Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Mutinous Night To Remember

Last Sunday night I was invited to hit the Third Annual Mutineer Magazine Red Carpet Party in downtown Napa, a one-night-only transformation of the Napa Valley Opera House's downstairs area into a bass-blasting underground club full of artisanal cocktail drinks, "beverage influencers," and the people that love them.  A red carpet entrance, festive spotlights sweeping across the sky, and lots and lots of cameras brought extra flash and sizzle to a chilly Sunday night.  The attendees dressed to match -- Mutineer Editor in Chief Alan Kropf was prancing around in tux and tails, the ladies sparkled in sequins and fur, and even the die-hard hipsters broke out their new suspenders in honor of the festivities.

The reason for the event? To celebrate the evolution of fine beverage culture in the Napa Valley, highlighting eight local bartenders in The King's Ginger Holiday Cocktail Competition,  three local beverage entrepreneurs featured in the magazine's new Inspired Voices section, and Mutineer's success with the Clean Water Crusader campaign, in partnership with A Child's Right.

The King's Waes Hail; photo by Phil Jimcosky,
Mutineer Magazine

Thanks to event sponsors Chinaco Tequila, Luxardo, and Anchor Distilling Co. -- the parent company for Chinaco, Luxardo, The King's Ginger, Anchor Steam, and several other hot artisanal spirit labels -- the evening was not wanting in liquor.  The eight Napa Valley bartenders took turns handing out tasting portions of their original King's Ginger cocktails (you can see the recipes online on Mutineer's blog "Previews" leading up to the event), while two imported SF mixologists crafted round after round of the savory juniper-scented "Just in Thyme" (with No.3 Gin) and the smooth, Chinaco-laced "Aztec Two-Step" with cucumber, grapefruit juice and bitters. 

I would be lying if I said no one was taking palate-cleansing tequila shots in between rounds. 

Photo by Phil Jimcosky,
Mutineer Magazine.

Anchor Steam beers, Dry Soda and blk water were all flowing freely too, but for once in Napa there wasn't a glass of wine in sight.  (Gasp!)  This was first and foremost the night of the cocktail.

In keeping with the theme, local chef Gary Penir and pastry maven Sara Wurst supplied cocktail-inspired passed hors d'oeuvres like the delectable agedashi & poached scallop shooters topped with King's Ginger foam, margarita spheres (Chinaco tequila margaritas spherified with calcium chloride in classic molecular gastronomist style), juniper and basil crackers with Luxardo limoncello mousse, and pork belly yakitori with Sangue Morlacco, which guests snapped up as quickly as  the servers could offer them.

Photo by Phil Jimcosky, Mutineer Magazine.

For me, the highlight of the evening (other than breaking out my fur stole for the first time in years) was checking out The King's Ginger.  I've been fascinated with this stuff ever since I learned the story behind it.  In 1903, King Edward VII of England ("Edward the Caresser" to his friends) was living the good life pre-World War I with lots of carousing, thrill seeking, gambling, sailing, and riding around in his horseless carriage.  This enjoyable lifestyle understandably worried his doctors, who created a ginger and lemon-based "tonic" (read: extremely strong alcohol) "to warm and revivy His Majesty" during his rousting about.  Thus The King's Ginger was born.

It's strong stuff... 41% alcohol by volume... and has a spicy ginger burn, offset with a healthy dose of sweetness and lemon peel citrus notes.  The most successful cocktails -- in my opinion -- were those that balanced out the sweetness with acidity and sourness. 

The winner! Photo by Phil Jimcosky, Mutineer Magazine.

Bartender Michael Jack Pazdon of Solbar in Calistoga took home first prize with The King's Waes Hail: a frothy coupe of Calvados, lemon juice, Carpano Antica and Luxardo's Maraschino Originale, shaken together with an egg white, then crowned with a few drops of gingersnap spice tincture, Genevieve Genever-style gin, dehydrated apple chips, freshly grated nutmeg, and rosemary flowers. Phew.  A lot of work to make, but a clear winner for the judging panel.

I never thought I'd see the day the Napa Valley Opera House hosted a hipster red carpet event, but I'm glad I did.  Mutineer's millenial-generation energy is introducing something new to Napa Valley, and helping local beverage innovators reach a broader audience at home and around the country.  This I think is fantastic.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Napa Valley Film Festival: So Close, You Can Almost Taste It

The first annual Napa Valley Film Festival kicks off next week on November 9th, and -- as you might expect from a film festival event in an epicurean capital -- the movies are only one part of the draw.

Besides the 100+ films, there are tons of food and wine tasting opportunities, film-inspired dishes, cooking demos, and local celebrity chef-studded dinners to make it abundantly clear where you are.  Lounges at each of the main festival "villages" around the Valley will be stocked with local delicacies and libations, and many local businesses are offering discounts to festival pass-holders venturing out on their own. 

There's even a panel discussion about the "rise of foodie culture" on Sunday the 13th, in which I will be participating as the local food blogger alongside other far more famous people like Christopher Kostow of (3 Michelin-starred!) Meadowood.  Obviously, food is playing a pretty strong supporting role in this production, so don't miss out.

For a rundown of the most exciting culinary goings on, check out the tablehopper 707 scout report (that's me writing there too):

For the complete festival schedule and descriptions of all the different ways you can get tickets, consult the festival website

And I will see you at the [snacks before and after the] movies.