More than wine at Food & Wine
ASPEN The Food & Wine Magazine Classic in Aspen. The name says it all, right?Well, not exactly all. You see, in addition to wine, the Classic also offers other adult beverages for tasting inside the Grand Tasting tent. Brewers, such as the Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) and Ft. Collins-based Odell Brewing have come to pour their sublime suds over the years. And there has been an increasing number of spirits flowing alongside the wine as well, as Absolut Vodka, Plymouth Gin, and even the trendy Alize have been served in various cocktail concoctions.Not coincidentally, there has been an explosion among sophisticated consumers in the appreciation of fine liquor, cocktails, and great beers. As evidence, this years Classic will be hosting seminars that focus exclusively on the other drinks that are becoming an increasingly familiar part of the total dining experience.Ray Isle, senior editor at Food and Wine Magazine and the author of the publication’s monthly Tasting Room column, will conduct a tasty seminar on Americas Great Craft Beers on Friday, June 13, at 2 p.m. Then, on both Friday and Saturday at 3:30 p.m., The Modern Mixologist, Tony Abou-Ganim, will be hosting a session titled Cocktail Fundamentals. Tony will also have two sessions on Party Drinks: Punches and Sangrias that will assuredly be colorful and fresh.In separate interviews recently, both Tony and Ray chuckled as they told similar stories about the resistance they met in getting their respective seminars on the docket at the Classic.I have been pushing to get a craft beer seminar for a while, Isle said. Theres lots of interest in craft today. In fact, I just came from an event in Washington, D.C., (SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience) where 2,000 people came to drink craft beers and pair them with food. It was perhaps the first real upscale event for beer and food pairing.”Abou-Ganim said it was a bit of a struggle to get the Classic to embrace cocktails in the seminar lineup, but We have now done it for two years upstairs at Jimmys, and it has been packed with a line out the door. I think people have responded really well.”So why the renewed interest in products that have been around for years but are enjoying a seemingly sudden renaissance? Isle believes the growth of the craft beer market is part of a natural progression. People became more interested in food, and magazines and events took off in this country, then wine naturally followed, he opines. Then in the mid-’80s the microbrew revolution hit, and people got interested in beers. The craft beer movement is the second wave of the microbrews.Abou-Ganim agrees that the growth of the new generation of cocktails and mixologists (as those who mix spirits like to be called these days), is part of the evolution of the awareness of food and wine. A lot of it is the power of the pen, he says. There has been a huge change in the attention given to cocktails and spirits in the media. They see that mixology is a culinary art.If it is indeed an art then Abou-Ganim is at the forefront of the new movement. Based in Las Vegas, he tours the world, conducting seminars and classes and consulting with bars and restaurants on their spirits programs. He has come a long way from his days at the Brass Rail Bar in Port Huron, Mich., where he learned the craft under the proprietress, his cousin Helen David. Over the last decade he has created the cocktail program for Steve Wynns massive Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, started his own company, and served as the national ambassador for the U.S. Bartenders Guild.Abou-Ganims most recent project was the opening of Bar Milano in New York City with partners Joe and Jason Denton of ‘ino, Lupa and ‘inoteca restaurants. We wanted to create the complete dining experience, he says. Guests start with a cocktail, have a great wine, dine on Italian cuisine, finish with a desert and an after-dinner drink. Soup to nuts, if you will.Abou-Ganim believes that while it takes time, education, and experience to become a great mixologist, it really begins with basics that are pretty easy to understand. The anatomy of a cocktail is pretty simple, he says. The flavors are sweet and sour, and then there is the alcohol. Take a Negroni, its an ounce of gin, an ounce of Campari, and an ounce of sweet vermouth. Simple. But once you learn to balance the ingredients, thats when it becomes great. Then you can begin to really play with other things, like cherries in the spring or blueberries in the summer.Abou-Ganims Cocktail Basics seminar will focus on stocking and tending your home bar. Its a lot easier to make great cocktails if you have the right stuff.” For him the right stuff includes the right glassware, quality spirits, and fresh fruits and juices for mixing. If you cant get enough at the seminar, Abou-Ganim has a DVD called Modern Mixology that will be sold at the Classic.Isles tasting of craft beers will be a palate-opening experience for many who have yet to try some of the extraordinary brews that are being made in America these days. Ive tried to have a kind of national sampling of the beers, he says. I want to let people taste interesting beers from all over with different stylesAmong the beers he will be pouring are a Pilsner from Victory Brewing Co. in Downington, Penn., a Belgian quadrupel ale from Boulders Avery Brewing, a brown ale from Delawares Dogfish Head Brewery, a dark ale from Sonoma Calif.s Russian River Brewing Company, and a pale ale from the pride of Munster, Ind., Three Floyds Brewing Company. Oh, Isle will also pour the legendary and very potent (25% alchohol) Utopia from Boston Brewing. If the mission was an American tour in a pint glass, then Isle will have accomplished his goal.Isle believes these are exciting times for craft beers, which he loosely defines as anything with an artisanal sensibility in terms of using a style or ingredients. And the message is spreading. “In New York, where I live, all the young sommeliers drink and care about beer. That will filter down to the general public, and this will just continue to grow.So this weekend cleanse your palates occasionally with a cold beer or a fruity cocktail. Abou-Ganim and Isle will be glad you did. Chances are you will be too.