We’re still reeling from Saturday night’s Beer, Wine + Cocktail Dinner at Edmund’s Oast. And it’s not just because of the 12 (yes, 12!) beverages that were served during the six-course extravaganza. Each dish was paired with a unique cocktail and, for good measure, with either a wine or a beer, too.
And that’s Edmund’s Oast for you: they like to pile it on. Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of the acclaimed meat-centric Los Angeles restaurant Animal joined Edmund’s co-owners Scott Shor and Rich Carley, chef Andy Henderson, and brewer Cameron Read. That team alone would have been more than sufficient to ensure a big night of impressive evening.
But why stop there? They also invited Micah Melton of Chicago’s The Aviary to create the cocktails, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø of the gypsy brewery Evil Twin to pour a few beers, and, to select the wines, Paul Grieco of New York City’s Hearth Restaurant and Terroir wine bar.
The six courses that followed built one atop another into perhaps the most mind-blowing meal of the festival.
It started with a single pristine Caper’s Blade oyster accented by mint and English pea and paired with a cocktail called simply “Celery” — a sneaky blend of lime, chartreuse, and Riesling that tasted just like, well, celery. Next up, from the guys at Animal, were firm slices of hamachi topped with thin-shaved slices of radish and sprinkled with finely diced Pink Lady apples and chewy radish sprouts, all tied together by a dark, tangy galbi vinaigrette.
Melton’s cocktail for this one was named simply Cider, but it came in two forms, each in a tiny glass cylinder: the first, a pale yellow version that was just the base cocktail of black tea, hibiscus, and apple brandy; the second, a rose-colored infused version that had been steeped with apple slices, orange peel, and spices. Sweet, mellow, and infused with warm spices, it was a perfect partner for the hamachi, as was Evil Twin’s Ryan & The Beaster Bunny that also came alongside.
Andy Henderson layered two slices of Ossabaw pork — from hogs raised down in Savannah by Bradley Taylor of LJ Woods Farms, who was in attendance at the meal, too — over a bed of farro laced with sweet onions and fava beans. The fruit and acid of Grieco’s pairing of a 2011 Selbach-Oster Riesling Spätlese layered splendidly atop the rich fat cap on the pork, while Melton’s barrel-aged Colonel Carpano cocktail — a bitter blend of bourbon and cynar — provided a dark complement.
The Animal team draped paper-thin black radishes over crispy sweetbreads and surrounded them with a spicy black sriracha that was as thick as a mole and spiked with little orbs of finger lime that exploded with bright citrus pops. That was followed by the most substantial dish of the evening and also the simplest: Andy Henderson’s two roasted spring carrots topped with a dollop of tender, intensely beefy head and shank daube, a simple pool of jus lining the plate. The little bits of micro cilantro added perfect minty accents that popped out randomly as we dug into the sweet carrot.
The cocktails for those courses were head-turning. The “Ginger,” Melton’s deconstructed version of a Moscow Mule, started with a rocks glass filled with ginger snow over which the server poured a shot of vodka. The diners then used swizzles fashioned from stalks of lemon grass to blend the mixture to a consistent whole, creating a sweet, creamy liquid spiked with spicy bits of red and green pepper. The Michelada went in a different direction, a savory blend of shisito hot sauce, sour calamansi, and Evil Twin’s Femme Fatale Yuzu pale ale.
As impressive as the first five courses were, the biggest wow came at the end, in the form of a "Pina Colada [El Bulli]", another cocktail mixed table-side. First, a tall martini glass arrived, half-filled with a thick white mixture and topped with a soft-ball sized sphere of white cotton candy. Next, the server poured fresh pineapple juice over the top, which dissolved the candy away to nothingness, creating a rich, sweet pineapple-infused liquid. But the best surprise came with the first sip: hidden away inside were little orbs of gel filled with Gosling’s, which exploded against your tongue with flashes of dark rum. We just shook our heads, dumbfounded.
Taxis were called, shuttle buses summoned. We stepped out into a brilliantly clear March night, having just experienced the crescendo of a brilliant three days of food and drink.
Somewhere along the way, about two years ago, Pappy Van Winkle bourbon crossed over the line from being a cult favorite to being the object of bizarre fetishization. Once in demand for its smooth, rich flavor, now it’s in demand simply for being in demand.
A few years ago, savvy fans could watch the company’s Facebook site to learn when the allotment for their state was about to ship, then race to their local retailer to stake out a bottle. Not anymore. Liquor store owners just roll their eyes when greenhorns come in looking for Pappy. Bottles are floating around on the underground market for $500 for the 15 year old bourbon and close to $1,000 for the 23 year old.
But, one place where there was no shortage of Van Winkle bourbon was at Proof Bar on Thursday afternoon, and Julian Van Winkle himself was on hand to lead the Charleston Wine + Food Festival’s Bourbon Born event. He was pouring four of his family’s bourbons: Old Rip Van Winkle 10-Year, Van Winkle Special Reserve 12-Year, and the 15-Year and 20-Year Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserves.
These things all help explain why Van Winkle whiskey tastes so smooth and mellow. It does nothing to explain the tulip craze-like popularity of the stuff.
When asked by an attendee to account for the cult status of his products, Van Winkle noted that it “has been building for 5 or 7 years.” He and his father had been selling old whiskey since the 1970s, when they had to put it into themed glass decanters just to move the stuff. It wasn’t until well into 2000s that they started getting a lot of attention.
“We got some really nice ratings,” Van Winkle said. “And a lot of word of mouth and a lot of nice press.” Then a few celebrity chefs, including Sean Brock and David Chang, started expressing their admiration of the bourbon, and a lot of magazine articles on Pappy followed. And then suddenly it was off the chart.
Van Winkle says they are putting away a lot more bourbon now and in a few years should have a lot more available to sell. They have no plans to extend the line or change their formula, though. “We are sticking with these ages,” Van Winkle said. “Nothing’s going to change except more production.”
But, Van Winkle did sound a note of caution, admitting that there’s no guarantee of how much longer the whole Pappy mania might last.
“This whole thing could blow up any minute,” Van Winkle said. “Marijuana is legal in Colorado now. We might all be smoking dope in ten years.”
Saturday night, Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q teamed up with the Southern Foodways Alliance to crown legendary barbecue pitmaster Helen Turner as the reigning Queen of Pig and Smoke. Two honorees from previous years, Sam Jones of the Skylight Inn in Ayden, North Carolina, and our own Rodney Scott from up in Hemingway, were on hand to pass on the crown and help Turner cook the barbecue.
Julian Van Winkle provided a stash of 10-year-old, 107 proof Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon for the event, and mixologist Miles Macquarrie came in from Atlanta and put the rare brown water to good use in a pair of splendid cocktails.
Yes, there was a slab of splendid grilled bologna and little jars of pimento cheese, butterbean hummus, and pork rillettes to get things started. Somewhere along the line they tried to slip a plate of beets and peas in front of us. But, things really got rolling when Rodney Scott and Sam Jones burst through the front door bearing an enormous wooden tray over their heads, piled high with pork fresh off the pit.
They’d spent the day out in the alley with Helen Turner, cooking whole pork shoulders over real wood following the technique she perfected at Helen’s Barbecue in Brownsville, Tennessee. The result: some of the most tender and most intensely smoky pulled pork I’ve ever tasted—a platter of barbecue truly fit for a queen.
Josh and Heather Keeler have been getting a lot of notice lately for the lunches and dinners they’re turning out at Two Boroughs Larder, and Saturday morning they lured a slate of festival goers to their restaurant on Coming Street to see what they could do at breakfast-time.
No omelets or hashbrowns here. The meal opened with crisp, flavorful chunks of lamb bacon served over a dark pool of chocolate-tinged mole with radishes, Brussels sprouts, and bright green herbs on top. Josh followed that up with an insanely rich bowl of 17th-century style Brewster oats topped with two disks of rabbit loin, long, tender shred of rabbit confit, and an over-easy fried egg.
Here’s a tip for home cooks: want to make a fresh-baked, syrupy-sweet sticky bun even more flavorful? Sprinkle crumbles of salty, smoky Benton’s bacon over the top when you serve it.
No, this is not your typical breakfast fare, but washed down with a couple of cups of strong black coffee, it got my Saturday off to a brilliant start.
Friday night, Executive Chef Nate Whiting of Tristan welcomed Andrew Zimmerman, the executive chef of Chicago’s Sepia, for a perfectly paired dinner accompanied by the wines of Washington State’s Hedges Family Estate.
Three of the six courses stood out most for me. Nate Whiting’s opener, a cannoli shell stuffed with king crab and served over a smooth sea urchin panna cotta, posed a sort of mischievous twist: starting off the meal with a dessert-like dish, rich and sweet with subtle vanilla notes. Zimmerman’s second course, glazed veal sweetbreads served over a creamy celery root puree surrounded by crisp, dark crumbles of blood sausage, provided a fittingly savory counterpoint.
Pastry Chef Amanee Neirouz wrapped the evening up on an equally high note with another of her splendid desserts, in this case hunks of chocolate brioche jumbled with white chocolate pudding and accompanied by a tall, thin glass that held a fantastic milkshake laced with Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout.
Christophe Hedges and Boo Walker of Hedge Family Estate provided an impressive selection of wines to go with each of the courses, plus a little comic relief between courses.