Thursday, September 29, 2011

Shackleton's Cookie

Many whisky fans are familiar with the story of Shackleton's Whisky. During an Antarctic excavation, several boxes of unopened Scotch were found in a hut that had been abandoned during Sir Ernest Shackleton's unsuccessful 1907 expedition to the South Pole. The whisky was flown to Scotland where it was tasted by Whyte & Mackay Master Blender Richard Paterson who used it to create a replica whisky that is now on sale.

But did you know there is also a Shackleton cookie? A cookie from the same expedition was recovered and sold at auction for nearly $2,000. Think this is one of my parodies? Think again. They've even made a replica of a similar cookie, but no word on Paterson's involvement.

What other crap can we reproduce from Shackleton's expedition?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sku's Q&A: Single Malt Whiskey vs. Straight Whiskey

Here's a question I recently received that I thought was worth sharing:

Sku, I know that a single malt Scotch has to come from just one distillery or else it's a blend, but what about an American "straight whiskey"? Does a straight bourbon or rye have to come from just one distillery as well?

That's a great question. Because the definition of single malt is more well known to whiskey consumers, I think many people assume that straight bourbons and ryes also must come from a single distillery, but that is not the case. According to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) regulations, straight whiskey can include "mixtures of straight whiskies of the same type produced in the same State." 27 C.F.R. § 5.22(b)(1)(iii).

Therefore, you can mix bourbons from two different distilleries together and still call it "straight bourbon" as long as both bourbons were distilled in the same state. Indeed, that is the case with Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select, which includes bourbon distilled at the Brown-Forman distillery in Shively, Kentucky and the Woodford Reserve distillery in Versailles, Kentucky.

If a bottler combines straight whiskeys from different states, they have to call it a "blend of straight whiskeys." 27 C.F.R. § 5.22(b)(5).

Monday, September 26, 2011

Blog Changes

We're making some changes here at Sku's Recent Eats. No, I haven't yet sold to the Shanken Group and changed the name of the blog to The Sku Aficionado. My changes are much less drastic and sadly, much less lucrative, but there are changes nonetheless.

The End of Whiskey Wednesday

When I started the blog it was principally a food blog with a whiskey post every Wednesday. As the blog has evolved, I find I have more to say about whiskey than food, and I no longer want to confine my whiskey posts to a mere one day per week, so while we will still have whiskey on Wednesdays, we might have whiskey Mondays or Thursdays. For that reason, I'm retiring the title of Whiskey Wednesday (and don't worry, food posts will continue as always but, hey, I'm trying to stay healthy here).

New Lists

A few months ago, I moved my Complete List of American Distilleries and Brands to a new page. I've now added another page entitled List of American Whiskeys which is an alphabetical list of all of the currently available (in the US) American whiskey brands and who makes them. It's largely the same information as the distilleries and brands list, but listed by whiskey brand name instead of by distillery/company, and with a bit more speculation about what is actually in the bottle.

I've also combined all of my whiskey links into a links
page. I will try to do the same for my food links as well.

My next project will be to try and come up with an FAQ page that combines some of the random FAQs from former posts that I have listed now.

Thanks to all my readers for their patience with my low-tech blog. If anyone has suggestions (or if Shanken finally wants to cut me a check), please feel free to email me or leave comments.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Macarons on Larchmont - 'lette Macarons

'lette Macarons, the popular macaron shop with branches in Beverly Hills and Pasadena, recently opened a shop on Larchmont Boulevard. Needless to say, I had to check it out.

'lette (the name is short for the owner's name - Paulette) doesn't just specialize in macarons, the colorful and increasingly popular little French sandwich cookies, it's literally all they sell, though they come in a variety of flavors. I picked up a healthy sampling.

Overall, the macarons were good (it's tough to make a bad one) but a bit too sweet. Comparing them to my current favorite macarons from Bouchon Bakery, the fillings in the 'lette macarons have a heavier cream in the middle, more like traditional sandwich cookies than the light, airy fillings that you find in the best macarons. My favorites were the passionfruit and coconut which had strong flavors and were a bit less sweet.

The pricing at this place is very odd. One macaron costs $1.70 but the price for two is $4 (more than double the price of one?!?). A box of six will cost you $10.50, again, more than the cost of six individual macarons. Someone at 'lette HQ should work this out. It's fine not to give people a savings, but charging more for bigger purchases is downright silly.

'lette Macarons
122 N Larchmont Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90004
(323) 469-3620

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Sad Decline of Wine & Liquor Depot

A few years ago, Wine & Liquor Depot in Van Nuys was the destination for whiskey in the LA area. The shop boasted what was probably the largest selection of independent bottlings of single malt Scotch in the nation. There were hundreds of Cadenheads, Murray McDavids, Douglas Laings and others. The indie bottles were densely stuffed together on two long rows of shelves. It was like Scotch heaven. They also had a great selection of American whiskey, not to mention a lot of brandies, tequila and mezcal.

The store seems like it's been in a slow decline for a while, but it was really driven home to me on my last visit. The rows of indies have been picked over and not restocked, and there are precious few left. Cheap blends and gin now occupy space which formerly held much of the massive indie collection.

There is still a good collection of distillery bottlings and a small collection of rarities. You can get a Loch Dhu, if you dare, a few old Springbanks or George T. Staggs from years past, and the Black Bowmore still sits on its pedestal, out of reach in both height and price.

But the Depot was always about the indies. That's what made it special and what made it a destination for Scotch lovers from across the region and even the country. Now, it's just another pretty good liquor store.

I'm not sure why this happened. It could be the retirement of the former owner; certainly the recession may have played a role or the increased competition as whiskey became bigger and bigger.

There was a time when I looked forward all month to a Depot trip and could easily spend an hour going through their huge stock. That the shop was buried in an unlikely corner of Van Nuys and that it didn't seem to advertise or make any attempt to promote itself whatsoever (or even offer passable customer service) was all part of the charm.

I still go occasionally, but more often than not, I leave empty handed (which never used to happen). Luckily for us LA whiskey geeks, K&L started stepping up its game just as the Depot was entering its decline, so there is no lack of good whiskey to be had, but I must admit, I miss the trips up to Van Nuys, the low key vibe and the still unrivaled selection of years past. But all things must change, I suppose, even one's favorite liquor store.

UPDATE:  As noted in the comments, Wine & Liquor Depot changed ownership in 2016 and the new owners have said they are working to improve the selection.  With any luck, it will return to some of its former glory.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Introducing a Real Craft Whiskey

I know I've occasionally been a critic of the craft whiskey movement, but I know when it's time to jump on the bandwagon, so I am proud to introduce my own craft whiskey. Here's all the information you need for your press releases and tweets.

Sku's Great Grandpappy's Down Home Real California Sippin' Whiskey.

Sku is proud to present Sku's Great Grandpappy's Down Home Real California Sippin' Whiskey. Back when Sku's Great Grandpappy first settled in California, it was only nachural for him to start makin' traditional California-style Rye Whiskey, but unlike most old-time moonshiners, Great Grandpappy had a special formula using only the best California rye, corn, barley, water and yeast. Well, a few years ago we found Great Grandpappy's formula in the attic and we decided that if he hadn't been gunned down by the rev'nue officers and was still around today, he'd want us to make his whiskey, a real down home sippin' whiskey made by kin.

After many hard months of of foolin' with stills, washes and whatnot, we are proud to introduce Sku's Great Grandpappy's Down Home Real California Sippin' Whiskey, the only down home sippin' whiskey from California. Sku's Great Grandpappy's Down Home Real California Sippin' Whiskey is the real thing, and it'll knock your socks off. It's 95% rye and 5% barley and it's been aged just a hair more than a crewcut. Now we could easily sell this whiskey for $80 or $90, but Great Grandpappy wouldn't take a shine to that; he'd want you to buy it now for only $79.99. So grab a bottle, take a swig and you'll be drinkin' like Great Grandpappy in no time.

Sku's Great Grandpappy's Down Home Real California Sippin' Whiskey, Inc., a subsidiary of Sku's Golf, Pharmaceutical & Spirits Industries, 58 Madison Ave. Suite 3082, New York, NY. A product of Indiana; aged 4.7 months; 375 ml. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Yee Haw!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Vegas Journal: Whiskey & Chips at Delmonico

I always try to sniff out a good whiskey list while in Vegas. Last year, the best I found was the excellent bar at CraftSteak in the MGM. This trip I was staying further up the Strip, but found a very good whiskey selection at Delmonico Steakhouse in the Venetian, an Emeril Lagasse restaurant.

The Delmonico whiskey list didn't include the absurdly upscale rarities that CraftSteak had (e.g. Macallan Lalique and malts from the '30s) or the selection of independent bottlings, but it had a very nice selection of currently available distillery bottled whiskeys. The list, kept in a small binder and divided by country and region, included at least a half dozen Springbanks and all of the currently available Ardbegs (including the Alligator). The American whiskeys included the complete lines of Van Winkle (including the 23 year old decanter) and High West. Prices at Delmonico are fairly reasonable for Vegas, and the bar staff was friendly but not that engaging about the whiskey list.

And if you sit at the bar, grab an order of the homemade truffle parmesan potato chips, which are possibly the world's best bar snack. The chips are thin cut and covered with crumbled parm. The truffle flavor is probably from a jar, but it's just lightly sprinkled and not drowned in truffle oil like so many other dishes. Each bite gives you crunchy chip, salty cheese and a bit of truffle funk....good stuff.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Random Vegas Thoughts - Coffee & Gelato

In reflecting on my Vegas trip, there are a few things I wonder about.

Why is there no great coffee in Vegas?

There is probably a greater concentration of good restaurants on the Strip than in any other similarly sized area in the country, but the coffee choices are downright embarrassing. There are passable espresso drinks but not a single third wave type coffee joint. It's ridiculous to go to places of the caliber, for instance, of Bouchon Bakery and have your pastry accompanied by a cappuccino that's not much better than Starbuck's. Even though the Strip is chronically unhip, this should still be a no-brainer for someplace like Intelligentsia or Stumptown. They would be swamped.

What's with all the gelato?

The other weird thing about Vegas is the plethora of mediocre gelato. It seems like each casino has three or four gelato places. Why gelato? When did it become so popular? And do you really need the 80 flavors that most places seem to carry? The cure for this is the awesome frozen custard at Luv It which is a bit north of the Strip and has become my regular stop for dessert after Lotus of Siam. If you go, order a Western sundae or a heavy shake. These are especially satisfying given that we really don't have any frozen custard in LA.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Whiskey Wednesday: Why I'll Never be a Malt Maniac

For those of you who don't know the Malt Maniacs, they are no less than the world's most respected single malt tasting society. Founded by Johannes Van Den Heuvel sometime in the late nineteenth century, the Malt Maniacs are an international organization whose annual whisky ratings are among the most influential in the world.

Nearly all of the top whisky bloggers and commentators are members. I'm talking Serge Valentin, Chris Bunting, Dave Broom, Tim Puett, Oliver Klimek, Mark Gillespie, Davin de Kergommeaux, the recently inducted Ralfy Mitchell, and the list goes on and on. Think of a well known single malt blogger and they are probably a member.

But the trick to the Malt Maniacs is you can't just join the club. Like the Knighthood, the Papacy and the Skull & Bones society, you have to be chosen. I'm not sure what process is used to select members, but I'm pretty sure the selection takes place in a weeks long closed door meeting somewhere in Luxembourg and involves some sort of animal sacrifice and a haggis.

Obviously, having a proven taste for whisky and a finely toned palate are two criteria for being a Malt Maniac, but what, you may ask, are the disqualifiers? Well, I've come up with the top ten reasons why Sku is not now and likely will never be a Malt Maniac.

10. Every time a new epistle is published, he sends an angry email complaining about misspelling of the word whiskey.

9. Not clear on the difference between Ulf Buxrud and Ian Buxton, if there is a difference.

8. Spends a lot of time poking fun at their members.

7. Told friends in New York that root canals at the Jazz Dentist were pretty much all done to a soundtrack of piped in Anthony Braxton tracks.

6. Doesn't have a goatee.

5. Not sure he can do a fair rating of 250 2ml samples.

4. Has no opinion on the impact of barometric pressure at different levels of the Port Ellen warehouse in the summer of 1978.

3. Six words: Jim Murray Fan Club Charter Member.

2. Once drank a 40% abv chill filtered single malt.

And the number one reason Sku will never be a Malt Maniac:

1. He secretly suspects single malt Scotch is just poorly made bourbon.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Vegas Report: Bouchon Las Vegas

Last time I was in Vegas, the Bouchon Bakery was our go-to breakfast and snack spot. This time, we tried the Bouchon restaurant for breakfast, twice. (Yes, they have Bouchon in LA, but it doesn't serve breakfast.)

Bouchon is located off the Venetzia lobby, which is one floor above the Venetian lobby. The ambiance is a bit more laid back than the Beverly Hills location. Since one of my favorite dishes in LA was the boudin noir, I thought I'd try the boudin blanc for breakfast. I was not disappointed. Served with perfectly prepared scrambled eggs, the white sausage was butter-soft and had a melt in your mouth quality that I've seldom experienced with breakfast sausage. The spicing was mild, but there was an essential meatiness that came through. It was almost like a pate in a casing, but fluffier.

The corn beef hash was also excellent. Consisting of perfectly brunoised cubes of corn beef and potato. Unlike some hashes which are more of a mush, the individual cubes made this more like a beautiful meat succotash, dotted with parsley and nicely spiced.

The hash comes with two eggs; I had them over easy and they were utterly perfect- whites were soft but not runny and a mere pin prick of the fork released the yolk. Bouchon definitely knows how to cook eggs.

The toast and croissants were fine though not exceptional, but slathered with the sweet and tangy marmalades (we had peach and pineapple) anything would have been good.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Vegas Report: Hot 'n Juicy Crawfish

Had a long weekend in Vegas and made my way to Hot 'n Juicy Crawfish in Vegas' Chinatown. Hot 'n Juicy specializes in Louisiana style shrimp and crawfish boils. You pick your seasoning and spice level and they come in a big plastic bag which you eat right on the table with a roll of aper towels to sop up the grease.

We got 2 pounds of crawfish with the hot 'n juicy seasoning (a combination of all of their seasoning). At medium spice, these things were lip burning hot and had tons of flavor. They are weighed down with what must be a pound of garlic, butter and various spices. The seasoning was as good as crawfish boils Ive had in Louisiana, but the mud bugs themselves were pretty puny. Even in the best of circumstances, you get a pretty low yield for your work when shelling crawfish, but with these tiny characters, it was more work for less fish. The corn, cooked in the same boil, was excellent, sweet and juicy and spicy but not too soggy, which can be a problem for corn in a seafood boil.

We also got some nicely fried catfish with a cornmeal breading and some acceptable fries. There are two Hot 'n Juicys on Spring Mountain Road just a few blocks apart. The closest one to the Strip is about a mile and a half west of mid-Strip (where the Mirage is). My only real complaint was I wish they had better beer. These hot and spicy crawfish would have gone well with a full-bodied, flavor-forward beer, but all they offered were the big brands.

Hot 'n Juicy Crawfish
3863 Spring Mountain Road
Las Vegas, NV 89102
(702) 750-2428

4810 Spring Mountain Road
Las Vegas, NV 89102
(702) 891-8889

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Whiskey Wednesday: Manhattan in a Bottle

Barrel aged cocktails are a fairly new development on the cocktail scene. I first heard about them last year from Oregon based bartender and (now mostly inactive)cocktail blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler who posted about his experience putting cocktails into oak barrels. Morgenthaler experimented with Manhattans and Negronis and reported that after five to six weeks, the oak casks had significantly enhanced the cocktail, adding oak notes and tannins, melding flavors and smoothing the impact of the vermouth.

Shortly thereafter, I heard that David Perkins at High West had done the same thing with Manhattans but was only selling them at the distillery. Now, High West is more widely distributing the barrel aged Manhattan and they recently arrived in California where the going price is around $45.

High West's barreled Manhattan, 36th Vote, is named to commemorate its home state of Utah's vote that sealed the deal for the repeal of prohibition. It's made from two parts High West Double Rye, one part sweet vermouth and two dashes of Angostura bitters for every 2.5 ounces. It then goes into a two year old rye whiskey barrel where it ages for 120 days. It weighs in at 37% abv.

David Perkins recently put on a tasting for the LA Whiskey Society where he let us sample the 36th Vote side by side with an pre-barrel sample. The pre-barrel sample was a fine Manhattan but it was a bit sweet, almost cloyingly so, which may be due to the vermouth (Perkins could only choose from vermouths available wholesale in Utah). It wasn't exceptional and I would have preferred the ones I make at home.

The barrel aged Manhattan was a completely different story; the sweetness had ebbed, the flavors had married and there was a slight woodiness that brought out the rye. It really was a wonderful Manhattan and better than the vast majority I've had in bars. I would happily pour it at home.

Great stuff!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

When We Were Fab...Hot Dogs

The San Fernando Valley has long been a center of tubular cuisine in Los Angeles. The Stand, Carney's and the now shuttered Wiener Factory have been among Southern California's most vaunted practitioner's of the hot dog art form. For the last few years though, it's been all about Fab, a hot dog joint tucked next to a Pizza Hut in a big Von's anchored strip mall on Victory Boulevard in Reseda.

Fab has all manner of dogs and toppings, but they are best known for the ripper, a New Jersey style deep fried hot dog (pictured). I've never had a ripper before and had been meaning to make it to Fab for too long so when I found myself in the Valley, I made a lunch detour to finally check out a ripper.

Along with the famous ripper, the Fab menu includes practically every kind of hot dog from any geography. There are Chicago dogs, Manhattan dogs with hot dog cart red onion sauce, LA street dog style bacon wrappeds and even a "Fairfax Burrito Dog," clearly modeled on an Oki Dog.

Along with my ripper, I figured I should get something from this detailed list, so I picked the house specialty Fab Dog, a charred beef dog with tomato relish, bacon, mustard and onions. The dog itself was good, nice and juicy though not a huge snap. The tomato relish was very tasty, sweet but with a little bit of spicy zing, and the bacon was perfect. Rather than strips carelessly tossed onto the dog as you find at places like Pink's, these were chewy bacon strips sprinkled on top, more like lardons. You could tell from the deep, smoky flavor, that they're using good quality bacon. Now I tend to be more of a hot dog purist - just the dog and mustard, but the relish and bacon were pretty darn good as far as condiments go.

As for the ripper, well, put me in the camp that doesn't really get it. The Fab ripper had a different dog in it than the Fab Dog. It was larger and paler with a lot less spice, almost like a brat, and the deep frying makes the casing tough and chewy. And I should have guessed this, but it comes out of the frier mouth-scaldingly hot. Personally, I like the snap of a grilled or steamed dog. The hard, blistered skin of the ripper just didn't do it for me. I felt like I was eating a hot dog that had stayed out in the sun too long.

All in all, good dogs though probably not worth a special trip unless maybe you grew up in North Jersey and need your ripper fix.

Fab Hot Dogs
19417 1/2 Victory Blvd.
Reseda, CA 91335
(818) 344-4336