Wine czars, not wine cars

I’ve written before about Utah’s backward approach to wine laws, namely the fact that a single “wine czar” gets to decide what wines the citizens are allowed to purchase in the state-run liquor stores. But it gets worse:

It took 10 years, but one miffed citizen finally figured out the word “merlot,” emblazoned on the license plate of Glenn Eurick’s car, means wine.

Merlot is also the name of a widely planted red grape in France’s Bordeaux region, famous for its wines. But the Utah Tax Commission has sided with an anonymous complainant that merlot is an alcoholic beverage – and intoxicant words are banned from vanity plates.

“People usually ask us what the word means,” said Eurick, who was surprised last week when he received a letter from the Tax Commission ordering him to remove the offending plate from his dark-red 1996 Mercedes.

Eurick said most Utah bystanders wonder aloud if merlot is a family name or a foreign word. But when he and his wife stopped for gasoline in Green River on their way home to Salt Lake City, one man understood the significance of the word.

“He asked us if we chose merlot because there were too many letters in cabernet sauvignon,” said Eurick.

Eurick is appealing the ruling with the argument that the word refers to the color of his car, not the wine. Another Utah driver has been told to remove his “chianti” plate and replace it with the name of a lesser known French wine region, because not only are regulators there prudish but they also have very poor knowledge of geography.

[Via Fermentation.]


Jello shot maker discovers Temperance

As someone who has spent numerous vacations in Ohio, I can tell you that easy access to alcohol would be a great boon to anyone living in the Buckeye State. So you’ve got to feel bad for entrepreneur Brian Pearson, a guy whose successful product launch brought down the holy wrath of Ohio First Lady Hope Taft and state liquor officials. Oddly, he found salvation in Temperance. Temperance, MI, that is…

Pearson’s story began in December 1998 when he was home on leave during a four-year stint in the Marines. He was helping his mom prepare for his sister’s 21st birthday party. “She told me to run to the store and go pick up some Jell-O shots for the party,” Pearson recalls. He laughed and told his mom you don’t buy Jell-O shots at the store. Then a light bulb went off in his brain.

He began making plans to prepackage the shots, find the perfect plastic containers, and develop a laminated aluminum foil lid that wouldn’t be affected by the alcohol content.

“Zippers, the Original Gelatin Shot” was born….

“We went from delivering cases, to delivering pallets, and then delivering by the truckload,” he said. “We went from one state to 24 states in a matter of a year.”

With success came attention. Not just from bar owners, but from the Ohio first lady, who was concerned the product’s colorful packaging might encourage the young to slurp:

He was sitting in his Toledo office one day when about 30 ATF agents and sheriff’s deputies — some with weapons drawn — burst into his business waving a search warrant based on allegations he was illegally manufacturing alcoholic products. They seized computers, monitors, printers, fax machines and even cubicle walls, but no manufacturing equipment was to be found. They also raided his Genoa, Ohio home. News outlets reported that he was being accused of manufacturing illegal products and that he could face felony charges.

As a result, Zippers took another blow.

“I lost almost all of my business in a matter of 45 to 60 days,” he said.

Fortunately, Pearson fought back and won. Though charges were filed, the grand jury refused to indict him and he has since successfully moved his business toTemperance, Michigan, where officials were glad to have him. Zippers are already selling again in 15 states. Good for him! Bad for Ohio!

Full story here.

Related: I like to imagine this old Cosby Jell-O commercial is really for Pearson’s Zippers.

[Via the Quick and the Dead, a blog I just discovered today but will keep reading. Also, I apologize for the cheap, obvious Ohio joke. I shouldn’t say such things about the state that’s home to Skyline chili, Montgomery Inn ribs, Graeter’s ice cream, and Tony Packo’s pickles. I’m sorry, Ohio. Don’t cut me off, ok?]


Almost everybody likes free beer

I love this story for five reasons:

1) Free beer!

2) The nanny state lost.

3) The good guys are a major corporation.

4) The bad guys are small, artisinal businessmen.

5) Did I mention free beer?

I’m talking about a new law going into effect in California that allows breweries to offer free samples of their beers to customers in bars and restaurants, a right previously enjoyed only by wineries. Anheuser-Busch backed the law. As the company is getting into more esoteric styles of beer, it recognized that the best way to introduce drinkers to them is to give them a free taste:

“It’s an opportunity for us to get consumers to sample some of our new products,” said Andrew Baldonado, western region vice president of government affairs for Anheuser-Busch. “The winter’s bourbon cask ale is a seasonal beer that we’re doing. The best way to introduce those new products to consumers is to be able to have them sample them.”

Craft brewers actually opposed the law on the grounds that they can’t afford to give out samples the way big companies can. This seems a little short-sighted. If Anheuser-Busch succeeds in getting people to appreciate other beer styles, those customers aren’t all going to stay with Anheuser-Busch. Just as Starbucks eventually leads many consumers to try coffee from boutique roasters, I expect Anheuser-Busch will lead some of its Bud drinkers to true craft brewers. In any case, the small breweries succeeded in getting all kinds of restrictions put on the tastings:

The new law allows beer tastings at bars and restaurants. It limits the amount to no more than 8 ounces per person a day and requires the beer to be served in a glass. Tastings cannot last more than an hour and there are also annual limits on the number of tastings a single manufacturer, importer or wholesaler can offer at a particular establishment.

And then there’s this idiot, who clearly needs to attend one of these new events:

Fred Jones, legal counsel to the Sacramento-based California Council on Alcohol Problems, a coalition of religious groups, thinks the law was a mistake.

“It was jokingly referred to as the ‘Free Happy Hour’ bill (in the Capitol), so I think that gives you an image of what could happen,” Jones said. “What is the reason behind giving someone 8 ounces of beer free? One could argue that with wineries, each winery is different and every bottle is different depending on age or season. But we’re talking about beer here.”

[Via The Martini Lounge. Cross-posted on EatFoo.]


Experimenting with homemade limoncello, pt. 2

Earlier this month I posted about my attempt at making homemade limoncello. When we left off, the lemon zest had begun its two week vodka bath. (I wish I could take a two week vodka bath.) I completed the last steps of the process a few days ago, leaving the limoncello just about ready to drink.

The first step in part two of the recipe is to create some simple syrup. To do this, heat two cups of water and two cups of sugar together to just below boiling. Once all the sugar has dissolved, take it off the heat and let it cool down to room temperature. Imbibe says that warm syrup will result in cloudy limoncello. Nothing wrong with that, but I’d rather maximize clarity.

The next thing to do is filter the lemon zest out of the vodka. This is done by pouring the infusion through moistened cheese cloth suspended over a bowl. Use a rubber band to keep the cloth in place as in the photo at right. At the top of the post is a picture of the cloth with all the zest left behind. Be sure to squeeze all the juice out of it before throwing it all away.

From here on out it’s smooth sailing. If you managed to keep the bottle of vodka leftover from last time away from yourself and thirsty roommates, pour it into the bowl with the filtered infusion. Otherwise, admit you have a problem, run out to the liquor store, and buy a new one. Try not to drink it on the way home.

Finally, pour the simple syrup into the bowl and stir it all up. Congratulations, you’ve got limoncello! Bottle it in the vessel of your choice and stick it in the freezer. A week of ageing will help the flavors marry, but it’s drinkable now. Pour the cold liquid into a chilled shot glass and sip slowly. Ahhhh….

Thanks to a couple friends, I was able to sample a couple of authentic Italian limoncellos recently to refresh my memory of what they taste like. My homemade batch compares surprisingly well. It’s a little sweeter, but the flavors are very similar. It’s noticeably less filtered, too, but I don’t think that matters. The backlighting int he photo of the bottles makes it look misleadingly pale. Verdict: Success!

The good results of this experiment have inspired to me keep trying infusions. For next time I’m thinking lime and ginger. And then, oh, weeniecello? Probably not.

Coming up, what to do with all those zestless lemons.

[Update 8/30/06: Make some lemon sherbet with those leftover fruits.]

[This post was originally published at EatFoo(d) on 8/30/06.]


Experimenting with homemade limoncello, pt 1

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Yeah, right. Maybe until you turn 21. Then it’s time to drown your sorrows in something a little more potent. For instance, a batch of homemade limoncello…

Limoncello is an after dinner lemon liqueur produced around the Gulf of Naples in Southern Italy. I was turned on to the drink by my friend Chad Wilcox, who had enjoyed it on a trip there several years ago. Tracking the stuff down was one of my goals on my own vacation there last summer, second only to gulping down as much espresso as humanly possible.

I didn’t have to look hard to find it; bottles of it were positively unavoidable by the time my travels took me to Amalfi. The region’s uniquely huge and flavorful lemons abound along the terraced coast, finding their way into countless fruit stands and limoncello stores. The drink is served chilled in small glasses. It’s tart, sweet, and strong, a delicious refreshment on a summer night.

I didn’t expect to have limoncello again anytime soon once I was back in the US. But inspired by a recipe published in the current issue of Imbibe magazine, I decided this weekend to try my hand at making a homebrewed version.

If you want to try this at home, here’s what you’ll need for the first part of the process:

  • A big glass jar (mine’s a little too big) with a tightly fitting lid
  • A bowl
  • A citrus zester (bottom left) or Microplane (bottom right)
  • 1 750 ml bottle of 100 proof vodka. I used Stolichnaya, Imbibe also recommends Absolut.
  • A dozen lemons

Later on you’ll also need two cups of sugar, water, cheesecloth, a second bottle of vodka, and some bottles to store the finished product.

Notes on ingredients: There’s no need for high end vodkas here because their subtle nuances will be swamped by the other flavors. Some limoncello recipes call for grain alcohol instead of vodka. Feel free to search online for those if you prefer or still have some Everclear left over from that party you threw in high school when your parents were out of town.

As for the lemons, I went with the conventional ones available at the grocery store and cleaned them well. According to the LA Times, authentic Sorrento lemons are now being grown in very limited quantities in California. They’re only available for restaurants at the moment, but someday we may all have access to them.

Once you’ve cleaned the lemons, the next step is to zest them. The goal is to remove zest, the bright yellow part of the skin that holds all the flavorful and aromatic oils. Avoid the white bitter pith beneath it as much as possible.

I’d planned on using a lemon zester for this part of the process. That’s the item on the left in the picture below. It has several small, bladed holes that remove thin strips of lemon zest. It’s great for creating attractive cocktail garnishes, but not so efficient for heavy zesting. As you can see in the next photograph, it creates valleys of zest that would be difficult to remove without taking pith along for the ride.

Fortunately, at the last minute I also bought a Microplane. This thing is much easier to use. The irregular pattern of holes ensures that all the zest is removed and it requires much less pressure to remove the skin. Considering that I had to zest a dozen lemons for this experiment, I’m very glad I invested in this handy tool.

Each lemon produces enough zest to nearly fill the Microplane. By the time the work ends, the bowl is filled with an aromatic pile of skin.

For the final step in part one, drop the zest into the glass jar and pour the bottle of vodka over it so that it’s all covered. The liquor turns yellow right away, but it still needs at least two weeks to fully infuse. Store it in a dark place and give it a gentle shake each day until the pigment of the zests has been fully leached out.

At this point there are a dozen lemons left over with which to make lemonade. If that doesn’t lift your spirits, there will be plenty of spirits to lift when the limoncello is ready.

For now, we wait. I’ll post again in two weeks when it’s time to add the remaining ingredients and bottle the product. Then there’ll be a wait of one more week while the flavors marry in the bottle and the limoncello finally becomes ready to drink.

Will the limoncello be delicious? Did I just waste two perfectly good bottles of vodka? Can I retire from work and barter limoncello for all my material needs? Will I ever use my microplane again? Come back soon to find out!

[Update 8/30/06: Part 2 is now up.]

[This post was originally published on EatFoo(d) on 8/08/06.]