'Cocktail college' opening in Scotland

It's not the same as a traditional junior year abroad, but you could study under a leading Scottish mixologist at his new "cocktail college" in Inverness, on the shores of the famous Loch Ness.

It's called Mixed Up Events. Andy Adams (right) plans to work out of the Brooklyn's bar in the city's Queensgate section, offering group sessions on the history of the classic drinks and how to make s of mixing the perfect cocktail.

“I see my cocktail academy as a fun way of learning something new and interesting and a fabulous way to relax and meet new people or get to know workmates or acquaintances better," Adams said in an interview with the Press & Journal. “Everyone gets to sample some of the classic cocktails, and then they get behind the bar and make their own from a huge range of ingredients.

“This is a first for Inverness, and the city is certainly ready for it. Cocktails are very popular here, but a lot of people are put off trying to make them themselves because they think it’s complicated or expensive, but that’s simply not the case. The equipment’s cheap. You can start with just your own or your friends’ favourite spirit, a couple of liqueurs and some fresh fruit or fruit juice and build up as you gain confidence. You can put together something that is absolutely delicious in as little as 30 seconds, and even the most complex recipes, like those used by professionals in cocktail-making competitions, can be mixed in just six minutes.”

Adams' credentials are sound. In addition to winning numerous bartending competitions, he has one of four Scots who made it to the United Kingdom finals in London of the Cocktail World Cup. Until it was sold earlier this year, he was the general manager of Rocpool Reserve, a luxury boutique hotel in Inverness. He then decided to create his own business.
Scotland's Most Expensive Cocktail
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Scottish Tourist Board
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Competition on ice in Vegas

The glass-walled vodka vault at Red Square has always gotten a lot of press coverage for the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. Now there's something else to be cool with.

It's the new Minus 5 lounge that opened this week adjacent to Mandalay Bay. It is one of a chain of such novelty drinking spots started by Craig Ling who also has two each in Australia and New Zealand, and one in Portugal. Ling said he plans to open ice lounges in New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Hawaii.

"The art of ice," as Ling calls it, is central to the theme of his bars. "We have our own ice carvers who change the lounge and sculptures every six to eight weeks." A life-sized ice statue of Elvis Presley was on display for opening day of the 2,000-square-foot place. A hunka-hunka not-burning love.

Ling apparently comes by his fascination with ice in an honest way. He is a great-grandson of Buck Rockwell, a 19th Century explorer and adventurer from New Zealand who Ling says endured a one-man expedition to circumnavigate the North Pole.

The lounge temperature, by the way, is kept at 23 degrees Farenheit; the -5 of the name actually is on the Celsius scale, so it's not as cold as one might think. Nevertheless, visitors are offered boots and parkas if they so desire. Kids are welcome, too, and the loung has a "mocktails" menu for them.

Minus 5 also has ice glasses from New Zealand, clear ice for various purposes from Canada, as well as ice couches for relaxing. Admission to the establishment is $30, which includes one cocktail and a parka, and reservations are recommended (702 / 632-7714).
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Ballet in the Sonoma Valley vineyards

William M. Dowd photos and video

SANTA ROSA, CA -- The harvest on the five Russian River Valley ranches supplying grapes to the winemakers at Sonoma-Cutrer wrapped up several weeks early this year, a testament to a good growing season.

But it also was a testament to good old-fashioned manpower.

Under the watchful eye of Javier Torres (right), the senior vineyard manager his colleagues refer to as "The Marlboro Man" because of his attire, 12-man crews made their way through the grape fields, wielding nothing more than a curved cutting knife and a lot of plastic boxes to take down an astounding one ton of grapes every 15 minutes.

"They're really amazing to watch," David Perata, Sonoma-Cutrer general manager, told me during a final-day harvest tour of the 1,100-acre complex. "They make it look effortless, but it's quite a skill to be able to work that fast that long, and without damaging the fruit.

"They work in 12-man teams -- eight to do the cutting, one to drive the tractor and three or so to handle the collection baskets, take care of any other tasks that need doing. Some of them have worked together for quite a while, so they make it a smooth operation."

It is difficult to envision the precision and speed the harvest workers use to get the delicate little chardonnay grapes from vine to the washing and sorting station. This video gives a taste of that speed:

This is the last year the scene at Sonoma-Cutrer will be seen only by employees and invited guests. The company, which is owned by beverage industry giant Brown-Forman of Louisville, KY, is targeting a spring 2009 opening for visitors.

At that point, visitors will get to see the actual work depending on what season it is -- pruning, planting, harvesting, trimming back the vines at the end of the season ... whatever is going on is at the six vineyards is what tourists will see as they are taken through the complex on special motorized carts. They'll also be treated to a tasting of current wines.

Sonoma-Cutrer, which had been a "white house" until producing a pinot noir harvest four years ago, is best known for wines created under winemaker Terry Adams (right), such as its Russian River Ranches cuvée crafted from several estate vineyards, and its Les Pierres and the Cutrer chardonnays.

They're a bit different than a lot of other Sonoma County appelation wines, since the various ranches into which the complex is divided provide a variety of soils virtually side by side. The Cutrer vineyard, located about a dozen miles from the Pacific Ocean, is planted on what once was an ocean floor.

At one time before grapes became the money crop, it was a hops operation. The triple-towered hop kiln barn seen below is what remains of that era.

Sonoma County Tourism Bureau
Sonoma County Wine Country
Russian River Chamber of Commerce
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Vegas dining very cool this time of year

Now that the heat of summer is quickly becoming a memory, destinations such as Las Vegas become more appealing than ever. I know they do to me.

Years ago, when I made my first visit to Sodom in the Desert, I wasn't prepared for the overwhelming summer heat even long after sundown. I recall a colleague and I walking out of our hotel lobby, being hit in the face with a blast of heat, doing a quick about-face and going right back inside to spend the remainder of the evening in the air-conditioned comfort of the casino.

I've learned a lot since then about when to visit Vegas, and find fall is absolutely the best. What makes this particular fall even more appealing is a new collection of restaurants.

Yes, as if Vegas didn't have enough restaurants, The Shoppes at The Palazzo -- the resort city's newest destination luxury retail center, located on the The Strip adjacent to The Grand Canal Shoppes opposite Wynn Las Vegas -- is home to more than a dozen in a sprawling complex that just opened this summer.

It includes more than a dozen restaurants, including CUT by Wolfgang Puck, Table 10 by Emeril Lagasse, Restaurant Charlie by Charlie Trotter and Carnevino by Mario Batali.

But, beyond the celebrity chef spots I'd suggest trying SUSHISAMBA (seen above), especially if you have a craving for a Japanese/Brazilian/Peruvian menu. And, let's face it, who doesn't?

The intriguingly-named SUSHISAMBA is the newest and largest of seven units in a small chain. It boasts 16-foot ceilings, swirling sculptural "ribbons," and a Mondrian-inspired glass facade meant to evoke the spirit and energy of Brazil's famous Carnaval. The menu ranges from classic Japanese tempura to Brazilian churrasco and feijoada and Peruvian anticuchos.

While that may sound like an odd combination to some people, the Japanese influence in South America -- particularly Peru (think controversial former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori) -- has long been large and influential, so a blending of the cuisines is a logical outgrowth.

Among retail shops in the complex are Barneys New York, Diane von Furstenberg, Chloé, Christian Louboutin, Michael Kors, Fendi, Jimmy Choo, Van Cleef & Arpels and Piaget.

The Shoppes at The Palazzo is owned and operated by General Growth Properties Inc., the second largest U.S.-based publicly traded real estate investment trust (REIT) and largest retail developer and owner in Las Vegas.
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Historic CA winery gets back to its roots

Concannon Vineyards in Livermore, CA, marked its 125th anniversary over the weekend by unveiling its new winemaking facility, part of a $30 million renovation project.

Showing that everything old is new again, Concannon recently purchased a new European-built basket press that works the same way as the winery's original 19th century European-built basket press. It walked away from the original press several decades ago, but now has brought its successor on line.

Concannon is owned by The Wine Group LLC, which purchased it in 2002 and is getting the company back to its roots.

"Although the Concannon Estate is one of the most advanced solar-powered, organically farmed operations in the world, we view it as a rediscovery of the past vs. a winery of the future," said David Kent, CEO of The Wine Group LLC.

In addition to the basket press, the cask room has been restored so Concannon's Petite Sirah, America's first, can be crafted the same as when the 1961 vintage wine made its debut in 1964. The room is home to 16 giant French oak casks, each holding the equivalent of 15,000 bottles of wine.

Concannon is located in the Livermore Valley east of the San Francisco Bay Area. Its winemaker is Adam Richardson (above), a Rhône-style specialist with winemaking experience in both Australia and Australia. The former Royal Australian Navy officer previously worked at the Rancho Zabaco and MacMurray Ranch wineries in California. Prior to moving to the U.S. in 1998, he worked for d’Arenberg, Oakridge Estate, Normans, and Miranda wineries in Australia.

Other renovations that have been done under The Wine Group:

• Improving the 200 acres of preserved vineyard land surrounding the winery. These vineyards were the first in the Livermore Valley to be placed under a permanent conservation easement, and are among the last few acres of their kind in the Bay Area that have not been paved over.

• A return to traditional methods of farming and crafting of grapes for Concannon's flagship wine, the Concannon Vineyard Heritage Petite Sirah. A demonstration vineyard planted with different varieties will complete the new landscape plan.

• The restoration of the historic 1883 Concannon family home, extensions to the estate's system of stone walls, patios and arbors, and the doubling in size of its park-like setting. Last year the old Victorian house, complete with mature palm trees, was moved from a now-busy traffic intersection to a new location deeper within the estate. The new front lawn has become the summer home for the Livermore Shakespeare Festival.

The final phase of the estate's redevelopment, a complete renovation of the tasting room and hospitality center, will begin early next year.
Visiting Livermore Valley Wine Country
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D.C. self-service wine bar debuts

If you dine at a Romano's Macaroni Grill restaurant anywhere in the country, you're invited to partake of the house red wine on the honor system, then let your server know how much you drank.

That's one way to do it. Ceviche Restaurant in Washington, D.C., has unveiled in its second-floor wine bar a self-serve enomatic wine system. Guests will be able to taste 24 varietals of wine by the ounce at the touch of a button.

The automated wine preservation system dispenses wine after insertion of a wine debit card purchased by the customer. Tastes range from $1.50 to $10 per ounce, with an average price of $2. The wine list will change frequently.

Ceviche is located on Wisconsin Avenue near the intersection of Calvert Street, between Georgetown and the Washington National Cathedral.
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Bar DC: Bars, lounges, nightlife
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National Beer Museum opens

If you're interested in learning all about the beer industry in the U.S., what better place to visit than the National Brewery Museum?

Of course, you'll have to get directions to little Potosi, WI, to do that. (Hint: Click here.) That's where the museum recently opened, in the setting of the Potosi Brewing Co. building that operated from 1852 to 1972.

The museum is a joint venture of the Potosi Brewery Foundation and the American Breweriana Association. Among its content are collections of beer bottles and cans, advertising materials, glasses, trays and other memorabilia.

The restoration project began in 1995 when Gary David bought the ruined buildings that cover nearly a square block. Restoration cost $7 million and was handled through the two organizations, donations and grants.

The facility also houses the Great River Road Interpretive Center and the Potosi Brewing Co. Transportation Museum. And, beer again is being brewed in the facility for five labels: Good Old Potosi, Potosi Pure Malt Cave Ale, Snake Hollow IPA, Holiday Bock and Potosi Steamer Hefe Weiss. The company also brews root beer.
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'Best of' cities survey unveiled

Miami likes to consider itself the home of The Beautiful People. Travel + Leisure magazine concurs.

The city has been named as the one with the most beautiful people, according to an online survey of "America's Favorite Cities" by the magazine. Philadelphia placed last, for the second straight year, in the list of 25 cities.

The online survey, which drew 125,000 responses, ranked 25 U.S. cities in 45 categories ranging. Here's a sampling of some of the results:

Best for a romantic getaway:Honolulu.
Best for weather: Honolulu.
Best for a wild weekend: Tie, Las Vegas and New Orleans.
Best for historical sites/monuments: Washington, D.C.
Best for friendly people: Charleston, SC.
Best for shopping: New York.
Best for the arts: New York.
Best for diversity of residents: New York.
Best skyline: New York.
Best for smart residents: Seattle.
Best affordability: San Antonio.
Best for peace and quiet: Santa Fe, NM.
Best for cleanliness: Portland, OR.
Best for a family vacation: Orlando, FL.
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They're No. 1 -- at selling the No. 1 whiskey

Jameson is the No. 1 selling irish whiskey in the world. Any guesses where more of it is sold than in any other establishment in the world?

It's an Irish pub and restaurant, of course, but this one is called The Local and is located in the Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis, MN, of all places.

Representatives of Jameson this week visited The Local to present a plaque honoring it as the top seller of their product, for the second consecutive year. In 2006, The Local sold 397 cases to win the title. In 2007, for which it now is being honored, it sold 530 cases. That translates to 6,360 bottles, an average of 17.5 bottles a day.

How does it sell so much? A specialty drink called "The Big Ginger" is a huge seller. It's a mix of Jameson and ginger ale over ice, with lemon and lime wedges, and goes for just $6.

The Local, not so incidentally, also is a gorgeous place with an authentic upscale Irish pub feel.

Note: If tequila is more your thing and you're in Minneapolis, try Barrio restaurant and bar in the same mall as The Local. It offers a selection of more than 100 tequilas, and serves them by the shot or in a wide-ranging cocktail menu.
Touring The Local
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Mrs. Washington joins the crowd

Everybody is getting into the act. Even if they've been dead for a very long time.

Martha Washington's Colonial Rum will take its place alongside a whiskey created at the reconstructed George Washington distillery in Mount Vernon, VA.

The limited edition spirit, produced in 2005, will debut at Mount Vernon on Monday, Sept. 15. Commemorative bottles of the rum will be auctioned at a Sept. 24 event to benefit Mount Vernon’s educational programs.

The colonial-style rum, handcrafted by a group of master distillers from some of the nation's top distilleries, was fermented from black strap molasses imported from St. Croix and distilled in an 18th-century pot still over an open fire at the site of the George Washington Distillery. It has been aging on the grounds since then.

The distillery is located at 5513 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway (State Route 235), three miles south of Mount Vernon’s main entrance.
Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens
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From forest to flask

I originally wrote this story for Whisky Magazine. For my pictorial version, go here.

William M. Dowd photos

In most of life’s undertakings, patience is a virtue. In whisky making, it is a requirement.

And, in this era of worldwide efforts to improve the sustainability of the environment, it is becoming an absolute necessity.

It was a gray day as we stood on the Victors Point ridge high above a gentle curve in the Mississippi River not far from the boyhood Missouri home of the iconic writer Mark Twain. Dr. Bill Lumsden picked up an acorn, held it between two fingers and observed to me, “Just think, in a hundred years or so this could be part of Glenmorangie whisky.”

Now, that is long-range thinking. It also is part of The Glenmorangie Co.’s corporate mantra: sustainability of the forests, a zero-waste production stream, and a continued excellence of product.

We were in the mostly-rural U.S. state of Missouri -– far from the state’s two true population centers of St. Louis and Kansas City. It was part of a Lumsden-guided tour for a small international group of beverage journalists to more fully understand the yin and yang of Scotch whisky and wood.

The tour itself offered a study in smalltown Americana surrounded by heavy oak-growth woods in the Ozark Mountains. There, Glenmorangie works with the Missouri Conservation Department as well as private commercial loggers to select white oak trees for the barrels that eventually will hold its new whiskies -– after, of course, they have been seasoned by helping American bourbon mature for four to eight years.

The wood cannot be discounted in the whisky-making process, no matter whether it is Scotch, American, Irish, Canadian or anything else. Most in the industry concur that aging in wood accounts for perhaps 60% of the taste of the finished product and, of course, for all of the beautiful hues of gold, amber and copper that result from the chemical interaction of spirit and wood.

“I’ve experimented with putting new-make whisky into various woods,” said Lumsden. “You never know when something pleasing will come out of it.”

Lumsden had the opportunity in the mid- to late-1990s to try swamp, burr, chinkapin and post oaks in prototype barrels that had been air-dried for 18 months.

“There’s a high degree of spiciness in the swamp oak, and the burr oak has a pleasantly oiliness, almost buttery. The others didn’t provide much difference from American white oak.”

Most people refer to Lumsden as the master distiller for the highland distillery located in Tain, Ross-shire, Scotland, but his title recently was broadened to “head of distilling and whisky creation.” That’s a fancy way of saying he is Morangie whisky.

Any complaints from traditionalists about his experimentations?

“Oh, some, but I put it down to jealousy,” Lumsden said with a twinkle.

While the vast bulk of wood used for aging Glenmorangie whiskies is American white oak, German Black Forest oak also is used. With perhaps 90 different types of oaks in the world, plus the fact that numerous distillers also employ second-use sherry oak casks for aging some products, wood can be Lumsden’s playground for a long time to come.

The process for taking wood from the forests to the whisky aging warehouses is as straightforward as it has been for centuries: Select the right tree, cut and shape it into the proper dimensions for barrels, assemble the casks, toast or char them, seal them against leakage, and send them on their way.

What has changed tremendously, however, is the quality and precision of each step in a world that only in recent decades has become attuned to the necessity for preserving natural resources.

Kristen Goodrich is a resource forester with the state of Missouri who supervises, among other tracts, the Edward Anderson Conservation Area outside the little town of Hannibal where Mark Twain created the immortal characters of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I met her on the Lumsden trek.

“We have to manage the forests or they’ll die out in wide patches,” she explained. “That’s why we cut on maybe a 15-year cycle, during which we can track growth of various trees, thin out the stands of wood where we need to so the proper amount of sunlight can get through to the stronger trees, and so we can prevent disease. Luckily, this area is fairly pest- and disease-free.”

The foresters attempt to encourage slow growth in trees, which results in fewer large holes in the wood and thus stronger, less porous wood for barrels. In addition, slow growth oak has more vanillins and oak lactones that help flavor the whiskies, and white oak contains a substance called tyloses that naturally blocks the sap-conducting pores of the wood.

Nutrient-poor soil is an inherent growth inhibitor, but the amount of competition among trees for growing space, water and sunlight is managed by selective cutting and trimming.

Once the trees are felled, they’re shipped off to sawmills, such as a large facility in nearby Novelty, Missouri, one of three mills owned by the Cardwell Lumber Co., and located about 20 miles from nowhere in particular.

It’s a state-of-the-art complex, opened in December 2007. Leroy Cardwell, founder and owner of the mills, explains it this way:

“The saying is that you have to build three houses before you really get it right. Well, this mill is our third one and I think we absolutely got it right.”

Much of the automated equipment was designed and built on the grounds by Cardwell’s son, Mark, an obviously gifted craftsman. Sawing, trimming, pressure fitting … virtually everything is guided by computers, although a sizeable workforce continues to be needed to coax and prod and direct the wood through the maze of steps, a good thing in an area with few opportunities for employment.

Some of the less mechanical steps are done by a group of Amish workers. Those men, distinguished by the plain clothes, straw hats and beards in their sect of what generally is known in the U.S. as “Pennsylvania Dutch,” are among the best workers because of their closed society’s widely praised work ethic.

Nevertheless, the smoothness of the operation is guided by the custom-built machinery.

“Mark crafted everything in that building up there,” said Bob Russell, pointing to an unprepossessing metal structure on the edge of the sawmill yard. “They hauled the pieces down here to the main mill and everything fit perfectly.”

Russell is manager of mill operations for the Blue Grass Cooperage Co., the largest barrel-making facility of its kind in the world. The 63-year-old Louisville, Kentucky, company -– owned by Brown-Forman -- works with Moet-Hennessy-owned Glenmorangie to meet barrel specifications. Russell is a walking encyclopedia of wood cutting techniques and wood waste management processes.

“One of the things that has saved a large percentage of wood is the thinner, sharper saw bands that have been installed here at Cardwell,” he explained. “With a narrower cut, there is less sawdust and fewer splinters, and consequently fewer pieces of wood wasted.

“Actually, in the final count there is zero waste overall because even scraps, splinters, chips and sawdust have other uses such as for fuel, animal bedding, and other products.”

At the mill, logs are cut into manageable lengths, stripped of bark to reduce the amount of blade-dulling dirt and pebbles, cut in half and then in half again in what is known as a quarter-sawing technique rather than flat sawing. It exposes the grain in the proper direction to promote good leaching during whisky aging. Those pieces then are run through devices that shape them into barrel-length staves for the 50-gallon casks.

Some shorter scrap becomes “headers,” the name used for both the tops and bottoms of the barrels. They are planed to create tongue-in-groove edges, pressure-squeezed into squares, then cut into circular shapes with the guidance of a laser-light circle.

Then it was on to the Blue Grass Cooperage where a half-million barrels are turned out each year. It is where the actual barrel shape comes into existence, with an assembly line of younger workers arranging rings of 32 staves with such grace and economy of movement the process appears almost dance-like.

“This is a job for young men,” explained a supervisor. “It pays better than a lot of other jobs, but it’s physically difficult and after six or eight years you often move on to other stations.”

Indeed, as we moved through the process it was apparent that the less physically wearing tasks were handled by older workers -– things like moving barrels on and off conveyers, driving forklifts, stacking headers that had been coated with beeswax then run through a charring flame.

The charring of the barrels in huge gas-fired ovens is a mesmerizing sight. Rows of open-ended barrels are shuttled through the chambers on steel conveyer belts, pausing long enough for roaring tongues of flame to leap through them in controlled bursts that impart the charred interior that will release the characteristics of the wood into the aging whiskies.

As the barrels come out of the oven, the pop and hiss of burning wood can be heard, showers of tiny sparks quickly cooling as the ambient temperature of the factory floor counteracts the 500°F (260°C) atmosphere the barrels had just left.

Just as the wood that went into making the barrels has had its provenance coded, stamped and logged, each barrel receives a serial number and can be tracked for its entire useful life.

So, in the final analysis, is all this maneuvering really worth the effort?

To quote the aforementioned Mr. Twain, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”
Hannibal, MO -- America's Home Town
Missouri Very Small Towns & Villages
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