Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Food Day - No Joke

"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold,
it would be a merrier world."

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892 - 1973)

Today is the first April Food Day; as I posted on Monday, this is a very important effort among bloggers to help raise hunger awareness and raise money for Feeding America. Please take a minute to visit Feeding America's website to learn about the good work they do to feed as many as 4 million hungry Americans each and every week.

My challenge remains, for every comment posted on these two April Food Day posts, I will donate an additional dollar to my already planned gift. Please leave a comment then visit Feeding America at the link below to make a donation, even if it's only a dollar.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

White House DIY

New York Magazine this week reported that Barack and Michelle Obama have decided not to use taxpayers' money to renovate the White House family living quarters. Traditionally new presidents are allotted $100,000 per term by Congress to overhaul the White House personal quarters and the Oval Office. Camille Johnston, director of communications for the First Lady has said that “[they] are not using public funds or accepting donations of goods for redecorating their private quarters.” Also, the Obamas are not using White House Historical Association (a private charity dedicated to maintaining the White House) funds.

It's not clear whether the Obamas will spend more or less than the traditional $100,000 from their private funds, but given Michael S. Smith's past projects it's quite possible that the budget could far exceed $100,000. Smith's client list includes Rupert Murdoch, Steven Spielberg, and former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain—for whom he procured that infamous $87,783 rug while Merrill was being acquired by Bank of America under the guidance of Federal Officials. We'll likely never know the budget as a result of the Obamas’ decision to absorb the cost. While not in the same league as Murdoch, Spielberg, or Thain, the Obama's have been quite comfortable the last few years; the couple reported $4.2 million in household income on their 2007 tax returns.

This won't be the President's first White House project, President Obama has already surprised his daughters with a swing set outside the Oval office and Michelle has been working with White House staff on a vegetable and herb garden on the grounds.

Monday, March 30, 2009

April Food Day

The wonderful authors of Pigtown*Design and Easy & Elegant Life have set into motion a brilliant plan to help raise awareness and dollars for Feeding America (formerly America's Second Harvest), a national food bank with 200 member banks across the country. They're calling April 1, 2009 April Food Day and asking bloggers to post on the great work that Feeding America is doing during these difficult times.

This is a cause that I started with in kindergarten and have never stopped giving. I posted on the struggles facing foodbanks in December and asked readers then to help Feeding America and/or their local foodbanks at that time. Needless to say not much has improved since the holidays for many Americans and the December donations are long gone. It's time for bloggers to unite in this effort to donate what we can to help fill the shelves of these very important resources.

Feeding America is very efficient (we should all do so well with our grocery shopping) with every dollar you contribute providing seven meals or 10 pounds of food. A $25 gift provides 75 meals. In fact Feeding America has a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator with nearly $0.98 of every dollar given spent on doing the good work of getting food into the hands fo those who need it.

In addition to my planned donation I will donate an additional dollar for every visitor who comments on this post between now and April 2nd up to an additional $100.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A New Owner for Troubled Greenbrier

In January I posted about the struggles facing the historic Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. Last Thursday, March 19th, the 231 year-old Greenbrier succumbed to the current recessionary pressures and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. According to court records the resort has lost more than $90 million in the last five years including $35 million last year alone, though it's unclear if any of this loss is attributable to the extensive renovations done in 2006 and 2007.

The landmark property, which has hosted 26 Presidents and some noteworthy royals including Monaco's Prince Rainier and Princess Grace and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, has been owned by the railroad CSX since 1910. According to a statement released simultaneously with the bankruptcy filing the Greenbrier Hotel Corporation said it has struck an agreement to sell the resort to Marriott, pending the bankruptcy court’s approval and contingent on its renegotiating labor contracts before the sale. Labor costs associated with union contracts have been but one major hurdle in recent years.

If the deal goes through Marriott would receive $50 million over two years from CSX Corp. to operate the resort. Marriott in turn would pay CSX between $60 million and $130 million within seven years, depending on timing and the hotel's financial performance. CSX would be cutting loose a n0n-core asset blamed for a 32 percent drop in CSX's fourth-quarter 2008 earnings.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Well Stocked Bar XIII

Top of the morning to you!

In honor of St. Patrick's Day today's post, the latest in the Well Stocked Bar series is dedicated to Irish Whiskey. Unlike the Scottish, Canadian, and Japanese who spell Whisky without the 'e', the Irish just as the Americans use the 'e' as a way to differentiate their product.

Although akin to Scotch Whisky the differences begin very early with the grains utilized in making their whiskey. Scotch Whisky is distilled principally in that it was distilled primarily from barley while traditional Irish whiskey is distilled from a mash of mixed grains including barley.

Today, most Irish whiskey is blended from a mixture of pot-still whiskey and cheaper grain whiskey produced in a column still (it's also more mild in flavor). Bushmills is the exception in that it produces its whiskey purely through a column still rather than a blending with pot-still spirits. Most Irish whiskey is distilled three times, but so is the Scottish single malt Auchentoshan; thus it is a common myth that triple distillation is the main distinction between the two varieties. To my mind and palette the principal difference between the typical spirits of Scotland and Ireland is that peat is almost never used in the malting process in Ireland while it's used in the majority of malts in Scotland imparting the smoky, earthy overtones loved by many, but not all whisk(e)y drinkers. I like to think of Scottish Whisky as the beverage of fall and winter while the lighter whiskies from Ireland are better suited to spring and summer.

Though Ireland produces and exports whiskey on a grand scale it's done through only three distilleries compared to Scotland's more than 80 (though many of these are owned by conglomerates). The Big Three Irish distillers are: New Midleton Distillery (Jamesons, Powers, Paddy, Midleton, Redbreast, and Green Spot), Old Bushmills Distillery (Old Bushmills, Black Bush, 1608, and Bushmills 10, 12, 16, 21 year-old single malts), and Cooley Distillery (Connemara, Knappogue, Michael Collins, and Tyrconnell). Of the three only Cooley's is completely Irish-owned. New Midleton distillery is part of the French beverage giant Pernod-Ricard while Bushmills is owned by rival giant Diageo.

In celebration of all things Irish (in a single pint glass) here's a recipe for an Irish Car Bomb:

3/4 pint of Guiness stout
1/2 shot of Bailey's Irish cream
1/2 shot of Jameson Irish whiskey (substitute as you like)

Add the Bailey's and Jameson to a shot glass, layering the Bailey's on the bottom. Pour the Guinness into a pint glass 3/4 of the way full and let settle. Drop the shot glass into the Guinness and drink immediately with great speed, exercising caution not to damage your teeth with a sliding shot glass; if you choose to sip the mixture it will curdle and lose whatever pleasantness it had during the first moments after its creation. While I've never fell victim to this beverage I have seen many who have, limit yourself to one then return to your whiskey or beer.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Well Stocked Bar XII

The Angel's Share - The whisky that is lost to evaporation during it's time in the barrel is referred to as the Angel's share.

This post, the latest in a series dedicated to the necesseities and niceties of a Well Stocked Bar. The previous posts on Scotch Whisky have included VI - Blended Scotch Whisky, VII - Speyside Single Malts, VIII - Highland Single Malts, IX - Lowland Malts, X - Islay Malts, and XI - Island Malts. This post is dedicated to Campbeltown, a once great Whisky producing region. Today only two distilleries are in operation, though combined they produce whiskies under the names of four classic distilleries.

Glen Scotia is one of only two distilleries in Campbeltown, with Springbank being the other. This small geographic area was once the home of over thirty distilleries, the majority of which closed between the first and second World Wars. First registered in 1835, it was overhauled in the early 1980's and has passed through the hands of several owners over the years to various degrees of success and failure. Glen Scotia is housed in what appears to be a small townhouse which has the added distintion of being home to a ghost - a previous owner who drowned himself in Campbeltown Loch after being falling victim to a financial scam.

Springbank, in addition to its own label, also produces two additional malts in their original style though their original distilleries closed many decades ago. The "original Longrow" was produced by Longrow Distillery, which was closed in 1896. Today Springbank Distillery produces Longrow single malt whisky in the same distillery equipment as it does its namesake malt. Despite this the malts have very different characters with the Longrow's much more heavily peated and drier character (think Islay malts) than the more floral Springbank. Springbank also began production of Hazelburn in 2005. Hazelburn was once the largest distillery in Campbeltown producing as much as 192,000 gallons per year at its peak, though it shuttered its doors in 1925 due to financial difficulties.

Monday, March 9, 2009

When Times Get Tough, The Tough Make Furniture?

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity;
an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
Winston Churchill
Over the last week or so I've seen two different stories about luxury marquis in two very different industries making furniture in order to keep their factories busy.

The first, and more logical company to take this step is Petrof, the Czech piano maker founded in 1864. Over the last year as the economic climate has worsened and the demand for hand made pianos has seen similar declines the company has begun to make furniture and furniture grade kitchen cabinetry (pictured above). Currently their factory's production is 50% pianos, and 50% casework. It's not the first time the company has produced other products as a way of surviving difficult economic times, in the 1930s it produced wooden railway sleeper cars and in times of war it made grenade boxes.

The second, is the venerable luxury car company, Bentley. Their skilled woodworkers in their factory in Crewe has long been making gleaming walnut Bentley dashboard and wood trim. After an extended holiday furlough, the Daily Telegraph reported that these same craftsmen, 140 in total, have started using walnut off-cuts to make cabinetry, occasional tables and reception area furniture. The company, a division of Volkswagen, plans to use the furniture in Bentley showrooms. If the demand for these pricy pieces of rolling art remains depressed and the furniture is well received there are rumors that Bentley might come out with a line for the public. The company has been offering humidors, jewelry chests, and similar items for the past few years as custom order items with 20+ week lead times.

A Bentley Executive with a piece of their select burled walnut.

The upside for both of these firms, beyond the bit of revenue they receive from these side projectes is that they can keep these very skilled artisans employed in their workshops, many of whom are second and third generation craftsmen with very specialized skills. The danger in this strategy is that the demand for furniture is also less than robust.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Little Something Extra - Heering Cherry Liquor

When having friends over for dinner and various amusements we're always looking for a little something extra in the way of food or beverage. Last weekend we hosted a classic fondue night with three courses of steaming goodness.

To start, the classic Gruyere/Emmenthaler cheese fondue with cubes of toasted whole-grain bread, Honeycrisp apple slices, and grilled slices of chicken-apple sausage (a recent addition and by far the favorite dipper). Served with ice cold Prosecco.

For the main course, Coq au Vin style broth made with homemade chicken stock, a generous amount of the house favorite Chateau Neuf du Pape, and a variety of mushrooms served with seasoned cubes of filet of beef and chicken breast. Served with the remaining bottle of Chateau Neuf du Pape with a friend or two you didn't mind the 3-5 minute wait for each tender morsel.

Finally the dessert course which included dark Scharffen Berger chocolate mixed with a bit of heavy cream and our secret weapon: Heering Cherry Liquor. This unexpected addition made the chocolate that much more memorable. Dipping strawberries, frozen bannanas, and pound cake was a decadent treat. Served with the dessert was a drink inspired by a Kir Royal, except with more Prosecco and a generous splash of the Heering Liquor.

Ever since fondue night I've been experimenting with other beverages featuring Heering. Here are a few of my new favorites:

Singapore Sling (the quintisential drink featuring Heering)

1 part gin
2 parts Heering
4 parts pineapple juice
generous splash fresh-squeezed lime juice
splash Cointreau
splash Benedictine (if you don't have this use extra gin and bitters)
dash Grenadine syrup
dash Angostra bitters

Mix all in a shaker and pour in glass filled with ice. Garnish with a slice of pineapple and cherry.

Blood and Sand (reminiscent of a Rob Roy, pictured below)

1 1/4 ounce Scotch
1/2 ounce Heering
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce fresh squeezed orange juice
Flamed orange zest for garnish

Combine all the ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake until cold and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Flame the orange zest over the top of the glass.

Copenheering (very clean and refreshing, perfect for the warmer months)

1 ounce Heering
1 ounce vodka
Lemon Peel Twist
Crushed Ice

Chill the glass, then fill it with crushed ice. Mix the cherry brandy and the vodka together, and pour into the glass. Garnish with lemon peel.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Open That Bottle Night 2009

(Wine "Library" at VIÑA COUSIÑO MACUL outside Santiago, Chile)

I’ve written before about Dorothy (Dottie) Gaiter and John Brecher the wine columnists for the Wall Street Journal. I have been a big fan of theirs for many years and reading their weekly column (and now watching the video on has become a weekly ritual

To my mind, one of their greatest achievements has been their creation of Open That Bottle Night (OTBN). It’s a holiday of sorts designed to provide a “reason” to open that bottle of wine too good, too rare, or too emotionally significant for you to ever find a worthy occasion to open. OTBN is celebrated on the final Friday of February. This year, the 10th Anniversary of OTBN is February 28, 2009.

The celebrations take on a number of different forms from quiet dinners at home with that special bottle to large parties where guests bring their bottles and share in a large tasting and/or dinner. Hinton’s Wine Store near my home is hosting its 4th annual OTBN at their Bin 75 wine bar with a complimentary event to those lucky 30 people who come and bring that special bottle.

Here are the suggestions from Dottie and John:

1. Choose the wine. You don't necessarily need to open your "best" wine or your most impressive wine, but the wine that means the most to you, the one that you would simply never open otherwise.

2. With an older bottle, the cork may break easily. The best opener for a cork like that is one with two prongs, but it requires some skill. You have time to practice using one. Be prepared for the possibility that a fragile cork may fall apart with a regular corkscrew. If that happens, have a carafe and a coffee filter handy. Just pour enough through the coffee filter to catch the cork fragments.

3. Otherwise, do not decant -- at least at first. Many OTBN wines are old and fragile. Air could quickly dispel what's left of them. But if you are opening a younger wine, taste it first; if it seems tight, and especially if you don't plan to linger over it for a few hours, go ahead and decant.

4. Have a backup wine ready for your special meal, in case you are opening an older wine that really has gone bad.

5. If you are having an OTBN party, ask everyone to say a few words about the significance of the wine they brought. This really is what OTBN is all about.

6. Enjoy the wine for what it is, not what it might someday be or might once have been.

7. Drop us a note at about your evening. Be sure to include your name, city and phone number, in case we need to contact you so that we can share your account with other readers.

Our plan this year is to have a few friends over with a few special bottles of wine toted back from vacations around the world. Having the event and the collective courage will help me open a very rare bottle of single vineyard unfiltered 1996 Malbec bought in Argentina a few years ago at what was then a ridiculous 25x the cost of a decent Malbec, but still a deal given the battered Argentine Peso. It was intended as a souvenir to be saved for a very special occasion which we haven’t found yet, but the suspense is now building as we prepare to open it this Saturday for OTBN’s 10th anniversary. Last night I put it on end to allow the sediment to begin moving down to the bottom of the bottle. It will be served with roast rosemary lamb chops with a blackberry port sauce.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

High Praise for Sucré

During our recent trip to New Orleans we stumbled into Sucré on Magazine Street. What drew us in was a very modern and tasteful little store lined with cases, the ones in front selling ice cream and gelato. It reminded us of the geloterias in the fashionable parts of Buenos Aires.

Inside the service and selection were equally wonderful. After a few minutes of perusing we were greeted by a very enthusiastic gentleman at the chocolate counter at the back of the store who began telling us about each hand crafted chocolate. His passion was infectious and we purchased a box of six chocolates to eat right there in the store. Our selections included: Absinthe, Avery (salted chocolate caramel), Port, Bolivian (made from single source beans), Sicilian Pistachio, and Raspberry. All of these were excellent with the Avery and Absinthe our favorites.

We were also treated to samples of their King Cake which was very good and instead of the typical colored sugar was decorated with edible glitter that made for a much more refined presentation. We brought back a bag of their Mardis Gras Cream coffee as a gift and have been assured by the recipient that it's quite delicious.

If you're looking for a gift for a chocolate lover and want something more unusual than a box of Godiva place an order from Sucré and your recipient will not be disappointed.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Taste of Mardi Gras

I just returned from a trip to New Orleans so please enjoy a series of Nawlins and Mardi Gras themed posts. I discovered a newish sweet shop on Magazine Street that inspired this post on King Cakes, though the picture above is not one of their delicious confections. More on the shop in the days to come.

The “modern history” of the King Cake began in 12th century France when the cakes were baked on the eve of January 6 to celebrate the Three Kings’ visit to the Christ Child. A single token was hidden in the cake as a surprise for the finder. This tradition was not invented to celebrate the Epiphany, but was instead an adaptation of a pagan tradition.

The more ancient history is believed that in pre-Christian Western Europe the pagan Harvest celebrations involved a sacrifice ritual of the “sacred king.” How was this unfortunate chap selected? Well this is where the cake comes in. Several men of the tribe, would eat of a cake in which a coin or bean was placed prior to baking. Whoever got the slice that had the coin or bean was the chosen one and was treated like a king for the year, the catch was that at the end of that year he would be sacrificed and his remains returned to the soil to ensure that the harvest would be successful.

The custom came with French settlers to Louisiana in the 18th century and continued to be associated with the Epiphany. During the 19th century with the increasing focus on Mardi Gras the tradition seems to have shifted and for a short time became a weekly event between the Epiphany and Mardi Gras and determined who would host the next weeks party. It was also during this period that they began using a porcelain baby in lieu of the coin or bean as the baby hidden in the cake symbolized the difficulty that the three Kings had in finding the Christ Child and of the gifts they brought.

In 1870, the Twelfth Night Revelers, one of the major Mardi Gras crews, held their ball, with a large king cake as the main attraction. Instead of choosing a sacred king to be sacrificed, the Twelfth Night Revelers used the bean in the cake to choose the queen of the ball. This tradition has carried on to this day, although the Twelfth Night Revelers now use a wooden replica of a large king cake. The ladies of the court pull open little drawers in the cake's lower layer which contain the silver and gold beans. Silver means you're on the court; gold is for the queen.
Unlike the French version of the cake - la galette des rois - still served for epiphany which is round without a hole in the middle, the king cake is an oval-shape with a large hole in the middle. The dough is basic coffee-cake dough, sometimes laced with cinnamon. The dough is rolled out into a long tube then shaped into an oval with the ends twisted together to complete the shape. This twisting is also a convenient place to put the baby if one wanted to increase one’s odds of finding it. The cake is then baked, and decorated with simple purple, green, and gold granulated sugar, the colors of Carnival.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Well Stocked Bar XI

"It is a golden maxim to cultivate the garden for the nose, and the eyes will take care of themselves." ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

The Islands Scotch Whisky Region encompasses all the island distilleries except those on Islay. Of Scotland's 790 islands only 7 are involved in the production of Scotch Whisky, they include: Mull - Tobermory, Orkney - Highland Park and Scapa, Jura - Isle of Jura (pictured above), Arran and a whisky by the same name, Shetlands - Blackwood (though the distillery has been planned for some time it does not yet exist and spirits labeled Blackwood are actually purchased from a Lowland distillery) and Skye - Talisker.

Whisky from the Islands tends to have similar characteristics of Islay whisky, only a bit more subdued, due in large part to the reduced exposure of the malted barley to peat smoke. These whiskies tend to be lighter in color and a bit smoother than either Islay or Highland whisky and in some ways remind me of Speyside malts with a hint of salt.

I have seen the whiskies of Orkney, Highland Park and Scapa included in the Highland region. Orkney is an archipelago of 70 islands lying to the North of the Scottish Highlands. Scapa is located on what is called the Orkney Mainland - despite being one of the islands, it is named as such as it is the biggest of all. Highland park takes its name not from The Highlands, but from the fact that the distillery was built on a hill in the parklands above the town of Kirkwall. There's also a certain logic to this classification as the taste profile is similar to Highland whiskies.

Talisker is my favorite line of the Island whiskies and has a long and interesting history on the Isle of Skye. Talisker has over the years increased its single malt offerings including the excellent 18 year and the 25 year cask strength bottlings, though the majority of the production goes into the Johnnie Walker blends. I'm not alone in my fondness for Talisker, the Scottish writer Robert Lewis Stevenson referred to Talisker as 'the king of drinks.'

'Slaandjivaa' (to your health)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin's Dinner Party Guide

The following are Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin's suggestions for the makings of a successful dinner party as contained in his Physiologie du Goût, ou Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante; ouvrage théorique, historique et à l'ordre du jour, dédié aux Gastronomes parisiens, par un Professeur, membre de plusieurs sociétés littéraires et savantes, or more simply Philosophy of Taste. Some of his suggestions hold up better than others:

1. Let not the number of the company exceed twelve, that the conversation may be constantly general. Athenaeus: Still very good advice if your intention is to have a dinner party conducive to a catholic dialogue. We've all been to those large parties where you end up between two people, neither of whom manage to capture your attention for long as you lean forward and strain to hear what you imagine to be much more interesting things being said just a few seats away.

2. Let them be so selected that their occupations are various, and their tastes analogous, and with such points of contact that there will be no need for the odious formality of presentations. Athenaeus: This is good advice for all manner of parties. If the assembled persons are all of a similar interest it is not so much a party as a convention or meeting.

3. Let the dining-room be well lighted, the cloth spotless, and the atmosphere at a temperature from 13-16 degrees C (60-68 degrees F). Athenaeus: I think central heating has made us accostomed to a room a bit warmer than this.

4. Let the men have wit without pretension, and the women be pleasant without being coquettes. Athenaeus: Certainly the advice pertaining to the gentlemen is correct, but I'm a bit less certain if coquettes in their modern incarnation are appropriate or not as guests as I am at a loss as to imagine an acquaintence who might be labeled as such.

5. Let the dishes be exceedingly choice, but few in number; and the wines of the highest quality each in its degree. Athenaeus: This might be the simplest definition of a good host/hostess is one who provides the best possible in food and beverage for their guests.
6. Let the order of service be from the more substantial dishes to the lighter, and the simpler wines to the most perfumed. Athenaeus: This is a foreign concept for an American palette, but a novel idea. Have you ever served, or been served your courses from meat to fish to salad to dessert?

7. Let the meal proceed without undue haste, since dinner is the last business of the day; and let the guests consider themselves as travellers about to reach a shared destination together. Athenaeus: I like this so much I'm considering printing the quote on my next dinner invitations.

8. Let the coffee be hot, and the liquors chosen with special care. Athenaeus: Not much to be said here.

9. Let the drawing room be large enough to admit a game of cards for those who cannot do without it, while leaving ample room for post-prandial conversation. Athenaeus: An after dinner game is certainly the easy way to amuse your guests, though a stimulating conversation over coffee and after dinner drinks is certainly the ideal.

10. Let the guest be detained by the charms of society, and animated by the hope that the evening will yet develop. Athenaeus: A polite warning against boredom.
11. Let the tea not be too strong, the toast skillfully buttered, and the punch carefully prepared. Athenaeus: This is tradition I was previously unaware of and do not anticipate the resecutation of.

12. Let none leave before eleven o'clock, but let all be in bed by midnight. Athenaeus: A good general rule for host and guest alike.

Do you have any dinner party musts or must nots? Anything on which you disagree with Monsieur Brillat-Savarin?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

In Memoriam Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

"The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity, than the discovery of a new star." Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

February 2nd marked the 183rd anniversary of the death of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin the great 18th to 19th century gastronome. Brillat-Savarin was a renaissance man in the truest sense of the word having studied law, chemistry, medicine, and of course food in the context of living the good life. He had a command of five modern languages as well as Latin and used them frequently in both conversation and the written word. A good example of this was his fondness for the English word sip for which he did not find a suitable counterpart in French.

Brillat-Savarin's jobs included provincial lawyer (his family's trade), he was a deputy to the National Constituent Assembly, during the Revolution he was a political refugee living in Switzerland, Holland, and the United States where he tought French, gave violin lessons, and played in the Park Theater orchestra where he was the first violin. With the formation of the Directorate in 1797 he was welcomed back to france where he became a judge and author of several books on law, politics, and his most famous on food published just two months before his death: Physiologie du Goût, ou Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante; ouvrage théorique, historique et à l'ordre du jour, dédié aux Gastronomes parisiens, par un Professeur, membre de plusieurs sociétés littéraires et savantes. Despite it's unwieldy title and occassionally unwieldy language the book has become a classic among gastronomes and the English translation by M. F. K. Fisher, published in 1949 is a classic in its own right.

His influence in food remains today with Brillat-Savarin cheese, a soft cow's milk cheese created in 1930's Normandy and named after Brillat-Savarin. And the often overlooked Gâteau Savarin cooked in a Savarin mold (see picture below). Many of his quotations live on, perhaps most famously, "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are." And one of my favorites, "A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye."

Here's a recipe I've been perfecting for a Gâteau Savarin inspired by one I had in Bruge, Belgium several years ago. Please forgive the absence of a photo as I have never photographed the process nor the finished product.

9-10 inch Savarin (ring) Mold (or Bundt pan)
1 Large mixing bowl

Ingredients for the dough:
3 large eggs
120 grams white sugar
3 Tbsp whole milk
90 grams unsalted butter melted
210 grams cake flour
3tsp dry yeast

Ingredients for the syrup:
1/2 l water
1 black tea bag
250 grams sugar
Zest of 1 orange
1 vanilla bean
1/3 cup light rum (100 Cane or similar)

1. Cream the eggs and sugar together until smooth, add milk and melted butter.
2. Stir in flour and yeast, work for no less than 10 minutes until firm and well formed ball, roll ball into a log sufficient to coil into the Savarin Mold.
3. Put into a greased and floured Savarin Mold, cover with a towel, and put in a warm place until it doubles in volume.
4. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 375 degrees F for 25-35 minutes until golden in color.
5. While the cake is baking bring water to a boil, remove from heat and add tea bag. Let stand for 3 minutes.
6. Remove tea bag and return to heat and add sugar and split vanilla bean, simmer until sugar is completely dissolved.
7. Remove vanilla bean and add orange zest, continue to simmer for two minutes. Remove from heat and cover.
8. Remove cake from oven and immediately pour syrup evenly over the top of the cake. Let stand up to 8 hours.
9. One hour before serving pour rum over cake.
10. When ready to serve remove from mold and slice.

Tomorrow tips from Brillat-Savarin on hosting a dinner party.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Widow Clicquot Reviewed

"I drink it when I am happy, and when I am sad.
Sometimes I drink it when I am alone.
When I have company, I consider it obligatory.
I trifle with it if I am not hungry, and drink it when I am.
Otherwise I never touch it - unless I am thirsty."
Madame Lilly Bollinger

The Widow Clicquot by Tilar J. Mazzeo was on my Christmas wish list this past year; I was excited about this book based on the promising subject matter, but I must preface this review by saying that this book was a major disappointment. Having said this I beg your patience to continue with this review as there were some diamonds among so much uninteresting rock.

Ms. Mazzeo started her quest to reconstruct the life of Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot with a well intentioned zeal, and clear desire to extol the virtues of a businesswomen before the term had even been coined. Her initial premise was flawed in that Madame Clicquot, by her own admission, was like most businesswomen of the Napoleonic Era in that she stepped into the role as the result of a death of the patriarch either their fathers or husbands, in this case her young, fragile husband. Rather than take up the reins on her own she immediately embraced male business partners and professional sales and managerial staff to whom she delegated many of the major duties of running a wine wholesale business and ultimately a full production estate winery. While Clicquot’s accomplishments were many, as were her failures, they were not done by her alone as the precursor of the modern female entrepreneur. To expect this of a young widow in the mid 1800s was simply too much to hope for and an unfair imposition of our modern constructs; fighting against fact to prove so is unfair to Clicquot as it distracts from her authentic accomplishments.

The narrative is forced by Ms. Mazzeo with insufficient historical material leaving a story filled with awkward conjecture. Perhaps because of a lack of foresight in keeping the papers of the Widow Clicquot or simply because running a business and raising a family left precious little time for diaries and social correspondence there is precious little in the way of personal details beyond sales records and a few impersonal letters to her chief salesman during his travels.

What does come through from the facts and figures is that Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot was a brave and adventurous woman. The daughter of a wealthy textile merchant who married another Reims elite, another son of a textile merchant and wine distributor, she was destined for a comfortable provincial life until the Napoleonic Wars and the premature death of her husband interfered. Her aggressive expansion into Russia, running blockades, and out innovating her competitors showed a brilliant mind and an appetite for risk.

Bits of wine wisdom peppered throughout the book were not enough to propel the story along but included such interesting party knowledge as name for the wine cages (muselet) and the metal cork cap (capsulets) both invented by Adolphe Jacquesson in the 1840s. The fact that Dr. Jules Guyot “invented” the practice of growing grapes in rows to increase evenness in ripeness, prior to the widespread use of this practice they were grown in round clusters for support. And perhaps most interestingly and relevant that the widow Clicquot invented the riddling racks out of her kitchen table as a way to speed the disgorgement process whereby the yeast is cleared out of the wine and removed from the bottle. She was also on the forefront of our modern conception of branding by being among the first to use a signature color in sealing her bottles, adding labels, and marketing prestigious vintages.

While this book makes marginal gains in Champagne scholarship and will be a useful reference for future authors it fails in its primary task of informing and entertaining the reader. For this reason I cannot recommend cluttering your nightstand with The Widow Clicquot.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Well Stocked Bar X

"How solemn and beautiful is the thought that the earliest pioneer of civilization, the van-leader of civilization, is never the steamboat, never the railroad, never the newspaper, never the missionary - but always whisky!" ~ Mark Twain

To date in the Scotch sub-set of Well Stocked Bar posts we've covered Speyside, the Highlands, and most recently the Lowlands. This post is dedicated to Islay, a small island west of the Scottish mainland that has made a large contribution to the world of Scotch whiskies. These are also some of the most picturesque distilleries in Scotland, most being located on bays overlooking the cold sea.

Islay whisky is generally all the things Scotch can be in abundance: smoke, peat, and salt. The island once had 23 distilleries operating at the same time but the number of active distilleries is now down to eight, the newest of which, Kilchoman, opened in 2005 as the first new distillery on the island in 124 years. 2009 it will release its first whiskey having met the minimum legal ageing of 3 years in oak barrels. Kilchoman is preparing itself to be a definitive Islay whiskey as it's one of only six distilleries to carry out traditional floor maltings with barley grown at the distillery, something other distilleries don't do. Kilchoman single malt will also be bottled on Islay.

The oldest Islay distillery, Lagavulin, can trace its roots back to the 1740s. Lagavulin produces, at least to my palette, the second smokiest single malt available after Ardberg. The smoke comes from the process where the barley is smoked over a peat fire to stop the sprouting process, remove moisture, and impart flavor.

Other famous distilleries on Islay include: Laphroaig, Ardbeg (pictured above), Bowmore (pictured directly above), Caol Ila, Bruichladdich, and Bunnahabhain.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Lucky Numbers

“To do a common thing, uncommonly well, brings success.”
Henry John Heinz
In preparation for a Super Bowl party last evening I made barbecue sauce on Saturday. As I lined up my ingredients I couldn't help but notice the prominence of numbers on two iconic American products. The first was Heinz ketchup; having lived in Pittsburgh not far from the home of Senator John Heinz and Mrs. Theresa Heinz (now Kerry), I am a devoted Heinz customer when purchasing bottled and canned products.

The number 57 is featured prominently on a number of Heinz products, most notably Heinz 57 Steak Sauce. The number comes from a slogan used by the company at the end of the 19th century boasting that the Heinz company had 57 Varieties, though in true advertising fashion the number was a bit less than accurate as the company had more than 60 products at the time the slogan was put into use. The number 57 was a combination of the number 5 which was Henry John Heinz's lucky number and the number 7 which was his wife's lucky number. Today the number is still in use on packaging, as the P.O. Box for the company's mail, and as the last four digits of their consumer hotline '5757'; though the slogan is long gone and the company now produces more than 6,000 products. The Heinz brand got its start making prepared horseradish and grew quite quickly thereafter.

The second number is the 'No. 7' on the Jack Daniels bottle. Lot's of legends exist regarding the significance of this number, though none is officially endorsed by the company. The most probable theories center around whisky competitions where the product was entrant number 7 or that it won 7 competitions.

Here's a recipe for my Lucky 7's Barbecue Sauce:

1/2 cup Jack Daniels
1/4 cup Cointreau
1/2 cup chopped shallots
zest of one small orange, finely chopped
4 cloves finely chopped garlic
2 cups Heinz ketchup
1/3 cup cider vinegar
3 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup dark molasses
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce (1 1/2 tablespoons if using reduced sodium)
1/4 cup tomato paste
3/4 teaspoon Crystal hot sauce

Combine shallot, garlic, Jack Daniels, and Cointreau in a 3 quart saucepan. Sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add orange zest for the last 3 minutes of sauteing. Add all remaining ingredients, bring to boil. Simmer uncovered until reduced and thickened, about 15 to 25 minutes.

I like find this sauce particularly well suited to chicken meatballs and wings as well as pork ribs.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Winding Down - Bedat & Co.

This has been a tough week for lovers of good design. The shelter magazine with a young and somewhat urban bent, Domino, is folding as reported on several blogs and yesterday I saw that Bedat & Co., a Swiss watchmaker is likely winding down. The company was started by Simone Bedat and her son Christian in 1996. Both mother and son grew up in the Swiss watch industry, with Simone's last post as a partner in Raymond Weil prior to going out to found her namesake brand. After a bit of research the possible reasons for closure appear to be a bit more than the economic malaise. The Bedat's sold the company to Gucci in 2000 and departed in 2006. What had been a small, family run, niche producer was pushed into higher production and distribution. There are varying opinions about a lessening of quality under Gucci's management on which I cannot comment.

I have more than a passing interest as I purchased a Bedat No7 shortly after the company began distributing watches in the US. I chose my watch because of it's clean lines appropriate for wear with a suit, impeccable craftsmanship, and the fact that it was not produced by one of the biggies. I was particularly taken by the Bedat logo which is both a figure 8 and two opposing B's signifying the two Bedats. It appears on the face at the 8 o'clock position and also on the date display every 8th day of the month. I always make a point of wearing it on the 8th to see the logo number unique to these watches. Also the guilloche work on the faces of these watches is, in my opinion, much finer than any offered by Cartier the closest watch in appearance. The picture above is my well worn No7 a staple of my wardrobe.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Brown Paper Packages Tied up with Strings

Don't you just love receiving a present? I particularly enjoy receiving such a gift by post, that way there's no awkwardness: am I opening it too quickly, did I spend enough time admiring the card, do I have spinach in my teeth...well, you get the picture. I hope I'm not the only one who experiences gift anxiety. I love giving gifts, but my heart starts to race when I know I'm expected to open gifts in front of an audience, clearly this is the result of either very good or very poor breeding; I'll leave you to come to your own conclusions. Alone with a box filled with promise sitting on the table, a utility knife in your hand, and your mind spinning with possibilities, there are few things better.

I've been out of commission the better part of a week with what I would love to say is a hangover from my Burns Night celebration, but is instead the result of a nasty bug that has left me achingly tired and mute for far too many days. The cures: Darjeeling tea with honey and lemon, warm water with a jigger of whiskey, honey and lemon, Luden's Honey Lemon Throat Drops, and a lovely gift to accelerate my metamorphosis back to a more gentile form of humanity.
As I've mentioned previously, I was the lucky winner of the anniversary prize given by Meg over at Pigtown-Design. Again, Meg was far too generous in giving a gift for her second blog birthday, but I digress. It was quite exciting finding it on the porch all wrapped in toile printed brown paper with chic address and return address labels.

Not to be outdone by the outer wrapping was the equally splendid interior wrapping.

And then the prize...a great blue willow patterned cup and saucer, which received nearly immediate use to hold the honey lemon concoction of the hour.

I promise to resume a more regular posting schedule now that my convalescence is coming to an end, along with my Netflix backlog.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Burns Night

This Sunday, January 25th is 2009's Burns Night. What is a Burns Night you ask? Well first it is a dinner normally held on or near the poet Robert Burn's birthday. The first Burns Night suppers were held in Ayrshire (Scotland) at the end of the 18th century by his friends on the anniversary of his death, July 21, In Memoriam and they have been a regular occurrence ever since. This year is particularly significant as it marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of poet Robert Burns, Scotland's favorite son. For those of you who were not English Majors, Burns authored such immortal works as A Red Red Rose and Auld Lang Syne.

Burns Night has become a night of merriment, usually begun by raising your glasses high and saying The Selkirk Grace, the traditional opening toast of the Burns Supper.

Some hae meat and canna eat,
and some wad eat that want it,
but we hae meat and we can eat,
and sae the Lord be thankit.

The dinner also includes the serving of a large haggis with tatties (potatoes) and neeps (turnips). The hagis is presented to much fanfare and for Burns Night includes the recitation of the Address to a Haggis toast.

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
'Bethankit' hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect sconner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit:
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

From there, other highlights in the itinerary include the Immortal Memory address, the Toast to the Lassies and the recitation of songs and poems, particularly the narrative poem Tam o’ Shanter.

Dessert is a bit more flexible than the rest of the evening, but should include a dram or two of Scotch. I'd propose a crowdie cream.

1 Tbs. melted butter
4 to 5 Tbs. medium-size oats (reserve a small amount to use as a garnish)
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tbs. honey
1 Tbs. Scotch whisky
Approximately 1 cup raspberries
Sprig of mint for garnish

1) Lightly brown oats in a pan that has been coated with cooking spray or a little melted butter. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

2) Beat heavy cream until soft peaks form. Add honey and then whisky then fold in the toasted oats, reserving a few for garnish.

3) Layer in a tall glass, beginning with a small amount of raspberries, then whipped-cream mixture. Alternate layers of raspberries and cream, ending with a few berries. Garnish with toasted oats and a sprig of mint.

Finally, the dinner is concluded with a chorus of Auld Lang Syne. We should be well rehearsed after New Years Eve.

Friday, January 16, 2009

In Memoriam - Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth's "Otherworld" (2002)
Artist Andrew Wyeth, one of America's greatest painters died early today, Friday, January 16th at his home in the Philadelphia suburb of Chadds Ford, he was 91.
This is a great loss for the art world as Wyeth has continued to produce beautiful, thoughtful, and often somber works for more than seven decades.
I was fortunate to see a touring retrospective of his work in 2006 when it came to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. The painting above was my favorite in the exhibition filled with great paintings, though it was starkly atypical as the setting was not the rural landscape of the Brandywine Valley and Maine, Wyeth's two preferred settings for his art and his life.

What Washington Will be Drinking

"No nation is drunken where wine is cheap, and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage." ~ Thomas Jefferson

As details about the inauguration and the associated balls and banquets make their way out it's been fascinating to see the diplomacy required to make these selections, and maybe a gaffe or two. is reporting that Barack Obama's first wines sipped at the inaugural congressional lunch at the Capitol, right after the swearing-in ceremony will include: 2007 Duckhorn Vineyards sauvignon blanc ($30 retail) and 2005 Goldeneye pinot noir ($55 suggested retail). Two hundred dignitaries will toast the new President with 15 magnums of Korbel Natural sparkling wine ($15 retail). Here's where a gaffe occurs as the wine is labeled “California Champagne,” a clear no-no as only wines made in the Champagne region of France should include the word champagne.

The Chicago Tribune has reported that Cooper's Hawk Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine ($13.99 retail) will be served for the official toast to the new first lady at the Illinois State Society's Illinois Inaugural Gala in Washington D.C. on Monday. The winery uses purchased grapes from across the United States including Washington, California, Illinois and Michigan to produce more than 125,000 gallons of wine a year, much of it served at their restaurants.

Other Inauguration Balls:

The Wine Curmudgeon reports that the Hollywood-focused Creative Coalition Ball is sponsored by Pepsi, so it's safe to assume a fair amount of the carbonated stuff, but there will be wine, reported to be from Barefoot ($6.99-$14.99 retail), one of the Gallo lines. Barefoot was selected because it donates money for beach and ocean environmental efforts.

Curmudgeon also noated that a Virginia wine, Barboursville Vineyards Cabernet Franc Reserve ($24.99 retail), will be served at the Inaugural Conservation Gala held on Jan. 19. The Gala is hosted by the International Conservation Caucus Foundation, a lobbying group focused on resource management practices.

The Inauguration Gala at the Russian Cultural Centre will be serving a variety of Russian wines in addition to the expected Vodka, though none were listed on their website.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Bigger the Better

"A bottle of wine begs to be shared; I have never met a miserly wine lover." ~ Clifton Fadiman

And might I add, some bottles beg more than others, like the ones pictured above.

I was visiting my favored wine merchant last weekend and spent a few minutes looking at the large format wines they had in stock. I was not looking at 1.5 liters of Little Penguin or the like but rather fantastic bottles from France, Italy, California, and Portugal in big bottles with commensurate price tags. I've always been fascinated by these large bottles and have been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time for the openings of a few Jeroboams and one Balthazar. These bottles as much as the wines themselves conveyed a great sense of celebration and importance and made for very memorable meals and occasions.

I was trying to provide a handy chart showing all the various sizes in a logical format, but was bested by Blogger's inability to play well with spreadsheets. So here, in a less than ideal format, please find Athenaeus' Guide to the intriguing, at least for me, world of the off-sized wine bottle. You'll probably notice that I use both spellings of Liter/Litre. This is done for a host of reasons, the most obvious of which is that the Litre spelling is typically European, where most of these bottle sizes originated.

The smallest wine bottles produced are called Mignonettes and come in various sizes, none larger than 0.025 liters or 3% of a bottle. These are used exclusively for samples and are not very common due to the disproportionately large cost of the container to the contents.

The smallest readily available wine bottles are Splits and contain 0.1875 liters or 1/4 of a standard bottle. These are almost exclusively used for sparkling wines including Champagne.

The Piccolo is a bit larger at 0.2 liters or just over a fourth of a bottle and gets its name from the Italian word for small. These bottles are also used for sparkling wines, and are often incorrectly referred to as Splits.

Chopine is the name given to 0.25 liter bottles which hold 1/3 of a bottle. This size is not very common.
The Half Bottle or Demi which holds, as the name implies, 1/2 of a bottle or 375 milliliters, has gained in popularity over the past few years as people have begun to pair wines with courses in restaurants and at home and in households (like mine) where we can't always agree on one wine for dinner. Wines produced in the Loire Valley have traditionally been the French wines most likely to be found in this size and are traditionally called Fillette.

The not so elegantly named 500 ml bottle is commonly used for dessert wines including Port, Tokai from Hungary, and Ice Wine.

The 750ml bottle is the world standard and has been since a world wide treaty signed in 1972 and begun with the 1973 vintages. It's a strange convergence of the English and Metric systems and represents approx. 1/5th of a gallon, or "a fifth" in common parlance for spirits, which had been the typical size bottle sold in the UK and the US up to that point. Many French wines up to this point were put in 750ml bottles but contained only 730ml of wine to allow for the cork. Champagne up to this point actually contained exactly 1/5th of a gallon per the US standard, showing its global popularity.

The 1 litre bottle is somewhat common in Europe for inexpensive table wines, but is seldom seen in the US.
Magnums are the most common of the large format bottles, and contain twice as much wine as the standard bottle (1.5L). These bottles are good for ageing wines as the ratio of air to wine is lower thus slowing the aging process. These are typically the largest bottles used by wineries for bottle ageing.

Bordeaux produces 2.25 litre bottles, the equivalent of three bottles, called Marie-Jeanne or Dame Jeane and are almost exclusively filled with red wine. US wineries are not permitted to bottle in this size. Bordeaux bottles are almost exclusively of the high "square shoulder" variety. It's thought that this shape was developed to allow the sediment to be trapped in the bottle during decanting. This bottle shape is common among Cabernet Sauvignon the world over as well as Sauternes and white Bordeaux varietals.

Three liter bottles are correctly called Jeroboams when the contents are from Burgundy, Champagne, or other parts of the world. Often New World wine makers will choose the less traditional, but easily understood term Double Magnums. These bottles are typically Burgundian in their shape with lower sloping shoulders. The name Jeroboam refers to Jeroboam II, a biblical king who reigned around the founding of Rome in 753BC.
In Bordeaux they also use Jeroboam to describe a bottle, but in their case it is 4.5 litres or the equivalent of 6 bottles. In my opinion the Jeroboam is the most confusing name due to the differing sizes by region.

The Imperial, Impériale is most typical of Bordeaux and contains 6 litres or 8 bottles.
Methuselah is the name given to 6 litre bottles in Burgundy. The name Methuselah comes from the grandfather of Noah and the oldest man mentioned in the Bible said to have lived to be 969 years old.

The Rehoboam is a 9 litre bottle, the equivalent of a case of wine, produced in Bordeaux for claret or in Champagne, though for Champagne this size is sometimes referred to as a double-Jeroboam. The name comes from the son of King Solomon and the King of Judah.

Salamanzar is the name used in Burgundy and Champagne for a bottle that holds 9 litres, like the Rehoboam. The name comes from an Assyrian monarch who ruled around 1250 BC. US wine producers are prohibited from bottling in 9 liter bottles regardless of what they would choose to call them.

Balthazar is the common name used in both Bordeaux and Burgundy for a 12 litre bottle the equivalent of 16 standard bottles. The name comes from one of the Three Wise Men, and reportedly means "King of Treasures" which seems appropriate for a bottle able to hold a case of wine.

Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchodonosor is the largest bottle "commonly" produced in Champagne, Bordeaux, and Burgundy. In all three regions these bottles contain 15 litres of wine, the equivalent of 20 750ml bottles. The name in its various spellings comes from the greatest King of the Assyrians.

Melchior is the name given to a bottle that contains 18 litres of wine, the equivalent of two cases. These bottles are occasionally produced in Burgundy and Champagne to mark special occasions and vintages. These bottles get their names, like Balthazar, from another of the Three Wise Men.
Solomon is the name given to bottles containing 20 litres of wine, or 27 standard bottles. These are rarely produced, and when they are they typically come from Champagne. The name comes from King Solomon.

25 Litre bottles of Champagne are called Sovereign, Soverign and are exceedingly rare. The name has also been used to describe any bottle greater than 25 Liters. Bottles of this size are typically filled with wines that were aged in standard bottles just before leaving the winery. These bottles can be opened using standard waiter style corkscrews. Though beware, pouring out of bottles this size is nearly impossible and an immediate decanting (into 33+ bottles or decanters) is recommended.

Bottles containing 27 liters are occasionally produced, typically by commission, and are called Primat. These bottles hold the equivalent of three cases of wine. The name comes from the Latin word for "leader" and means the best, the top, or the most prized. I've seen a Primat of Charles Krug Cabernet bottled specially for Morton's with a suggested retail price of $2,000 and a weight of over 100 pounds up for a charity auction.

Melchizedek was a Biblical King of Shalem whose name has been used for bottles containing 30 liters. These are rarely produced, and when they are they typically come from Bordeaux and Burgundy and rarely more than one from a winery in a given year.

Murgatoryd is the name given to bottles containing 50 liters of wine or the equivalent of 67 standard bottles. I've not been able to find much information on these bottles or the origin of the name, though it appears in England as early as the 14th century.

For the purpose of comparison a Barrel of wine contains 180 liters or 240 standard bottles, or the equivalent of 6 Melchizedeks or 3.6 Murgatoryds.

The largest bottle of wine ever produced was bottled in 2006 by a group of five Australian wineries and the wine was called Five Virtues. The bottle contains 290 liters (1.61 barrels) of Shiraz, is more than 6' 5" tall and weighs in at 1,300 pounds. The cork alone is reported to have cost $3,500 (perhaps as much as the Shiraz). This was done as a publicity stunt to sell numerous 750ml bottles of wine by the same name.

Prior to 2006 the largest bottle ever produced was commissioned by Morton's in 2004 for an anniversary celebration. The bottle was custom blown in Sazova, Czech Republic and contained 130 liters of Beringer Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The 4' 6" tall bottle weighed 340 pounds and was auctioned by Sotheby's at one of it's wine sales with the $50,000 winning bid going to charity.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I Do Solemnly Swear

"In this blessed land, there is always a better tomorrow... Let history say of us, "These were golden years-when the American Revolution was reborn, when freedom gained new life, when America reached for her best... Well, with heart and hand, let us stand as one today:...determined that our future shall be worthy of our past" ~ Ronald Reagan's Inaugural Address, 21st day of January 1985

The Wall Street Journal Online had a fantastic slideshow today of the Bible's used for Presidential Swearings' In over the years. It inspired me to pull together a few notable inaugural selections from the WSJ and the web at large. I also enjoyed the images showing how the ceremony has involved over the years including the addition of the First Lady standing with the President, something that didn't seem to occur during those early inaugurations.

George Washington took the Oath of Office as our nation's first President using a Bible borrowed from the St. John's Masonic Lodge. It was opened to Genesis 49:13, apparently hastily, as the passage was not particularly relevant to the occasion, though it does have a bit of a manifest destiny tone to it, "Zebulan shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon." (Image courtesy of the US Senate)

I was unable to find any details on the Bibles used by Adams or Jefferson, though it should be noted that the first Koran used for the swearing in of a member of the US House of Representatives in 2007 belonged to Thomas Jefferson. The House member was Keith Ellison, a Democrat, from Minnesota. (Image courtesy of New York Sun)

Abraham Lincoln used a Bible borrowed from the Clerk of the Supreme Court, again opened at random. For his second oath it was opened deliberately to Matthew 7:1, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." (Photo of Lincoln’s first inauguration is from Wikimedia Commons)

Herbert Hoover elected to use a family Bible turned to Proverbs 29:18, "Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he." (Photo from

Franklin D. Roosevelt used the same family Bible on all four occasions, always turned to I Corninthians 13, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things..." (Photo from Flickr)

Truman can be noted for two deviations from what had been tradition to that point. First he swore on a closed Bible upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945 (image). In 1949 upon re-election he used the same Bible from 1945 as well as a copy of the Gutenberg Bible opened to the 10 Commandments, making him the first President to swear on two Bibles. (Photo from

Dwight Eisenhower again used two Bibles for his swearing in: one given to him by his mother upon his graduation from West Point, the other the Masonic Bible used by George Washington. (Photo from

President Johnson was sworn in onboard Air Force One following the assassination of President Kennedy. The Bible he used is not known. For his second oath he took it on a closed family Bible. (Photo from the LBJ Presidential Library)
President Nixon continued the tradition of using two Bibles for both ceremonies. Both were family Bibles, ostensibly one from each side of his family. His selection of Isaiah 2:4 was interesting given the time, "And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruningforks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." (Photo from Flickr)

Jimmy Carter borrowed a page from Dwight Eisenhower and used both a family Bible and the Washington Masonic Bible, this time turned to VI Micah 6:8, "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." A very telling passage picked by this Sunday school teacher. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)

George H.W. Bush stuck with the modern tradition of using two Bibles; again with a family Bible and the Washington Masonic Bible. The Masonic opened at random and the family Bible opened to Matthew 5, "...Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven..." (Photo from Wikipedia)

Bill Clinton used the same Bible given to him by his grandmother for both ceremonies, each time turned to a different passage. The photo is of the first inauguration with Chief Justin Rehnquist delivering the oath. (Photo from Wikipedia)

George W. Bush had planned to use two Bibles, like his father, but due to poor weather at the first inauguration he was unable to use the Washington Masonic Bible and instead used only the family Bible closed (photo). He continued this tradition at his second inauguration. (Photo from

And finally, Barack Obama, in a nod to Abraham Lincoln, plans to use the Bible he used, originally owned by William Thomas Carroll the then clerk of the Supreme Court. The details about whether the Bible will be opened or closed, or any particular passage have not been disclosed as of the time of this post. (Photo from WSJ)