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Jun 21, 201710:43 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

Which Brings Us To…

Robert Owen-Wahl, Getty Images, 2006.

Last week’s column was an attempt to steer consumers of wines to places where valuable knowledge could be gained that would add to more enjoyment and appreciation of said wines.

Okay, so it sounds loftier than it really is. The overriding concept here (big picture, if you will) is that the more you know, the more you can appreciate whatever. That applies to sports, the arts, architecture, cuisine, and, yes, adult beverages.

As noted, last week we managed to maul wine appreciation, and, in the interest of fair play, we will do the same “excellent” job here and now with spirits, the drinking kind.

Spirits’ education presents a greater challenge than wine, and a stiffer learning curve. Within each spirit category is a raft of sub-species, all of which are important to aficionados. Places of origin, aging regimes, legal requirements, additives, and the like can take the same straightforward spirit and change it completely in terms of aroma, taste, longevity, application, and preference by the user.

It’s true for every spirit. Rums can vary greatly depending on where they are from and whether they are categorized as agricole, dark, spice, the types of raw ingredients, and distilling practices. Even a product as straightforward as whiskey, which proffers an aging date, may not really, in calendar years, be that old. Many whiskies denoted 15 or 20 years old merely have to “act like” a whiskey with that aging experience. They may not truly be anywhere near that old.

The other complicating aspect of spirits are the included supporting players in a cocktail. While we seem to have passed through the era of eight different additives to a cocktail (thank goodness), we are now in the midst of an era of fewer additive ingredients but they are more esoteric. Not bad, mind you, but with more elaborate stories to tell.

I call this the “eye of newt” era. Liqueurs made from wildflowers picked only at certain times in the Swiss Alps are not uncommon. Combining a rum with the mash-up of particularly small and elegant pineapples available only in one place on the planet is not considered too much cuteness. It is sought after.

In wine, when someone wants to learn more about the topic, I encourage them to “pull a lot of corks.” First you should lay a base of knowledge, not details but generalities. Then you owe it to yourself the opportunity to experience the subject matter, namely by tasting wines from various places made with various grapes in a particular way.

Spirits and cocktails are no different. How would you describe the difference between a gin and tonic made with a London Dry Gin and a Genever from Holland? It’s not only the spirit that requires consideration, you also should move along to evaluate the inclusion of a well-known tonic versus a home-made offering.

Within those narrow parameters, you are facing a spectrum of aroma and flavor profiles that can keep the conversation going for hours, maybe even days, with no final definitive outcome.

Here’s the joy-factor: education is primarily self-taught through observation and experience. You pick a spirit in which you have an interest then pursue learning about it. And how do you pick a spirit as the starting point? Usually one of your friends, or your parents, will tell you about something and then offer a taste. You like it, or you don’t, and the game is afoot.

There might be a more reasonable solution, and that is to invest a little time into semi-formal education about drinks and spirits. Just as it is oft-noted that drinking on an empty stomach is never a good idea, without “laying a base,” which you do by eating something before the drinking begins, so it is true that laying a base of knowledge about spirits and mixers can add immeasurable enjoyment to your journey.

I can suggest the program at DrinkLab, a project of Daniel Victory and Camille Whitworth, proprietors of Victory on Baronne Street. These classes explore the world of mixology, including a thorough explanation of the spirits, the ancillary additions to a cocktail and the proper cocktail construction procedure and technique.

Think of DrinkLab in the same vein as one of our many cooking schools, but with liquor instead of herbs and seafood. This is a fun way to gain knowledge and understanding. College should have been like this. I might have done better. “Might have” are the operative words here.

In any case, while spirits can be learned on the fly, why pick up somebody else’s bad habits? Learn from experts, either at a bar or in a classroom setting. The exploration itself is a good time. There’s no downside to understanding yourself and the world around you, especially when alcohol is involved.

 

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Read Happy Hour here on myneworleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed, as well as stored (podcast), at www.wgso.com. Also, check out Last Call, Tim’s photo-feature every month in New Orleans Magazine. Be sure to watch "Appetite for Life," hosted by Tim every Thursday evening at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 5 p.m., on WLAE-TV, Channel 32 in New Orleans. Previously broadcast episodes are available for viewing at http://www.wlae.com/appetite-for-life/

 

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Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

about

In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.

 

Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; the Executive Editor and monthly features writer for Gulf Coast Wine + Dine Online; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.

 

Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.

 

Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.

 

They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.

 

Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.

 

Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.

 

Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.

 

It’s a good gig. 

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