A Creative Cocktail

Day Twelve 12 Sips of Brooklyn
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Cocktails at Fort Defiance in Red Hook: Maurice (left) and Pundit

dec17WHEN LIFE HANDS YOU LEMONS, the saying should go, make a twist and a cocktail. When Superstorm Sandy rampaged through Red Hook in October, Fort Defiance proved worthy of its namesake. The iconic bar in Red Hook was swamped, with ocean filling the basement and two feet of the dining room. But now Fort Defiance is back, thanks to staff and neighbors who heaved to and helped clear the debris and resurrect the café.

The chalkboard at Fort Defiance provides a historical gloss to gritty Red Hook

The chalkboard at Fort Defiance provides a historical gloss to gritty Red Hook.

To celebrate the conclusion of the 12 Sips and 12 Tastes of Brooklyn, the squad repaired to the cozy bar on Van Brunt to reflect on the variety of foods and drinks being created in this varied city. We found the dead simple: seltzer and milk and syrup for an egg cream, hummus made from chickpeas, lemon, tahini and garlic. And we found elaborate creations requiring investments of time, equipment, capital and processes: bean-to-bar chocolate, or North Fork Blend red wine. But there is seemingly no environmental niche where an enterprising Brooklynite can’t enter and make a contribution. A remarkable time, as Brooklyn rediscovers its industrial past and adds new takes on old-fashioned products.

We also found delightful surprises like the Sorel made by Jack From Brooklyn, a liqueur made with Brazilian clove, Indonesian cassia and nutmeg, Nigerian ginger and Moroccan hibiscus. Jack is Jack Summers, who has created the aromatic Sorel in honor of his Barbados grandparents. Jack’s distillery in Red Hook was also heavily damaged in Sandy and he has been working to rebuild with the help of neighbors and the Red Hook Initiative.

For our toast to Brooklyn at Fort Defiance, we ordered two signature cocktails created by owner St. John Frizell, a mixologist known for using small-batch bitters and liquors: the Maurice, a version of the Manhattan that he created for Avery Glasser of Bittermens Spirits (incorporating Bittermens bitters), and the Pundit, made from coffee-infused Scotch, Cocchi Torino vermouth and Amaro dell’Erborista. Both bracing and complex.

Many think of our neighbor island Manhattan when they imagine cocktails, and there is some truth to that in the old glamour of the city across the East River. But Brooklyn today is the creative cocktail: ingredients from around the world, creative mixtures of different spirit and ideas, some simple and some elaborate, blended and crafted to form an exciting brew. To Brooklyn makers of tastes and sips, keep them coming. Cheers!

Maurice (by St. John Frizell of Fort Defiance)

1 1/2 oz Rittenhouse Bonded 100 proof Rye
3/4 oz Cocchi Americano
1/2 oz Bittermens Amère Sauvage Gentiane
1/4 oz Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth

Stir, strain and serve in a coupe.

Bittermens Spirits
18 Bridge Street, DUMBO
646-810-9564

Fort Defiance
365 Van Brunt Street, Red Hook
347-453-6672

Jack From Brooklyn
Red Hook

Photographs by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design.The font is Mason, by Jonathan Barnbrook, Emigre, 1992.

Eggnog with Frothing

Day Eleven 12 Sips of Brooklyn
Heading down to the Waterfront Ale House, we met strolling carolers bringing old-time Brooklyn to Atlantic Avenue.

Heading down to the Waterfront Ale House, we met strolling carolers bringing
a note of old-time Brooklyn to Atlantic Avenue.

dec16EGGNOG IS A DRINK THAT MYSTERIOUSLY APPEARS in the weeks leading up to Christmas, then fades in popularity as the winter winds on. Is anyone sitting in the chill of early March and thinking “I could use an eggnog about now”? Like cherry blossoms in the spring, eggnog’s short window of interest must form part of its appeal.

So now it’s mid-December, and if you’re jonesing for the ’nog, head to the Waterfront Ale House on Atlantic Avenue and order Sam’s Serious Eggnog. Sam is Sam Barbieri, owner of the Ale House, and a guy with some serious cred himself as a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. He definitely puts his own spin on drink and barbecue at the bar.

WaterfrontLogoThe Ale House is a decent watering hole, with free spiced popcorn, a respectable beer range and a list of whiskeys so extensive serious liver damage is threatened to anyone attempting to master it. The eggnog itself is made with three rums, bourbon and brandy and is light and frothy.

Speaking of froth, what better place to find industrial-strength frothing than at the National Review, the conservative publication founded by William F. Buckley. Writer Kevin Williamson favorably mentions Sam’s incomparable eggnog in a recent blog post slamming what Williamson calls the “Eggnog Gestapo.” What upset Williamson so deeply is government regulations on commercial eggnog. Apparently the Food and Drug Administration requires a minimum of 6% milkfat in commercial eggnog, as detailed in an article at Wired.

Sam’s Serious Egg Nog: 3 kinds of rum, brandy and bourbon. Like the man says—serious.

Sam’s Eggnog: three kinds of rum, brandy and bourbon.
Like the man says—serious.

Equating the FDA with the Gestapo, on one hand, is all so much Internet-standard rhetorical bombast. On the other hand, Williamson does raise a valid issue that must concern more than one Brooklyn artisan: complying with government regulations. Particularly for those in food businesses, how do small-batch producers ensure that they comply with dozens of local, state and federal rules that cover their products while trying to deliver a quality product? Brooklyn Artisan would like to hear of any problems and solutions that small-batch producers have encountered in navigating those rules.

On another note, Southern Comfort Eggnog as analyzed by Wired is made with inordinate amounts of seaweed-based carrageenan, guar gum and that much-maligned whipping boy of food critics: corn syrup. Mr. Williamson, sadly, didn’t spare any of his dudgeon for the multinational corporation pumping out engineered, lowest common denominator products.

You won’t find corn syrup in Sam’s recipe, reproduced below. Sam mandates two rums (he advertises three rums for his ’nog at the Ale House, so I guess that the chef won’t reveal all his secrets.) If you want to use a local rum, check out Due North Rum from Van Brunt Stillhouse of Red Hook.

Sam’s Serious Eggnog

4 whole eggs
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 cups half & half
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground allspice
Pinch ground clove
4 oz dark rum
2 oz 151 rum
1 oz brandy
2 oz bourbon

Whisk together eggs, sugar and 1 1/2 cups half & half in a 3-quart stainless steel bowl until sugar is dissolved.

In a separate bowl, combine spices and liquors and mix well.

Heat the egg mixture over a double boiler whisking constantly just until it starts to thicken. Immediately remove from heat and add the cold heavy cream and remaining half & half to cool and stop cooking.

Stir in the liquor and spice mixture.

Blend well.

Waterfront Ale House
155 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn Heights

718-522-3794

Van Brunt Stillhouse
6 Bay Street, Red Hook
718-852-6405

Photographs by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is Industria, by Neville Brody, Linotype, 1989.

Bring Back the Soda Fountain!

Day Ten 12 Sips of Brooklyn
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P&H Soda syrups for sale at The Brooklyn Kitchen. From left, Ginger, Lovage, and Hibisicus

dec15HOW DID SODA GET TO BE PUBLIC ENEMY NO. 1? There was a time when the soda fountain was the shining emblem of wholesomeness and American values. Wasn’t that the place where The Beaver could go and conduct his heart-to-heart talks with dad Ward Cleaver? But here in New Bloomberg City 2012, that talk might land Ward with a referral to child protective services. Or at least pointed looks from the local moral guardians.

The Beaver's brother Wally working at the soda fountain.

The Beaver’s brother Wally working at the soda fountain in a “simpler” America

Hard to be a soda entrepreneur these days, with City Hall intimating that your product ranks with cigarettes and racy magazines in the corruption of the kiddies. On the other side, the big guys, the Pepsis and Cokes of the world, have been laying down heavy fire in their war on limiting soda sizes. It’s frankly hard to know which side to root for in that struggle. May both sides lose.

Things look far rosier to Anton Nocito, whose dream was to open his own soda fountain but who along the way became a fabricator of artisanal soda syrups. P&H Soda Co. started about three years ago when Nocito sold sodas at the now-defunct Greenpoint Market. Customers and stores like The Brooklyn Kitchen expressed interest in the syrups, so Nocito obliged. Then he taught classes on making syrups and landed on the Martha Stewart Show teaching Martha herself to make Cream Soda. In that appearance, he certainly doesn’t come across like a corrupter of youth.

P&H syrups are all natural and come in exotic flavors like Lovage, Hibiscus and the old stand-by Ginger. From the humble start in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, the product is now available in stores across the country, including in Georgia, Massachusetts and California, as well as on menus in restaurants and bars as far afield as Florida and Minnesota. A list of locations is available on the P&H Soda Co web site.

Locally, Nocito likes to get out to venues like the New Amsterdam Market to share special fabrications that can’t be bottled “because we don’t use preservatives, so the flavor tends to fade too quickly.”

Small-batch soda is getting to be an active market in Brooklyn, with Brooklyn Soda Works and Q Drinks making their own products focused on natural ingredients. Brooklyn Artisan will follow all the developments with interest.

As for his original dream, Nocito remains steadfast: He wants to “open a soda fountain with all natural sodas and a menu consisting of locally sourced ingredients. The manufacturing of the syrups definitely sent us in another direction and we’re currently trying to get back on track with our original goal.”

With any luck, The Beaver will be there for more heart-to-hearts, and not have to sneak around with back-alley natural sodas.

P&H Soda Co.

Brooklyn Soda Works

Q Drinks
718-398-6642

Photograph (top) by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is American Typewriter, by Joel Kaden and Tony Stan, ITC, 1974.

The Comforts of Tea

Day Nine 12 Sips of Brooklyn
Michael Shannon of Bellocq Tea Atelier

Michael Shannon of Bellocq Tea Atelier brewing tea so visitors can taste.

dec14TAXONOMY, CLADISTICS, SYSTEMATICS, PHYLOGENETICS—so many ways to group and divide living things. Darwin famously sundered the world into “lumpers and splitters”: those who are happy with the general gist, and those who are obsessed with specifics.

The tea trade is one where splitters can run riot: green or black, white or yellow, oolong or pu-erh—all the varieties of Camellia sinensis that have descended through 3,000 years of recorded history. But even within those broad categories, there are nuances piled on subtleties, geography and climate, blends and additives, methods and styles of preparation. Japan and China have elaborate and precise rituals of preparing and serving tea that can last for hours. Even the pragmatic English have woven the drink into their culture and mythology.

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Bellocq Christmas blend in its silver plate caddy

Visit Bellocq in Greenpoint during their limited shop hours and you immediately recognize that here be tea splitters. The neat rows of silver containers with the bold yellow and white labels signal that tea is taken very seriously in these precincts. Yes, you think, this is what a tea shop should be. It is a transport to a quiet and calm that seems centuries and leagues away from the busy streets of North Brooklyn 2012.

It can be a bit daunting. I admit I remain a bit of a lumper and my knowledge of tea is an inch deep and an inch wide, but I stand in awe of the level of awareness and sophistication about the product that is evident at an emporium like Bellocq.

On the day we visited, co-owner Michael Shannon presided in an unhurried manner that was helpful and deeply informative. He brewed tea and explored the intricacies of sourcing teas to avoid the hucksters and scams that abound in that market. He methodically poured samples while revealing a refined sense of the aesthetics of his product. He cracked open canisters to appreciate the aromas while speaking in the same calm fashion about the frenzy the business endured when it was recently cited in O, The Oprah Magazine as one of Oprah’s favorite things. An hour at Bellocq is as warming and refreshing to the spirit as the product they sell.

P-and-S-Teas-1197PS Coffee Tea N Spices in Park Slope is a different cup of tea. This store might appeal more to the lumpers among us. Stacks of boxes, cans and jars filled with teas and tisanes and infusions jostle for attention with spices and coffees. Here you feel awed less by the depth of tea esoterica and more by the breadth of stock in a little space. When asked how many teas the store carries, the manager responds, “Two hundred”, which I suspect is a conservative guesstimate. This is a diverse collection, with the old-fashioned packaging of Ty-phoo hard by the elegant boxes of Republic of Tea.tea-pot-p-and-s-1201 I am certain you can find your heart’s desire, a tea for every condition of the spirit. But I like it because most of the time I remain a lumper: “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”

Bellocq Tea Atelier
104 West Street, Greenpoint

800-495-5416

PS Coffee Tea N Spices
368 5th Avenue, Park Slope
718-768-5561

Photographs by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is Rockwell, by Morris Fuller Benton and Frank Pierpont, Monotype, 1934.

Distilled in Brooklyn

Day Eight 12 Sips of Brooklyn

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dec13 date stamp by Joy Makon Design

TODAY’S SIP TAKES TO HEART THE WORDS of the incomparable Ogden Nash: “Candy is dandy, but Liquor is quicker.” Instead of words, words, words, though, let’s cut to the headline: Brooklyn Brews Booze.

Kings County Bourbon (top) is distilled in the 113-year old Paymaster Building of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Check out Brooklyn Artisan‘s earlier coverage on a tour of the distillery. Kings County, one of the first small-batch distillers in the state, brews its mash with Scottish barley for authenticity, along with American corn. For true Brooklyn cred, the distillery has added corn picked from a small crop grown in the yard of the distillery into their batches. Best served neat—water breaks things!

dark-brew

Widow Jane Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey (above, left) is the most recent offering from Cacao Prieto in Red Hook. Released in October 2012 at a party there, Widow Jane is made with water brought from the limestone mine in upstate New York that provided stone for the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building.

Industry City No. 2 Vodka (above, center) is produced in Sunset Park, where Industry City Distilling creates its sugar beet vodka. They document their progress in building a larger plant on their nicely designed, fun web site, which has videos, photos of the distillers and details about the distilling process. Wonder what happened to No. 1?

77 Whiskey, from Brueckelen Distillery (above, right) in Sunset Park is made from New York State wheat. The distillers were the subject of a beautiful Made by Hand video a couple of years ago.

gins

New York Distilling is making gin (above, left) in Williamsburg, including a version named in tribute to Algonquin Round Table denizen Dorothy Parker, who definitely knew gin. They also have a full service bar cum tasting room next to the distillery called The Shanty.

Brueckelen also makes Glorious Gin (above, center) with New York Wheat, keeping it in the family.

 Brooklyn Gin, despite its name (above, right), is actually fabricated in Warwick, New York, which makes it part of that region we like to call Outer Brooklyn. But we take the name as a gin-soaked compliment.

Kings County Distillery
63 Flushing Avenue, Navy Yard

Industry City Distilling
33 35th Street, Sunset Park
917-727-5309

Breuckelen Distilling
77 19th Street, Sunset Park

347-725-4985

Cacao Prieto
218 Conover Street, Red Hook
347-225-0130

New York Distilling Company
79 Richardson Street, Williamsburg
718-412-0874

Brooklyn Distilling Company
Warwick, New York

Many of these drinks are available for consumption at fine Brooklyn booze halls like:

The Drink
228 Washington Avenue, Williamsburg
718-782-8463

Fort Defiance
365 Van Brunt Street, Red Hook
347-453-6672

Photographs by Bruce Campbell. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is Shelley Allegro, by Matthew Carter, Linotype, 1972.

Coffee Conscious

Day Seven 12 Sips of Brooklyn
The author relaxes at Café Grumpy in Greenpoint.

The author relaxes at Café Grumpy in Greenpoint.

OUTSIDE THE CITY LIMITS, businesses and commuters rely on fossil fuel. Here in New York, we know the true engine of enterprise is coffee.

Years ago, while studying graphic design in Greenwich Village, I frequented a diner on Waverly Place that had a unique dispensing system for its coffee. Order a cup and the counterman would turn the tap on what looked to be an ordinary kitchen faucet sticking from the wall. Out came black java. How cool was that! I visualized this vast network of pipes running through the city parallel to the Catskill water lines, and plotted how to get it supplied to my kitchen. Eventually, I realized it was merely a clever positioning of their coffee urn in the kitchen behind, maximizing space in the limited serving area (my naïveté is best explained by two words: art school).

In the past two decades, coffee in the city has gone from commodity to connoisseur. On the one hand, there is the ubiquitous Starbucks, basically a slicker, upscale Chock Full o’Nuts. For mocha’s sake, there are Starbucks in shopping malls (!) and thruway rest areas. Good enough for a quick joe, but basically homogenized brown water dispensed by undertrained baristas. On the other hand are the coffee bars with more highly trained staff, higher quality product and various levels of design finish or stylish marketing as product differentiators.

I prefer my coffee from what I call the roaster/merchant. These shops work on the assumption that there is a market in consumers who want to drink their java not in some plush salon, but in the roastery itself. These are not your fancy wineries perched at the edge of the vineyard, with peacocks wandering about and classical music piped in. No, these are a few tables pushed up against bean bags hard by the coffee roaster. A certain industrial esthetic predominates.

Grumpy-roasted

Café Grumpy in Greenpoint is an excellent example of the roaster/merchant. Here you know the roasted beans are fresh, having travelled all of 20 feet from roasting to cup. Grumpy embodies a trend in the coffee trade that won’t be unfamiliar to other artisanal businesses. The menu in the shop provides some basic information about the origins (country and region—often down to the specific valley) and its website links to photos of the coffee growers in their plantations, taken by staff who are obviously inspecting the product and working closely with the farmers.

I think this trend appeals to a modern desire by sophisticated buyers to be conscious of where a product is from, who made it and how it was made. In another industry, Apple Inc. has lately been beset by bad press covering the working conditions at its Chinese contractors plants. There is a developing insight that our Western consumption practices have real world consequences for people thousands of miles away, and we want and need businesses to care about this.

Bkly-Roasting-signBrooklyn Roasting Company is located on a cobblestoned street in DUMBO crisscrossed by old train tracks that used to serve the factories of an earlier era. Its  shop has a hard-edged factory feel, with a gorgeous Loring Kestrel roaster and industrial drums under stark lighting at one end and café seating at the other. Its website quotes its “coffeelosophy,” a listing of coffee awareness buzzwords: “best quality Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, and Organic certified and sustainable coffees.” Currently, it also shows pictures of co-owner Jim Munson on a coffee expedition in Sumatra.

Brooklyn Roasting Company

The roaster at Brooklyn Roasting Company

Today’s coffee houses are open about the details of their production, extending down to their care and concern for the small growers that supply them. That vision appears to go beyond mere coffee political correctness or a clever marketing ploy. The American Revolution (and the modern world) was hatched in the coffeehouses of Boston, London and Philadelphia. The concern shown by these new coffee merchants is for a sustainable future for the entire supply chain that leads to the consumer. That vision deserves to be central to any manifesto crafted in the coffeehouses of the artisan/maker movement growing here in Brooklyn.

For the anthem of the movement, I propose the KaffeeKantate by Johann Sebastian Bach, here performed in a coffeehouse by The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir:

Brooklyn Roasting Company
25 Jay Street, Dumbo
718-522-2664

Cafe Grumpy
193 Meserole Avenue, Greenpoint
718-349-7623

Photographs by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is Gill Sans Ultra Bold, by Eric Gill, Monotype, 1928. 

End-of-this-World Hot Chocolate

Day Six 12 Sips of Brooklyn
The spicy hot chocolate at The Chocolate Room.

The spiced hot chocolate at The Chocolate Room.

dec11WHAT SHALL WE DRINK AT THE ENDING OF THE WORLD? What better way to honor the end of the Mayan’s Long Calendar (and the destruction of all we know and love) than by serving their favorite beverage: chocolate, preferably hot.

What with Niburu (or is it Planet X?) ready to carom off us in a celestial game of billiards, the impending total blackout, solar flares, devastating meteors and the reversal in the rotation of the Earth, things promise to get pretty busy around here soon. Even NASA is attempting to debunk the rumors, which should only encourage the anxiety: “Man, the government obviously knows all about this and they’re just covering it up to keep the citizens docile.”

So, to stock up for our ultimate Go-bag (in the event that we have to head for our mountain redoubt to rebuild the human race), we went over to The Chocolate Room in the Slope for some hot chocolate. The real star there is the Spiced Dark Hot Chocolate, only available during the cold season or until the collapse of civilization, whichever ends first.

cho-room-choc-mix1236Made with a blend of Belgian chocolate (60% and 72% cocoa), Valhrona (French) cocoa, sugar, cloves and cinnamon, the drink gets its spiciness from Ancho and Chipotle chilis, an authentic addition the Mayans would appreciate. Floating in the middle of the cup was a delicious chunk of artisanal marshmallow.

Spiced Dark Hot Chocolate bears as little relation to supermarket/diner/skating rink hot chocolate as a delay on the F train bears to a collision with a brown dwarf planet. It is rich and loaded with flavonoids and other antioxidants as well as mild stimulants. The science is still out, but there is evidence that chocolate may improve your mood and heart health (when taken in moderation). The chilis also are reputed to have medicinal effects. Of course, the scientists are all busy pooh-poohing the end of the planet, so you can take their advice with a grain of salt.

The Chocolate Room sells its Spiced Dark mix to go in a meteorite-resistant one quart tin for $20 (also available from the website). If you want some marshmallows with that, stay away from those awful pellets sold in the supermarket, and go for Whimsy & Spice’s confections instead. The Brooklyn makers produce marshmallows in cardamom, maple, passionfruit and other flavors. (Available online and from local stores for $6.50 a dozen.)

Torres-hot-choc-mix1541Jacques Torres Chocolate is a true Mecca for chocolate, in solid or liquid state. The classic hot chocolate is rich and creamy, and they also have a Wicked version with Ancho and Chipotle chilis. They’ve thrown down the gauntlet by stating that they never use cocoa powder in their blends, and the packaged version is $18 for 16 oz.

I’ll leave it to the chocolate makers to battle over the nuances of cocoa powder vs. no cocoa powder, I’m heading down to my Niburu-proof bunker for some hot chocolate.

The Chocolate Room
86 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope
718-783-2900
269 Court Street, Cobble Hill
718-246-2600

Jacques Torres Chocolate
66 Water Street, DUMBO
718-875-1269

Whimsy & Spice
646-709-6659

Photographs by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is Goudy Oldstyle, by Frederick W. Goudy, Linotype, 1915.

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