A friend of mine in the game industry recently brought up a really interesting point about the history of video games. He said that due to the fact that gaming has really been revolutionized in the last thirty years, pretty much everyone that you study about in a college Game History course, is still alive and making games today. That is incredibly rare compared to most disciplines, from food, to science, to English, economics, you name it and most of the major players were from the distant past, and even if a few are still alive, they are no longer apart of their respective industries (try to name a current architect with more influence than Frank Lloyd Wright or a chef who has changed the way a culture looks at food more than Julia Childs, the list goes on). This is especially true of alcoholic beverages. The creators of our most famous cocktails are long gone, and often long forgotten as well. Those who revolutionized the distillation process, or began making the first India Pale Ale’s, are surely dead and buried. My point is, to have living legends, is something that should indeed be cherished in any industry. If you get the opportunity to meet Tim Schaefer, you take it. If you bump into John Lasseter in an Apple store, you shake his hand. And if Giannola Nonino sits next to you at a bar, you buy her a drink.
If you live in North America ,or many other parts of the world, you probably don’t know who Ms. Nonino is or why she is important. If you are from Italy on the other hand, you likely are all too familiar with Gianolla’s contributions to your great nation.
Before I get too far into this, I think we need talk about distillation briefly. Distillation, when it comes to alcohol, is the process by which an alcoholic solution is boiled in a chamber (known as a still). Once boiling, the alcoholic steam rises to the top of the still, and fed through a cooling pipe, so that the steam condenses back into a more concentrated and purified alcoholic solution. This is how moonshine, vodka, apple jack, rum, gin and pretty much any other high alcohol content spirit is made (to begin with). Some of these spirits are aged after the distilling process(rums, brandies, whiskeys), but some of them are ready to be drank almost immediately(vodka, gin, moonshine).
With that briefly glossed over, we’re ready to talk about the star of today’s TIP:
If you’ve never heard of Grappa, it’s probably because you live in the United States and don’t have any italian heritage. (i.e. Me) And if that is the case, here’s what you need to know: Grappa is a distilled spirit that is made by steaming the pomace that is left over after the wine-making process. What is pomace you say? That’s just a fancy word for, “all the skins and leaves and stems and shit that is pretty much garbage after you press them for wine”.
Now, it isn’t actually garbage by any means. Essentially, it starts out as drunken grapes that have about 3.5% alcohol content. These grapes would just be thrown away by vineyards if it wasn’t for Grappa distilleries stealing up the waste and making good use of it.
The resulting product used to be on the level of Kentucky Moonshine: rough, unpredictable, and not considered suitable for most bartender’s (or homeowner’s) shelves. Grappa was not savored. It was slammed. Quickly. In the hopes that you would soon be slammed as well.
Enter Giannola Nonino. She was able to convince a few select pomace suppliers to give her and her husband, unmixed grapes, kept in their specific variety and vintage, and was delivered to the Nonino distillery as soon as it was finished being pressed for wine. The resulting Grappa, released in 1984, wasn’t the harsh spirit with ambiguous flavor of its predecessors, and was instead, an aromatic spirit that still held characteristics of it’s grape variety (Picolit) both in smell and flavor. This simple modification of the Grappa production, quite literally revolutionized the industry, from a “bath tub” spirit, to a Cognac competitor, in a matter of years. Thus making Giannola a pioneer both as a Grappa distiller and as an Italian, being awarded the prestigious Italian Leonardo Prize in 2003.
Here’s a VERY brief rundown on how you should go about enjoying this spirit, if you’re able to get your hands on a bottle:
- Grappa is a protected name (like Scotch or Bourbon) thus ensuring that only Italian distillers can call their product Grappa. This means that if you live outside of Italy, a bottle of Grappa is likely going to be a little pricey ($20-40 for 350ml). Having sampled my first bottle last week, I can tell you this: It’s worth it.
- Grappa can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Archer would likely prefer his neat and in large quantities.
- Many old school italian men probably use shot glasses, like an immigrant drinking tequila.
- More popular ways are to drink Grappa after dinner, mixed with espresso. One method known as Amazzacaffé is to drink your shot of espresso, then follow it up with an equally portioned shot of Grappa, from a separate glass.
- Another variation from the Veneto region is called the “resentin” (translated, “little rinser”): Drink almost all your espresso, and when there is just a tiny bit remaining at the bottom of the cup, pour in a splash of Grappa, rinsing the espresso from the glass, and drink the mixture in one sip.
Scotch. Scotchy scotch scotch. So long as you didn’t drink the last of your stash last time. Might wanna double check your stock before tomorrow.
An omelette. Or maybe some chocolate. A choc-lette. No, sorry, that’s disgusting. Just pick one or the other. Don’t mix them. Unless you want to ruin them both.