Corn Based Spirits

Corn Based Spirits

Corn, also known as maize, was first planted and domesticated by the Mayans and
other indigenous people of Southern Mexico around 9,200 years ago. Scholars
pinpoint the region to the Balsas River Valley, located in south-central Mexico. Here,
the temperate, subtropical climate and seasonal rains make for ideal ‘corn’ditions
for growing the crop.

Wine—The All-American Art

Photo Courtesy of  WineAmerica  

Photo Courtesy of WineAmerica 

By: Jim Trezise

Several years ago, I judged wines in a California-based national competition where the Best of Show wine, from among thousands, was a fabulous Rose from Mac’s Creek Winery. As an easterner, I’d never heard of it but figured it was somewhere in Sonoma.

     Wrong: Nebraska. And it was made with Marechal Foch grapes. Huh?

     That was a sign of things to come, or that were already happening.

Wine is an all-American art form--made in all 50 states, with strong steady growth, lots of innovation, and a nationwide focus on quality. Result: Great benefits for the industry, the economy, and consumers.

California is our friendly 800-pound gorilla, producing 90% of all American wine and providing leadership in many ways. Washington State has been booming for years, and with accelerating growth on the horizon will certainly remain #2, with New York #3 in total production but Oregon #3 in total number of wineries. And then there are the other 46 states.

Pictured Cornell Researchers: Dr. Bruce Reisch (grape genetics), Dr. Justine Van de Heuvel (viticulture), Dr. Alan Lakso (viticulture0 & Chris Owens (grape genetics)

Pictured Cornell Researchers: Dr. Bruce Reisch (grape genetics), Dr. Justine Van de Heuvel (viticulture), Dr. Alan Lakso (viticulture0 & Chris Owens (grape genetics)

As the former President of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation for 32 years, I clearly know New York best, having watched the industry grow from about 50 wineries to over 400, attracting well over 5 million annual tourist visits, and generating over $5 billion in annual benefits for the state economy. And, importantly, quality had grown as quickly as quantity, thanks to collaboration among wineries and research by Cornell University.

This is happening nationally—in Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia, and in virtually every other state. The number of American wineries has essentially doubled in the past decade to about 9,200 today. And grapes are America’s. highest value fruit crop.

Marquette- one of Minnesota's native grape varieties (courtesy of WineAmerica)

Marquette- one of Minnesota's native grape varieties (courtesy of WineAmerica)

A major reason for the growth is research and innovation. The United States has a huge range of “terroir”—the French notion of geography, geology, and climate that make various places unique for agriculture. Minnesota is clearly different from New Mexico, and the only way for wineries to succeed is to plant the grapes suitable to their region. In fact, Minnesota has been a leader in creating new, extremely cold-hardy vines that can withstand winter temperatures of 40 degrees below zero. Those vines are now planted widely in other northern states. And virtually every state has its own grape and wine research program.

As a judge in about a dozen competitions each year, I also have the privilege of tasting the industry’s progress from coast to coast. The results are impressive. Not so long ago, there were quite a few “DPIM” wines, meaning “Don’t Put in Mouth” after you’ve smelled a wretched aroma. Those are essentially gone, and it has actually  become harder to judge because the quality has both increased and become more consistent. That is great for everyone, and especially consumers.

     Looking to the future, much will depend on climate change. No, not global warming: The business climate. Wine people are always talking about the climate, because you need good weather to grow good grapes for great wines. But many forget that you also need a good business climate to grow our industry.

That’s where WineAmerica comes in. We are the national organization of American wineries, created to protect, defend, and enhance the business climate for wine in America. There is no shortage of major issues: excise tax reform, immigration, trade, music licensing, funding for research and export promotion, regulations, and much more. It’s not nearly as romantic as a stroll through the vineyards on a sunny day, but the work is every bit as important as pruning vines and selling wines.

American Wine is there to be discovered and enjoyed. Wine country tourism is one way, but armchair tourism can be fun too, thanks to the internet. Just pick a state and Google, “Wines of ___” and you will be transported to a world you may never have imagined. And if you find some intriguing wines you’d like to try, you can probably have them shipped to your doorstep.  Treat yourself: You deserve it.


Jim Trezise is the President of WineAmerica (national), President of the International Riesling Foundation (international), former President of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation (state), competition judge, conference speaker, but most importantly a lover of wines and wine people. He lives and works on Keuka Lake in New York's Finger Lakes region.

Favorite Corn Recipes


ELOTE (aka Mexican Street Corn) from Serious Eats

Photo Courtesy of  Serious Eats  

Photo Courtesy of Serious Eats 


  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 ears fresh organic non GMO corn, shucked, kernels removed (about 3 cups fresh corn kernels)
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 ounces feta or cotija cheese, finely crumbled
  • 1/2 cup finely sliced scallion greens
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and stemmed, finely chopped
  • 1 to 2 medium cloves garlic, pressed or minced on a microplane grater (about 1 to 2 teaspoons)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh juice from 1 lime
  • Chili powder or hot chili flakes, to taste


Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet or wok over high heat until shimmering. Add corn kernels, season to taste with salt, toss once or twice, and cook without moving until charred on one side, about 2 minutes. Toss corn, stir, and repeat until charred on second side, about 2 minutes longer. Continue tossing and charring until well charred all over, about 10 minutes total. Transfer to a large bowl.

Add mayonnaise, cheese, scallions, cilantro, jalapeño, garlic, lime juice, and chili powder and toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and more chili powder to taste. Serve immediately.

Kimberly's Lend Me Your Ear: I really didn't experience true corn on the cob until my teen years.  My three sisters and I were raised on the island of Oahu until we were teens/pre-teens and ironically, in the middle of paradise, we didn't really have fresh fruits and veggies beyond pineapple, lychees and a few other tropical offerings.  Like many places that export their primary agricultural product, the pickings can be slim for locals and fortunately, today, due to the proliferation of farmers' markets that has changed dramatically over the years.   I live in the Mission district in San Francisco and as such have been spoiled with the great offerings both in restaurants and bodegas near my home.   I love buying "butter-sugar" white/yellow corn and making elote, aka Mexican street corn, which is available both on/off the ear and is a great mixture of temperature and flavor.  The warm corn mixed with the room temperature sauce comprised of cotija cheese, lime juice, jalapeno, chili flakes, garlic and scallion is mind-blowingly delicious.   Just writing about it makes my mouth water. Buen provecho!

Drink Pairing: Tommy's Margarita

The best and most famous margarita recipe on the planet was conceived right here in San Francisco by the Bermejo family of Tommy's Mexican Restaurant. Julio Bermejo has done more to advocate for the category of 100% agave tequila than any person in the business.  The limey elements play off the creamy, silky texture of the elote.  Salud!





Photo Courtesy of  Bon Appétit

Photo Courtesy of Bon Appétit

  • 5 large ears of corn, husked, kernels cut from cobs (about 5 cups)
  • 1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
  • ½ cup cornmeal, preferably fine-grind, plus more for pan
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1¾ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ cups (packed) dark brown sugar
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups Corn Flakes


Place a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 475°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spread out corn kernels on baking sheet. Roast, tossing halfway through, until slightly dried and beginning to brown around the edges, about 20 minutes. Let sit until cool enough to handle. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped and only a few whole kernels remain.

Meanwhile, cook 1½ cups butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring often, until butter foams, then browns, 8–10 minutes. Transfer brown butter to a large bowl; let cool slightly.

Reduce oven temperature to 350°. Butter a 13x9" baking pan, then dust with cornmeal. Whisk flour, salt, baking powder, and remaining ½ cup cornmeal in a medium bowl.

Add brown sugar and granulated sugar to brown butter. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat just to incorporate the sugar, about 1 minute. Add eggs and vanilla and beat on high speed until light and creamy, about 4 minutes. Reduce speed to low; add corn and beat to evenly distribute. Add dry ingredients and beat, occasionally scraping sides and bottom of bowl, just until combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Evenly scatter Corn Flakes over batter.

Bake cake until Corn Flakes are lightly toasted on edges and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 35–45 minutes. Let cool before serving.

With the cornucopia of corn recipes circulating the blogs and magazines this time of year, it's hard to find that one unicorn dish that won't get lost in the corner of your summer potluck. I very recently came upon this recipe in Bon Appetit and couldn't believe my corneas - I knew immediately it would be a-maize-ing. I was elote'd, grinning ear to ear - who can resist a dessert recipe that calls for fresh corn, cornbread-y cornmeal AND crunchy cornflakes?  Sure enough, this recipe doesn't shuck. Be careful though - too many servings of these is sure to make you husk-y. 

Drink Pairing: 2015 Domaine Huet 'Clos du Bourg' Demi-Sec Vouvray

The richness of the 2015 vintage makes this demi-sec from one of Vouvray's most classic producers (Huet) a lovely pairing with the slightly savory component of this corn-based dessert dish. 






Photo Courtesy of  Food Network

Photo Courtesy of Food Network

  • 5 ears of corn, shucked
  • 1/2 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup julienned fresh basil leaves


In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the corn for 3 minutes until the starchiness is just gone. Drain and immerse it in ice water to stop the cooking and to set the color. When the corn is cool, cut the kernels off the cob, cutting close to the cob.

Toss the kernels in a large bowl with the red onions, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Just before serving, toss in the fresh basil. Taste for seasonings and serve cold or at room temperature.

Having had braces growing up I always avoided corn, even long after my braces were off, out of fear of getting it stuck in my teeth. It wasn't until recently that I conquered this fear and began to enjoy it again. After ordering a delicious corn salad from Hog Island Oyster Company in San Francisco's Ferry Building I have been on a corn salad "kick",  as it is a tasty change of pace from your standard green salad. 

Drink Pairing: 2015 Muga Rioja Blanco

This lively and acidic white wine is the perfect addition for sipping alongside this light, fresh salad.





Photo Courtesy of Epicurious 

Photo Courtesy of Epicurious 

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/3 cups half and half
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from about 2 ears) or frozen, thawed
  • 1 deep-dish frozen pie crust, thawed


Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine first 5 ingredients in food processor; blend until onion is finely chopped. Add half and half and butter; process just until blended. Transfer to large bowl. Mix in corn. Pour into crust. Bake until filling is slightly puffed and top is golden, about 50 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool slightly. Serve warm.

I've always been a fan of quick, easy recipes that I can make when I have a couple hours to spare at home. When I recently came across this corn quiche recipe, I couldn't resist making it. With only a few ingredients and preparation steps, this recipe is perfect for those who want a simple meal that can last in the fridge. This is an awesome breakfast dish, but can also be served as lunch or dinner. 

Drink Pairing: 2016 Murrieta's Well Dry Rosé 

This vibrant wine is perfect for brunch and pairs well with this corn quiche recipe. Its sweet yet subtly spicy flavor help enhance the dish. 




Photo Courtesy of  Cooking Classy

Photo Courtesy of Cooking Classy

  • 1 cup (170g) cornmeal
  • 1 cup (140g) all- purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup (110g) packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (2 oz) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup (244g) canned pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup (122g) sour cream
  • 2 large eggs


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a mixing bowl whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves for 20 seconds. Make a well in center of flour mixture then set aside. 

In a separate mixing bowl, add brown sugar and break up sugar with fingertips until no clumps remain. Add in melted butter and pumpkin and whisk to combined. Mix in sour cream and eggs until well blended. Pour mixture into well in flour mixture then fold with a rubber spatula just until combined and no streaks of flour remain. 

Spray an 8 by 8 inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray and pour batter into pan. Spread batter into an even layer, bake in preheated oven until toothpick inserted into center comes out free of batter, about 25 - 30 minutes. Cool slightly on a wire rack then cut into squares. 

Growing up, my mom always made a mean chili and corn bread for our summer BBQ festivities, but being an autumn-enthused gal, when I stumbled upon this pumpkin cornbread recipe my heart nearly skipped a beat. As Fall quickly approaches us, I can almost smell the comforting scent of a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, hear the leaves crunch under my clunky winter boots, and feel the warmth of a cozy fleece blanket next a crackling fire. Now, I get to add a moist, pumpkin flavored cornbread with cinnamon honey butter drizzled on top to my Fall rituals? Yes please. If this idea excites you as it did me, you need this recipe!

Drink Pairing: 2003  Weinbach Cuvee St Catherine Riesling 

This wine is a medium to sweet Riesling that offers a crispness that pairs well with the Fall spices in this cornbread.

The World’s Best Third Place Brisket

By: Chef John Cox

The Bear & Star  culinary team- from left to right: Trenton Shank (Sous Chef), Jeremy Tummel (Head Chef), John Cox (Chef Partner)

The Bear & Star culinary team- from left to right: Trenton Shank (Sous Chef), Jeremy Tummel (Head Chef), John Cox (Chef Partner)

The idea was simple enough; take three fine dining chefs from California and enter them blindly into a Texas Barbecue Championship. To be fair, two of us were born in Texas, but other than having enjoyed the occasional plate of brisket, we knew next to nothing about the art of smoking meats.  

     Just filling out the online application was exciting; thoughts of the camaraderie that can only be achieved huddled around the warmth of the smoker on a cool Texas morning, of eating mounds of ribs and brisket off butcher-paper lined trays, of slicing that perfect piece of brisket with its cherry-red smoke ring and cascade of glistening fat. I could hear the judges applauding our innovative use of Koji and Balinese pepper and other contestants asking for our secret recipes.

      Reality began to set in somewhere around Amarillo, looking at the tow functions on the dashboard of the Ford F250 while passing cattle trailers on a stretch of lonely highway. Forget about the brisket, I didn’t even know how to haul a trailer, let alone pull one through traffic on Central Expressway in Dallas!

The Bear & Star's  smoker built by  Johnson Custom Smokers  in Ennis, Texas. 

The Bear & Star's smoker built by Johnson Custom Smokers in Ennis, Texas. 

      Twenty four hours of cramming in every barbecue related podcast and stopping at every “award winning” bbq pit, did little to allay my fears. My only consolation was that at least we had a few days to work with our brand new custom smoker before we had to jump into the deep end of competition. I was scheduled to pick the smoker up the next morning in Ennis and hoped I would feel better once everything was hitched up and battle ready.

      Ten minutes later my phone rang; the smoker was behind schedule and wouldn’t be ready for pickup until the day before the competition! Feeling helpless and mournfully unprepared for the embarrassment and ridicule that would now inevitably summarize the competition, I purchased a backyard smoker on clearance from Home Depot so at least we could practice one brisket.

        When the day to pick up the smoker finally arrived, I had become comfortably numb with our predicament. I practiced backing the thirty-foot monster along the country road a few times, and then headed toward Central Expressway, merging lanes and exiting with a mix of profanity and prayers. Under the cloak of nightfall, late into the evening when the freeways were empty, we made our way to San Angelo.

       Once our trailer was parked and we began to unpack our ingredients, we regained a certain level of confidence. After all, all forms of cooking share a similar set of rules and techniques, so whether you are smoking a brisket or making classic Beef Wellington, a competent cook can usually extrapolate recipes based on prior experience (or so we told ourselves at the time).

Chef Jeremy Tummel prepares Jalapeno Poppers on the custom smoker to submit in the first category of the competition. The smoker remains outside at  The Bear & Star  where it is used daily. 

Chef Jeremy Tummel prepares Jalapeno Poppers on the custom smoker to submit in the first category of the competition. The smoker remains outside at The Bear & Star where it is used daily. 

       At 4 a.m. everything was inside the smoker and only required the occasional turn and probe with a thermometer. We talked with neighboring teams and were grateful for both their advice and Texas hospitality. As the sun came up and the last bottles of apple-pie moonshine were being drained, we were feeling pretty good. Exhausted, we hoped to blend into the crowd for judging and simply celebrate the fact that we made it to the competition in one piece and would hopefully have something edible to show for it.  

     Poppers were the first category and as expected, our team got no mention. Ribs were up next; again, no mention. Although one of our neighbors now called us the “kumquat boys” – a questionable reference to the tiny oranges we had used in our rib glaze.   

    Looking back up at the stage we heard…“and the Grand Champion Chicken is awarded to The Bear and Star!”  We looked around the crowd before realizing he was talking about us! We jumped of our seats with joy and collected our championship buckles.

Competition prizes included a 3rd place Brisket plaque and the "Champion Chicken" belt buckle, both of which are displayed proudly at  The Bear & Star . 

Competition prizes included a 3rd place Brisket plaque and the "Champion Chicken" belt buckle, both of which are displayed proudly at The Bear & Star

    With the pressure officially off, we took a deep breath and began to relax, only to be called up to the stage a few moments later to be awarded 3rd place in brisket and 3rd place overall! It was in incredible feeling and whether earned by luck, skill or a mix of the two, our team couldn’t have been more elated.

    In the end, the tour was more than I could have dreamed. Not only did it help bring together our culinary team, it also instilled in us a true admiration for the art of smoking and the warmth of Texas hospitality.

Summer Cocktail Recipe: "August Sun" by Square One Organic Vodka

Square One Organic Vodka is a spirit near and dear to our hearts at CCA.  We helped launch the brand as the first nationally distributed organic vodka back in 2006.   Now 11 years later and with five amazing offerings in the family, we chose this perfect cocktail to celebrate the peak of summer farmer's market produce.   Sungold cherry tomatoes and fresh basil are the inspiration for this mouthwatering aromatic cocktail:

Photo Courtesy of  Square One Organic Vodka

Photo Courtesy of Square One Organic Vodka


(1 Serving)


Muddle 6 Sungold tomatoes with basil in a mixing glass until completely crushed and juiced.  Add all other ingredients.  Shake briefly with ice and strain into a highball glass filled with fresh ice, using either a Julep strainer or a double strainer.  Add Square One Organic Cucumber Vodka. Float 2 halves of a Sungold tomato on top and garnish with a sprig of Basil.

OPTION:  Add 1/2 oz. of Heirloom Tomato Water* to add even more unique character to your cocktail. If using tomato water, muddle only 4 Sungold cherry tomatoes.  Then follow the rest of the recipe above.  

*Heirloom Tomato Water:
Golden Brandywine and Red Flame tomatoes were used for this cocktail at Slow Food Nation, but any yellow or orange low-acid heirloom tomato can be used. While I followed a "freeze and thaw" method, Chef Elizabeth Faulkner of Orson restaurant in San Francisco suggested I puree them with a little bit of salt and wrap the puree in a cheesecloth to drain into a bowl overnight. She's the Chef, I'm the amateur, so next time I'm making it her way and I suggest you do too. It is a lot easier than the freeze/thaw method and I bet it tastes even better! - Allison Evanow - Founder of Square One.

Watch the full Youtube Video here

Scottish Gin

By: Hillary Lyons

Summer is in full swing and you know what that means: it’s gin & tonic season. Though we typically associate gin with the English, the G&T has taken the world by storm in recent years and Scotland is stepping in to slake our thirst.*

I know what you’re thinking: hold up, Scotland’s the land of whisky! In fact, Scotch gin dates back to the 1600s, when the Dutch first introduced Edinburgh to gin’s close cousin genever. When taxes on imported spirits rose, local entrepreneurs began crafting their own. It was only in the late 1800s that whisky came to dominate the domestic distilling industry and it’s maintained a stronghold ever since. But strict regulations around the aging of this amber spirit, coupled with the proliferation of craft distilleries throughout the UK, has led distillers to find innovative ways to sustain their companies through this long aging process.

Rolling out the barrels at Eden Mill Distillery. Photo compliments of  The Guardian .

Rolling out the barrels at Eden Mill Distillery. Photo compliments of The Guardian.

The law dictates that Scotch whisky must be barrel aged for at least three years, and as you can imagine, the start-up costs of distilling are not small. Besides ingredients, there’s the cost of copper stills, well aged barrels, bottles and much more to consider. Since gin requires the same equipment, some distillers have decided to experiment with botanicals both traditional and unconventional to bring in shorter term revenue. Little did they know the craft gin market would explode. The boom in demand for artisanal spirits has led gin to excel in Scotch country to the point that 70% of all British gin is made in Scotland, making it the world’s leading producer.

To be called gin, the spirit must be infused with three core botanicals: juniper berries, coriander seed for spice, and angelica root which acts as a binding agent. London dry gin (such familiar labels as Gordon’s or Tanqueray, both of which produce most of their spirit in Scotland) is considered the purist’s gin, containing only these three botanicals, but gins today can contain up to 47 different herbs and spices (how Monkey 47 get its name).

Various botanicals for gin distilling. Photo compliments of Gin Foundry.

Various botanicals for gin distilling. Photo compliments of Gin Foundry.

How it works is distillers simply suspend a hessian bag or sachet of their botanical blend in the still. Given Scotland’s lush hills and lochs, woods and coastline, there are endless botanicals to choose from. Not to mention, the focus on sourcing locally and using natural ingredients greatly appeals to the millennial market. Johnny Forsyth, Mintel drinks analyst, notes of this trend, “Gin was in the right place at the right time.”

Gin, unlike whisky can go from vat to glass in a matter of weeks, so not only are the distilleries able to hit the market with product faster, but (as with beer) they’re able to toy with their infusion and perfect their blends much more rapidly. As Scott Fergusson, Eden Mill’s head distiller says, “I spend lots of time thinking about recipes that will work, you’re free to experiment and you can taste the effects in a matter of days. So, if it needs a bit more pepper, for example, you can change the results quickly. It’s made the job much more fun.”

A line up of some of the best Scottish distilleries, large and small. Photo compliments of The Edinburgh Woollen Mill.

A line up of some of the best Scottish distilleries, large and small. Photo compliments of The Edinburgh Woollen Mill.

To kick start your summer sipping, here are a few of our favorite Scottish gins (just be sure to pair them with the perfect tonic, a house favorite of Charles Communications is Fever Tree which makes both a standard and a light version for you carb counters ):

·      Eden Mill – Playing with unusual infusions such as their hop gin or ‘love gin’ (which uses rhubarb, raspberry and hibiscus to impart a delicate pink color and bright fruit flavors), Eden Mill is one of the pioneers of Scottish craft gins. With their creative, balanced combinations, these gins hold up on their own or make for complex G&Ts.

·      Arbikie Highland Estate – Arbikie is a fourth-generation, family-owned working farm first and distillery second. The estate farms their own wheat and many of their own botanicals (others are locally sourced by Master Distiller Kirsty Black) to produce gins that give a true sense of the Scottish terroir.

·      Teasmith Gin – In true British fashion, this distillery celebrates its region’s history as a key port in the tea trade by infusing their gin with handpicked black tea. Paired with mint and a delicate tonic, this gin makes for one delectably refreshing G&T on a hot summer day.

* For the cocktail historians out there, we recommend a fabulous book on the history of this quintessentially British beverage by our friend Camper English titled Tonic Water AKA G&T WTF.