Hum is a tiny little hamlet, still surrounded by it’s hilltop walls, in the middle of Istria. A small remnant of medieval life clinging to it’s roots, it has entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest town in the world. While it might not be the smalled in size, it’s officially a town and has it’s own government. Getting to Hum can be a challenge, and we found ourselves backtracking the highway on local roads with signs pointing in every direction. There is no GPS out here, so we just threw caution to the wind – and maybe said a small prayer to the rakija gods – to find this hidden treasure. Seventeen turns, 3 misguided dead ends, and one near miss with a local, and we were on the right road to rakija! How’s that for the little guy! But there is more to Hum than meets the eye. This castle (really, that’s what it is, a castle and the court around it), is a center point for the now lost Glagolitic script, which is considered to be the earliest form of the written Croatian language – and be the forefather to modern Cyrillic. But…since this is a post about wine tourism, what about the wine? All around the steep and sloping hillsides, you can see the vineyards that roll on to the coastal borders of Istria. Here in Hum however, they are more known for Rakija. Rakija is the Croatian word for Grappa, and is typically made from distilling the alcohol that is produced from the leftovers of wine making, like grape skins. Here in Croatia, Rakija can also be made from a base alcohol of brandy, applejack, or other forms of fruit liquor. As we meandered around Hum, Mladen – our intrepid Funky Zagreb driver, tour guide, comic relief, and all around Mad Max replicant, pointed out the Rakjia museum & shop. Yipee! What a way to break up a long drive! Here, we tasted many of the flavors, including Biska, the most famous – made from mistletoe, or Medcina, made from honey, red wine, apple, pear, and so many more. In Croatia as well as other parts of this region, everyone makes their own Rakjia. It is a point of pride as to who makes the best, and the secret recipes are a much guarded treasure. Try as we might, we just couldn’t get the secret out, although Mladen did give us a sample of his famous walnut upon our return to Zagreb. After imbibing in several flavors, we all left, happy, warm and well stocked. And, according to legend, rakjia cures cancer, and can be used as liniment for sore muscles. I think I’ll try it! And, if you’re in the mood for a real treat, Hum hosts an annual Rakija festival every October. Bring your best attempt and share in the fun! After Hum, we were back on the road to Rovinj, and the coast. Stay tuned for the continued adventures of the Bourne […]
Now it’s no secret that I’m not a big football fan, and I try to hide from the Superbowl as much as possible. But as I drove home in the middle of the Superdome Blackout, I decided to honor the occasion with a cocktail. Ginger is one of my favorite flavors in general, and a ginger cocktail seemed like just what the doctor ordered. To achieve this concoction, I pulled a few tricks out of my sleeve. Mister Ginger Linebacker hails from Australia, and here is how you make him appear in your living room! In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle a teaspoon of a good quality orange marmalade over 3 ounces of rum. I used Republic of Jam Clementine Marmalade, which has a distinct flavor and isn’t as sweet as others. For the rum, I used my trusty Bundy, brought back from a long ago trip to Australia. A rich, dark rum, Bundaberg, a classic molasses based rum. Now, fill the shaker with ice, and pour about 3 ounces of a strong ginger beer over the muddle. I also used Bundy Ginger Beer, but you can use any strongly flavored ginger beer. Just don’t use ginger ale! Ginger ale uses the least amount of ginger and doesn’t give you the zip you need. Finally, float an ounce of ginger liquor on the top, and add a squeeze of fresh lime juice at the end. I used Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur, but there are some wonderful craft ginger liquors that you can use as well. This adds an extra punch of ginger which really is delicious. Now for the secret ingredient: Bitters come in all forms, and can impart distinctly different flavors in your cocktails. In this case, I started with 2 dashes of Scrappy’s Cardamon bitters. Cardamon is a unique flavor, and one that is present in most West Indian (and east Indian) cooking. It makes a fine partner for ginger indeed. Finally, a dash of lime bitters which is the pure essence of fresh lime, and brings out the flavors of the ginger and fresh lime juice, brightening the cocktail and giving it zing. Shake your booty and strain in to your favorite glass! Voila, a fresh Ginger Linebacker has come home to you. Stay tuned for more about bitters, and next week’s cocktail, an Old Fashioned with a modern kick! Enjoy!
Hey! We survived the end of the world! Well at least I think we did. Maybe we’re all wandering around the afterlife partying. Who knows! In honor of the non-pocolypse, I present my cocktail of the week, the Rocketship to the Moon. Based on one of my old favorites, the Tang-tini, this is a flavor explosion sure to add zip to any of your holiday parties. The astronauts drank tang, we have Rocketships! Once again, using my favorite Pithy Little Soda Works sodas, you can make this with any craft soda and vodka. I adore the Pithy sodas because they are pure in flavor, and use cane sugar. Whatever soda you choose, make sure it has a high flavor impact, and is quality. Sorry gang, no Orange Crush on this one! In the bottom of a cocktail glass, add a generous teaspoon of excellent orange marmalade. I recommend the Republic of Jam Orange Cinnamon Saffron. Pour 3 oz of orange vodka over it; I recommend Hangar One Mandarin, but use your favorite craft vodka. I use vodka since it’s a neutral flavor base. Then, add 2 parts Pithy Orange Cream Soda, and one part Pithy Vanilla Cream Soda over ice. As always, if you cannot locate Pithy, I suggest any craft soda. Change the ratio of orange to vanilla to suit your taste. Add 2-3 drops orange bitters, and stir with a cocktail spoon. Finally, float 1 oz of Cointreau on top. So curl up in front of a fire, turn on a movie, and enjoy one tonight. Happy Friday! Festive at last! Enjoy, and happy holidays! Next week, we will be creating Pom Poppers for the New Year!
Sometimes, a wine blogger needs to mix it up a bit and enjoy a delicious cocktail. After attending the Craft Spirits Carnival, and having a blast at the Republic of Jam after the Wine Bloggers Conference, I was inspired to get crafty with my growing bar and some of these amazing spirits. My friends at Pithy Little Wine Company in Paso Robles have branched out in to the craft soda business, and generously gave me some of their yummy sodas to experiment with. These amazing, old fashioned sodas have bursts of natural flavors and are made with sugar and not that icky corn syrup, and you can really taste the difference. First up: Pithy Little Soda Works Black Cherry. This rich black cherry soda is made with real cane sugar, and the black cherry and red vine licorice aromas will fill your glass as flavors of cherry candies and vanilla sparkle across your palate. With this amazing black cherry flavor, I created a Chinese Cherry New Fashioned using the Bar Keep Chinese Bitters discovered at the Craft Spirits Carnival. This line of bitters is a whole new world, with flavors like Chinese, Lavender, and Swedish Herb. While bitters were originally crated as medicinal tinctures, but are now used more as digestifs or as flavor enhancements to cocktails. These Chinese bitters are a blend of clove, fennel, cinnamon, star anise and Schezuan peppercorn, which is a classic flavoring in Chinese dishes. Adding this to a cocktail gives it an amazing kick. First, measure out 3-5 ounces of good bourbon over ice. I only had by stand by Knob Creek in the house, but the better the bourbon, the better the cocktail! How much depends on how strong you like your cocktail. Then, fill your old fashioned glass with the Pithy Black Cherry soda. Add two dashes of Chinese Bitters, and stir. Be careful not to use too much! These are strong suckers. Garnish with Republic of Jam Brandied Cherries, Marachino Cherries, or an orange slice. In fact, next year when cherries are back in season I will make my own drunken cherries! Voila! Delicious. Cheers! Next week, I will be making a Rocketship to the Moon. Stay tuned!
Fall is here! Reluctantly crouched at the starting line. To borrow a line from CAKE, I am reluctantly embracing Fall. Somehow summer passed us by and didn’t even wave hello. But here we are, at the end of September. Luckily, I have a few events to keep me busy and distracted from the cold, foggy soup out there. First up, October 13th and 14th is the first annual Craft Spirits Carnival! Brought to you by the good folks who created teh San Francisco Vintner’s Market, The Craft Spirits Carnival promises to be a one of kind tasting room for handcrafted ultra-premium spirits. I’m especially looking forward to it, as my bar is sadly empty, and I need to stock up on some great spirits. Craft spirits are wildly popular, and with well known names like Charbay and Hangar One, many other producers are offering unlimited tastings (yikes!) of over 100 spirits from some of the world’s best producers. One of the key features of this event, like the SFVM, is that if you like a spirit, you will be able to purchase that day. This is a unique opportunity to take that hooch home with you! To add a special flair to the show, there will be a carnival sideshow, featuring top aerialists, trapeze acts, fire eaters, sword swallowers, knife throwers, contortionists, burlesque, and so much more. Watch these incredible performances in the middle of the largest walk-around tasting of ultra-premium craft spirits – all included in the price of admission. Tickets for the Craft Spirits Festival are available for $125 for one day, or $200 for two days. If you HURRY you can get the early bird discount until 11pm TONIGHT for $100! If you are attending the SFVM, you can get a discount on the Craft Spirits Fair, but more on that shortly. I can’t wait, and I hope to see you there!
Did you know that Spain drink more gin per capital than even Britain? No, it’s true! Everywhere you look, there were gintonics. Every restaurant and every bar, has a special touch, and there are gintonic bars popping up that specifically focus on these beverages. In one bar, which we found ourselves taking over, had 2 pages of gintonics listed. Spain, it appears is a gin nation. Wine, although much loved and much consumed, is really secondary to the cocktail culture of the big cities. Here, you will see craft gin of all sorts, sizes, and flavors. One important factor in Spain is the use of craft tonics as mixers for this elixers. Gin, distilled from the Juniper berry, has always been one of those beverages that I shied away from because it seemed like an old man’s drink. It smelled odd, and it was oh so very British. Tonic water, which has quinine dissolved in it, began an an anti malarial tincture. Now, with the invention of synthetic quinine, and the lower amounts in the mixer, tonic is used for a distinctive bitter taste in mixed beverages. Our second night in Villafranca (just outside of Barcelona, where our press trip started) as we gathered in the bar, I saw pages of gintonics staring back at me from the menu. The night before, having tasted someone else’s drink and stared wistfully a the tiers of gin on the wall in the small but elegant hotel bar, I knew I needed to explore this. Next to them, there were several tonics. These were not your generic Schweppes tonic mind you but they were special edition infusions: pink peppercorn, orange blossom & lavender, ginger & cardamon. What were these delicious fizzies behind the bar? I promptly let myself get talked in to my first gin & tonic. These botanical tonics intrigued me, and the art of making the beverage is as beautiful as the beverage itself. Depending on the gin you order, you will get a different additon to your drink. Most often, gintonic (in Spain, forget the “and”), you get will get lime wedges or slices. However, if you order a Bombay Sapphire I found, you would get cucumbers. These might be curled, or sliced, and each bartender had a specific art. The botanical tonics added a complexity to the drink, which allowed the bartenders to be more creative. One night, as I was now hooked on the gintonic idea, I had a Hendricks with pink peppercorn tonic. With that, I had cucumber and dried juniper berries in my bowl of cold refreshment. One other such craft tonic is Fever Tree, which fortunately is available here in the states. Fever Tree is a delicious tonic, that sets Schweppes (the regular kind) on it’s head with it unique slightly citrus flavor or which counteracts the bitterness of the quinine. After tasting a different gin every night, and in fact, more than one gin on some nights, I determined that my favorite is Hendricks. I also enjoyed Bombay Sapphire, though not […]