Category Archive: SPIRITS

Vodka Blind Tasting, Guess Which Won?

Posted on February 14, 2018

Vodka: CRG Spirit Academy

Over the next six weeks I am hosting spirit training for the employees at the Cohn  Restaurant Group, the CRG SPIRIT ACADEMY.  I love teaching, because each time I learn something new.  This past week we focused on Vodka. I discussed the difference between fermentation and distillation, how distillation began and why. And then gave a brief history of Vodka in Russia and it’s eventual success in the USA. After they sat through 45 minutes of me blabbing, some of our Vodka suppliers stood up and gave a 3 minute talk on their brand and what makes it so unique. Following their presentation we tasted 11 vodkas blind. The purpose to learn to use their own judgement on determining which vodka was best rather than seeing a label and having it influence their decision.

To condition their palates, I had them take a quick taste of rectified spirit, Everclear. This was  to show what vodka is like before it gets watered down. They then smelled the heads from the still of a local vodka. Smelling the heads they were able to pick out the methanol, ethyl acetate and ethyl lactate and all the undesirable aromas one might find in cheap vodka.  We then tasted our well Vodka, Svedka to give them an idea of why we use it and why it is one of the best values out there. Then the blind tasting began.  They were asked to rate each vodka on a scale from 1 to 5 with 5 being the best.  While tasting we were looking for the following criteria:

  • Aromas:
    • fruit / herbal / floral
    • medicinal / ethanol
  • Taste:
    • Clean / Dirty
    • Dry / Slightly Sweet
    • Smooth / Aggressive
    • Gentle / Powerful
    • Oily / Grainy / Soapy
    • Rich / Thin
    • Soft / Sharp / Burning
  • Finish:
    • short / medium / long
    • tip of tongue / mid palate / back palate

The best vodkas should have aromas of fruit, herbs or flowers or none at all, with low ethanol.  They should taste clean, dry (no glycerin), smooth, gentle, rich but not viscous, soft and round hitting all parts of the tongue with a long clean finish.

We tasted Tito’s, Ketel One, Absolut, Grey Goose, Hangar One, Belvedere, Chopin, Ciroc, Fugu, Tru and Absolut Elyx. All different price ranges. Some are made of grains, wheat, grape, potato, rye, corn and even a little pomegranate.  After tasting through each vodka and before revealing the names, I called out the number of each vodka in the order we tasted.  If they gave it a score of 4 or 5 they were asked to raise their hand. I tallied the numbers of all the vodkas scoring a 4 or 5, the results were pretty interesting.

The results out of 11 Vodkas tasted by 50 people:

Hangar One had 25 votes

Absolut 12  votes

Belvedere 11 votes

Ciroc 9 votes

Tru & Chopin 7 votes

Grey Goose 5 votes

Ketel One, Fugu and Absolut Elyx tied with 3 votes

Tito’s 2 votes

At least they all received a score of 4 or 5 from someone. 



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CRG Bartender Battle 2015

Posted on February 16, 2015

Bartender battle

Everyone wants to see a good battle.  The Romans had their Gladiators, America and the USSR had the Cold War and Coke and Pepsi had the Pepsi Challenge.  To keep with the human spirit, I arranged a bartender battle between 18 bartenders from our many restaurants at the Cohn Restaurant Group.

The 2015 CRG Bartender Battle was held at OB Warehouse on February 9th.  Pernod Ricard sponsored the blood bath.  I invited several non-partisan judges from San Francisco and Los Angeles to act as our guest referees.  Nikki Louie brand ambassador for Avion Tequila, Ria Soler brand ambassador for Absolut Vodka,  Daniel Warrilow mixologist for Olmeca Altos Tequila and Juan Carlos Calderon from Pernod Ricard/Southern Wines & Spirits sat at the throne and tasted 33 concoctions.  In attendance we had about 90 employees from our different restaurants supporting their favorite bartenders.  There were a total of 18 bartenders competing in three different competitions.

Bartender Battle #1

Competitors had to make the best Absolut Vodka cocktail.  The bartenders had weeks to prepare and two minutes to make the cocktail.  There was a catch. They had to get creative, because they could not use the most expensive ingredients.  Their cocktail had to come under a 14% pour cost. For those of you not familiar with pour cost, it is the cost of ingredients divided by the price of the cocktail.  It is a challenge in any bar to make deliciously tasting drinks and stay mindful of pour cost.

Bartender Battle #2

Bartenders had 5 minutes to create a cocktail using Olmeca Altos Tequila and at least three ingredients from a secret basket of ingredients.  Seems easy?  Not so much.  5 minutes is not a lot of time when the ingredients are laid out a minute before.  Working in a foreign well is already a challenge, but not knowing the ingredients and the limited time makes this challenge very difficult.  I think of it on the same level as a Top Chef quick fire challenge.

Bartender Battle #3

The last battle was the Secret Style competition.  The bartenders had full range of the bar as long as they used one spirit from Pernod Ricard.  The bartenders were given the style and had 5 minutes to create a cocktail in that style. We could have picked spirit forward cocktails, sour cocktails, spritzers, martinis etc… We settled on beer cocktails.

I can go on and give you the play-by-play with results, but that would not be fun. Instead watch the video!


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History of Latin Cocktails Tasting Event

Posted on July 25, 2014

Sea180 Latin Cocktails

Everyone knows me as the wine guy.  After all the blog says Maurice’s Wine Cru.  Naturally you would expect me to blog about wine.  However, in my job I oversee the beverage programs for the Cohn Restaurant Group.  Spirits and beers are part of my daily routine.  Although I spend a lot of time chatting about wine, I spend the majority of my day working with spirits.  In fact today & tomorrow I am going to our newest restaurant OB Warehouse and training the new staff on the history of beer and spirits.  Before I really got into wine, I was bartending.  I was working in a Nuevo Latino restaurant in San Francisco, back when it was really “Nuevo”, and making Latin cocktails.  This was just prior to the Mojito craze. Tequila has always been my spirit of choice, thus working there was very rewarding.  I soon left and began my journey into wine, but never once forgetting about my favorite spirit, Tequila.

Fast forward a decade and a half; when Sea180 opened in Imperial Beach, we knew that a lot of our guests were of a Latin American descent and many lived 5 minutes away, south of the border.  The GM, Sheehan McCoy, created a bar menu with a Latin flair complimenting the “Baja Med” cuisine.  Infused rum and tequila soon became a big part of the cocktail program.  Sheehan was very creative in his infusions and created Infusion Thursdays where he offered discounts on infused cocktails such as banana brulee rum.  These cocktails are derived from the classic Latin cocktails such as the Margarita, the Mojito and Daiquiri.  Behind each cocktail comes years and years of evolution.  The history of spirits is a murky one as distillation occurred in several parts of the world about the same time.  However, spirits such as Tequila, Pisco, Rum and Cachaca are deeply ingrained in the history and culture of the Latin American nations of the Caribbean, Central and South America.

The Mojito took America by storm in the 1990’s-2000’s.  Little do people know is that is was first created by sailors to cure dysentery.  The Margarita has a slew of stories around its creation.  Who knows which is true, but it’s fun to hear them all.  The Caipirinha is a Brazilian cocktail that made a comeback in recent years.  Cachaca is a Brazilian rum which we see little of in the States, however, Margarita lovers I have a new drink for you.  The battle over the best Pisco Sour is still being debated between the Chileans and Peruvians.  Both use grape spirit for this classic cocktail and the variations are ever so slight.  Maybe Chile makes better Pisco, but the Peruvians make a better Pisco Sour.  And Finally, we will talk about the Daiquiri.  This cocktail has probably evolved the most.  We will learn about the different styles and how Ernest Hemingway changed the cocktail forever.

On August 2nd, Sea 180 Coastal Tavern will be holding an event in which we will teach the history of these Latin cocktails and spirits.  After the 30-45 min class, guests will head to the roof top deck and get to take part in creating their own Margarita, Pisco Sour or preferred Latin cocktail.  Hors d’oeuvre will be provided by Chef Ken Irvine from the Sea 180 Coastal Tavern kitchen.


To buy tickets to the History of Latin American Cocktails click this link:

Buy Tickets



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Tequila by Jon Boyle

Posted on November 9, 2011

We did a staff training on Tequila. The seminar was put together by Island Prime’s Bar Manager and Mixologist, Jon Boyle.  Jon has worked with the Cohn Restaurant group for many years and has always been focused on thinking outside the box, all the time using the freshest ingredients. He is an amazing teacher and this quick seminar was so helpful for our staff. I hope that you get something out of it.






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