Saturday, January 31, 2015

Restaurant Review - Velocity Wings, South Riding

Tonight, I took the family over to the new Velocity wings joint in East Gate.  I've heard mixed reviews in the weeks since its opening, but most of the negatives seemed to surround either service issues during peak times or takeout orders.  My wife and I fancy ourselves wings aficionados, so Velocity had its work cut out for them.

In order to avoid the potential issues with capacity (and to reduce the chance of the kids going crazy while waiting for seating or for food to show up) we decided to get there for an early dinner, at 5:30. Ultimately it seemed to be a good decision, as we were seated immediately.  By the time we left at 7:00, there was a substantial wait.

Once seated, we were greeted by our waiter within two minutes.  He was working on three other tables at the same time, but he was very attentive.  In fact, noticing the kids, as he was taking our drink orders, he offered to switch the TV channel from the basketball game (which none of us cared for) to the Disney Channel, which made the kids quite happy.  He was back in minutes with the drinks, including a Vienna Lager which came out at the proper temperature with just the right amount of head.

We decided to check out a few starters to get a better idea of the rest of the menu, so we got the Caesar salad, Nachos, and Pretzel bites for the table.  The Caesar was well dressed but a bit plain.  I would have liked to see some shredded Parmesan and maybe a splash of champagne or red wine vinegar to give it a bit more tang, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.  The pretzel bites were tremendous.  Soft, flavorful, with just the right amount of salt.  The cheese on the side was creamy and seasoned well.  Everyone also enjoyed the nachos.  The chili was present but not overwhelming, the chips warm and crispy, and the cheese was melty and stringy.  Just like nachos should be.

For mains, the kids got the mini corn dogs and the boneless bites with honey BBQ sauce, Corin ordered the medium tossed wings, and I got a split order of traditional spicy garlic and terminal wings.  Food came in two waves, spaced about 15 minutes apart.  Timing was good.  The honey BBQ sauce worked great for my older son.  Not spicy, but full flavored.  The corn dogs were your typical run of the mill mini corn dogs that you can find on most kids menus, but they did the job.  Now on to the wings.  The wings themselves were on the larger side and well cooked.  They came out piping hot, crisped up well, and with the fat rendered properly.  The medium sauce worked well for Corin, whose tolerance for heat isn't terribly high.  They had enough spice for her to feel it, but were balanced with a nice tanginess.  The spicy garlic had a great garlicky flavor with a hint of heat.  The sauce in the bottom of the basket had broken, so it was a bit greasy, but the flavor was enjoyable.  The terminal wings, advertised as their spiciest, had almost more of a rub than a sauce.  The spice level would probably have been intolerable for Corin, but for someone with a decent tolerance for heat, they were a bit of a let down.  If I order the spiciest sauce on the menu, I expect to break a sweat.  Didn't happen with these.  But the flavor was really good.

For dessert, we split a chocolate shake, which was just the right thickness and had that traditional old timey shake flavor, and the chocolate lava cake.  The cake itself didn't really have much 'lava' to it, but it was incredibly moist and spongey.  The dark chocolate flavor blended well with the richness of the vanilla ice cream on top.  Both were gone in minutes.

The only real disappointment was the backs to the booths.  They sway with every movement, so anytime someone in the booth behind you moves, the back of your seat lurches forward.  That got irritating.  But all in all and aside from the moving booth backs, we got almost exactly what we expected from a wings joint.

I'd give it a solid B grade.  I hope that the take out and peak time issues get cleared up, as those really seem to be the most irksome problems that people seem to run into.  Luckily we didn't have those problems.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Update on Absente Absinthe's misleading marketing

Three and a half years ago, I wrote this article about how Crillon Importers and their absinthe brands (most notably Absente) were misleading consumers.

It seems as though their tactics have continued unabated.  Since that original article was published, they have continued to market their brands as having the 'maximum amount of thujone allowed by law'.  While technically correct, it's also very misleading.  Let's examine why for posterity's sake:

  1. Thujone's effects have been outrageously exaggerated for many many years, even after being thoroughly debunked through scientific analysis.
  2. The U.S. legal limit for thujone is 10mg/l and the EU limit is 35mg/l.  Even assuming that their European offerings have 3.5 times the thujone limit of their US offerings, what they fail to mention is that both limits are considered THUJONE FREE.  So when they say they have the maximum amount allowable by law they are telling the truth. But they are also saying that they contain NO THUJONE.
  3. I also feel the need to object to their claims of containing the maximum amount.  Unless they are intentionally adding in more thujone to each batch to 'top it up' to the 10mg/l or 35mg/l limit, there is practically no way to keep it right at the limit through natural means.  Thujone levels in wormwood vary based on the time of year the wormwood is harvested and its terroir.  Further, each year the levels of thujone vary.  It would be impossible to maintain such a standard as to come it directly at the limit with each batch.  The only way this could happen is if they test each batch before sending it to the TTB, then adding thujone to it.  I very highly doubt that they would go to this length, as it would be cost prohibitive.
Fast forward to today.

On their Facebook page (which I am banned from posting to after the last article), they posted the following passage:

This post makes me laugh, as it pretty much invalidates what Crillon had been claiming for years.  By claiming that Artemisia Absinthium is the authenticating factor for absinthe, they are indirectly claiming that their previous version of Absente, which was on sale from the late 1990's up through 2008, was NOT absinthe, since it did not contain said botanical.  In essence, they have been misleading consumers for over a decade.

Further, the claims that it's the thujone that make their product so 'sublime' (their words), is falling back on the same misleading marketing that they've been using for years.

Let's also not forget that these brands contain sugar and artificial colorings, which would invalidate them from being authentic absinthe to begin with.  But this type of marketing is even more inexcusable.

Not only is the marketing irresponsible and misleading, one could also make a legal argument that it is going against the rules set forth by DISCUS (top of page 7) that state that no producer should make claims of the effects of any botanical unless expressly approved.  The TTB also regulates these types of claims.  On their website, it states:

Examples of advertising areas that TTB will review include, but are not limited to, the following: 
  • Statements that are false, misleading, or deceptive;
  • Misleading or false curative or therapeutic claims;
  • Specific health claims and health related statements.

How long are they going to continue this charade about thujone?  Only time will tell.  But this underscores the need for consumers to do their own research into what they are buying.

Caveat Emptor.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The problem(s) with Absente and their sister brands

I've made a lot of stink in the past year about Pernod and their misinformation campaign, but there are other brands that have been just as difficult to deal with, if not moreso, and whose advertizing campaigns have proven detrimental to the idea of informing today's absinthe consumer.

Case in point: Crillon Importers. Their products include Absente, Grande Absente, Absinthe Ordinaire and now Michel P. Roux Supreme Absinthe.

I had my first dealings with Crillon a few years ago when they sent me a bottle of Grande Absente to review. The product itself was billed as an authentic 18th century recipe; one that included grande wormwood, thus qualifying it as real absinthe. Well, suffice it to say, the product itself was middle of the road, at best: harsh star anise flavor and artificially colored. The spokesman I talked with over the phone was surprised to hear I didn't find it great, which should have told me something.

Over the next two years or so, I'd run across some of their marketing, which was for the most part, misleading and/or incorrect, but I didn't think much of it, since it didn't seem to be a very popular brand in the U.S.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago.

While surfing around on Facebook, I ran across a new fan page called 'Absinthe - The Green Movement'. While it seems to be putting itself out there as an absinthe resource, it is in fact run by Crillon as a main page for all four of their brands. Due to their marketing ventures, the page has quickly garnered more than 8,000 members, which in my estimation is more than any other absinthe brand. A shame to say the least.

As I began to read through a lot of the posts made by the brand reps, I couldn't believe my eyes. A large amount of what they were posting was blatantly false and/or misleading. I reluctantly 'liked' the page, solely to enable me to comment on their posts, and correct some of the information. Well, let's just say they didn't like that too much. They got defensive quite quickly, and within a week or so, suspended my priveleges to post, and erased my comments. Apparently, they prefer censorship to true education.

Because of the huge following the page now has, I felt it was important for me to call them out on a lot of their statements. So that's what this post will be about. I'm going to break it down into several sections: Brand, Irresponsible representation, Absinthe History, and the dreaded Thujone.

1) In one advertisement, they claimed that their brands are the best selling brands in France and Switzerland.

Well, since we know that Switzerland has a law that prohibits artificially colored absinthes from being sold in their country, we know for a fact that their claim cannot be true, since all three of their original brands are all artificially colored.

2) In multiple ads and FB posts, their representatives claimed that their brands were now being made with Northern Wormwood, which they claim make it authentic. There are two possibilities here: 1) The reps are so uneducated that they don't know that Northern Wormwood is not the same thing as Grande Wormwood, or 2)They aren't really using Grande Wormwood and they accidentally tipped their hats. My guess is the former, but unless we are able to examine their herbs, we'll never know.

On multiple occasions, I've seen the brand reps commend or endorse practices that can be extremely dangerous and/or illegal. A couple of examples:

1) On their flikr page, they featured a bar which lights their absinthe on fire, then had the patron first huff the fumes, then down the shot. As I mentioned there, the brand might have a legal battle on their hands when someone burns their mucous membranes by inhaling strong, hot alcohol vapors.

2) On their FB page, they rebuked me for criticizing a gentleman who was bragging about passing out a homemade 'bathtub' absinthe. They fully supported his actions until I explained to them the seriousness of their endorsement. Not surprisingly, they pulled their comment soon after, yet still published another comment criticizing me for calling them out. Here is the passage:

Shortly after the exchange, all of the comments were removed, apparently after they realized what they were endorsing.

The reps are a total mess here. I wouldn't be surprised if they just make stuff up, or at the most, do a cursory google search before posting something. Some of the highlights:

1) Absinthe was a treatment for malaria (no, it wasn't)

2) They claim that Absente was the first absinthe available in the U.S. market since 1912, and was available years before any other brand. This is misleading because the original Absente did not contain wormwood (the herb that gives absinthe its name), thus can't be considered real absinthe by any rational argument.

3) They claim that their product comes closer to original absinthe recipes than the majority of products made in the U.S. or Europe. Yet, on their Absente page, they also claim that they don't know what absinthe tasted like back in 1915. Try as I might, I can't figure out how both statements can be true simultaneously.

4) On their Facebook page, they claim: "We are committed to providing our consumers with only the highest quality absinthes possible by adhering to the same ingredients and artisinal methods used in the mid 1800's through the turn of the century." Three things wrong with that:

  • during the height of absinthe's popularity in France, there was a identity standard, which regarded artificially colored absinthes as lower in quality than naturally colored products. Thus, they cannot be the 'highest quality'.
  • Same ingredients. We know that FD&C Blue wasn't created until 1896, and FD&C Yellow #5 not until 1949. So we know they aren't adhering to the same ingredients used in the mid 1800's.
  • I won't even go into the whole use of the term 'artisinal'.

Here is where I feel the most irritated. Mainly because they claim to be educating the public, but in reality, they are being complacent in leading consumers to believe that thujone is an important part of absinthe. I think they believe that if they truly make an effort to play down the importance of thujone, they will lose customers who are buying absinthe strictly because they think thujone is a drug or has some recreational potential.

Instead of telling the truth, which means letting people know that the legal limits of 10mg.l in the US and 35mg/l (for bitters) in the EU essentially means thujone free, i.e. NO THUJONE, they instead use their best marketing speak to say they contain the MAXIMUM amount allowed by law. While what they are saying is most definitely true, it also reenforces the belief that more thujone is desirable.

If they were truly interested in educating the public they could simply reference the recent studies that show that pre-ban absinthes, for the most part, didn't contain much thujone, contrary to previous assumptions.

But I think that might be just too much work for them. I think they'd prefer to retain those potential customers by luring them in with MAXIMUM thujone amounts.

So, in conclusion, looking at the facts, one can only conclude that Crillon and their brands care more for extravagant marketing than they do about creating a superior product. Why is it that so many of the firms that have the most available capital tend to skimp on the product?

If Crillon had any sense about them, they'd hire someone who actually has a large amount of experience with absinthe and its history to work with their marketing department.

Yours in absinthe,


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Arrette Unique from Tequila Rack

Several weeks ago, I was in my local ABC store on Leesburg Pike, when I spotted some interesting bottles in the 'tall cotton' case. Right next to the Glenlivet 21 (picked up a bottle of that too), I saw several tequilas I'd never seen before.

Always one to experiment with new findings, I asked the owner what he knew. Apparently not much... However, he did mention that other connoisseurs he knew were buying them on a regular basis. I said 'What the heck', and picked up one of each.

Tequila Rack tequilas are designed for tastings. From their website:
The International Tasting Group has sourced several of the finest boutique Tequileras in Mexico and assembled their products of Micro Tequilas as a collection to be sampled and compared. Each Tequila has its own unique story.
The flavor variations come from the differences in the soil within the appellation of origin where the Weber Blue Agaves are grown, as well as the kinds of water and yeast used in the distillation process and the length of time and types of barrels used for aging. The color of each brand depends on how long it has been aged and what type of barrel was used. These differences all combine to give an array of flavors, aromas, textures and mouth-feels to our collection of Mexico’s finest Tequilas.

So let's take a look at each brand. I'll be featuring a new one every few days.

Arrette Unique

Named after the horse ridden in the 1948 Olympics that led to two gold medals for Mexico, Arette is distilled at the Tequileria El Llano, one of the oldest Tequilerias in the town of Tequila.
This tequila is classified as 'Extra-Anejo', having been aged in white oak casks for 6 years. It lends a wonderful woody flavor, with a smooth texture.
Lots of aromas and flavors of vanilla and caramel with touches of flowers and a lovely earthiness.
Flavor is a blend of very nice agave with baking spices, wood, and even some orange peel. The finish lasts forever.
This is a fantastic tequila. Seriously. While it's on the expensive side, and hard to find, it's worthwhile for ANY tequila lover to find a bottle. I'd buy it at twice the price.

Tesseron Cognacs

I've been a fan of Tesseron cognacs for quite some time, but they have remained in relative obscurity until a few months ago. At least in the circles I run in. Thanks to David Nathan-Maister at Finest and Rarest, some light has been shed on the brand. So much so, that I thought I'd go out and replenish my supply and do some reviews. A big shout out to Joe Riley at Ace Beverage in Washington DC, who had a good selection from the line.

First, a bit of brand history, blatantly copied from David's Tesseron page, which is one of the most informative I've found on the brand:

Cognac Tesseron is one of the great secrets of Cognac. Abel Tesseron created the company in 1905, relying at the time on two separate estates, one situated in the Grande Champagne area (Boneuil) and the other in Petite Champagne (Saint-Surin). He adopted a long term policy of buying up stocks of the oldest and finest eaux-de-vie, carefully conserved in a twelfth century crypt. Despite a very low public profile, this little known firm is today revered in the region, as owners of the largest stocks of great old cognac in existence. In their legendary innermost cellar or paradis, lie an incredible 2200 glass demijohns (most around 25 litres) of cognac dating from between 1825 and 1906, painstakingly built up by three generations of the Tesseron family. This treasure trove of 19th century cognac is supplemented by hundreds of oak casks of the very finest cognac dating from the first half of the 20th century. There is no comparable collection in Cognac or anywhere else - the Tesseron holdings are unique, and irreplaceable.

And now my thoughts on each:

Lot 90 'Selection': aromas of pears, membrillo, maple and soda bread. Taste is young, with leather, honey and dried fruits. A great ever day cognac. Good for Earthquake cocktails too.

Lot 76 'Tradition': Only made from Grande Champagne cognacs. A deeper and richer color than the 90. The aroma is also more delicate. Tea and mulled fruits. Flavor is citrusy with a noticeable rancio from the aging. The grape base is quite evident. Very smooth finish.

Lot 65 'Emotion': A special gift decanter edition. Nose of plums, leather and nougat. Flavors consist of tobacco, nuts, honey and baking spices. A dash of water brings out wonderful dark chocolate notes both in the nose and the flavor.

Lot 53 'Perfection': Absolutely gorgeous topaz/copper color. Deep and exotic. Lots of chocolate and old books on the nose. Figs as well. The flavor and texture is thicker and spicier than the younger line. Lots of dark chocolate and white pepper. Fantastic stuff.

Lot 29 'Exception': The only cognac to ever score a perfect 100 from Robert Parker. I can see why. This is exceptional cognac. Lots of leather, chocolate, oak and even cherries on the nose. The flavor is full of the same, along with a wonderful rancio (organic, earthy, mushroomy, umami type of aroma and flavor indicative of aged eau de vies). Spectacular.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Mixology Monday is All About Absinthe this week!

Thanks to Sonja at Thinking of Drinking for letting me know about this week's theme for Mixology Monday.

I'm submitting a cocktail that I worked on at the request of a dear friend of mine who wanted to have a cocktail made in her dearly departed cat's honor.

This wasn't designed to be a strong drink. I went more in the vein of a spritzer, or even something similar to a Pimm's Cup. It was designed to be tasty, complex and still refreshing.

So, without further ado, the Purring Schubie cocktail:
0.5 oz Meyer Lemon juice
0.5 oz absinthe (I used Leopold's for it's light, fruity aroma and flavor)
1 oz Sazerac rye
1 oz gin (Plymouth or Voyager)
4 oz dry ginger ale (preferably Fever Tree)
healthy dash of Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with plenty of ice and stir until chilled. Split the mixture between two cocktail glasses. Lemon peel to garnish.

Another version calls for Green Chartreuse in replacement of the absinthe. It adds a more savory and peppery flavor and overall feel. I actually prefer it to the absinthe based one, but they are both tasty. Due to its spicier character, that version has been coined 'Schubie is pissed'.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ten Gins and how to best drink them

As many of you know, I'm a huge fan of gin. Not only is it a staple for creating many of the best cocktails, but it also works so well just splashed with some club soda or, more widely, with tonic water. And where would the martini be without gin? Yes people, martinis are made with gin, not vodka!

In any case, as gin has grown in popularity due to the cocktail renaissance, more and more brands are being discovered on local shelves. With that in mind, I decided to put together a list of 10 that you'll commonly find in the DC area. My hopes are to give you a good idea of how you can use many of them, since the flavor spectrum is quite wide-ranging. In the next few weeks, I hope to add another 10 or so, including some of the more household names, like Tanqueray, Bombay and Beefeater. But since those already probably have a place in your bar, I wanted to give you some info on brands you might be considering adding.

Keep in mind, this is only one man's (my) opinion on each of the brands and what suits my palate best, but I though it might be interesting for those of you who like gin.

Nose: Juniper and citrus
Taste: Light with hints of lavender. A bit drier than Voyager (below)
Best for: Any normal gin cocktail, but especially for those sensitive to too much juniper
Best Tonic accompaniment: Fever Tree, Stirrings or possibly Q

Nose: Clean, flowery, a touch of mint and pine
Taste: Also very clean. Refreshing juniper with just a hint of sweetness
Best for: Any cocktail calling for a good gin. Works equally well in sweet, citrusy or savory cocktails.
Best Tonic accompaniment: Fever Tree, Stirrings, Q or Fentimans.

Nose: Pine, earthiness, some flowers and a touch of caramel
Taste: Minty and a bit on the savory side due to the orris. Light flavors of peppermint, Pumello and anise.
Best for: Cocktails that call for gin as well as a darker spirit such as a whiskey. Also for gin cocktails that call for Chartreuse. Good G&T also.
Best Tonic accompaniment: Fentimans

Nose: Mainly Juniper, but an extremely weak aroma overall
Taste: A bit sweet. Unbalanced and a bit more viscous than most gins
Best for: Cocktails involving fruit juices
Best Tonic accompaniment: Not recommended for G&Ts, because it gets overwhelmed by the tonic, but if pressed, I’d recommend Schweppes.

Nose: Pine and aloe with crisp and dry juniper and citrus
Taste: Herbal. Juniper and orange peel. A hint of candy cane
Best for: Most gin cocktails will work well, but citrus ones especially.
Best Tonic accompaniment: Fever Tree

Nose: fresh citrus, juniper, flowers and cucumber
Taste: bright and refreshing with hints of juniper, white pepper and lavender. Cucumber as well, of course.
Best for: Artisinal cocktails. Especially those calling for tea, vegetal or savory ingredients.
Best Tonic accompaniment: Fentimans

Nose: cloves and mint. LOTS of vanilla.
Taste: Extremely sweet for gin. Flavor similar to vanilla mints with hints of juniper. Similar to an Old Tom style more than a London Dry style.
Best for: Sweeter cocktails that might get adversely affected by too much juniper flavor.
Best Tonic accompaniment: Not recommended for G&Ts because of the sweetness, although it worked OK with Hansens.

Sunset Hills
Nose: Juniper and alcohol
Taste: sweet and a bit chalky. Unbalanced.
Best for: basic house G&Ts.
Best Tonic accompaniment: Schweppes or Canada Dry.

Nose: similar to a beer spirit with hints of distilled barley, not unlike an unaged malt whisky
Taste: sweet juniper, with spices and an earthy texture. Again, eerily reminiscent of an unaged whisky
Best for: Old style cocktails; many of which used Dutch style gins.
Best Tonic accompaniment: I don’t recommend this style of gin for G&Ts.

Haymans Old Tom
Nose: extremely light. Not much discernible.
Taste: very sweet with hints of holiday spices and pecan pie
Best for: vintage cocktail recipes calling for Old Tom gin
Best Tonic accompaniment: I don’t recommend this style of gin for G&Ts.