Spooky Spirits with Advanced Sommelier Jenny Benzie on Nantucket

Spooky Spirits

October 24, 2019

You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy Halloween, even on Nantucket. With all the haunted houses and old buildings on the island, there are sure to be more spirits around than you could even possibly imagine. To keep your mind off ghosts (and perhaps goblins), Advanced Sommelier Jenny Benzie suggests a selection of ‘spooky spirits’ to sample that won’t scare your taste buds, or your wallet!

Grappa Marolo di BaroloIf you have ever been to a fine dining restaurant in Italy, you may have been offered a glass of Grappa at the end of the meal. Grappa is primarily served after dinner as a digestivo, or added to an espresso for a caffé corretto, in order to aid in digestion of heavy meals. While other countries can make a similar product under another name, Grappa is unique in that it can only come from Italy and must be fermented, then distilled from pomace. The pomace is whatever is leftover after pressing the grapes at a winery and contains the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems of the fruit. The end result is a fragrant, grape-based brandy that contains 35 to 60% alcohol by volume. Essentially because it is made with from grapes, the end result is similar to wine in that the resulting flavor depends on the type and quality of the grapes used, as well as the specifics of the distillation process.

Marolo Grappa di Barolo is a grappa distilled from the pomace of Nebbiolo, a red wine grape variety grown in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. It has a rich amber color from aging a minimum of at least four years in small oak barrels. It is very aromatic, with hearty flavors of toasty vanilla. It is full-bodied and generous in character. The distillery is based in Alba, the capital of the Langhe wine region. The beautiful artwork on the labels is an unmistakable signature of the packaging from the distiller. Let this be your guide to open the bottle and not be scared of the strong (50% abv) spirit inside.

T. W. Hollister & Co. Dry VermouthWhen making classic cocktails, such as a martini or Manhattan, a common ingredient used is Vermouth. Vermouth is an aromatized, fortified wine that is flavored with various botanicals. Fortified means that is starts out as wine, then it is spiked with a neutral spirit (alcohol, not ghostly like) to stop the initial fermentation. The wine based product is aromatized, meaning it is infused with botanicals, including roots, flowers, herbs, and spices, that lend to its final flavor.   This creates a well-rounded, herbal like creation, with an alcohol content higher slightly than regular wine and much lower than standard spirits. It is most commonly made in France or Italy.

For a modern, domestic take on this type of spirit, look no further than T. W. Hollister & Co. Dry Vermouth. This vermouth is hand-crafted in California using several key botanicals from the Hollister family homestead in Santa Barbara. Hence the name of the brand is in tribute to the storied past of the Hollister family, while reinforcing the use of local products for production of this quality spirit.   It starts with quality white wine from the region, then is macerated with a unique blend of 12 botanical ingredients, including orange peel, chamomile, and rosehip. This dry style of vermouth (there is also a sweet version) is fruit-forward and floral with a long, pleasant finish.  Your cocktail will thank you.

BONUS: this is made by Winemaker Carl Sutton, local bon vivant, who will be hosting a Classic Cocktails Tasting featuring his Vermouths during Stroll weekend, Friday, December 6th, 3- 5 pm.

Tequila Chamucos ReposadoFor some people, there is nothing scarier than Tequila. Whether it was the large quantity consumed or the lack of quality in the product, not all Tequila is created equal. This distilled beverage is made from the blue agave plant of the central western Mexican state of Jalisco, mostly near the city of its namesake and the Jaliscan Highlands. The result of the agave flavor is different depending on the region where it is grown, similar to grapes. Those grown in the highlands Los Altos region are larger and sweeter in aroma and taste, where those harvested in the lowlands have a more herbaceous fragrance and flavor. The flavor, aroma and texture of tequila is also influenced by whether or not it has been aged in oak and how long.

Tequila Chamucos Reposado is an Highland tequila only using organic Los Altos Agave. It began its life only as a reposado, meaning aged 6 month in oak, and now has blanco (no aging) and ańejo (aged one year in oak) siblings. This tequila is aged in a combination of American white oak and virgin French oak. Compared to most reposados, it has a soft, silky mouthfeel withwell balanced flavors of tropical fruit, cinnamon spice, and black pepper. Vanilla and toffee flavors linger, with a soft finish that has just the right amount of heat. It is available in a beautiful artisan inspired, hand blown glass of the region. The origin of the brand name refers to dark, shadowy creatures that may appear in dreams and only briefly visit at night.   They are known to be playful, yet secretive in nature and thrive on frightening with clever, harmless pranks. What is commonly referred to as the “Angel’s Share,” where mysterious losses from barrel aging occurs, is thought to be consumption by such spirits. Perhaps you will meet one while drinking this tequila!

WhisNikka Coffey Grain Whiskykey, like wine, can be made from different varieties of its base material, in this case grain. Malted grains, a process in which the grains are germinated, are more commonly used as they are easier to distill. Grain whiskey normally refers to any whisky made, at least in part, from grains other than malted barley. They do require some malted barley to provide the enzymes needed for mashing and required to include for Irish or Scotch whisky. Japanese whisky is made in the Scottish style, with the history of distillers studying in Scotland to hone their skills before setting off to create their own style in Japan. Nikka Whisky is the result of Masataka Taketsuru doing just that over a century again.

Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky is an exemplary example of the blended heritage of Scottish influence on Japanese whisky. Once the grains arrive at the distillery, they are milled and mashed before being distilled through copper-pot stills (known as Coffey stills) that were imported from Scotland in 1963. As a result of their age and shape, the stills produce a whisky that is more flavorful and complex than modern column stills. Following distillation, the whisky is matured in traditional oak casks.
This rare gem has an aroma of tropical fruits, bananas and papaya. This leads to soft vanilla, caramel, wafers and dried fruit flavors on the palate, and a finish accented by notes of citrus. Nothing scary here, my friend, although it does have a fall colored label and will help keep you warm and fuzzy inside.

Whatever spirits you encounter on the upcoming All Hallows Eve, be sure to trick and trick responsibly. You never know when a goblin will be waiting for you in the dark on your way home.