‘Cueing Up Summer

the difibulators, a bluegrass band from nyc

Is there anything better than barbecue, bluegrass, and good booze to get you excited about summertime? Maybe ice cream. And cornhole. And great company to share in these marvelous things.

bobwhite lunch and supper counter nyc fried chicken potato salad pimento cheese sandwich

What’s better than fried chicken? Cold fried chicken. (Seriously.)

Last week, I got all that and more at Tasting Table‘s ‘Cue Up Summer party. Yes, it’s already late July. But after an intensely oppressive heat wave, I think we all needed a reason to get excited about summer again. With great food by local purveyors, twangtastic bluegrass from the Difibulators, and unlimited booze, it perfectly renewed my love of the season’s simple pleasures. (And it didn’t hurt that the day itself was unseasonably cool!)

Delaney Barbecue, brisket and ribs.

Serving up brisket and two kinds of ribs, and you still want more.

It all went down in the Elizabeth Street Garden which, under normal circumstances, is lovely enough with its antique statuary and rampant greenery. This evening, marquees strung with fairy lights sheltered tables laden with picnic pleasures—cold fried chicken, potato salad, and pimento cheese sandwiches from Bobwhite Lunch & Supper Counter; brisket, pork AND beef ribs, and fixins from Delaney Barbecue; some guilt-free gazpacho and veggies topped with Tabasco Buffalo Sauce; and amazing desserts—cookies by Mah-ze-Dahr Bakery; Imperial Woodpecker sno-balls; and massive ice cream sandwiches by Melt Bakery.

Melt ice cream sandwich s'most

There’s a marshmallow hiding in that ice cream sandwich.

And what would an outdoor summer party be without bottomless booze? Guests had their choice of Santa Margherita wines, Goose Island beers, and cocktails made with Monkey Shoulder and Hendrick’s Gin. I’m a big fan of both of the latter and stuck to those. The Hendrick’s lemonade suited my unusual preference for having lemon with Hendrick’s (and only with Hendrick’s—with other gins, it’s always lime), and the Summer Jam, mixing Monkey Shoulder with strawberry jam and lemon juice, was everything a July whisky cocktail should be—cool, slightly sweet, and far too easy to drink. Check out the recipe below.

Joshua Feldman, the Coopered Tot and whisky aficionado

Josh fits right in with the mood lighting.

My buddy Josh, of the Coopered Tot and Morgan Library whisky fame, along with some new friends, ensured that the company was as good as the comestibles. Thanks to Nick of Exposure USA for hosting with aplomb and Freddy of William Grant & Sons for sharing his extensive boozey knowledge. Summer might be half-gone already, but I plan to carry on with the outdoor eating, drinking, and merry-making, getting all I can out of the few weeks we have left.

Summer Jam
1 1/4 parts Monkey Shoulder Whisky
1/2 part fresh lemon juice
1 dollop of strawberry jam
Dash of sugar to taste
Splash of seltzer

Add all ingredients except seltzer to a shaker. Shake well. Strain into a glass with ice and top with a splash of seltzer.

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Tasting Notes: Balvenie

As a member of the Edinburgh University Water of Life Society, I am lucky enough to have some really nice whisky on a regular basis for a much cheaper price than I’d ever find elsewhere. Most weeks there’s a theme — Sherry and Chocolate for Valentine’s Day, or International Whiskies, or — the best so far — five different batches of Aberlour A’bunadh. Other weeks, we’re visited by ambassadors from various distilleries and bottlers. In the past year, I’ve enjoyed lovely tastings from Wemyss Malts, Bruichladdich, Glenfiddich, and last night (for the second time this month, actually) Balvenie.

The beginning of a very good evening

Starting with a ‘welcome dram’ of Monkey Shoulder (always a nice drinkable delight) and progressing through the Balvenie range, Andy described the history of the distillery, its innovations, and especially the genius of one man, Mr David Stewart, Malt Master for Balvenie and Glenfiddich. David is responsible for coming up with nifty little ideas like finishing whisky in a different cask than the one it’s aged in — hence beautiful drams like the 21 year old Portwood.

Balvenie Signature
Andy described this as his ‘quaffing whisky’ and I quite agree. It’s not too complex, goes down like juice, and could easily be enjoyed during a lively party.

Nose: Honey, grapes, grass, a bit of brine.

Palate: Very honeyed and sweet with some light dried fruits (more dried apricot than raisin) and citrus and a nice silky mouthfeel.

Finish: Pleasantly balanced with oak and spice.

Balvenie Single Barrel 15 (Cask # 1566)
Nose: Honey, of course, and vanilla, pear, apple, hints of gorse.

Palate: Lovely spicy-sweet interplay with vanilla, honey, hard fruits.

Finish: Very clean with the best notes of spice saved for the end, and just a hint of coconut.

Balvenie Doublewood
Andy called this a ‘gateway whisky’ — the kind of whisky that gets novices hooked. It starts its life in bourbon casks and finishes in sherry — hence the name.

Nose: Deep, rich, full of cooked apples, figs, bread pudding, butter, cinnamon.

Palate: Well fruited just as the nose suggests, but balanced by the rich vanilla of the bourbon casks.

Finish: Continuing the sweet warmth of the palate, it tapers off ever so gently.

Portwood 21
As I mentioned, this whisky (some of which is likely older than 21 years) is finished for several months in port ‘pipes’. It’s stunning.

Nose: Full of grapes and fresh rain, notes of plum.

Palate: Fruity with plum, grape, and a wee bit of rhubarb. Unbelievably silky mouthfeel.

Finish: I never wanted it to end, and it nearly didn’t. Goes on forever with a delicate nuttiness.

After enjoying all those beautiful whiskies, what better way to end the night than with a mysteriously green non-whisky concoction?

‘The Seaweed Experience’?

My friend Calum delights in buying obscure spirits from a German auction website. Evidently Celp is quite popular among the Danish. It’s put out by Lagavulin and actually doesn’t taste half bad, for all that it appears to be Kermit the Frog’s bathwater. I’m sure you’re not surprised to find out that it’s heavily peated, very briny and oily and tastes like a clam salad. You might be surprised to learn that I actually thought it quite nice! Not something I’d drink often, of course, but the kind of spirit I could see myself pouring on a chilly day when I need reminding of beaches and summertime…