Bellini's and Negroni's in Roma

Steve and his wife Sue are on vaca in Rome but still hard at work doing proprietary market research. Our data suggests that in fact, Negroni's taste better from the rooftop bar at the Minerva Hotel overlooking the Pantheon...even though they cost 16 Euro's! The next evening our locus of focus was Harry's Bar Roma (it just happens to be across the street from our hotel) where we sampled Bellini's, another new experience for Sue's palate which received rave reviews.

After dinner we got lost, (which occurs about every three minutes in Rome) and got directions from "Federico the First" who turned out to be proprietor of what is arguably a Michelin 2 Star restaurant on the Via Sistina where they make their own bread and pasta. We made plans for dinner the next night and were not disappointed. Starting with The Dalmore neat (wow!) for me and a house Prosecco for Sue, Federico recco'd a bottle of Pio Cesare Barolo. I have a great familiarity with Ceretto Barolo's and Barbaresco's from my days at Palace Brands, but I hadn't had much experience with other brands. This one was a bit disappointing at first, but then it started to develop, and develop and develop, and in about a half hour it blossomed into a hugely powerful and complex explosion in the mouth. Just right for the perfectly prepared lamb chops Federico paired it with.

As the conversation got more lubricated, old Freddie and me (we got to be best buddies by the time the main course was served) started talking bidness. Turns out he knows everybody who's anybody in the wine biz in Italy. At this point, our host pulls up a chair and a glass, the gold flatware comes out, a super dessert (all I remember it was chocolate and cream and really good), and a coffee liqueur that the Fredmeister said was better than Kahlua. Of couse by this time, my neutral researcher perspective has been severely compromised, so it's hard to tell. We ended the evening with Cappucino's which you're not really supposed to have after noon. But, since were were such old friends by now, Freddo checked with the Pope for a special dispensation. Then we staggered back to the hotel, and so to bed.


New York, Part 2: The W Hotel

After scrapping with strangers over cabs outside Bryant Park (it was about to rain and most were off-duty) I made my way to Times Square to check out the W Hotel.

Attached to the hotel is a seafood restaurant with a small bar and lounge called Blue Fin. Their cocktail menu is limited but they have an extensive wine list, and their location is perfect for people-watching, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows that peer out into the heart of Times Square. I was only there for about a half hour, but there was plenty to take in (including miserable double-decker bus-riders donning ponchos and Adam Duritz from the Counting Crows…random).

Just upstairs, on the top floor of the W is a swanky, modern bar & lounge with a minimalist design. Like every other place in New York, I couldn’t get a seat at the bar (I’m no VIP), so I was forced to stand (in uncomfortable and non-sensible heels) to enjoy my “Peartini.” I thought Pear-flavored drinks were losing their popularity but there was at least one at every bar I visited. This one featured Pear-Flavored Vodka, Elderflower syrup, and Champagne, with a gorgeous fresh pear slice for a garnish (I wish I could show you a picture, but the bartender warned photos aren’t allowed). The drink was ok, but a little dry for my taste. Here’s how I would do it differently:

1. Switch out the pear-flavored vodka for regular premium vodka (like OVAL) and use a little less.
2. Add some pear-flavored schnapps to get that fruity, crisp flavor.
3. Use St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur instead of syrup (What can I say? I love the stuff!).
4. Use a sweeter Champagne (like Cuvee M. from Mumm Napa).

These changes make for a more balanced, less harsh cocktail that’s still fruity and fresh!


New York: Part One

I like Martinis! Like…the real ones…well, kind of…

Earlier this week I took the train into Grand Central to get a taste of the Big Apple. Of course, I’ve been there many times before but this trip was all business—and luckily for me, that means trying out cocktails at trendy bars!

Located in the lovely Bryant Park, behind the New York Public Library, the Bryant Park Grill was my first stop of the day and featured a great outdoor dining patio and delicious food.

I’ve been trying to make it a habit to order whatever my bartender/server suggests to drink, or at the very least, something featured in a drink menu. But at my first destination, there was no cocktail menu, and my server only offered “We can make anything you want.” I froze. It’s been a long time since I had to think about drinking—the combination can be deadly.

My wonderful city-savvy hostess and lunch guest for the afternoon, Anu Rao interjected to suggest I try a dirty vodka martini. Gross! Or so I thought. I’d never tasted one and it had never occurred to me that I might enjoy it. Truth is, I loved it! If you’re in the city (and you like olives) go get one—they’re great. Anu (who seems to be something of a dirty-vodka-martini-aficionado) said it was one of the best she’d had.

I’m so hooked that when I got home, I fixed one up with some of my OVAL vodka. It was great—smooth, not at all harsh, like I feared a martini would be.

Ok, so maybe it’s not your traditional gin and dry vermouth, but it’s certainly a step up from “appletinis” (Sure, maybe they don’t qualify as “martinis” but whatever they are—
They’re delicious!) You’ll have to cut me some slack…


Vodka 101

In preparation of our new client Oval Vodka (http://www.ovalvodka.com/) entering the U.S. market, I attended a vodka tasting at Table & Vine in West Springfield, Mass to receive a little vodka education.

What I already knew about vodka is that it’s the most popular spirit among Americans and it’s also the most populated market. There are countless brands out there, which means newcomers must offer something new and different. For Oval, it’s the vodka’s structured quality that makes it unbelievably smooth and mixable. For a couple of the brands I tried at the tasting, it was their unique and all natural flavors.

Idaho held its own beside the big brands we all know from Russia and Poland with Zygo (http://www.fuelchange.com/) and 44° North Mountain Huckleberry (http://www.rockymountainvodka.com/). Both products are distilled in Rigby, Idaho and both are delicious. I tried them straight at the tasting but am looking forward to doing a little experimentation with a couple of recipes I snagged (see below).

Zygo is an energy vodka (it contains Taurine, Yerba Mate, Guarana, and D-Ribose) with a unique combination of natural flavors. Peach seems to be most dominant upon first tasting, but Zygo leaves a subtle vanilla taste on your tongue. Other flavors in the mix include mandarin orange and juniper.

44° North Mountain Huckleberry is distilled from Idaho Burbank and Russet potatoes and stepped in huckleberries for ten days. The result is a sweet, smooth vodka that I imagine would be great mixed (again, see below).

In today’s vodka market, it’s hard for a product to stand out among the millions, but these two certainly caught my eye and perked up my taste buds. Check out their sites to figure out where you can find them near you and give these recipes a try…

“Fother Mucker” (originated by John Libonati of Brite Bar, NYC)

2 ½ oz. Zygo Vodka
1 oz. Southern Comfort
Splash of Fresh Lime Juice
Splash of Cranberry Juice

Shake well and pour into a martini glass
Squeeze a Lime wedge and drop it in

“Huck & Cuke Caipiroska” (from their site)

2 oz. 44° North Mountain Huckleberry Vodka
3 Cucumber Slices
3 Slices of Lime

Muddle the Limes and Cucumber in a shaker
Add 44° North Mountain Huckleberry and Ice
Shake Well. Pour into a rocks glass, top with Soda, and garnish with a Cucumber Wheel



Welcome to Drinks for the House, a cocktail blog that’s all about sharing our experiences as beer, wine, and spirits industry insiders. Samantha Harrigan will be the principal correspondent for this site but you’ll also be hearing from Steve Raye and Jeff Grindrod. Our work often leads us to local (and some not-so-local) bars here in New England and beyond to taste the latest and most popular creations of very talented bartenders (sounds awful, doesn’t it?). Join us for a round if you’re interested in hearing bar stories, collecting tasty new recipes, or just want to say your piece about the cocktail climate. We’d love to hear from you!