Episode 102 - Not Tequila
What’s shakin, cocktail fans!
Welcome to Episode 102 of The Modern Bar Cart Podcast!
This episode is part two of a little mini-series we’re running on mexican-inspired distilling methods and base ingredients. In episode 101, we chatted with Max and Eli from the Baltimore Spirits Company about their mezcal-style apple brandies.
This time around, we catch up with RB Wolfensberger, who’s the head distiller over at Gray Wolf Craft Distilling. He has a new product hitting the market, and it’s not your typical gin or whiskey - this is something completely different and relatively rare in the U.S. craft distilling space.
Some of the topics RB and I discuss include:
How his new American agave spirit - called “Lobo” - fits in with the other products in the Gray Wolf portfolio, which we taste and nose as we go.
The differences between using an agave heart or “pina” vs. using an agave nectar as the base for a distilled spirit.
Why barrel aging agave spirits is traditionally very different than most other barrel-aging approaches, and what RB is doing to kinda shake things up and set his product apart.
The challenges of introducing a non-tequila, non-mezcal agave spirit into an American market that takes comfort in traditional agave categories and classifications.
An on-air cocktail demo using the Lobo to make a dry, refreshing riff on an agave Manhattan.
Meditations on the late, great distiller Dave Pickerel,
And much, much more
Featured Cocktail: The Paloma
This week’s featured cocktail is the Paloma, which is just about the most refreshing tequila cocktail you’ll ever encounter. Aside from the Margarita, it’s one of the most widely available tequila drinks, and yet - there’s still a great deal of disagreement on the actual recipe, and that’s partially because the Paloma is a highball cocktail, which means that you’ve got a little wiggle room when making it.
Put differently, if you were to fiddle with an old fashioned, or a negroni, or a daiquri - one of those classic, boozy, low-volume cocktails - you’d know right away. But with a paloma, you’ve got grapefruit soda filling up a large portion of the glass, which means tweaking the citrus a bit or adding another flavor isn’t nearly as likely to ruin the drink.
The simplest recipe we found (and the one I like the most) is from Imbibe.com, and that recipe states that to make the Paloma cocktail, you’ll need:
2 oz blanco or reposado tequila
The juice from ½ a lime
A pinch of salt
And Grapefruit Soda (like Jarritos)
Combine the first three ingredients in a highball glass or a large rocks glass with ice, top up with grapefruit soda, give everything a quick stir, and garnish with a lime wheel.
In this episode, we focus in on Agave - where it comes from, what it means to use it as a distillate base, and how American distillers are beginning to enter the conversation in a market that has previously been dominated by Mexico.
Gray Wolf Craft Distilling’s new product, Lobo, is completely distinct from both Tequila and Mezcal, the two agave spirits that most Americans are familiar with. Here are some things that make it special:
RB uses both a Mexican yeast strain proven to be effective with agave and a robust Champagne yeast to ferment his agave nectar, which is both tricky and time-consuming to work with.
Instead of barrel-aging this product, RB uses oak staves that are smoked in-house to impart a light smoky flavor to the Lobo, which is then rested for an additional period of time, which allows the flavors to meld together.
The tasting notes for this spirit are luxurious and rich. On the nose, you get notes of caramel, butterscotch, and graham cracker, which are accented by vanilla, pepper, and just a hint of smoke on the palate. Bourbon and rum drinkers will immediately be captivated by this pour.
A very simple drink with a little bit of sugar, a little bit of bitters, and maybe a little bit of citrus. I like to keep it simple.
If You Were a Cocktail Ingredient, What Would You Be?
Cocktail With Anyone, Past or Present
In the present, my wife and business partner, Meghan. If I could go back in time, I’d return to Piano Bar and have another conversation with legendary distiller Dave Pickerell.
Advice on Creating Agave Spirits
Patience is the key. All aspects of the distilling process with agave can’t be rushed. The biggest mistake on the distiller’s end is to push it out too fast. So I hope that if anyone out there listening is looking to get into it, I hope they’re patient.