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The inaugural meeting of the Occasional Sprit Council (OSC) took place on March 31st at the strikingly beautiful art-filled home of Todd and Susan Montgomery. It was the perfect setting to launch the council. Linda Kissam, writer, wine publicist, and Vice President of The International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association, devised the council based on her Occasional Wine Council (OWC). Like OWC, participants were to bring a dish that they had prepared to pair with their assigned drink – in this case a spirit instead of wine. I was pleased and honored to be included in this council along with members from the original wine council, Linda Kissam, Susan and Todd Montgomery, Carmen Micheli, and Roger Paige. We would all be posting and writing about our observations as we tasted the various food offerings with the different spirits.
We began our official tastings with three acai spirits, Lemonade, Margarita, and Cosmopolitan from Vita Frute Cocktails by Veev. Each ready-to-serve, organic cocktail retails for $12.00, has only 125 calories per serving, and contains 15% alcohol. It is made from the acai (pronounced “ah-sigh-ee”) berry, which is about the size of a grape, and comes from a palm tree in the Amazon rainforest. It is considered a “superfood” because of its antioxidants, amino acids, and omega fatty acids. Many purport that the berry helps strengthen the immune system, although the research has not been definitive. I was assigned the Lemonade. My pairing of duck street tacos, grilled cactus pear tortillas filled with duck tossed in hoisin sauce, topped with Asian slaw (cabbage, apple, red onion, and cilantro) and dressed in a soy kumquat vinaigrette went well with the Lemonade. The cocktail’s citrus nose, exotic taste, and essence of fruit nectar complemented the complexity of flavors in the tacos. The other two cocktails, the Cosmopolitan and Margarita, paired with Todd’s shrimp cocktail and Linda’s spicy guacamole and salsa, respectively, were both well-matched flavor marriages. These organic cocktails, best served over ice, were convenient to use. They were also diet-friendly with few calories, and so refreshing I found myself humming, “Summertime, and the living is easy….”
One sip of organic Ocean Vodka from Maui ($34.00) and I was transported to the Hawaiian Islands. With a clean, mineral character, it paired magnificently with what else? Caviar, of course. In fact, we relished three types of caviar. Roger brought two brands of malossol (“little salt” in Russian) caviar and Susan had small, roasted red potato halves topped with satiny crème fraiche, chives, and black lumpfish caviar. This 80 proof vodka contains pristine, icy cold ocean water, originally from Greenland glacier melts, and is sourced from the Kona coast, where is it desalinated and purified. The clean smooth characteristics of the vodka allow the caviar’s racy rich concentration of flavor to burst forth. It also enriched the earthy, buttery qualities of the potato, which was rather a surprise.
Our second vodka to taste was VDKA 6100 ($44.99). Robert De Niro teamed with Artisan Spirit Merchants to craft this triple distilled, charcoal filtered global spirit from grass-fed New Zealand cow’s milk whey and spring water. The result is a silken, velvety smoothness that increases the luxurious taste of the caviar. The VDKA 6100 also amplified the fresh citrus notes of the Asian slaw in the duck tacos and the shrimp drizzled with fresh squeezed lemon.
The OSC’s sweet denouement began with Villa Masa’s Limoncello ($27.00), made with lemons from Italy’s Sorrento Peninsula and the Island of Capri. The liqueur can be served straight, over ice, which is the way we drank it, splashed into a glass of champagne, or poured over ice cream. Carmen Micheli’s amazingly sumptuous thyme-lemon bars (actually I thought the texture was more like lemon brownies) paired gloriously with the Limoncello, creating an herbal citrus explosion of flavor in the mouth.
After a delightful evening of evaluating the above spirits, the council determined the top selection to be VDKA1600. The light pure taste of this gluten-free, sugar-free vodka is perfect to serve over ice and its smooth, clean flavor is an excellent choice of spirit to use for the inspired cocktail. Vita Frute Cocktail Lemonade came in as a close second. I can vividly imagine a beautiful southern California summer day out on the patio, with good friends, and a pitcher full of that luscious lemonade. I am definitely hoping to be invited back for future Occasional Spirit Council gatherings.