Return Of Vodka, Sustainable Tequila & The Biz

A few interesting booze & cocktail articles from the inter-web that have come across our radar this past week.

Return Of Vodka, Sustainable Tequila & The Biz By: Tiff Christie|July 29,2019

8,000 Miniature Bottles Of Booze On The Wall

When he was just 12 years old, Rotem Ben Shitrit became fascinated by alcohol miniatures—those tiny “nips” so often seen on airlines and in hotel minibars. Today, at age 34, he has more than 8,000 tiny bottles, perhaps the largest collection in the world.

Shitrit was already an avid collector of cigarette boxes and sports cards by the time he was a young teenager, but his inadvertent discovery of “minis” sparked a lifelong passion that would soon consume him, even before he could lawfully buy alcohol. “The legal drinking age in Israel is 18, but back then it wasn’t enforced,” explains Shitrit of his early collecting days. “I found myself hitting every liquor store in Tel Aviv on my own with a Ziploc full of coins.

His first acquisition was a pretty run-of-the-mill Finlandia Cranberry Vodka, but his second was significantly more obscure, a Gilbey’s Gin made and bottled in Kenya, which he purchased while overseas in Mombasa.

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Tequila Can Be Made Sustainably, But That Doesn’t Mean It Necessarily Is

“Agave is not in danger,” says Antonio Rodriguez, director of production at Patrón. Despite the 2018 news reports that an agave shortage was threatening tequila and mezcal production, and Mexican ecosystems, Rodriguez believes the crop is not in crisis.

The abundant agave harvest did drive prices down, Rodriguez says, but “from now into the future, there’s enough agave for the forecast of production.” Still, many others believe these fluctuations demonstrate a larger problem: As agave prices oscillate, farmers may be forced to cut corners with less sustainable practices, such as using agrochemicals and harvesting agave plants years early. This may not affect our Margaritas in the short term, but could be detrimental for future generations of farmers, residents, distillers, and drinkers.

What tequila producers choose to do now, in other words, will determine the spirit’s future. And we, the tequila-purchasing public, have to take our role more seriously to ensure its survival.

“Tequila can be an extremely sustainable industry when distillers take the time and care needed to give back to the Earth,” Jose “Pepe” Hermosillo, founder of Casa Noble Tequila, tells VinePair.

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The State Of American Craft Whiskey

The year 2009 marked the beginning of an acceleration in small-scale American distilling that, a decade later, shows no sign of slowing. Many of today’s biggest names got their start that year: Catoctin Creek (Virginia), Kings County (New York), Wyoming Whiskey (Wyoming), Smooth Ambler (West Virginia). Balcones, founded in Texas in 2008, started operations in 2009, and High West opened its iconic saloon in Park City, Utah, the same year.

What explains the upsurge? Economics, for one thing. An upside to the Great Recession was the huge number of creative, ambitious and suddenly unemployed people it produced, several of whom used their severance pay as seed money to start making whiskey.

Not every distillery founded in 2009 was started by a recession victim, of course. For others, it was the rush of regulatory reforms that hit its stride that year, as Prohibition-era laws fell with the slightest push. Several states, like Tennessee, dropped rules that effectively prohibited new distilleries from opening; others, like South Carolina, went further and slashed licensing fees and paperwork requirements for small distilleries. It helped, too, that the efflorescence of high-quality cocktail bars, already underway, demanded a steady supply of bespoke spirits, while their shelves offered a running advertisement for new brands.

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Back In Fashion: The Return Of Vodka In Cocktails

In a bar filled with gin-­based cocktails, smoky whiskies, fruity rums and rich Cognacs it can be easy for drinkers to forget about vodka. In the past few years, the white spirit fell out of favour with bartenders – but perceptions of the spirit have begun to change.

“People are becoming more aware of spirits and cocktails overall,” says James Carlin, venue manager at Melbourne cocktail bar Nick & Nora. “A renewed interest in vodka is a logical progression of that. People aren’t just ordering vodka sodas with the house pour any more; they’re branching out to try new vodkas in new ways.”

Innovative vodka-­based cocktails and creative small batch producers have helped turn around bartenders’ opinions of vodka, and some are hoping to change the minds of drinkers as well. After dominating menus in the ’90s and early noughties, vodka has once again become an essential tool in top bartenders’ cocktail­-making arsenal.

Robin Westerback, head bartender at Stockholm’s Tjoget, said: “The use of vodka comes easy working behind the bar. Bartenders can rely on the subtleness of vodka to make a great cocktail, and this also makes it the perfect ingredient to use in infusions and different kinds of craft cocktails – from stiff drinks that showcase different styles of vodka, to more crowd-pleasing mixes where the goal could be to showcase an ingredient that may not shine through with another spirit.”

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Beyond The Batch, There’s The “Biz”

“Bizzes are really the ultimate ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ thing,” explains Tom Macy, a partner and the head bartender at Julie Reiner’s Clover Club in Brooklyn.

Macy recalls first hearing the insider shorthand during a brief stint working at Reiner’s tropical bar, Lani Kai, before it closed in 2012, though it was actually coined in the early days of Reiner’s first bar, Flatiron Lounge. Back then the menu featured a Singapore Sling—a cocktail jammed with as many as eight ingredients, many of them called for in minuscule amounts, often not more than a teaspoon.

“Our volume was so high that we needed to be able to get the drink out without having an eight-bottle pickup,” recalls Reiner. To speed up the preparation, Reiner began to batch the small-quantity ingredients, like Cointreau and grenadine, into a single bottle. When making the drink during a happy hour onslaught, a bartender might yell to a colleague to pass them the “Singapore Sling business.” Eventually, that single bottle got shortened to simply being “the biz.” A new slang term had been coined.

Yet in an age when the cocktail industry is so meticulously catalogued, when even bartenders at the Chili’s in the mall know what fat-washing is, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single mention of “the biz” on the internet. (You won’t find the term anywhere on Clover Club’s menu either—you’ll have to look to some Sharpie-scrawled labels behind the bar.)

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