March 31, 2012

Dark Chocolate Key Lime Mousse

Dark Chocolate~Key Lime Mousse

Another classic from GGM chocolatier, Ingo Wullaert. A taste of the tropics and little bit of Key West, captured in this easy to make recipe.
Makes about 10 - 8 oz dessert glasses

Dark chocolate mousse:
20 oz. of Callebaut semi sweet dark chocolate drops
27 oz. of heavy whipping cream
9 oz .of whole milk
*(optional: 1 oz. Midori, or any fruit schnapps)

Combine milk and chocolate drops in a microwave safe bowl. Heat in the microwave for 3 to 4 minutes. Take out and stir the mixture until smooth. Whip the heavy cream into soft peaks. Fold the heavy cream into the chocolate mixture and refrigerate mousse until  firm in texture.
Key lime cream:
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
6 oz. heavy whipping cream
½ cup of key lime juice

Mix condensed milk and heavy cream until blended. Add key lime juice and blend well.

To Plate
Remove mousse from refrigerator and place into a pastry bag. Fill the dessert glass (standard wine glasses, but be as creative as you want.) 1/3 full with chocolate mousse using the bag. Add a layer of key lime cream using a spoon. Add a second layer of chocolate mousse using a pastry bag. Top off with key lime cream and tap dessert glass gently to make surface smooth. Refrigerate to firm texture.
To Serve

Decorate with whipped cream, fruit or chocolate shavings. This is such a simple dish but remembering it's all in the presentation, you can serve this dessert at at casual dinner parties or elegant dinners. *To raise this recipe to the sophisticated adult level, simply add 1 oz. of your favorite fruit liquor, or schnapps into the chocolate mixture.

Bon Appetit,


March 30, 2012

I was held prisoner in a Belgian Beer Abbey...well, not really...

Ok, no, I'm not in a monks robe, secretly writing this from a six by ten room with only a small table, a cot and a slit window. By candlelight. But I could be.
I was, admittedly, trying to get your attention. Thanks for your cooperation. So, imagine! It's the 18th century and this is your day to day existence, it's how you live. Everyday. Uniquely though, when you aren't in your room meditating, you're making some of the best beer the world has ever seen due to the fact that the monastery where you live has been making it the same way for 100's of years. We're talking, really really good beer. Now do I have your attention? Excellent. Let's talk Belgian beer.

Interestingly enough, at this stage of my life, beer is usually my last choice when consuming a beverage with a meal. There was a time, in my culinarily uneducated youth, when American pilsners and lagers were my beers of choice. No offense meant, king of beer drinkers. I'm simply relating my experience. I'll still share a frosty cold, mountain brewed, born on date, lite something or other with ya anytime you want. I love NASCAR. Seriously. "Hey, if we can get that train that turns into a really cool bar car, that would be awesome dude, Lets do that...!"

There was also a 'looking at the tropical blue waves through my feet, with a lime in it," phase. The lime was in my beer....not my feet. Grow up. I hung around at the beaches of southern tropical points unnamed, in cargo shorts and Cubavera shirts and everything was 'cool, mon.' Me...and my decorated for Christmas palm tree.

Now, I'd like to think I am adventurous. In life, but especially, when it comes to trying new cuisines. Adventurous type people's tastes and preferences seem to evolve and we go through what I like to call phases. Think about most adventurers you know, either personally or famous. We always have a next project, or new thing we're into,  right? Phases, lol. It doesn't mean we move off of any one thing or another, or that we even like something less. It's that we are seeking new challenges, tastes and experiences. For most, the inquisitive mind and palate is a blessing and a curse. It loves new adventure, but is never satisfied and can sometimes loath familiarity. It searches. It can get you in trouble, or it can lead to oft times wonderful experiences. Either way, it's always interesting, And, when it's interesting, now and again folks like me write about it. It creates moments, memories. It's also a good thing, in that there is never a want for topics for the inquisitive mind. Currently, this taste evolution has happened to me with regard to beer. On my beer journey, I discovered and have taken a shine to Belgian ales.

I was given a few, hard to get, bottles of Belgian Ale, which are now relegated to my hard to get, empty bottles of Belgian ale' and I decided I needed to know more about them........the ales...not the bottles. I, in my usually obsessively compulsive way, started doing research. Now I'm a doer so there was no just reading. Well, ok, there was a lot of just reading, but I was convinced that just interviews and research was not enough. I was going to be interactive with my story. I thought about traveling to Belgium and going to the monastic breweries, but then realized that while on my bucket list, at the time of this writing, it was out of the question. First, everybody knows that trying to score a good Belgian Beer Route map late on a Wednesday night is almost impossible because all the best beer map dealers are bowling. Second, as it was Wednesday night, Ghosthunters was on at nine. So, sans backpack and map, I went to a local beer specialty store, and bought as many varied bottles of different Belgian ales as I could find. I bought every style, flavor and brand. I would taste them and write while I tasted. I wanted to be thorough, so I bought 20 different kinds, from the inexpensive to the very expensive. A lot of bottles. Too many bottles.

A groggy day and a half  later, after having a meeting with myself, I decided maybe I should forgo the writing and tasting at the same time and concentrate on just the writing. Here's what I came up with.

Belgian Ales
Belgian beer comprises one of the most diverse national collections of any quality beer in the world. It is a wide ranging industry, producing the popular pale lager, lambic beers and Flemish Reds. Beer-brewing origins here, it is said, go back to the Middle Ages and there are approximately 175+ breweries in the country at last count. In Europe, only Germany, France and the United Kingdom are home to more. Belgian breweries produce about 500 standard beers and if you include special one-off beers, the total number of Belgian beers is approximately 8700! That's right, 8700. Think about how much beer has to be consumed to keep all these brands viable and, since it is a perishable product, most of the beer that is made in small batches, is usually consumed within days of its creation. It also means that the rest of us are mere beer neophytes, or at least I am, when compared to the fact that Belgians drink 24 gallons (93 litres) of beer per year, per person, on average. Furthermore, they've been perfecting this process for 100's of years. It is believed today that beer was brewed at some monasteries during  the Middle Ages, however no written proof exists. What is known, is that the monks were living in the Trappist monasteries, brewing beer in Belgium for themselves alone in the late 18th century and sometime in June 1861, someone sold the first beer. A brown beer. Thanks to whomever monk that was.

Trappist Beers
This term is properly applied only to a brewery in a monastery of the Trappists, one of the most severe orders of monks. This order, established at La Trappe, in Normandy, is a stricter observance of the Cistercian rule (from C'teaux, in Burgundy), itself a breakaway from the Benedictines. Among the dozen or so surviving abbey breweries in Europe, seven are Trappist, six being located in Belgium and they were all established in their present form by Trappists who left France after the turbulence of the Napoleonic period. The Trappists have the only monastic breweries in Belgium, all making strong ales, with a re-fermentation in the bottle. Some gain a distinctly rummy character from the use of candy-sugar in the brew-kettles. They do not represent a style, but rather are very much a family of beers. The three abbeys in the French-speaking part of the country, are all in the forest country of the Ardennes, where hermitages burned charcoal to fuel early craft industries. It is not usually possible to visit the abbeys without prior arrangement by letter, and can be difficult even then. Most offer their beers in a café or auberge/inn located nearby the actual monastery brewery itself.

In 1997, eight Trappist abbeys founded the International Trappist Association (ITA) to prevent non-Trappist, commercial companies from abusing the Trappist name. This private association created a logo that is assigned to goods (cheese, beer, wine, etc.) that respect precise Trappist production criteria. For the beers, these criteria are the following:
  • The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist abbey, by or under control of Trappist monks.
  • The brewery, the choices of brewing, and the commercial orientations must depend on the monastic community.
  • The economic purpose of the brewery must be directed toward assistance and not toward financial profit.
This association has a legal standing, and its logo gives to the consumer some information and guarantees about the produce. There are currently seven breweries that are allowed to have products wear the Authentic Trappist Product logo.
Abbey Bears
(Bières d’Abbaye or Abdijbier) are brewed by commercial brewers, and license their name from abbeys, some defunct, some still operating. Abbey beers mainly came into being following World War II when Trappist beers experienced a new popularity. The Abbey beers were developed to take advantage of the public's interest in the Trappist beers. This is why the single key component of an Abbey beer is its name: there is always the name of a monastery (either real or fictitious). Like the Trappist beers, Abbey beers do not connote a beer style, but rather a marketing term; however, since the purpose of Abbey beers is to imitate the Trappists, like the Trappists, most of their beers are either a dubbel or tripel.

The Brewing Monks

Monastic beers, as explained in our previous chapter are generally defined as beers referring to monks or to religious symbols. When they wear the name of an abbey, they are then called abbey beers.

The Belgian monastic beers that we know today belong to a family of beers that appeared during the first quarter of the 20th century. Truly authentic monastic beers were created centuries ago, and some famous examples remain today, such as Mallersdorf and Andechs of Germany. Unfortunately, the number of authentic monastic breweries is rather limited today and the vast majority of the monastic/abbey beers that are available today have little or no direct links with monks or nuns. However, these abbey beers use the high secular reputation of genuine monastic beers to promote an image of tradition and quality.

The monks are often represented as jovial characters, very often corpulent, as to show the quality of the beer and its associated welfare. Images and names are carefully chosen to evoke values of tradition and know-how. The brewers, while paying homage to the work that was formerly carried out by the monks, try to suggest that their beer is the vehicle of these secular values of quality. Very often, these monastic beers see great success, sometimes becoming more famous than genuine monastic or Trappist beers they imitate. The fact that they are generally not brewed by the monks does not predict their quality. Some of them are indeed excellent beers .

Types of Belgian Beer

Abbey Ales (Dubbel, Tripel, Singel).
Belgian Style Golden Ale
Belgian Style Strong Ale

Belgian Style Red Ale
Belgian Style Amber Ale
Belgian Style Blonde Ale
Biere de Garde
Flemish Style Brown Ale

Trappist Ale

The Trappist order originated in the Cistercian monastery of La Trappe, France. Various Cistercian congregations existed for many years, and by 1664 the Abbot of La Trappe felt that the Cistercians were becoming too liberal. He introduced strict new rules in the abbey and the Strict Observance was born. Since this time, many of the rules have been relaxed. However, a fundamental tenet, that monasteries should be self-supporting, is still maintained by these groups.

Monastery brew-houses, from different religious orders, existed all over Europe, since the middle-ages. From the very beginning, beer was brewed in French cistercian monasteries following the Strict Observance. For example, the monastery of La Trappe in Soligny, already had its own brewery in 1685. Breweries were only later introduced in monasteries of other countries, following the extension of the Trappist order from France to the rest of Europe. The Trappists, like many other religious people, originally brewed beer to feed the community, in a perspective of self-sufficiency. Nowadays, Trappist breweries also brew beer to fund their works, and for good causes. Many of the Trappist monasteries and breweries were destroyed during the French Revolution and the World Wars. Among the monastic breweries, the Trappists were certainly the most active brewers: in the last 300 years, there were at least eight Trappist breweries in France, six in Belgium, two in the Netherlands, one in Germany, one in Austria, one in Bosnia and possibly other countries. Today, six Trappist breweries remain active, in Belgium.

The Breweries
Brasserie d'Orval Founded: 1931

The most singular of the Trappist brewing abbeys, in both its architecture and its beer. The name derives from Vallée d'Or ("Golden Valley"). Legend has it that Countess Matilda of Tuscany (c1046-1115) lost a gold ring in the lake. When it was brought to the surface by a trout, she thanked God by endowing a monastery. The monastery, was certainly brewing before the French Revolution. Bread and cheese are made for sale, as well as a startlingly dry, hoppy, ale with an dark orange color. Devotees like to bottle-age this beer for between six months and three years.

Bières de Chimay Founded: 1863
The best-known of the Trappist brewing monasteries. This abbey, also called Notre Dame, stands on a small hill called Scourmont, not far from the town of Chimay, also on the French border, but in the province of Hainaut. Originally a glass-smelting town, Chimay is now a center for tourism in the Ardennes. The abbey, in the Romanesque style, was built in 1850. While the early abbeys brewed for their own communities, Chimay was the first to sell its beer commercially. Between the two World Wars, it coined the appellation "Trappist Beer." After World War II, Chimay's great brewer Father Théodore, worked with a famous Belgian brewing scientist Jean De Clerck to isolate the yeasts that identified Chimay's beers as classic Trappist brews. The strongest will mature in the bottle for at least five years. It makes an excellent accompaniment to Chimay's Trappist cheese (similar to a Port Salut) and is even better with Roquefort.

Brasserie de Rochefort Founded: 1595

The least well-known of the established Trappist breweries. Notre Dame de St Rémy is near the small town of Rochefort, in the province of Namur, where the valley of the river Meuse rises into the Ardennes. In  1230, it was a convent, and brewed at least as early as 1595. The oldest parts of the buildings date from the 1600s. The beers, tawny to brown in color, have an earthy honesty, perhaps deriving from a quite simple formulation, in which dark candy sugar is a significant ingredient. They have flavors reminiscent of figs, bananas and chocolate. In recent years its 10-degree beer has won a growing appreciation. The abbey does not have its own inn, but the beers can be tasted locally at two local hotels: Limbourg (also good for charcuterie and game), and the slightly more expensive, Malle Post.

Brouwerij Westvleteren Founded: 1838

The smallest of the Trappist breweries, the abbey of St. Sixtus, at West Vleteren, near Ieper and Poperinge, dates from the 1830s. Its beers are not filtered or centrifuged at any stage of production, and emerge with firm, long, big, fresh, malty flavors and suggestions of plum brandy. The strongest ale has on occasion been rated the most potent beer in Belgium. The beers are available next door at the Café In De Vrede. Otherwise, trade and public alike have to go to a serving hatch at the abbey where a recorded phone message tells callers which beer will be available, and when. If the 12 is on sale, cars will begin lining up long before the 10 AM opening time in the morning. Each car is rationed to ten cases. The monks are inflexible on this point, even toward a café-owner who makes a 1,500-mile round-trip from say Odense, on the Danish island of Fynen. "We make as much beer as we need to support the abbey and no more," say the monks.

Brouwerij Westmalle Founded: 1836

Famous for one beer in particular, a world classic, though its makes three. The abbey of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart is in flat countryside at West Malle, between the city of Antwerp and the Dutch border. The monastery was established in 1794, and has brewed since 1836. It is thus the oldest of Belgium's post-Napoleonic Trappist breweries. Its renown, though, derives from the introduction of golden Trappist ales to meet competition from fashionable Pilsners after World War II. Its beers include a marvelously subtle, golden "Single" (curiously called Extra), brewed at 4.0 per cent for the monks' own consumption, but sometimes also found outside the abbey; a dark-brown, fruity Dubbel, at 6.5; and its most famous beer, its golden-to-bronze, aromatic, orange-tasting, complex Tripel, at 9.0. These Trappist classics have popularized the notion that an "abbey-style Double" should be strong and dark and a "Triple," yet more potent, but pale. The beers are available in the village at the café Trappisten.

Brouwerij de Achelse Kluis Founded: 1998

Brewing is being revived, on a small scale, at this sixth Trappist abbey, in Belgium, but close to the Dutch city of Eindhoven. The abbey had a brewery before World War II. In 1998, it opened a small pub initially selling Westmalle, prior to making its own beer. This positive step came at a time of less happy news from across the border, where the Koningshoeven abbey was considering consigning its Schaapskooi brewery, producer of the La Trappe ales, to a joint venture with a large, commercial lager-maker.

A Beer of Note

Brother Thelonious
Belgian Style Abbey Ale
This abbey ale, it holds a special place in my heart because of its roots to the father of Jazz, Thelonius Monk. From a jazz blues background I loved the label, and the beer is quite good to boot. Like a Belgian “Dark Strong Ale”, the beer is rich and robust with an ABV of 9.3%. The package is a 750 ml bottle with a traditional cork and wire finish or 12oz 4 packs and features a label picturing the jazz master himself. Vital Statistics: Style: Belgian Style Strong Dark Color: Dark mahogany ABV: 9.4%, Bitterness: 32 IBU's

While I am certainly no expert when it comes the subtleties and nuances of beer and ale, my hope is that, this article will start you on your way to experiencing and experimenting with Belgian ales. Beer tastings and pairings are becoming more and more popular, and in summer, these can be a refreshing alternative to the more widely known wine pairings. Below is a picture of my bottle of Brother Thelonius, served with some butternut squash soup and Irish Soda Bread.
And below, just a few simple suggestions, so you can try your own Belgian Ale tasting and pairing.

Brown Beer
This heavily malted beer style features full-bodied notes of caramel and a sour finish. Best food pairing option: Salty and savory foods taste best; desserts and sweet food will distract from the sugary malt of the beer. Try a serving of hearty steak au poivre, or even a nice cheddar burger topped with bacon and mushrooms.

Blonde or Golden Ale
As the name implies, this beer is pale. There is a very slight, almost undetectable note of fruit that is upstaged by the predominant clean flavor of hops and malt. Best food pairing option: Something spicy, tending toward the hot side. This beer is best as a thirst quencher.

Red Ale
Red ale is a sour style beer that acquires a signature strong, complex flavor from a long maturation period in oak. It has a hint of sweetness and mildly discernible tart fruity notes. Best food pairing option: Salty food is the way to go with red beers. Try a robust meat, such as lamb, buffalo, Italian sausage, or a good, sharp cheddar cheese.

As always, when consuming alcoholic beverages, don't overdue it and drink responsibly.

Bon Appetit!


References and Sources:,,,,, Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot Grant Cochrane'

March 29, 2012

Ringling: The Big Top! Clowns! Elephants! Cotton Candy and...the Museum of Art?

Ringling...the mere mention of the word conjures up images of clowns, the big top, the midway, cotton candy and elephants, always the elephants. Most, with the exception of those who have done some research into the name Ringling, would be surprised to associate the name with fine art as well.

Located in beautiful Sarasota, Florida, The John and Mable Ringling Museum is a remarkable place of grand architecture and landscaped grounds that comprise an odd combination of Renaissance art and circus whimsy. Somehow these two contrasting philosophies are mingled together to form a unique and alluring combination here. But, we all know that eclectic is the legacy of the showman that was John Ringling. He was born in McGregor, Iowa, on May 31, 1866, the sixth of seven surviving sons and daughters born to August and Marie Salomé (Juliar) Ringling. Five of the brothers joined together and started the Ringling Bros. Circus in 1884. The art museum which was his legacy to the public, and his devotion to his wife and her vision of Cà d'Zan, their private residence, created an experience that will have you stepping back in time. From strolling past calliopes long silent, to the bedrooms of the main house, preserved like snapshots of a bygone era, guests and visitors, with this a glimpse into the past are transported to a simpler time. Then taking in the priceless art and architecture of the museum of art, you are whisked on a journey to John and Mable's love of the Italian Renaissance. Very few households could boast their own gondola, but theirs was moored to the Venetian style boat landing built at the rear of Cà d'Zan. Such was Mable's obsession with all things Italian. Sarasota, with its surrounding islands and keys has much to offer visitors and vacationers, from the warm sandy beaches, or St. Armands, a dining and shopping mecca also developed by Ringling and set amidst the tropical waters of the Gulf of Mexico, to art, culture and old world Florida elegance.

Ringling Museum History

John Ringling, one of the five original circus kings of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, was blessed with entrepreneurial genius and through his success with the circus and other investments, became quite wealthy. In 1911, John (1866-1936) and his wife, Mable (1875-1929) purchased 20 acres of waterfront property in Sarasota, Florida. In 1912 the couple began spending winters in Sarasota and later decided to build a home there. Their property included a house built by one of Buffalo Bill’s circus managers, Charles Thompson. The Ringlings dreamed of helping Sarasota develop into a metropolitan boom town and they became involved in the community, bought real estate, and eventually owned approximately 25 percent of Sarasota’s total area.

The couple’s first project in Sarasota was the splendid Venetian Gothic mansion Cà d’Zan, built between 1924 and 1926 for a then staggering sum of $1.5 million. Mable had developed an affection for Venetian buildings on their travels and collected sketches and photos to incorporate into the design of the house which reflects both her and John’s taste and passion for opulence. She supervised the construction of the house with architect Dwight James Baum, designer of several New York mansions.

In the spirit of America's wealthiest Gilded Age industrialists, John Ringling gradually acquired a significant art collection, including paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, Velàzquez, Poussin, van Dyck and other Baroque masters, as well as rare antiquities from Cyprus. He built a palace for his treasures in a 21-gallery Museum of Art on his Sarasota property.

The Florentine style building emulates the Uffizi Gallery and was specifically designed to house his collection of European paintings and art objects. The Ringlings had accumulated a treasure trove of objects, the result of many trips to Europe while searching for new circus acts. For years they acquired columns, architectural details and many fine art pieces. The result is a museum with a courtyard filled with bronze replicas of Greek and Roman sculpture, including a bronze cast of Michelangelo’s David.

John Ringling bequeathed his art collection, mansion and estate to the people of the State of Florida at the time of his death in 1936.

For nearly ten years after John Ringling’s death, the Ringling Museum was opened irregularly and not professionally maintained. Cà d’Zan was used privately and remained closed to the public, while the State of Florida fought with creditors over the fate of the estate. By 1946, the State prevailed, and title was transferred to the people of Florida.

In 2000, Ringling’s original $1.2 million endowment had hardly grown to $2 million. Governance was transferred from the State of Florida’s Department of State to Florida State University establishing the Ringling estate as one of the largest museum/university complexes in the nation. As part of the University, the Museum has experienced a rebirth. In 2002, when $42.9 million was provided through the State for new buildings, it came with a condition that the Ringling board raise $50 million in endowment within five years. Impossible as the task then seemed, more than $55 million was donated or pledged by 2007. The transformation that culminated in 2007 restored all the existing buildings and expanded the Estate with four new buildings on the Museum’s Master Plan: the Tibbals Learning Center, the John M. McKay Visitors Pavilion – housing the Historic Asolo Theater, the Education/Conservation Building and The Ulla R. and Arthur F. Searing Wing. The Museum’s financial footing was also secured with the beginnings of a healthy endowment.

Cà d’Zan
The Ringlings' dazzling palatial mansion is a tribute to the American Dream and reflects the splendor and romance of Italy. Described as “the last of the Gilded Age mansions” to be built in America, Cà d’Zan has 56 incredible rooms filled with art and original furnishings. With its Venetian Gothic architecture, the mansion is a combination of the grandeur of Venice’s Doge’s Palace, combined with the Gothic grace of Cà d’Oro, with Sarasota Bay serving as its Grand Canal.

In 1924, construction began on Cà d’Zan, which means “House of John” in Venetian dialect. The house was completed just before Christmas 1925, at a cost of $1.5 million.

John and Mable Ringling greatly admired the unique architectural style of the Danieli and the Bauer-Grunwald hotels in Venice, as well as the palaces that face the Venetian canals. This architectural style, called "Venetian Gothic," greatly influenced the Cà d'Zan's design, which architect Dwight James Baum and builder Owen Burns helped bring to Sarasota for the Ringlings.

Mable Ringling had an oilskin portfolio filled with postcards, sketches, photos and other materials that she gathered on her travels to aid the architect with his design.

Cà d’Zan is 200-foot long encompassing approximately 36,000 square feet with 41 rooms and 15 bathrooms. The structure is five stories and has a full basement. The pinnacle of the structure is the 81-foot Belvedere tower with an open-air overlook and a high domed ceiling.

Cà d’Zan is constructed from terracotta “T” blocks, concrete, and brick, covered with stucco and terracotta, and embellished with glazed tile. The original roof was made from 16th century Spanish tiles imported by the builder Owen Burns. The bay front terrace is made of domestic and imported marble. In April 2002, comprehensive restoration and conservation was completed on Cà d'Zan. The six year, $15 million initiative restored the mansion to the era of Mable Ringling.

The Circus Museum
The Circus Museum celebrates the American circus, its history and unique relationship to Sarasota. Established in 1948, the museum was the first in the county to document the rich history of the circus. View colossal parade and baggage wagons, sequined costumes, and a sideshow banner line that document the circus of the past and of today. See memorabilia and artifacts documenting the history of The Ringling family circus, John Ringling as the Circus King, and the greatest circus movie, The Greatest Show on Earth, which was filmed in Sarasota. Enter the Circus Museum’s Tibbals Learning Center and see an exhibition of circus posters. Ranging in size from window to barn sized, these colorful posters were plastered on buildings, walls and fences all across America and broadcasted in no uncertain terms that the circus was coming to town.

About the Ringlings

Mable Ringling
Mable Ringling, wife of the well-known circus man, was born Armilda Burton. Little of a personal nature is known about her and she has been described as a non-flamboyant woman because she did not seek the spotlight in either society or show business, yet one visit to Cà d'Zan, the magnificent house perched at the waters edge, and you might wonder if Mable was perhaps a closet flamboyant. Opulence and ornate don't begin to describe the decor of this unique and historic house. Born in Moons, Ohio on March 4, 1875, she had four sisters and one brother. She had strong ties with her family, who visited Sarasota often or moved to the area. Although Mable had a less direct hand in the formation of the Art Museum than she did with Cà d'Zan, she was listed on the Art Museum's charter as a Director and the Vice President of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Corporation in 1927. Mable died on June 8, 1929, at the age of fifty-four. Her marriage to John was one of strong affection and loyalty. They shared a love of things Italian, and Sarasota is fortunate they chose to build here two monuments to their fascination and interests: the Cà d'Zan ("House of John") and The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.

John Ringling
Although John began his career at 16 performing as a song and dance man, he moved to overseeing the circus route. After he persuaded his brothers to convert the show from wagons to rail in 1890, The New York Times observed, "he became a human encyclopedia on road and local conditions." It was a driving ambition that propelled the Ringling Bros. Circus into a world-class show crossing the country in nearly 100 rail-cars each season. In the 1920s, Ringling joined the Florida land boom, buying and developing land on the Sarasota Keys. He attempted to make Sarasota a fashionable metro-resort to rival those on Florida's popular East Coast.

With his wife, Mable, Ringling began accumulating a collection of Old Master paintings that they displayed in their homes in New York City; Alpine, New Jersey; and Sarasota. In New York's crowded auction rooms, they found a rich source of furnishings, tapestries, and paintings from the homes of wealthy and prominent families. In the 1920s, the Ringlings traveled annually to Europe to locate new circus acts, while also making purchases of art objects. An imposing figure, John Ringling stood more than six feet tall. One journalist wrote, "John Ringling is not your chatty type of man...It is no wonder that he is the least-known element in his minutely publicized business." In dress, he was elegant and preferred tailored English-made suits. He enjoyed fine Cuban cigars and his own private-label whiskey.

Pretty cool stuff huh? And you thought it was all about the elephants...Ok in my best Ringmaster voice: "Ladieeees aaaaand gentleman of aaaaaall ages! The most stupendous....The most colossal.....the most death defying act under the big top...I direct your attention to the trapeze high above the circus floor......" cue circus music............

As always, Bon Appetit,


To learn more about the Ringling Museum of Art , Ca d'Zan and the Circus Museum visit their website :

March 27, 2012

Shōchū...Sake's Older Cousin...

Shōchū   In the land of the rising sun, night-lifers and dining patrons can quickly recognize the differences between shōchū and sake (sa-kay). In addition to recently established shōchū bars, a number of shōchū specialty stores have popped up throughout Japan. Some stores offer as many as 3,200 different varieties of shōchū from all over the country. I noticed in quite a bit of the research I did for this article, that the relationship between the two factions, those for shōchū, those for sake, seemed almost adversarial. An either or kind of thing. I have always enjoyed and been intrigued by sake, but admittedly, shōchū had not been on my radar until recently and it was a mystery. I figure the fun will be in the research, tasting all the variations. As I am a sake 'enthusiast,' I freely admit there are perks to this job.

Let's start with the Differences
The first and most obvious difference is in the manufacturing process. Sake is brewed, while shōchū is distilled. Shōchū is made with a variety of raw materials, some more abstract than others, including: Japanese basil (shiso), corn, chestnuts (kuri), milk (gyunyu), pumpkin (kabocha), green pepper (pimon), and carrots (ninjin) just to name a few.
  • Shōchū uses black (kuro), white (shiro), and yellow (kii) koji, and sake uses only yellow (kii) koji.(koji is mold)
  • With regard to final product, sake is more comparable to wine, while shōchū bears the likenesses of vodka and whiskey. Lastly, environmental climate requirements are different as well, with shōchū best in warm climates and sake best where it's cooler.
In all actuality, shōchū is sake. Sake, in Japanese, refers to an entire category of alcoholic beverages. As mentioned, the sake we all know and love is actually called Nihon-shu. In most of the world's locales, both here and abroad, when you order “sake,” the bar or restaurant will more than likely offer you a glass of Nihon-shu. Nevertheless, despite the dissimilarities between shochu and sake, they are still related in many ways. The similarities include:
  • Both beverages are traditional products of Japan.
  • They are both made using rice, koji mold, and moromi (mash).
  • Each product is representative of its origin of production, with a variety of ways to drink them.
In the geographic center of shōchū production, Kyūshū, the drink is far more common than sake. In this region, sake generally means shōchū, and the most common way it is prepared is mixed with hot water. First hot water is poured into the glass, then shōchū is gently added. The liquids mix naturally and stirring is unnecessary. After one, you may experience mild inebriation. Should you venture to have another, you will do so "at your own risk." To achieve a perhaps more authentic and subtle taste, mix the shōchū and water, let it stand for a day, and then gently re-heat.

In 1549, Francis Xavier, the missionary, visited Kagoshima Prefecture. He recorded, "The Japanese drink 'arak' made from rice, but I have not seen a single drunkard, because once inebriated, they immediately lie down and go to sleep." While mostly considered an old-man's drink, recently it has become trendy amongst young women.

Japanese citizen Shigechiyo Izumi, who up until recently, held the Guinness Book of World Record for longest life span (120 years), insists shōchū was a part of his daily diet. This even prompted some local Ryūkyū shōchū brewers to market a special Longevity Liquor shōchū bearing his likeness on the front label. Izumi's physician advised against drinking shōchū in his advanced age, but Izumi went on to say, "Without shōchū there would be no pleasure in life. I would rather die than give up drinking.

Types of Shōchū
Historically known as Otsurui shōchū, it roughly translates to "Genuine" shōchū. In other words, it is the real thing. The production of Honkaku shōchū dates back to the 14th century and it is widely known for its flavor and aroma. This contrasts with the common belief that distilled spirits possess very little flavor or aroma. Spirits like vodka, for example, usually undergo a double distillation process, which attributes to a loss in both flavor and aroma. Honkaku shōchū on the other hand, is produced by a single distillation process, allowing the beverage to retain most of the flavor and aromatic qualities found in the raw material.
Made using a variety of raw materials: sweet potatoes, barley, buckwheat, and rice are the most frequently used. Three koji mold types: yellow, white, and black. The alcohol content of Honkaku shōchū ranges from 15% to 45%. It can be drunk straight, on the rocks, or mixed with hot or cold water.

For a shōchū to be classified as Kourui, it must first undergo a multiple—and often continuous—distillation process. As a result of this distillation process, Kourui shōchū is usually quite odorless and tasteless, which makes it quite comparable to vodka. Some actually refer to Kourui shōchū as “Japanese vodka.” Kourui lacks most aroma and flavor characteristics. The alcohol content of Kourui shōchū can be as high as 36% . It is most often used to make mixed drinks. Common mixers include: green tea, Chinese Oolong tea, grapefruit and lemon juice.


Awamori is a distilled spirit that is indigenous to the islands of Okinawa and is thought to have been inspired by raoron, a distilled spirit historically produced in Thailand. Awamori actually predates the production of shōchū on mainland Japan and in a sense, paved the way for shōchū production throughout Japan. Up until 1983, it was labeled as “shōchū” by the Japanese government, but now Awamori bears its own label, "Authentic Ryukyuan Awamori."

Made exclusively with long-grain, Thai style indica rice and one koji type: black, it has with an earthy and robust flavor and aroma. In general, the alcohol content of Awamori ranges from 25% to 45%. Drunk in a variety of ways: straight, on the rocks, or mixed with hot or cold water, the most popular way to drink Awamori is oyuwari, or with hot water.

Rice shōchū is also produced in regions famous for their sake, such as Niigata and Akita prefectures.
Barley shōchū if cask-aged the taste can be quite sharp and strongly reminiscent of single-malt whisky.
Potato shōchū The taste of potato shōchū is particularly evocative of almonds.
Brown sugar shōchū has a mild and not particularly sweet taste, contrary to what might be expected.
Soba shōchū using soba from the local mountainous region as its base ingredient. It's taste is milder than barley shōchū.
Awamori with its method of production, could be made anywhere in Japan, but Ryūkyū Awamori is a protected geographical indication restricted to Okinawa.
Kasutori shōchū has also come to be known as sanaburi shōchū.

Shōchū By Region
Shōchū production can be found in practically every prefecture in Japan. But when these locations are inspected more closely, a pattern describing what class of shōchū is produced where, begins to emerge.

Honkaku Shōchū
With a strong emphasis placed on flavor and aroma, Honkaku shōchū production is far more concentrated. The southern region of Japan, particularly Kyushu, is boasted as the Honkaku shōchū capital of Japan. Kyushu is renowned for its production of sweet potato shōchū (imojochu) and rice shōchū (komejochu). The following areas in Japan not only comprises the top 5 points of production, it also accounts for over 90% of all of Japan’s Honkaku production:

Kourui Shōchū
The production of Kourui shochu can be found in nearly every region of Japan. Widespread production of rice and grain across the country, and a climate-friendly manufacturing process makes Kourui shōchū the most region-friendly shōchū. The top 5 points of production are as follows:

Noted both for its moderate weather and for a famous underground spring known as "Fushimizu". The area around the TAMANOHIKARI factory is surrounded by numerous groves of trees, planted and protected by the Imperial Household Agency to beautify the tombs of the Emperors Kanmu and Meiji. This natural surrounding contributes to the delicate taste of the Fushimizu spring:

Awamori Shōchū
With its method of production, Awamori could be made anywhere in Japan, but Ryūkyū Awamori is a protected geographical indication restricted to Okinawa.

What makes the history of shōchū so fascinating is its lack thereof. Like other distilled beverages around the world, shōchū was primarily used for medicinal remedies since the 9th century and after it was first introduced in Japan, it was used in the same way. The actual origin of shōchū remains a mystery to this day, but many experts and historians hypothesize that shōchū production methods were introduced by Thailand.

According to legend, it was first introduced in the islands of what is now known as Okinawa sometime around the 14th or 15th centuries. Following this, Awamori and its distillation method spread throughout the islands of Okinawa. Soon after, the island of Amami Ooshima, then southern most island of mainland Japan, which led to production in Kagoshima and eventually, to the rest of Japan.

In recent years, Japanese shōchū has experienced an unprecedented boom in popularity, not only in Kyushu, but all across Japan. It is truly an exceptional beverage in many ways; the countless number of brands; its method of production; the raw materials used and its history.

Based on data presented in the annual Liquor Tax Report, between the years of 1996 and 2003, shōchū consumption actually increased by 42%. With such a boom in popularity, many conventional bars were unable to maintain a selection of shōchū that was satisfactory for connoisseurs; thus the shōchū bar was born. These are comparable to whiskey bars, except they exclusively serve shōchū. Many of these boast selections of as many as 100 different kinds of shōchū.

In the United States, distributors of shōchū have also experienced a surge in sales, though the rise wasn't quite as dramatic as it has been in Japan. Despite a growing demand overseas, many shōchū producers don’t believe there is any need to further expand into international markets because they are satisfied competing within the national market of Japan. Furthermore, some producers are already operating at maximum capacity just to meet demand in Japan. I hope you have enjoyed this and it prompts you to learn more and try shōchū for yourself.

Bon Appetit,


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