Food & Wine Reporter’s Notebook Day 1: Breakfast, acid and whiskey

Acid Trip: The Art of Aguachiles

Aspen Times staff
A sampling of wines, hams and other salty, fatty snack pairings at the “Vino y Jamón: Great Spanish Wines and Ham” seminar at the Food & Wine Classic on Friday, June 17, 2022.
Kaya Williams/Aspen Times

Breakfast of Champions

My slippery slope out of vegetarianism started about two-and-a-half years ago, when I was working as a fact-checker on a food podcast in Boston.

One episode, on farmers cultivating the acorn-fed marbled fattiness jamón ibérico of Spain, had convinced me to start making exceptions to my no-meat rule on special occasions — in anticipation, of course, that one day one of those special occasions would involve the Iberian ham that I had developed an appetite for by nature of the job.

After a few too many “special occasions” and a pretty liberal interpretation of my own policy, I don’t think I can call myself a vegetarian anymore — even with exceptions.

But as of Friday morning, at the first seminar of the weekend for the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, I can finally say that I’ve had a taste of that elusive jamón ibérico, thanks to Sabato Sagaria’s seminar on “Vino y Jamón: Great Spanish Wines and Ham” at the St. Regis Aspen.

Sagaria, now on his 12th iteration of Food & Wine, brought a clever sense of humor to what he considers the “breakfast of champions.” Chef JJ Johnson popped in too, perhaps a little sleep deprived from his 3:30 a.m. arrival in Aspen but a nonetheless enthusiastic commentator.

Each place was set with wine (eight different varieties to be exact) and ham (two varieties, including that rare jamón ibérico that Johnson declared “an experience all its own,” plus chorizo, marcona almonds, manchego cheese and potato chips).

Our leader tasked us with determining the best vino to pair with our jamón, and the crowd took the assignment in stride.

A creamy, melted-butter rose from Dominio del Aguila was my rich-on-rich favorite with that marbled jamón ibérico. But there were other surprising pairings too, like potato chips with a light white wine by winemaker Raúl Pérez (per Johnson’s recommendation) and manchego that brought out the fuller flavors in a minerally red from Conde de los Andes (per the advice of the gentleman from Birmingham in the seat next to me).

“I think when it comes to food and wine pairing, it’s really understanding your palate,” Sagaria said. And, as I found, sometimes it helps to listen to other people’s palates, too.

– Kaya Williams, The Aspen Times

The drizzle stopped just in time for “Acid Trip: The Art of Aguachiles” in Paepcke Park.

The lesser known cousin of ceviche, aguachiles are an easy and vibrant alternative. Chef Claudette Zepeda broke down the differences: While ceviche is cured in an acid base, aguachiles use the acid to dress the protein like a vinaigrette, but without oil.

Aguachiles literally means “chili water,” and all you need for a basic option is citrus, chilies, herbs, salt and your choice of protein or veggies. Claudette encourages experimentation to find what you like best and whipped up three bases for aguachiles in 10 minutes. Her variations included carrot juice, strawberry with roasted red pepper and one with ponzu.

While beef was the original protein used, seafood or vegetarian options are easy swaps — pick your journey. Claudette has her culinary roots in northern Mexico and likened aguachiles to a national love language. Check out her recipes online to find how easily this fresh dish can come together at home. And if you find yourself in San Diego make a stop at her restaurant, Vega. For now, Viva Mexico!

— Amy Laha, The Aspen Times

Whiskey is not just about the buzz or taste, but also the money

Whiskey connoisseur Nate Ganapathi apologized in advance during Friday’s seminar “Bourbon Brilliance: Single-Barrels, Limited Releases, and More”.

“I’m going to do a quick apology because there are eight 50% or higher whiskies in front of you right now, so don’t expect to leave completely sober,” he said, and then reminded the packed rooftop floor of the Aspen Art Museum 20 minutes later, “Kudos to you because there is a boatload of whiskey in front of you.”

The selection during Friday’s “Bourbon Brilliance: Single-Barrels, Limited Releases, and More”.

Indeed, there was. And when you add it all up, it might as well have been a million-dollar tasting, much like driving around and looking at Aspen real estate.

While Ganapathi, along with several distillers, spent most of the seminar discussing the flavors and processes of the different offerings, the out-of-the-gate confession about the money in the bottle was a startling and quite surprising revelation in the world of whiskey for me.

Whiskey is now like fine art, fine wine, or a second, third or fourth house.

“A lot of people are in it for the flavor. … How I got to this table was the collection side of things,” Ganapathi said. “The Yamazaki 50, which retailed for $4,800 in 2005 is now worth $500,000 …. The Yamazaki 55 is now $900,000 at a retail price of $32,500.”

He went onto say that Macallan bottles are going for over $1 million.

“So, people buy houses, I buy whiskey,” he joked.

Regardless of the price, all of eight chosen ones for Ganapathi were approachable and drinkable.

Nate Ganapathi shows off the whiskey featured in his seminar “Bourbon Brilliance: Single-Barrels, Limited Releases, and More.”
Carolyn Sackariason

The favorite among the crowd was the 17-year-old Heaven Hill Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey from the Heritage Collection.

“We do two things really well: one is we make a pretty good whiskey and two, we make really good, aged whiskey,” said Conor O’Driscoll, distillery manager.

He said aging it that long translates into a huge loss of product due to the extended time the whiskey ages in the barrel.

“The angels are thirsty,” O’Driscoll laughed. “A lot of the 17-, 19-, 20-year-olds we have in the warehouse when we pull them out, they are empty and the barrel literally falls apart and some of them honestly taste like crap, they taste like a dirty little stick, but the ones that turn out taste like this and this the magic, this is the art, the science and what makes it f—ing perfect.”

He described it as a unicorn. It was released six weeks ago at $275 retail.

Oh, and it’s 118 proof. Strong, smooth and tasty. The only way whiskey should be.

— Carolyn Sackariason