Our Picks for the Holidays: Spirits, Sparkling & Cocktail of the Year



In this edition of Out of the Shop, we revisit our favorite cocktail of the year: The Pawpaw Caipirinha. In addition we explore crown-capped sparkling wine (yep, bubbly with a beer cap) and new spirits for you to enjoy this holiday 2016. Let's get to it:

 

MACHINE ERA'S 2016 COCKTAIL OF THE YEAR

This December 2016, we celebrate our expeditions along the James River, fusing native Richmond fruit with Brazil's classic caipirinha cocktail to bring you Machine Era’s 2016 Cocktail of the Year: the Pawpaw Caipirinha.

In October, late in the season for pawpaws, we set out along Richmond’s James River to discover one of North America’s native fruits that we were frequently hearing about from some of our favorite Richmond restaurants (Belmont Food Shop, located at 27 N Belmont Ave, Richmond, Va., has gone pawpaw hunting for years). With the pawpaw’s best run being in the month of September, we were a little skeptical as to what we would find. As it turns out, the pawpaw grows along the banks of Richmond’s James River with abandon.

The pawpaw, pear and mango shaped, has a green color that mottles black when ripe. The pawpaw tree grows prodigiously along the flat banks of Richmond’s James River. Tall and slender with long, flat-shaped leaves, they‘re so abundant that we actually missed the tree for about a mile when we set off on our quest to discover the pawpaw. The fruits hang in clusters, and with a keen eye out for them, ripe fallen pawpaws can be found not too far off the walking path. When ripe, the fruit yields to the touch and tastes much like a mash between mangoes and bananas. Ripe fruits that haven’t fallen can be swiftly felled by a shake of the trunk.

Armed with these North American tropic-like fruits, we infused them with the highly popular Brazilian sugarcane distillate -- called cachaça (ka-SHAH-sa) -- as well as with lime and sugar (classics for the caipirinha cocktail) and added our own ginger element to bring you Machine Era’s 2016 Cocktail of the Year:

The Pawpaw Caipirinha

Ingredients: Ripe pawpaw, Leblon Cachaça ($25), Ginger root, Lime, Sugar

Prep: Peel pawpaw and ginger root. Roughly chop pawpaw (the large seeds won't hurt anything) and slice ginger root into rounds. Place in a large bowl and infuse with a healthy dose of cachaça. Cut lime into wedges.

Drink: Add infused pawpaw and ginger into the bottom of a rocks or Old Fashioned glass. Muddle lightly. Add two ounces of infused cachaça into glass. Squeeze in half a lime. Stir in sugar, to taste (2-3 tablespoons). Top with ice. Enjoy.

[To plan your own pawpaw expedition in 2017, visit Huguenot Flatwater at the James River in Richmond, Virginia, anytime in September or early October. Out of the parking lot, head east along the walking trail, pass under the bridge, and keep an eye north toward the James. Pawpaw trees are about ten to twenty feet in height and are everywhere.]

 

NEW SPIRITS FOR A NEW YEAR

Though we love our whiskies, we do venture out from time to time. This year we decided to scratch an itch and explore regional spirits from parts of the world that aren't often thought of in the U.S. as having a rich tradition of adding their own bottle to the metaphorical world bar. We have been excited by what we’ve found. Here, we feature three top quality spirits -- distillates from plums, potatoes, and raisins -- that are quite affordable, ranging $25-30. Even more fun is that these spirits are meant to be consumed alongside a meal as opposed to solely as a cocktail or after dinner drink.

--Zuta Osa “Yellow Wasp” Slivovitz (Serbia)
At 2M Mediterranean Market (7103 Staples Mills Road, Henrico, Va.), owner Adis Majkovic confirms that Chicago is the place to be for all things Balkan and rakija. We caught up with a friend at Beograd Café in Chicago, where Serbian & Regional Balkan cuisine is dished up alongside one of our favorite new spirits: Zuta Osa “Yellow Wasp.” The Yellow Wasp is slivovitz, a type of Serbian fruit brandy known as "rakija" made specifically from super ripe, high-quality plums, distilled in small 100L tanks and aged in oak barrel. We consumed this rakija throughout the meal and were surprised by how well it went with the shopska salad of tomato, cucumber, onion, and pepper. (45% alc/vol; Distiller: Flores.)

--Brennivin Aquavit (Iceland)
At Nargis Cafe in Brighton Beach, authentic Uzbek cuisine pairs shockingly well with this clear potato distillate from Iceland. Brennivin, whose nickname translates to “Black Death,“ is cut with clean, glacial water and infused with caraway seed to produce a distinctly savory and naturally sweet aquavit. We liked it served with pickled vegetables and crispy fried manti. (40% alc/vol; Distiller: Olgerdin Egill Skallagrimsson.)

--Yeni Raki (Turkey)
Raki, part of Turkey’s tradition for at least 500 years, differs from rakija mentioned previously. At Agora Restaurant in Washington, D.C., a table service with Yeni Raki includes carafes of chilled water and ice, served alongside main course dishes like grilled whole branzino, a European seabass. Yeni Raki is distilled from raisins (raki can also be made from grapes) and, importantly, infused with aniseed. When mixed with water or ice as is standard, the spirit transforms from a clear distillate into a milky white nectar (an effect called louche, similar to what happens with absinthe). (45% alc/vol; Distiller: Mey Icki.)

 

A CROWN-CAPPED BUBBLY TO TOP OFF THE YEAR

Finally, we celebrate with a sparkling wine that can be opened by any of your favorite Machine Era wallets, bottle openers, or Key Square. Yep -- that means you can use your Machine Era bottle openers to pop bottles without fear of putting out your grandma‘s eye. We’re keeping it real this year and focusing on one delicious sparkling wine find:

La Bulle du Facteur “Petillant Naturel” ($25)


In July 2010, at Cyrus Restaurant, the Michelin two-star restaurant in Healdsburg, Ca. (closed), I had a bottle of Champagne from producer Ulysse Collin. Very few bottles of sparkling wine can be so bone dry while maintaining the perception of sweetness derived entirely from the texture in and concentration of the wine. It was a great bottle.

Since then, I’ve been on the hunt for a bottle of sparkling wine as good but less costly. A friend at Williams Corner Wine in Charlottesville, Virginia, passed along a bottle of La Bulle du Facteur “Petillant Naturel” from Domaine du Facteur.

La Bulle du Facteur is not a Champagne. It doesn't have a cork. It is made from Chenin Blanc and not even made in the same way Champagne is. It's a "Pet-Nat," or Petillant Naturel, which means that a single fermentation occurs to produce both the wine and the bubbles inside the wine. When the fermentation begins, wine is transferred into the bottle it will be finished within. The result is a softer, lower-pressure sparkling wine. This means more versatility and softer bubbles.

La Bulle du Facteur “Petillant Naturel” happens to be one of the purest, most texturally interesting glasses of sparkling wine I’ve had since 2010, with golden richness, silky edges, and a pure, slightly vegetal, dry finish. It's going to be the best glass of sparkling you’ll have this year.

So, from all of us here at Machine Era, we raise our glass to you and wish the best of celebrations in 2016. To new experiences in 2017. Cheers.
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Brad Pace is part sommelier, part writer, and part epicurean guide. He has a passion for good food, good beverages, and good time spent with people. Most importantly to us, he is a strong friend to the Machine Era team.