Courtesy of Silk Road Teas
Americans are rarely behind the times when it comes to cultural trends, but our relationship with tea has lagged since the very beginning. Fortunately, two stateside enterprises are attempting to change all that, taking wildly different approaches from opposite sides of the country.
The Innovator: PressTea (New York)
Coffee’s had its third wave, so why not tea? This year-old café from Taiwanese founders (and cousins) George Kuan and siblings Richard and Patty Chen is leading the charge with espresso-style drinks made of proprietary blends of black, green and Rooibos teas sourced in Taiwan, China and India. Using an entirely new mechanism that resembles an espresso machine, these young experts are turning out clever riffs on hot and cold coffee classics. Consider a black “teapuccino,” with rose simple syrup; a Formosa macchiato; a Rooibos latte or an iced-coffee-style Mont Blanc chai, each made from a thick, concentrated shot that uses seven to ten times more tea than the average sachet. The result is a delicious, wholesome concoction that any third-wave barista would appreciate. New for the summer is a collection of FizTeas (carbonated iced tea), including green-tea lemonade, pineapple chai and mango Rooibos. Their tea-infused pastries, also made in-house, shouldn’t be missed. 167 Seventh Ave. S.; 212-888-6666; presstea.com.
The Traditionalist: Silk Road Teas (San Rafael, California)
Don’t mistake “traditional” for “conventional”—this outfit is anything but. Founded 22 years ago by a traveler in search of the very best teas, Silk Road—now owned and run by husband-and-wife team Ned and Catherine Heagerty—sells the finest-grade tea available in the United States. Their rare and artisan offerings are all small-lot (limited quantity), domestic grade (highest quality), unblended (from a single plant) fresh teas (minimally processed according to local custom), picked every year at the end of March (the time of the coveted first pluck) and sourced directly from China’s remotest farmers. Their inventory, as a result, is entirely unique, the flavor profiles complex and nuanced, vibrant and unadulterated. It takes only one pot of their very rare (and very expensive) Snow Dragon or Drum Mountain Clouds & Mist ($380 a pound) to taste the difference. 415-458-8624; silkroadteas.com.
The history of the gin and tonic is a simple one. In the 1800s, British officers found that adding water, sugar, lime and gin to quinine—their malaria medication—made the bitter-tasting drug more palatable. Two centuries later, the cocktail is still sipped around the world. But, like any good thing with humble beginnings, there’s always room for improvement.
Dave Arnold, of New York’s Booker and Dax (202 Second Ave.; 212-254-3500; momofuku.com), has spent years reinventing the drink, searching for new ways to recreate its signature balance of bitter, sweet, acidic and refreshing. “What is compelling is that it’s seemingly very simple—ubiquitous, but often very bad,” he says. “The simpler something is, the more difficult it is to cover flaws. It’s why they’re also the hardest things to do well.”
Recently, bartenders across the country have taken up the challenge, sparking what just might be the next cocktail craze.
Oceana, New York
With more than 45 bottles on its back bar, Oceana has long had a fondness for gin. In the last year, wine director Pedro Goncalves has upped the ante on his gin-and-tonic program, trading unbalanced mainstream tonic for his own housemade versions. The four types—spicy, sweet, bitter and citrus—are made with quality ingredients (cinchona bark; lemongrass; clove; lemon, orange and lime peels); each is paired with a recipe and a specific gin: St. George Botanivore, Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve, Nolet’s and Greenhook Ginsmiths, respectively. 120 W. 49th St.; 212-759-5941; oceanarestaurant.com.
Flintridge Proper, Los Angeles
Flintridge Proper owner Brady Caverly sticks with one tonic (Fever Tree) and lets the gins speak for themselves. Try one of the “improved” gin and tonics here, which pair six different gins with two complementing fruits, herbs or botanicals (lavender and serrano pepper, blueberry and sage). With more than 200 bottles in its collection (the country’s largest), the bar is the perfect place for gin doubters to discover what works for them, whether it’s floral, cucumbery Hendrick’s or earthy, peppery Caorunn. 464 Foothill Blvd.; 818-790-4888; theproper.com.
Paper Plane, Atlanta
At this hot spot, bartender Paul Calvert has refurbished the classic G&T by avoiding tonic all together. First developed as a cold-weather answer to the original, the Brief Hibernation uses a mix of Salers gentian liqueur, Cocchi Americano, Dolin Génépy, Royal Dock Navy Strength gin and lime juice to hit all the notes—refreshing, dry, crisp and sour. 340 Church St.; 404-377-9308; the-paper-plane.com.
The Macallan Masters of Photography Elliott Erwitt Edition
If there’s one thing that excellent photography and choice Scotch have in common, it’s the knowledge that timing is everything. For the fourth edition of its Masters of Photography collection, The Macallan offers its most ambitious campaign yet, releasing 58 brand-new single-cask whiskies in collaboration with photographer Elliott Erwitt, who recognizes that it’s more than just timing that the two crafts share. “It’s the ability to create something extraordinary out of the ordinary,” he says.
The brand commissioned the photographer to record the spirit of Scotland in 158 images shot from around the country. Fifty-eight of his favorite photographs were then paired with a limited-edition Scotch, handpicked by the brand’s whisky maker Bob Dalgarno.
“I always say that whisky enables you to take a journey,” Dalgarno says. “Upon the initial nosing I was able to picture myself in the frame [of Erwitt’s images]. This allowed me to use the whisky to help describe the surroundings.”
For instance, a photograph of a nude woman running on a beach was paired with a whisky displaying “no inhibitions,” characterized by hints of salt and a “cheeky sweet vanilla core.” Each of the single malts comes in a handmade glass flask tucked within the pages of Erwitt’s photo-archival book ($1,500). The corresponding 11-inch-by-14-inch print signed by the photographer completes the package. Only 35 of each of the exclusive pairings were made. themacallan.com.
Courtesy of Casa Dragones
As if an elegant bottle of Casa Dragones tequila isn’t enough, the exclusive spirit meant for sipping (not shooting) is offering even more this holiday season. Its special gift box ($275), packaged in the brand’s signature blue, contains a bottle of the 100-percent blue-agave Joven tequila along with a pair of custom Riedel glasses—hand-engraved in traditional Mexican pepita style—made especially for tasting.
Produced in small batches, Casa Dragones was founded in 2008 (CEO Bertha González Nieves is the first female maestra tequilera) and begins with silver tequila, which is finished with a touch of extra añejo that has mellowed in American oak barrels for five years. The result is a superbly smooth flavor (the expected bite is nearly nonexistent)—and a perfect addition to any collection. casadragones.com/gift.
Courtesy of Glenmorangie
In 1987, Glenmorangie released a revolutionary single-malt Scotch whisky that had been aged in not only a standard American oak barrel but also in a former sherry cask. The use of two different types of barrels, which the company claims was the first of its kind for a Scotch, has now become a standard technique—and that 1963 vintage has become legendary.
To commemorate this pioneering spirit, the brand is releasing 50 bottles ($3,600 each) of the whisky, 20 of which will be available in the United States starting in November. “The re-release of Glenmorangie 1963 gives single-malt whisky aficionados a unique opportunity to own and enjoy a truly groundbreaking Scotch whisky,” says brand director Maxime Balay.
The aroma of toasted coconut, vanilla fudge, cherries, dates, marzipan and walnuts characterizes the nose. It is rich yet easy to drink, with fruit flavors (pineapple, caramelized oranges) mingling with sharp spices like cinnamon, cloves and ginger. Sophisticated, a bit complicated and rare, 1963 might be the most interesting dram you pour this year. glenmorangie.com.
George Clooney’s signature is barely legible in the lower left-hand corner of the Casamigos label, which is fine because his involvement in this excellent tequila is sort of beside the point. In fact, that is the last time I’ll mention Clooney and his Casamigos cofounder, Rande Gerber, entrepreneur and husband of Cindy Crawford (whose signature is on the right-hand side of the label). It’s for the good of the brand’s reposado and blanco tequilas: Neither deserves to be grouped with celebrity-backed booze like Danny DeVito’s Limoncello and Diddy’s Cîroc coconut-flavored vodka.
You can taste the agave in both the oaked an un-oaked versions—rich, sweet and slightly vegetal, extending through a long and uncommonly smooth finish. The reposado in particular is the kind of bottle that disappears at parties, spirited off the bar by a discerning drinker who takes one sip, understands they’ve hit the jackpot and finishes whatever is left in a corner with a friend or a significant other. I’ve watched this happen twice, followed, on both occasions, by an inquiry from the offenders asking where they could get more of “that George Clooney tequila.” So I’ll invoke Gerber and Clooney just once more, this time with a humble request: Please send more. casamigostequila.com.
Annie Leibovitz for The Macallan Masters of Photography
Combining singular whisky with standout photography, The Macallan Masters of Photography series marks its third installment with a quartet of images by Annie Leibovitz accompanying four single-cask Scotches. Featuring actor Kevin McKidd, who hails from Elgin, Scotland, and currently stars on Grey’s Anatomy, the images were shot in and around New York with nods to the Scottish heritage.
The campaign pairs 1,000 bottles of limited-edition whiskies ($2,750 each) with an 11-by-14-inch print signed by Leibovitz that echoes the mood of its corresponding Scotch. (The photographs also appear on the labels.) A spicy 1989 Sherry Butt has aromas of chocolate, oranges and dates and teams up with a smoldering shot of McKidd in the private upstate gallery of artist Frederic Edwin Church, whose Niagara Falls, from the American Side hangs in the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh. The 1991 Sherry Oak Puncheon highlights ginger and cinnamon on the palate, and apples, oak and dried fruits on the nose, and is paired with a photo of McKidd shot in the convivial Red Dot Bar in Hudson, New York. The 1995 Sherry Oak Hoghead, characterized by toasted apple, ginger and oak, accompanies a shot reminiscent of novelist Sir Walter Scott’s library at his home in Abbotsford, Scotland. And an image of the actor above Tudor City accompanies the 1996 American Oak Butt, which tastes of oak, cinnamon, toffee and citrus.
Lending further authenticity to the story, McKidd once worked for the distillery as a young man—a connection that forges an even deeper bond between the bottles and the vision. “Working with one of the world’s most influential photographers has exceeded all expectations,” says Ken Grier, director of malts at spirits company The Edrington Group. “Annie Leibovitz has captured The Macallan moment in her own unique way.” themastersofphotography.com; themacallan.com.
Ice, Ice, Baby. Photo courtesy of Moët & Chandon.
Tennis's US Open is no stranger to fashion faux pas: See Andre Agassi's pleated-denim-over-spandex getup, anything Bethanie Mattek-Sands wears and countless spectators who show up dressed ready to play, as if Rafael Nadal just might ask them to hit a few balls at any moment. This year, the tournament is serving what many wine snobs would consider a beverage blunder: Champagne on the rocks. But this is no sparkling slip-up. Served in large white goblets, Moët & Chandon's new Ice Imperial—a semisweet bubbly blended specifically for drinking over ice—is making the rounds at Flushing Meadows. It's been free-flowing in the Moët & Chandon VIP suite and is being poured, for $22 a glass, at the champagne bar in front of Arthur Ashe Stadium. Our assessment: A few cubes smoothed and mellowed the drink, unleashing a tropical fruit salad of flavor—just the thing for enduring the Open's sunniest days. moet.com.
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