Category Archives: Caps – Spirits

A Chinese booze that nobody knows

William Isler pours samples of baijiu

Have you ever tasted baijiu (prounced bye-jyo)? Nevermind. Have you ever heard of it? Probably not. Neither had I, until recently.

It’s a Chinese spirit –the world’s best-selling alcohol by volume, outselling whiskey and vodka combined – that some non-Chinese may find challenging. A white spirit with a savory funkiness, it stands apart from other spirits, and to say that it’s an acquired taste is an understatement. Some might liken it to firewater. Indeed, some brands exceed 100 proof, but not all. Others refer to it as the stinky tofu of the liquor world. This is closer to the truth.

Nevertheless, I celebrated the Chinese New Year at my favorite restaurant, The Orient, in Bethpage, NY, with this traditional Chinese tipple, after sampling several baijiu recently at Post Wines in Syosset, NY, guided by Bill Isler, director for North America of Ming River, a new brand that arrived stateside just months ago. 

Baijiu, which translates to “white alcohol” in Mandarin Chinese, Isler told me, is usually made from sorghum, a common animal feed, but can also be made from other grains. Its ingredients and style vary by distillery and region, but generally are divided into four flavor classifications: strong aroma (full bodied, spicy, fruity), light aroma (light, floral, slightly sweet), sauce aroma (umami, mushroom, earth) and rice aroma (light, clean, honeyed). 

Isler and his partners hope to create new spirits category in the U.S. To be sure, other baijiu are sold in the U.S., mostly in Chinatowns. One, Vinn, is made in Oregon using brown rice from California.

Isler’s product, Ming River, is a strong aroma baijiu, though the label identifies it as Sichuan style. It’s made by a distillery that’s been producing baijiu since 1573. Made from red sorghum and fermented the traditional way – in clay pots with locally harvested yeasts that are buried for two weeks in pit – the result is a 90-proof spirit. 

My tasting with Isler began with Oregon’s VInn Baijiu, whose nose reminded me of sake. It’s of the rice-aroma classification, so no surprise. Its floral and at 40% ABV it goes down easily with a bit of a nutty finish

My second taste was a baijiu classified as a light aroma, Kinmen Kaoliang, from Taiwan.  At 116 proof it’s got a kick that made me wince upon my first sip. It’s a bit like a grappa and somewhat reminiscent of Rhum Agricole from Martinique. It has a grassy, herbal character.

Next up was Isler’s brand, Ming River, classified as a strong aroma baijiu.  It offers up bright, fresh tropical fruit notes along with some licorice-like star anise and a sweet funkiness. My guess, it’s been designed to appeal to western palates.

The final baijiu in the flight was Kweichow Moutai Prince, from China’s largest distillery, categorized as a sauce-aroma baijiu. It’s 106 proof and has big-time funky notes of stinky cheese and mushrooms. It finishes surprisingly sweet.

Isler’s Ming River brand is an outgrowth of a successful bar, called Capital Spirits, that he and ex-pat partners started in Beijing that was dedicated to single shots of baiojiu,. Isler, for one, who majored in Asian studies at Columbia University before spending decades in China, calls himself a serial entrepreneur.

Ming River Baijiu, made at the state-owned Luzhou Laojiao, China’s oldest continually operated baijiu distillery, starts with a mash of locally harvested red sorghum grain and local well water. It is fermented in 30-year-old earthen vessels with naturally harvested yeast cultures native to the Sichuan river town of Luzhou. After two months, the mash is unearthed and distilled in small batches using a traditional Chinese pot still. The spirits then are aged for up to two yearsbefore blending into Ming River’s distinctive flavor. 

Baijiu is traditionally enjoyed neat at room temperature, but Isler is working with bar tenders in trendy eateries to develop cocktails based on the spirit. He likens Ming River to Rhum Agricole, the white rums made from sugar cane in the Caribbean that are often components of cocktails.

A 750ml bottle of Ming River retails for $34-$35 with distribution currently limited to New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In New York, you can find it at Bottle Rocket in Manhattan, in Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Wine Exchange andat Post Wines. Park Street Imports LLC, of Miami, FL, is the importer.

I purchased a bottle of Ming River and brought it to dinner. Most of my companions were not enthusiastic. I enjoyed it, however, sipping numerous cups as we dined on some 11 courses of Cantonese fare. Gan-bei!

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Finding history in a glass of Cognac

1811 Cognac

1811 Napoleon Cognac

Maxim's 1914 Cognac

Maxim’s 1914 Cognac

Armagnac 1893 J. Marou

Armagnac 1893 J. Marou

Coganc 1928 Croizet B Leon

Coganc 1928 Croizet B Leon

1865 Madeira Cafe Anglais

1865 Madeira Cafe Anglais Photos courtesy Old Liquors

Port 1887

Port 1887

We taste 19th century Cognac, Armagnac, Port and Madeira


It was a once-in-a-lifetime tasting of liquid history.

Twenty plus connoisseurs, spirits merchants, and media gathered in the cellar tasting room of the Brandy Library in Tribeca on April 12 to sample three rare Cognacs—one produced in 1811, an Armagnac, a Port and a Madeira.

The bottles belonged to Dutch history buff and collector Bay van der Bunt, who has gathered more than 6,000 rare bottles over 40 years and who had planned to sell a 39-bottle collection from his cache at a Christie’s auction on April 13.  Alas, van de Bunt’s bottles failed to sell. But for those who attended the $250-a-ticket tasting, it was an evening that would not be forgotten.

Upon entering the Brandy Library, owned by Frenchman Flavien Desoblin, that descended a narrow spiral staircase to its cellar, a dark room illuminated by a handful of incandescent lights hung from the ceiling by copper tubing. At the front of the room, atop an old oak cask, stood the evening’s wares. Behind them, a flat-panel TV flashed a power point presentation about the collection and its sponsor, Old Liquors of Brede, Netherlands.

Greeting guests was Bart Laming, CEO of  Old  Liquors, van der Bunt’s trading and investment companies, who arranged the tasting to mark the Christie’s sale. Laming has worked closely working with van der Bunt since 2010 to develop a business plan to sell his collection.

Edwin Vos, head of Christie’s wine department in Amsterdam, assisted by Christie’s Noah May, played sommelier for the evening, carefully prying  corks from bottles untouched for more than a century. “It’s a challenge opening old bottles,” Laming noted.

And all were opened without harm and glasses filled with a few sips were distributed.

Here. In order of their presentation, are notes from my taste of history:

Madeira 1865 Café Anglais. Café Anglais opened in 1802 and today is known as the world famous Tour d’Argent.  This bottle, found buried in the restaurant’s cellar below the Left Bank, was bottled late in the 19th Century. It was purchased in 2012 for $900 and now is estimated to be worth $1,800. The wine is golden, proffers a sweet cigar-like/Acacia honey nose with notes of nutmeg, vanilla, citrus and coconut. There’s a bit of a sawdust on the finish.

Port 1887 Brand Unknown. This fortified wine from northern Portugal’s Douro Valley was produced, we were told, from a classic vintage. Bought in 2000 for $115, its value now is estimated at $1,900. The color is a hazy, light reddish orange. The nose is smoky bacon. It’s soft and elegant with notes of sweet chocolate and nuts.

Cognac 1928 Croizet B. Léon. Croizet is one of Cognac’s oldest companies, founded in the Grande Champagne appellation by Léon Croizet in 1805. This bottle, purchased in 1999 for $220, now is worth an estimated $1,200. Amber hued with a powerful nose with suggestions of banana. The palate offers orange peel and spice notes and a bit of Speculoos biscuit.

Cognac 1914 Maxim’s, Caves du Restaurant. A bottle from the cellars of the famous Paris bistro, known for its Art Nouveau decor and beautiful women. Purchased in 2003 for $310 it might sell today for $2,350. Golden, amber hue. A nose of prunes and musk melon. Hot and spicy, a broad palate with notes of biscuits and passion fruit.

Armagnac 1893 Jacques Marou. This spirit from Armagnac-Ténarèze appellaton is from a family producer that’s been around since 1650.  Ténarèze is considered the strongest-tasting Armagnac, reaching full flavor at a later age than those of Bas- and Haut-Armagnac.

Cognac 1811 Napoléon. 1811, the Year of the Comet, was considered the greatest vintage in Western Europe of the 19th Century. Though produced in 1811, when Napoleon was at its peak, Vos said, this Cognac may have remained in cask for 50 years. Purchased in 2000 for $1,700, today it’s worth $8,000. Amber colored with a rich, caramel nose. It’s a tad floral with notes of spice, oak and brown sugar.

All told, an amazing experience.

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Collection of rare Cognacs, Armagnacs fails to sell at Christie’s NYC auction

Bottles from Bray van der Bunt's Presidential Collection of rare Cognacs and Armagnacs

Bottles from Bay van der Bunt’s Presidential Collection of rare Cognacs and Armagnacs

Bidding on 39 bottles distilled from 1789 to 1977 does not meet reserve price of $100,000



A collection of liquid history remains unsold.

The collection of 39 rare, historic bottles of Cognac and Armagnac went up for sale at Christie’s Auction House in New York on April 13. Now, they’re being re-packed and returned to the seller.

The set, called the American Presidential Collection  and the first potential sale by a Dutch collector, however, failed to meet the seller’s reserve price of $100,000.

The collection, on sale as one lot, included bottles of Cognac distilled during each American presidential term, from 1789, when George Washington first became president of the United States, to 1977, when Jimmy Carter moved into the White House. The collection included rate Cognacs from from famous houses such as Courvoisier 1884, Marnier-Lapostolle 1865, Otard Dupuy 1865, Bisquit Dubouché 1858, Pierre Chabanneau 1850, Meuow 1842, AE Dor 1840 and one extremely rare bottle of 1789 Grand Champagne Cognac,

The bottles belong to renowned Dutch history buff and collector Bay van der Bunt, who with help from investors gathered more than 6,000 bottles of rare elixirs worth $15 million over 40 years.  The auction had been arranged by  Bart Laming, who since 2010 has been managing director of  van der Bunt’s trading and investment companies, Old Liquors.    “This is the first time a collection of this type has come to the market,” Laming said.

Many of the bottles had been acquired years earlier by van der Bunt through estate auctions in Europe and through auctions at Christie’s in London. Laming, at a tasting on the eve of the auction, said many of the bottles had increased in value at compounded annual rates of 10 to almost 20 percent from the time they were acquired.

Van de Bunt, who is 67, decided it was time to sell some of his assets,” Laming said. “He can’t take it with him.”

Bart Laming of Old Liquors

Bart Laming of Old Liquors

Laming said he was disappointed that bidding stalled at $95,000. Sales materials for the auction forecast a sales range of $100,000 to $150,000 for the collection. The Cognac lot was squeezed into a sale of sculpture and other art works that generated more than $10.5 million in winning bids.

“It was a challenge,” Laming said of the attempt to sell the Cognacs among the 36 lots of decorative arts. But he noted the collection “represented the art of distilling.”

Laming said he surmised that the Asian bidders he and Christie’s hoped to attract might have found it difficult for the collection to travel easily across borders.

Old Liquors will try again to sell the bottles in Asia in the fall, Laming said, adding trip to the United States was successful nonetheless, since it enabled him to meet liquor merchants whom his Old Liquors might sell to in the future. “The mission was successful,” he noted.

Up Next:  Tasting rare Cognacs, Armagnacs, Port and Madeira




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A wysgi to toast Wales’ patron saint

Penderyn USA 300dpiBy Alan J. Wax

Quick, name a Celtic saint celebrated in March.

Bet you picked St. Patrick.

Ever hear of St. David, the patron saint of Wales? For centuries, March 1 has been a national festival day in Wales, commemorating St. David as a national patron saint at the height of Welsh resistance to the Normans. Outside of Wales, the day is only celebrated by Welsh societies with dinners, parties, and recitals.

According to tradition, St. David was the son of King Sant of South Wales and St. Non. He was ordained a priest and later studied under St. Paulinus. Later, he was involved in missionary work and founded a number of monasteries. The monastery he founded at Menevia  in Southwestern Wales was noted for extreme asceticism. David and his monks drank neither wine nor beer – only water – while putting in a full day of heavy manual labor and intense study.

Given St. David’s asceticism, we might consider toasting him a sacrilegious act. But what the heck, we’re always looking for a reason to imbibe and what could be a better libation for this day than Penderyn single malt wysgi, the only malt whisky distilled in Wales.

It’s a relatively new product. Whisky making largely disappeared from Wales, which like other Celtic lands had a rich whisky history, in the last part of 19th Century. Then along came the Welsh Whisky Co.,  which located its Penderyn distiller in the Brecon Beacons National Park in 2000. It was the first distillery in the country in more than a hundred years. Penderyn released its first distilled product on St. David’s Day in 2004.

The distiller, which produces just one barrel a day, boasts that it draws water exclusively from a well that taps the carboniferous limestone deep below the distillery. It also attributed its house style derives to the use of two types of casks. For the initial maturation, the distillery uses hand-selected Evan Williams and Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels. Later, the wysgi is transferred to Portuguese barriques that previously nurtured Madeira wine. Each cask is closely watched and regularly nosed until it has reached the standard of the distiller’s consulting master distiller, Jim Swan, a global authority on wood management.

The whisky carries no age statement, but in a 2008 post on the Whiskey Advocate’s blog, Penderyn’s Ed Minning stated that the average age (at that time) of Penderyn was 4.75 to 5.5 years, with eventual “peak” maturation to take place in 6.5 to 7 years.

Penderyn’s still, the company claims, is unlike any other: a single copper-pot still invented by Dr. David Faraday, descendent of the ground-breaking Victorian scientist, Michael Faraday. The still removes almost all of the undesirable chemical compounds which a conventional two or three pot system cannot. This is how Penderyn starts to differentiate itself from traditional Scottish and Irish whiskies. It’s bottled at 46 percent ABV or 92 proof.

Penderyn whisky starts out with an 8 percent ABV barley wash supplied by brewers S. A. Brain & Co. in Cardiff, which has been around since 1882 and is considered Wales’s premier private brewery.

The whisky’s garnered a few awards including winner of the Best World Whisky Gold Medal at the 2012 & 2013 International Whisky Competition and gold at the 2014 International Spirits Challenge for Best Cask finish whisky.

So, how’s it taste? It’s a light golden spirit with, not surprisingly, a big alcoholic bite from the 46% ABV. The nose suggests creamy toffee. On the palate I picked up notes of pears, mangoes and vanilla along with a suggestion of sweetness. The finish, albeit, is on the short side. I’d rate it 3/5.

Nevertheless, it’s a unique spirit and once malt fanciers ought to try. St. David’s Day, as we said, could be the perfect time.


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Highlands distiller Knockdhu adds some smoke to its AnCnoc single malts

Distiller pays homage to its heritage with a series of limited edition peaty expressions

By Alan J. Wax

A distillery in Scotland’s Highlands region, an area largely known for its floral, sweetish, fruity single-malt whiskies, now is offering something for those who enjoy a bit of smoke in their libation.

The Knockdhu Distillery, which more than a century ago began producing whisky with a strong peaty flavor imparted from the turf-fired malts available at the time, now, has recently released a limited edition collection of peaty whiskiess with bolder, smokier flavors under its AnCnoc. (pronounced a-NOCK) brand

The collection includes three expressions, Rutter, Flaughter and Tushkar—named after traditional peat-cutting tools. Rutter and Flaughter currently are available in the U.S., while Tushkar, for now, only is currently available in Sweden.

For many imbibers, peat smoke is a key flavor in whisky and for others it may be the reason they don’t drink whisky. While few whiskies are actually noticeably peaty, peatiness, or smokiness, has become one of the best-known characteristics of Scotch whisky, and it’s through this smoke character that distilleries try to define themselves.

Traditionally, the more peated the barley, the higher the phenol levels in the spirit, and the smokier the whisky will taste. Peatiness is measured in PPM, or phenol parts per million.

The new AnCnoc whiskys display their PPM level on their labels, allowing the drinker to select an expression with a level of smokiness to their liking.

I have to admit, I am not much of a fan of such extreme smokey expressions as Ardberg, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Lagavulin, Laphroig and Talikser. I still recall my first sample of Caol Ila, which suggested licking a newly tarred road. No, personally I favor fruity, floral, sweetish whiskies from the Highlands and the Speyside whisky regions.

Playing with the character of their spirits seems to have become de regueur for some producers in recent years. I believe in marketing terms, they’re considered brand extensions.

But, I’m always game to try something new.





AnCnoc Rutter, the first release in the collection, is named for the spade used in sizing and separating peat blocks. Peated to a PPM of 11, this golden-hued whisky initially reeks of burnt wood and earth and then gives way to delicate spices, sweet tones, tropical fruit-like esters, notes of minerals and a hint of vanilla. It’s quite drinkable.

anCnoc Flaughter (pronounced FLAH-ter) is named for the spade used to remove the top layer of peat. Peated to a PPM of 14.8, the pale gold, whisky offers up aromas and flavors of ash mixed with sweet melon notes, hints of vanilla oak and a long-spicy finish. Despite its higher PPM, this seems a more mellow whisky that its companion expression.

The AnCnoc Tushkar is said to be the most peated ot the trio, at 15 ppm, but was not available for tasting.

Both Rutter and Flaugher currently are available at U.S. spirits retailers with a suggested retail price of $85 for a 750 ml bottle.

I have tasted the smoke and I like it.


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Saranac’s new Single Malt brew will appeal to whiskey and beer aficionados

Label for Saranac Single Malt Scottish Ale

Label for Saranac Single Malt Scottish Ale

Scottish ale aged in single-malt Scotch whiskey barrels.

By Alan J. Wax

A recently released beer from the F.X. Matt Brewing Co. could be a beer for Scotch whiskey aficionados or, perhaps, a Scotch for beer drinkers.

The beer, called Saranac Single Malt is a strong Scotch ale – a one-off, limited edition brew that’s part of the Utica, New York-based brewer’s Saranac High Peaks series targeted to beer geeks.

Matt, established 126 years ago, besides being known for its Utica Club American lager and its line of Saranac beers, produced since 1985, is a big contract brewer whose customers over the years have included Brooklyn Brewery, Boston Beer Co., Harpoon Brewery, Kirkland (Costco) and numerous other labels that have since vanished into oblivion.

The Matt brewery, now ranked No. 11 in terms of sales volume among U.S. craft brewers, appears to have taken a step forward with this new release from its long-time aping of product lines of other brewers, among them Samuel Adams.

Like many beers on the market these days, Saranac Single Malt is aged in wood, but instead of Bourbon barrels, F.X. Matt aged its high gravity (9% abv) Scotch ale aged in hundred-year-old whiskey barrels from the Tomintoul-Glenlivet Distillery, a somewhat off-the-radar whiskey producer in Ballindalloch, in the Speyside region of Scotland. Its unpeated whiskey rarely is seen as a single malt; most of Tomintoul’s output goes into blended whiskies. Previously, the barrels were used to age Sherry wine. Matt started aging the beer almost a year ago on the oak.

“In our mind, the barrels are 125 years old!,” Fred Matt, president and 3rd generation owner, said in a press release.  “In all seriousness though, they are very close to that.  Imagine how much character is in this beer between our brewing history and the history of these barrels.  We’ll say 125 years worth of character.”

The beer offers an enticing nutty, caramel, scotch whiskey aroma and on the palate there are rich, sweet malt with undeniable Scotch Whiskey-like, oak, fruit and sherry notes.

To be sure, Matt is not the first brewer to go the Scotch whiskey barrel route. Two years ago, Schafly Brewing Co. in St. Louis released its own whisky–aged beer called Single Malt Scottish Ale (what else?) to mark its 21st anniversary. Schafly used emptied Highland Scotch whisky barrels from the Glen Garioch Distillery.

If nothing else, Saranac Single Malt demonstrates Matt is capable of producing a beer that can appeal to aficionados. Indeed, old dogs can learn new tricks.



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Whisky expert Jim Murray picks Bourbon-style, single-malt Scotch as 2014 World Whisky of The Year

Jim Murray's Whiskey Bible 2014The well-respected English whiskey expert Jim Murray has picked a single-malt Scotch whiskey distilled as Scotch but matured in the style of American bourbon, as World Whiskey of the Year in the just published 2014 edition of his “Whisky Bible.”

Murray awarded 97.5 points out of 100 — his highest score this year — to the whisky, Glenmorangie Ealanta, a limited bottling.

Glenmorangie’s Ealanta, released in January as the fourth annual release in the company’s Private Edition range, is a 19-year-old expression, fully matured in virgin American white oak casks with a provenance that stretches all the way to the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri.

Ealanta’s innovative aroma and taste profile blew Murray away, he said. “It gave an aroma and taste profile completely new to me in over 30 years of tasting whisky.”

He described it as having “one of the longest finishes of any Scotch this year … and borderline perfection.”

Murray tasted more than 1,100 new whiskies from around the globe that reached market in the last year for the 10th anniversary edition of his popular whisky reference.Ealanta Packshot

“This is major coup for us,” said Dr. Bill Lumsden, director of distilling and whisky creation at Glenmorangie. “It’s no secret in our industry that it’s the wood that makes the whisky, and for many years my team and I have been carrying out detailed research in this area.”  Lumsden,  a  pioneer in researching into the effect of wood on whisky maturation, is also well known for traveling the world to search out the best oak casks in which to mature his whisky.


Published by Dram Good Books priced at $19.99, the “2014 Whisky Bible” is available in bookshops and liquor stores throughout the world. Signed copies by the author can be purchased at

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1 month, 3 NYC area beer festivals

Get those pretzel necklaces ready. It’s festival time in New York.

Three beer festivals are scheduled to take place in and around New York City over the next few weeks.

Spider Bite Beer Co. pours at last year's Belmont Park beer expo

Spider Bite Beer Co. pours at last year’s Belmont Park beer expo

First up, is the International Great Beer Expo at Belmont Park in Elmont with day and evening sessions scheduled for Nov. 9.  Samuel Adams Rebel IPA, a hopped up West Coast-style brew, will make its East Coast debut at the sixth annual edition of this event, which features some 50 breweries and a hundred-plus. Tickets are $45 online and $55 at the gate, although a $23 discounted admissions can be found at Goldstar. A word of caution: the event space is partly open to the elements and unheated. Photos from last year’s expo showed many attendees attired in warm clothes and coats. Starfish Junction Productions is the event promoter.

Craft ExpOn Nov. 13, from 7-10 p.m. Great Brewers/Union Beer Distributors presents The Craft Experience, which they described as “the most exclusive event of its kind.”  The event pairs an impressive list of 125 domestic and international craft breweries and 30 little-known craft distillers under one roof. That roof is Center 548, a three-floor event space near the Chelsea Piers at 548 W. 22nd St. Manhattan. Brewery owners, brewmasters and distillers will be hand, too, to talk about their products.  Regular tickets are  $89 and a VIP admit, which offers an opportunity to start tasting an hour before the official start, sells for $125. Union Beer is a major craft beer distributor in New York City, Long island and five other downstate counties in New York as well as a distributor of Anheuser-Busch InBev products.

The scene last year at the Lexington Avenue Armory

The scene last year at the Lexington Avenue Armory

Finally, there is the New York City Craft Beer Festival spread over three sessions on Nov. 23 and Nov. 24 at the Lexington Avenue Armory at E. 68th St. in Manhattan. The Hand Crafted Tasting Co. (an affiliate of concert promoter Mad Dog Presents) puts on the event, which is focused on fall and winter seasonal beers. Seventy-five breweries are expected to participate, each serving up two beers. There’s also an extra-charge Connoisseur Club, which includes harder-find beers and edibles and an extra hour of sampling. Tickets are $55 for general admission,  $75 for VIP admission (an extra hour to sample) and $25 for the Connoisseur Club. Saturday general admission tickets are sold out.

Are you planning on attending any of these?

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Gov. Cuomo says MTA will expand Taste NY, offering beer, wine, and foods at Grand Central Terminal

taste-ny-logoThe Metropolitan Transit Authority plans to add a Taste NY store in Grand Central Terminal, the Midtown Manhattan transportation, tourist and shopping hub.  The store will sell food and beverages produced in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced.

Cuomo has being pushing the Taste NY initiative since earlier this year to boost awareness and sales of New York produced foods and beverages, particularly to consumers in New York City.

There are already some of the stores at rest stops along the Thruway and the MTA recently introduced New York-made wine, beers and distilled spirits on bar carts on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad. Signage on the carts promotes the products and, according to officials, the products have been selling briskly since being added last month.

“Taste NY is all about highlighting the world-class food and beverages that are produced all across New York, which supports tourism and economic activity in communities around the state,” Cuomo said in a Sept. 14 statement, noting that a store at Grand Central “is a great way to showcase the wealth of products that New York’s agricultural industry has to offer and encourage travelers to explore what they’ve been missing.”

“With the explosive interest in artisanal and craft foods and beverages and New York’s long tradition of wine and beer-making, the time is right for the producers of New York’s great foods and beverages to break into and tap this great marketplace of commuters, travelers, tourists and shoppers,” said MTA chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast.

The MTA’s Metro North Railroad issued a request for proposals several weeks ago seeking operators for the store. The request for proposals targets the state’s wineries and other retailers as potential operators of this first stand-alone Taste NY shop. The MTA estimates that 750,000 people pass through the terminal daily. The terminal serves commuters  from Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Orange, and Rockland counties and in Manhattan, the Bronx, and southwestern Connecticut.

Crain’s New York Business reported that the Papyrus stationery store on the ramp up to E. 42nd St. in Grand Central Terminal will close next year to make room for the Taste NY  store. It also reported that Taste NY stores will open in Penn Station, and at LaGuardia and JFK airports.   Taste NY stores  also are planned for Delta Air Lines’ Terminal 2 at JFK and at the US Airways terminal at LaGuardia, the publication reported.

The New Baltimore rest area in Greene County on the New York State Thruway has a dedicated Taste NY space within the Travel Mart store that began selling New York food items in August. HMS Host Corp. operates the New Baltimore Service Area. Additional locations are soon expected to open at other Thruway service areas in Western and Central New York.

Also, the state hosted a Taste NY tent at Farm Aid 2013 concert in Saratoga Springs in September offering beers and wines.

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Finding rare Scotch whiskies among Edinburgh’s tourist traps

The little shop on Cannongate: Cadenhead's Edinburgh

The little shop on Cannongate: Cadenhead’s Edinburgh

A trip to Scotland would not be complete without a whisky stop.

However, my itinerary was far too short during a recent journey for a stopover at one of the country’s many distilleries. One possible alternative: a visit to the Scotch Whisky Experience, close to historic Edinburgh Castle and my lodgings. I quickly ruled that out after a consult with various online travel forums. No need for a Disneyesque ride explaining the whisky making process.

Hope remained.  About a half mile from of Edinburgh’s Holyrood Castle is Wm. Cadenhead, a tiny outpost of Scotland’s oldest and largest independent bottler of spirits, which is based in Campbelltown in the Speyside.

Until the mid-20th century there were many small firms that bottled and sold the pure product of Scotland’s distilleries. Cadenhead, among them, has been doing this for about 130 years. A loss of public interest caused the small producers and bottlers to close and today only a small handful of distilleries remain in the ownership of their founding families and even fewer of the bottling companies remain active. Others indy bottlers include Compass BoxGordon & McPhail and the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society, the name a few.

The shop at 172 Canongate on the Royal Mile, a touristy stretch of pubs, souvenir shops and store upon store selling cashmere scarves, is a tiny affair. No more than a half dozen people could fit into the small shop. Inside you’ll first see a display of fairy usual whiskeys.  Cadenhead casksTo the right, a chalkboard lists the store’s large cache of rare, aged whiskeys. To the left, just inside the store’s window, are several spigotted wooden casks, each containing a cask-strength expression of one of Scotland’s whisky producing regions—and a cask of rum.  It’s from these barrels that the shop sells bottles — 30cl, 35cl and 70cl — of whiskeys for takeaway.

Scotch whisky display at Cadenhed's

Scotch whisky display at Cadenhed’s

I explained to a gent who asked how he could help that I wanted to find a whisky that I could not find in America. I listed some of my favorites from the Speyside and The Highlands and the flavors I seek in a bottle, i.e. chocolate, spice, candied fruits, etc. He took a tiny plastic cup and poured a taste from a bottle next to a cask labeled Campbelltown. No details except a proof statement: 59.7—that’s 119 percent abv, a drink that must be cut with water. I’m told its been aged 15 years and that it’s a Springbank, which like Cadenhead, is owned by J & A Mitchell & Co. Ltd. Springbank Whisky is lightly peated and twice distilled. It’s smooth and offers up chocolate and dried fruit nuts.  Just right for. I’ll take 35cl.

Can I sample the Highland malt? I’m poured a taste. It’s sweeter than the Campbelltown as well as smooth. All the flavors I’m fond of in whisky are here. I’m told its origin is Glenfarclas and its age is about 10 years. Another bottle to go home.

Not a long shopping expedition, but enough to satisfy my whisky desire.  Next stop, Heathrow Duty Free.




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