Sunday, March 25, 2012

Chocolate Whiskey & A Haagen Dazs Bonus

Kings County Distillery Chocolate "Flavored" Whiskey - Although I have no intention of entering into the crowded field of whiskey writing on a regular basis, I am making an exception for our hometown heroes partly to support them and partly because this is such an unusual product.

The beverage was the result of a chance observation by Colin Spoelman, a co-founder of the artisanal distillery. During a visit to Mast Brothers chocolate in Williamsburg, he noticed a pile of cocoa bean husks that were going to be discarded and decided to try crumbling them and combining them with Kings County whiskey. The experiment yielded 768 small bottles of a dark brown liquid that is being sold for a mere $22.

So, seeing as how I scored the last bottle that Park Avenue Liquor Shop had, is it worth you going down the list of stores on Kings County's website and trying to track one down for yourself? Unfortunately, if you have any interest in alcoholic drinks and chocolate, the answer is yes. Before I go on, let me just say that if you haven't tried an artisanal whiskey, you may want to start there. A sip of Kings County, Tuthilltown, Berkshire Mountain or one of the others that have been springing up across the country in recent years, is quite a different experience than your Maker's Mark or (my favorite) Elijah Craig. Instead of the smooth multilayered flavors of those you get bold, rough-hewn drinks that are equally fascinating and delicious, but that may require a little more effort on your part to enjoy fully. Most of that is likely due to expectations, - a huge part of how we experience taste - so once you immerse yourself (not literally, please!), you'll want to add small distilleries to your regular repertoire.

Now back to the matter at hand. Even without a label, the uniqueness of the drink would be immediately apparent, due to it's deep color and the little bit of husk residue at the bottom of the bottle. The next clue is in the nose, which is full of rich chocolate notes and a slight yeastiness. All of that comes through like gangbusters in the first sip, which I took straight and held on my tongue while breathing through my nose to gather all the flavors on my palette. The customary spiciness of the Kings County corn liquor provided a solid foundation for the huge cocoa overtones, which I would compare to an ultra-bittersweet chocolate. There was also a slightly fruity and winey quality that came through in the back of my mouth as I drank. Next, I tried it with a few drops of water and found that it provided a nice balance to the flavors and calmed down the spice and wine a bit. A single ice cube also led to the same result. The final verdict is that this is an eminently drinkable whiskey that is unlike anything I have tried and that will be a treat for lovers of sophisticated chocolate. I can imagine it blending well with coffee but did not feel the need to mix it with anything.

Lastly, while this is not an entry-level whiskey like Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey, it might be an interesting bridge to brown goods for wine-lovers looking to make that move. So get on the phone and find a bottle. Don't come around my place - mine is almost gone already!

Haagen Dazs Salted Caramel Ice Cream Bars - This is the hand-held analog to the wonderful Salted Caramel Truffle ice cream that I reviewed last time and it in no way disappoints. The milk chocolate coating is thick and dimensional and the dependable Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream combines nicely with the rich caramel swirl, which is identical to the one found in the ice cream. If you don't feel like having another bowl and spoon to clean, this will satisfy your salted caramel cravings.


Chocolate "Flavored" Whiskey - extremely limited. Get on the horn or shoot an email to Kings County to find one.

Salted Caramel Ice Cream Bars - February to December.

I'm still looking for the Blueberry Crumble ice cream. Maybe Park Avenue Liquor Shop has a pint...







Sunday, March 11, 2012

Haagen Dazs Limited Edition Flavors, Part 2

Another week and more ice cream to taste. Surely, I have set a row that is too tough to hoe - but I will press on with two more entries in the current portfolio of Haagen Dazs Limited Edition Flavors.

Coconut Macaroon - This entry comes just in time for Passover, with it's memories of a clump of stuck together macaroons served out of a Manischewitz can. The picture on the package certainly triggers this association, as Haagen Dazs's cookie looks remarkably like those. They are most definitely not piggy-backing onto the current craze for filled French macaroons (or macarons) that seem to be edging out cupcakes as NYC's treat du jour. While Manischewitz macaroons are still served at our Seders, I have been making my own with a simple recipe of egg whites, ground almonds and sugar and enjoying those more. However, I am a coconut hound in general so I put any concerns aside when sampling this flavor. Unfortunately, the best I can say is that it's not bad. There is plenty of coconut flavor, but it lacks depth somehow. It doesn't fade out but seems to just come to a full stop on the palate. Also, the macaroon bits are so small that I found my tongue working hard to seek out the barest bits of browned and caramelized coconut, hoping to find the depth of flavor there. I found it surprising that the ingredients for their macaroon did not include egg whites, but according to a little research that is not uncommon. In any case, I don't think that is the issue with this just OK flavor. Coconut fans only need apply.

Salted Caramel Truffle - The combination of salt and caramel has also become ubiquitous around town in recent years, most recently in the form of insanely great milkshakes at Schnipper's Quality Kitchen and Five Napkin Burger, among other hotspots. Anyone who has enjoyed one of those shakes or fleur de sel caramels (Haagen Dazs's inspiration for this flavor) - or even a chocolate covered pretzel - knows that the combination of salty and sweet is often a winning one. I have to admit that after the milquetoast attempt to replicate affogato, I was a little gun shy before tasting this variety. While it was hard to see how they could go wrong with "smooth, sweet-cream ice cream, ribbons of rich salted caramel, and decadent chocolaty truffles," anything was possible at this point. Just serving it up, however, gave me great hope. The caramel swirl was visible and the truffles huge in this context (see picture). And the taste and mouthfeel did more than not disappoint - they were positively thrilling. The caramel flavor was rich and seemed to go on forever, with a depth and complexity that was very satisfying and left me hungering for more. The hint of sea salt (right there in the list of ingredients) was just right, adding to the layers but not overwhelming the palate. This one is a real winner, folks - grab it!

Availability - Coconut Macaroon: February to September; Salted Caramel Truffle: February to December.

I'm still on the hunt for the Blueberry Crumble - let me know if you spot it somewhere. In the meantime, I am getting acquainted with a very interesting whiskey...




Sunday, March 4, 2012

Haagen Dazs Limited Edition Flavors, Part 1

With spring in the air for real I was not surprised to see a new flight of attractively packaged limited edition flavors from Haagen Dazs in my grocer's freezer this weekend. Due to the size of my own freezer (average) and waist (also average, and I aim to keep it that way), I will review five of these flavors in two or three posts over the next few weeks.
Vanilla Bean Espresso - Inspired by the classic italian dessert affogato, in which vanilla ice cream or gelato is "drowned" in hot espresso, this flavor falls into the category of what I call simulacra. These are mass-produced products that attempt to replicate something that usually best served fresh. All s'mores products are simulacra and are usually spectacularly unsuccessful at recreating the combination of melted chocolate, caramelized marshmallow and crispy graham cracker that make s'mores so yummy (I still keep trying s'mores products, but that's another story.)
As I love the affogato's combination of bitter coffee and vanilla cream, I had high hopes for this flavor. While I knew Haagen Dazs couldn't repeat the unique hot and cold experience and the way affogato changes while you eat it, I thought they had a good shot at coming up with something for coffee ice cream lovers seeking a new thrill. Alas, it was not to be. The end result is a super-sweet, so-so, vaguely coffee-flavored ice cream. The reason is not hard to discern, due to the huge red flag in the list of ingredients. While the vanilla bean ice cream is made as usual, the "Espresso Swirl" contains (gasp) corn syrup. It's as if Haagen Dazs stared into the black and tannic abyss of coffee and blinked. Since they already make a pretty good straight-up coffee ice cream, it's a shame they didn't create something more sophisticated. With all the post-Starbucks java junkies out there, I'm sure it would have been successful. Better to make your own affogato, or order one.
You can't really tell them apart - which does not bode well
for the Vanilla Bean Espresso (right)
Spiced Caramel Biscuit - The traditional northern European cookies known as speculoos (Belgium, Holland) or spekulatius (Germany) and sometimes sold in the U.S. as Dutch Windmill Cookies, provided the jumping off point for this flavor. According to Wikipedia, there are regional differences in the types of spices used, with even white pepper being employed on occasion. It seems as though Haagen Dazs looked to Belgium, where they use little spice, while leaning mainly on cinnamon for flavor. Even so, this entry is a success. The caramel ice cream is as rich and smooth as you would expect and it is heavily larded with extremely crunchy biscuits that would probably be tasty on their own. Speculoos are usually stamped with elaborate carved designs and while that would have added an interesting texture, I can't really complain about this one. If you dig digging into cold and crunchy caramel flavors give this one a try.
Availability for both: February through December