by Lauren Mote
Vail Colorado, day 2. The purpose of this seminar, was to collect the some 200 participants in the Mixology Summit, lock them in room with nothing but each other, booze and Steve Olson – now that’s something I would like to do again. Steve is so passionate that he effectively almost brings you to tears, with his “tell it like it is” attitude, and the ability he has to rejuvenate the soul – be proud of what you do for a living; well I certainly feel validated,… with super watery eyes. Steve would give us a90 minute pep-talk, while training us to taste Grand Marnier HIS way. I must give a brief history lesson on this guy before he’s introduced.
“Steven Olson is dedicated to the education and consultation of degustation for appreciation and celebration. He teaches, lectures, and writes all over the world about wine, beer, spirits, sake, and virtually any other beverage under the sun, discussing their integral cause-and-effect relationship with food as he preaches the gospel of his mission: making tasting fun by removing the intimidation factor and the pretense.” (http://www.beveragealcoholresource.com/index3.html)
Grand Marnier used to be called Grand Curacao before its name conversion in 1880. As a spirit, it has always been straight-forward, high acid, was and still is commonly served in France on a petite serviette with a sugarcube – whether to nibble on while sipping, or dipping, nibbling then sipping – got it? Instead of this sugarcube business, there is a simplistic way that our palate can soften a spirit ourselves. Basically, Grand Marnier is a blend of cognacs made from the finest Grand Champagne and Petit Champagne grapes, with neutral eau-de-vie that has macerated the highest quality of orange skins – the skins are harvested green, and sundried to maximize sweetness and flavour. Grand Marnier has always been so popular with food and beverage, that if you take a look through The Escoffier Cook Book you’ll notice that during the 1880’s onwards, Chef Auguste Escoffier loved to use Grand Marnier in his Crepe Suzette and Soufflé.
Cordon Rouge, Step 1: Waive the glass back and forth in front of your nose. What do you smell? Natural orange flavour, vanilla, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon (new French limosin oak barrels), tropical fruit, apples and citrus peel. You can really tell when the cognac is authentic – authentic aging, oak vessels, the whole package. The cognac used in Cordon Rouge is already 5-6 years old before it’s blended!
“Try and break down the spirit in your mouth […] first we’ll evaluate the level of alcohol […] it starts with a well distilled spirit […] taste the spirit twice, using my techniques, your memory and lots of practice, and you’ll be able to create an accurate tasting note […] I feel the sugar and the texture, and acidity is the key in balancing this clean distillate.” (Steve Olson)
In 1827, the Lapostolle family (specifically Jean-Baptiste Lapostolle) founded a distillery, and it wasn’t until 1876 that Louis-Alexandre Marnier married JB’s grand-daughter. Louis-Alenxandre joined the firm, and in 1880 the Lapostolle Distillery was renamed Marnier-Lapostolle. Since then, 6 generations of the Marnier-Laspotolle family has been producing these highend cognac-based spirits. For Grand Marnier’s hundreth anniversary in 1927, it was prohibition times in the United States, and the “bathtub gin movement” was out of control; however in Europe, a special cognac was made, using 25 year cognac from both the Grande and Petite Champagne regions. For two years the cognac and signature orange eau-de-vie were aged together before bottling (very clean, bright, with a full, round, thick mouth).
“When you taste the spirit for the first time, I want you to wash your mouth with it, then spit it out; next I want you to put the glass in your mouth past the tip of your tongue so you cannot detect the sugar in the spirit. Now, before you spit it out, press your tongue again the back of your upper front teeth, breathe in and out through your nose, hold. Spit the spirit out, then breathe in deeply through your mouth, you should have a lasting flavour of the spirit, no sugar, and a menthol feeling – that’s a great distillate, no burning, even at 40% abv.” (Steve Olson)
To celebrate the hundred-fiftieth anniversary of the brand, the Cuvee Cent Cinquentenaire was released in 1977, a blend of the finest 50 year cognacs from solely the Grand Champagne area of Cognac. The orange eau-de-vie and cognacs spend 3 years together in cask (really ripe fruits, tropical, but almost over ripe strawberries, with pronounced nuttiness and toastiness – both from oak).
Lastly Navan, the brand new distillate that will hit the North American market September 2009 – 30% less sugar! Bags of freshly hulled Madagascar Vanilla beans are shipped to the distillery where they macerate in neutral spirit for a couple of weeks. Upon blending with a similar cognac as the Cordon Rouge, Navan will then mature in French oak cask for at least 6 months before bottling (orchids, milk chocolate, vanilla, butter & butterscotch, caramel).
Now, about Steve’s company, AKA Wine Geek. With business partner, mixologist Andy Seymour, here’s what the homepage says:
“The company acts as a liaison between all strata of the industry, serving in an educational and advisory capacity between producer, importer, distributor, sales force, restaurateur, retailer, management, servers, and all others involved in the presentation and sales of beverages, creating the opportunity for successful interface with the consumer.” (http://www.akawinegeek.com/index.php)
Stemming from AKA Wine Geek, an affiliate program called BAR (Beverage Alcohol Research). Deemed the most important part of the restaurant’s front of house, the BAR program is of Master Sommelier callibre study for the world of distillates, and literally cocktail, mixology and spirit science and culture. With popular American Cocktail Culture icons Dale DeGroff (world class bartender), Doug Frost (Master of Wine), David Wondrich (wine and spirits writer), Paul Pacult (lifetime beverage enthusiast and author), alongside Steve and Andy teach a pricy, but comprehensive program for anyone interested (http://www.beveragealcoholresource.com).
Cocoktails served at the seminar (before and after spirit tasting):
The Stork Club
3/4 oz orange juice, 1/2 oz lime juice, 1 1/2 oz tanqueray gin, 1/2 oz grand marnier cordon rouge, bitters, wide orange twist – shaken, served straight up in cocktail/martini glass.
2 oz grand marnier cuvee cent cinquentenaire, 1/4 oz maraschino, 1/2 lemon juice, bitters, sugar rim, crushed ice – shaken, served over crushed ice in low-base cocktail glass.