what is my other summertime guilty television pleasure? Well, HBO's "Entourage." But for some demented reason that other show made for men apparently isn't going to broadcast until this fall. Rat crap!
Posted: Aug 5, 2008 5:21pm ETWhenever I feel a touch of the malaria coming on or it just gets hot like it does this time of year, I always think of one thing—or two things actually: quinine tonic and gin (or vodka or rum, you get the picture).
The good news about the ultimate summer drink last year was that Fever-Tree, a maker of drink mixers, had introduced an all-natural quinine tonic water made with quinine from the bark of the cinchona tree, the original and most concentrated source of quinine (most standard tonic water contains the cheaper and less intense Remijia tree bark as its quinine source). The better news this year is that we now have two choices in boutique quinine water with the introduction of Q Tonic, made with quinine harvested from Peru.
Both are all-natural products and lower in sugar (and calorie) content, allowing the taste of the quinine to show through. Q Tonic uses agave as sweetener, while Fever-Tree uses fruit sugar. For you Atkins dieters, the carb counts on both are also significantly lower.
Despite all the similarities, the two have quite different taste profiles, which to me is a good thing. More choices in a category populated by drab sameness. While Fever-Tree (fever-tree.com) is intense with a slightly bitter tang, the Q (qtonicwater.com) is clear and bright.
I'm feverish just writing about it. Or is it just warm in here? Where's that bottle of gin?
Posted: Jul 25, 2008 10:17am ETAbout the only good that has come from the recent rounds of anti-smoking legislation has been the boon it has been for cigar retailers. Because most areas exempt cigar stores, smokers are driven to them when they want to cop a smoke in the middle of the day. And local retailers have responded in kind by setting up lounges for smokers who want to come in, buy a cigar and then enjoy it on premise at say, lunch time.
That's great! What I question, however, is the audacity of those customers who see lounges as public smoking emporiums. Do they really think it is the height of cigar aficionado etiquette to pop in to their local retailer with a cigar they have purchased online and suck up all the air? Come on!
Michael Herklots, who is the general manager of Davidoff's store at The Shops at Columbus Circle in New York City, has posted the following test in his smoking lounge that communicates the logic more succinctly than I can:
CAN YOU PURCHASE A COFFEE IN STARBUCKS AND BRING IT TO BOUCHON TO DRINK?
CAN YOU PURCHASE A SUBWAY COMBO MEAL AND EAT IT AT PER SE?
CAN YOU BRING YOUR FAKE CUBAN CIGAR THAT YOU PURCHASED ONLINE TO A CIGAR STORE AND ENJOY IT?
THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING OUR BUSINESS. PLEASE ENJOY YOUR PURCHASE.
The store respectfully asks a $10 purchase for the use of the lounge and also asks that no cellular phones be used, which is another of my pet peeves. Good on 'em.
Posted: Jul 8, 2008 3:56pm ETHere’s a novel form of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Apparently, when Pablo Picasso was born in 1881, he wasn’t breathing and the midwife gave him up as stillborn. A quick-thinking and cigar-smoking uncle had other ideas, however. He leaned over and blew smoke into young Pablo’s face, causing him to cry and, so, breathe deeply.
Mention that next time someone harangues you about health concerns and cigars. This is one case where a cigar saved a life and made the world safe for those crazy paintings of women with two noses and their eyes pointing in different directions.
Posted: Jul 1, 2008 11:12am ETThe irony of my job at Cigar Aficionado and my participation on its tasting panel is that I don’t often buy cigars. I don’t have to. About the only time it happens is when I’m in a country with more liberal policies about selling the bounty of the island nation to the south of Florida. And then I’m always sort of stung by the idea that I have to pay for them.
An exception occurred over the weekend.
I had taken the family to Nantucket—another island, this one off the coast of Massachusetts—to visit my wife’s sister’s family and my mother-in-law, Diane, who was visiting from Washington State. On the last day there my sister-in-law’s husband, Thatcher, told me he’d made reservations at Topper’s in The Wauwinet inn to treat Diane to a “nice meal.” I’ll admit that Topper’s is arguably the best dining on the island, but I thought the lobsters we’d had at home the night before constituted a “nice meal.” But not wanting to seem the piker and lose any ground on our continuing battle to be Diane’s favorite son-in-law, I agreed. So we left the kids and trekked out to the end of the island.
By the decor of the place and the idyllic setting, I could tell right away that this little freak was going to cost me. Opening the menu I got an inkling of how much: the prix fixe rate was listed in troy ounces. Now, my wife, Ellen, claims I’m tight, but in my defense, I didn’t start to audibly squeak until Thatcher suggested we all order the tasting menu, which rings up half again more than the standard dinner. But I was still willing to see his wager in this dangerous game of impressing Diane, so I let it go. Then he raised the stakes again: “They have a thing here where they pair a different wine with each of the six courses. Let’s do that.” The supplement for the tasting from Topper’s Wine Spectator Grand Award would add almost the cost of each meal—per person—to the bill.
I was reaching for my nitroglycerin pills when Ellen leaned over and whispered, “Settle down, Titus." Then she mercifully bailed me out, tactfully telling Thatcher, “I don’t think we should drink that much wine. It’s late and we have to drive back.”
Posted: May 18, 2008 12:39pm ETHave Gun – Will Travel rerun, “Show of Arms” (circa 1957).
DAWN in SAN FRANCISCO’s Hotel Carlton, where the TV western’s main character, Paladin (played by Richard Boone), lives out his alter ego as a wealthy dandy (when he isn’t riding the range as a highly principled gun for hire, “the knight without armor in a savage land”).
PALADIN is playing out the last hand of an all-night poker game, which he is winning. The Chinese bellboy arrives with a box of cigar, which Paladin pays for and instructs HEY-BOY (not much politically correct about 1957) to pass out to his gambling partners.
One of the gamblers MR. BERNARD (played by character actor Ned Glass), having been particularly well-fleeced, grabs four from the box even though he is already smoking a cigar. PALADIN gives him a reproachful glance at the apparent impropriety.
BERNARD shrugs and says: “Well, I figure they’re costing me a hundred a piece, Paladin.”
PALADIN just smiles.