Many folks who eat a plant-based diet, also enjoy a fancy cocktail, a cold beer, or a lovely glass of wine now and then, and this is why I’m very excited to introduce new Contributor Seth Feldman to YU. Seth is kinda like the “Batman of beverages”—really into the idea of being a part of a community and helping to improve it and make it stronger and better. And since he is also on his way to becoming the “beer equivalent of a sommelier,” the man has a ton of information to share.
Whether YU are looking for recipes for preparing the perfect cocktail (or even non-alcoholic mocktails), tips on how to select quality wines, recommendations for gluten-free beers, or reviews of sustainable beverage companies, Seth is your guy. He’s passionate about fresh ingredients, experimentation and creativity, like we are around here, so naturally, he’s excited and dedicated to “connect readers with sustainable beverages that are playful and supportive of their healthy lifestyle.” He says that “the world of beer, spirits and even wine has a lot of catching up to do, and there’s a lot to explore as the makers strive to become greener and cleaner.” He’s going to share as much as he discovers. Let’s learn a little bit more about our new member of Team YU…
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YU: Tell us about where are you from, where you live now and where would you like to live one day?
SF: I was born in Brooklyn, New York, but spent most of my life growing up in southern Florida, around Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. I currently live in Chicago, and I’m not sure I’m ever going to leave! I am really into the idea of being a part of a community and helping to improve it and make it stronger and better. I’m the Batman of beverages? If I had to pick somewhere else though, within reason (family and so on), I might have to pick Toronto. It’s a vibrant and culturally-diverse city that kind of balances the Midwest and east coast together.
YU: How did you become seriously interested in cocktails, beer and wine? Is there a particular catalyst?
SF: My interest in cocktails, beer, and wine kind of grew one step at a time, out of the turbulence of college and early law school (my early 20s basically). I became more politically and culturally aware, which ended up carrying along with it a consumer awareness as well. I wanted real beer, craft beer, and I’d just discovered scotch, and I’d begun keeping track of which wines intrigued me the most flavor-wise. It took years for that to develop though. My interest in beer led to me discovering homebrewing. I read about every style I could read about, where it came from, what made it different, etc. This kind of grew out of my desire to cook better food at home, and why not also make beer at home, too? Eventually my beer knowledge led me to the bar industry, and I found a place at Bar Deville, where I started learning the history of cocktails, and about the ingredients behind the spirits. My mentors focused on fresh ingredients in their drinks and on quality products that don’t substitute cheap sugars and filler. Out of my early days there, I learned to fully appreciate the entire world of beverages, from the boldest flavors to the subtlest textures.
YU: Sooo, what are your desert island must-haves for beer, wine and cocktails?
SF: This really rotates for me! Is it a tropical desert island, or am I in the arctic circle? I’m a pretty seasonal drinker, though I’ve been known to break from that occasionally. For wine, I tend to love Barolos and Super Tuscans the most (I think they’re just consistently special, if that makes sense), but also love Chilean and Argentinian reds. I favor bourbon and rye whiskey cocktails, especially a well-made Sazerac. People often think of whiskey as being a heavy and boozy cocktail spirit, but you can do a lot to tone that down and play up the more subtle aspects. I’m very excited about challenging this part of myself with YU, and turning to the more gluten-free and organic gins and tequilas and rums. You can really turn a cocktail into a whole new creature with a simple substitution or two. Beer is my darling. I’m on my way to the beer equivalent of a sommelier, and I argue with myself about styles all the time. I think I’d need Surly Furious IPA from Minneapolis, Edmund Fitzgerald from Great Lakes Brewing Company (possibly one of the greenest breweries in the US), and then I’d lose hair figuring out another beer or two. Farmhouse beers from France and Belgium tend to always end up in front of me in the summer, but I’m obsessed with the dark Imperial Stouts of winter as well. Another thing I’m excited to explore with YU is the possibilities opening up in the world of gluten-free beer, where you used to be limited to pale ale imitations, and now darker and more experimental beers to seem to be making appearances.
YU: Tell us something about booze that folks may be surprised to find out.
SF: Ancient cultures actually had gods and goddesses dedicated to alcoholic beverages?
YU: What is one of the most important things to consider when preparing a cocktail or mocktail?
SF: The freshness of your ingredients is huge and can’t be stressed enough. The biggest trend in cocktails in the past 50 years was the return to fresh juices and quality ingredients. You can’t fix the flavors of high fructose syrup spiked juices and sour mixes, or of old bottles of vermouth and so on.
YU: What should we be looking for when choosing wines and beer? How do we store them properly?
SF: Each beverage/spirit needs its own care. Never keep your beer warm. Get it home and refrigerate it, or at least put it in a cellar somewhere below 50 degrees. Wine varies by color, but again, try to keep it cool. Treat both as if they’re living beverages because they’re both chemically fragile. Sunlight is bad for both. Generally, with beer, you want to consume most of them soon after purchase, unless the bottle or style (and the alcohol content) suggests that aging is appropriate. Hoppier beers are especially made for immediate drinking, as hop flavor and aroma tend to fade after a few months. White wines are less likely to benefit from aging, but there are exceptions.
YU: What inspires you the most?
SF: These days, passion. I love seeing people beaming with the energy of their passion for a project, a piece of art, their careers, the product of their labor, etc. It’s intoxicating to see someone doing what they love or being affected by something and it makes me want to spread that everywhere.
YU: What does YumUniverse mean to you?
SF: YU is both a personal and communal thing to me. It means that we as individuals are looking at both ourselves and those around us and trying to discover the best things for us. We’re educating ourselves and making ourselves better. That applies to me as well. It is an achievement everyone should strive for but that we all often lose track of as we try to make our way through life.
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Seth is gonna fit in just great around here, huh? Please let him know what kind of information you’d like to see with a comment below. In the meantime, try out his recipe for the “Devil’s Water”…
Agua del Diablo
1.5 oz Del Maguey mezcal*
1 oz watermelon juice
0.5 oz lime juice
0.5 oz homemade chile syrup or cinnamon-allspice syrup (ingredients below)
1 eyedropper of Bitter Cube Backstrap bitters (substitutes: Angostura bitters, 2-3 dashes)
*100% certified organic, artisanal mezcal produced the original handcrafted way. Mezcal, like tequila, is distilled from the agave plant, specifically the del maguey variety. The piña ,or heart of the agave plant, is cooked for a few days in earthen oven pits, giving mezcal its distinctive smokey, campfire flavor. This cooked product is then mashed and left to ferment with some water added. This is then distilled in copper or clay pots and left to age for months or even years. Del Maguey, the brand, produces their mezcal from organically grown del maguey agave plants, using the original mezcal producing methods of the Zapotec people.
One shaker set, or a shaker plus a pint glass
large supply of ice
For the watermelon juice:
Scoop out and juice the pink flesh of the watermelon and put in a blender.
Blend until smooth, then strain out the solids, preferably with a fine mesh metal strainer.
Cheese cloth might work even better. Baby watermelons seem a little more consistent in terms of quality of the juice. Lasts about two days in the fridge.
For the lime juice:
Any squeezer works, just avoid getting the flesh in the final product. Lime juice only lasts a day or two in the fridge. Alternate way to make the cocktail is just to squeeze a half or whole lime into the shaker.
For the syrups:
Combine 8 or 16 oz of sucanat and an equal amount of water in a saucepan. Add either 4 large chiles or 8-12 small chiles (guajillos, pasillas, anchos all work as larger chiles, arbol is a good small chile for this) to the pan, or 1 tablespoon of allspice and a few cinnamon sticks. Raise to boiling, boil for a minute or two, then simmer for 20. Make sure to stir often, too much heat can cause the sugar to caramelize onto the pan. Personally, I store syrups in jars that take some kind of a pour spout or speed pour, so they don’t dump out of the container too easily.
Once you have all the ingredients assembled:
1. Add the lime and watermelon juice to a shaker. Always build a cocktail with your cheapest ingredients first, in case you make a mistake and need to start over.
2. Add simple syrup. You can increase this to 0.75 oz if you want to cut out more of the acidity and heat of the alcohol. Base that on how sweet you like your margaritas.
3. Add bitters.
4. Add ice last, enough to fill the shaker. You don’t want to overdilute the cocktail by having it sit in the ice too long.
5. Shake for about 15-20 seconds. This breaks up some of the ice and dilutes the cocktail while not making it too watery.
6. Strain into a coupe glass. If you use a larger, sturdy margarita glass, you could garnish with a small piece of lime and watermelon (not too big, you don’t want the glass to fall over!)
Make it a Mocktail (sans booze):
Simply add a little bit extra of everything (in proportion, about 25% more), 1-2 dashes of liquid smoke, shake together, top with club soda and give it a quick stir or two.
And because I love YU…