Archives for the month of: October, 2009

Hogwarts Butterbeer (safe for kids)

written by Chris Benjamin, Food & Beverage Director at The Essex

Ah, Halloween. It’s one of the few nights of the year that reality and fantasy collide for not only the children in costumes searching for candy, but for the kids at heart. It’s also a time when we can forget about who we are and truly have fun being someone else.

With Halloween falling on a Saturday this year, well… let’s just say that I’m sure there will be enough Advil, water, and Pepto-Bismol consumed the next day to keep the local pharmacies in business well into the new year.

But why should adults have all the ‘fun’? Kids deserve an interesting beverage, too! And the trend of the mocktail is hip not only for kids who want to pretend to be a little older, but they’re the perfect drinks for expecting mothers and designated drivers (highly recommended, by the way… Just a friendly little plug for the local law enforcement agencies. I drive a blue Subaru, guys.) Mocktails are also great for 18- to 20-year-olds and anyone who doesn’t feel like imbibing, but wants to have something ‘better’ than soda, juice, or water.

Since it’s Halloween I wanted to share a cocktail for kids, which means it needs to be named appropriately. I’m pretty sure most kids these days still love the story of Harry Potter, so in honor of the boy wizard (and thanks to my wife who found the recipe), please enjoy our take on Hogwarts ’ Butterbeer (first mentioned in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). Make the ice cream ahead, and it’s the perfect way to warm up the kiddies after a brisk night of trick-or-treating.


Blue Ghost (NOT safe for kids)

Our second (this time, adult) libation is called a Blue Ghost. My colleague Mark and I spent a half-hour working on this, trying to figure out a way to light it on fire– but the cream didn’t cooperate. Garnish with marshmallows for a ghostly feel. To make the ‘eyes’, dip a straw in food coloring, blue Curacao or grenadine. But bewaaaaare (imagine my ‘spooky’ voice), this drink is not for the faint-hearted. With 6 ounces of liquor in a pint glass, it packs the punch of 3-4 normal drinks. It’s very tasty, but drink too much too fast and you’ll not only be blue, you could very well be a ghost.

Have a very happy and safe Halloween.

Hogwart’s Butterbeer (you know, for kids!)
Serves 8

1 pint vanilla ice cream
¼ cup butter, at room temperature
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ teaspoon butterscotch extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
2 quarts apple cider

1. With egg beater, combine ice cream, butter and spices together and incorporate well in a bowl. Once blended, refreeze. Once it’s re-frozen, go to step two.
2. Heat apple cider to boiling.
3. Add 1 scoop of the ice cream mixture to an Irish coffee mug or a Collins glass.
4. Add the boiling cider.
5. Top with whipped cream.
6. Sip and enjoy. But be careful, kids– it’s hot!

Blue Ghost
Serves 1 (but hold on tight!)

1 ounce Blue Curacao
1 ounce Malibu Rum
1 ounce Bacardi Rum
1 ounce Triple Sec
1 ounce Creme de Cacao (See — multi-use from other recipes for all of you who made the brandy Alexander last week)
1 ounce Creme de Banana (I’ll try and make some more recipes so this doesn’t sit in your liquor cabinet for years)
10 ounces half-and-half
1 ghost marshmallow with cherry and sword pick

Combine all the liquid in a pint glass filled with ice and shake vigorously. Garnish with ghost marshmallow, and then drink. In moderation. And not on an empty stomach– no one likes the spins. Enjoy!


by Chris Benjamin, Food & Beverage Director, The Essex Resort & Spa

“All Cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is Cognac!” These were the inaugural words spoken to me on my first of many adventures with Cognac, one of the finest brandies available on the market.

One of my greatest friends introduced me to this wonderful liquor after a round of golf. “Yak”, as it is sometimes nicknamed, is a fitting beverage after a great meal or after some time spent outdoors, as it warms the insides and is also a great way to promote digestion. Cognac, named for a small, French town near Bordeaux, is the crème de la crème of brandies (and is derived from the Dutch word brandewijn, meaning “burnt wine”). It is made from distilling grape juice, and it is classified as an eau-de-vie (“water of life”), since it is processed through the primary fermentation of grape juice and then through the distillation of the byproduct.

The secret is in the soil, which requires rich deposits of chalk– the more the better. The region around Cognac, and around its neighbor Armagnac to the south, has this key ingredient. The finest brandies are classified based on the region in which the grapes are grown, and the center of the region around Cognac — Grande Champagne — is the best.

They say that Cognac is the finest brandy, but those who appreciate a glass will fall in love with Armagnac. In my opinion, Cognac is smoother and more majestic, but Armagnac has the soul of the beverage with heftier smoke, more aggressive flavors, and a ruggedness that Cognac lacks.

The second secret to success is the amount of time spent in oak. The longer the aging time, the richer and more complex the flavors. Very Superior (VS) Cognacs spend a minimum of two years in oak (though most average four to five years) while Very Superior Old Pale (VSOP) is the next level up, with greater depth of flavors and smokiness, spending a minimum of four years in wood (though industry average is between 10-15).

Extra Old (XO) will probably break most people’s banks, but it is certainly worth the experience. These brandies age for over six years (though industry average is 20 years) and tend to be the most elegant and noteworthy. For those of you who remember the movie Cocktail, when Tom Cruise’s character and his buddy make a bet over a girl, the prize is a bottle of Louis XIII, one of the most expensive Cognacs produced today (complete with a $100 Baccarat Crystal bottle!)

Cognac can be an acquired taste. So to cut down the “burn”, and to make it more accessible to a wider audience, bartenders created the Brandy Alexander. I certainly wouldn’t waste a good XO on this, but the better the Cognac the smoother the flavor.

Brandy Alexanders incorporate crème de cacao (chocolate liqueur), which is a timeless flavor combination. During the holidays, it was a tradition to make truffles containing brandy and a cherry (these have degenerated into “chocolate-covered cherries”). The Brandy Alexander is making a strong comeback — as are many classic cocktails these days — and this one has a slight twist. Just remember the nickname “Yak” when imbibing– this is a drink truly enjoyed in moderation.

The Tavern Brandy Alexander
1 1/2 oz. Cognac
1/2 oz. crème de cacao
6 oz. heavy cream
1/4 oz. Navan Vanilla Cognac

Mix and enjoy.

Flyer for zumba retreat
Make plans now to attend the first ‘Zumba Retreat Weekend’, January 22-24, 2010 at The Essex Resort & Spa!

Spice up your winter with the best of Zumba and pampering at Vermont’s Culinary Resort & Spa. The weekend fun includes:
• Spa Treatments
• Latin American Dance Party
• Private Movie Viewing at the Essex Cinemas
• Private cocktail and dinner party
• ‘Hip to Strip’ and Zumba Classes

2 Zumba Master Classes:
‘Zumba Toning’ with Kelly Bullard
‘Aqua Zumba’ with Maria Jimena Padilla-Browning

Weekend package:
$579 per person, single occupancy
$468 per person, double occupancy
(Price includes all of the above, plus two night stay at the Essex, all meals, and one treatment at Spa at The Essex.)

For more information, email Allison at or call The Essex at 802.878.1100.


Sure, we had an uncharacteristically rainy summer, but the payoff is more than enough to make up for it.

There’s nothing quite like fall foliage in Vermont.

All of that rain fed our lovely trees and our guests are reaping the benefits– getting to see all that gold, orange, and red as the foliage season nears peak.

If you’ve never experienced it, it’s definitely a must-see, and Vermont (in our extremely biased opinion) has the best show around. With plenty of scenic roadways for you to travel, it’s easy to spend the better part of a day (or weekend) enjoying Mother Nature’s fireworks.

There’s still another week or two of some great color for you to see. Or, you can already start planning ahead for next year.

So why The Essex?

First off, we’re set on 18 acres, so our ‘grounds’ don’t consist solely of a huge parking lot, and our next door neighbors are trees and fields—not another hotel or an office park.

We have hiking trails, bike rentals, Saturday night bonfires, and of course there’s the new Spa at The Essex—where you can see acres of gorgeous foliage as you sit getting that manicure. Afterward, swim a few laps in our indoor pool while seeing the maples change color just outside.

Like I said, there’s nothing quite like fall foliage in Vermont. And when you stay at The Essex? Well, it’s even better.


by Chris Benjamin, Food & Beverage Director, The Essex Resort & Spa

Autumn has certainly come in and taken over our world, a prelude to the next longer season ahead. Seems like every day it’s 54 degrees, raining, and windy. The leaves are falling, and old man winter draws ever nearer.

It’s dreary days like these that make me seek out those comfort items that we keep around to lighten our mood and hearts; for some it might be a favorite sweater; others look for a place near the wood stove and a good book; still others might look towards a great comfort meal that was once a favorite as kids (mine happens to be my Dad’s Chicken a la King).  But for others, there’s nothing like having a solid cocktail in their hand.

I’m sure ‘Cork Dork’ Jason Zuliani might argue that a glass of wine is what’s needed, but to many folks in Vermont one of the most comforting beverages is coffee.  Warming on the inside, coffee in moderate amounts is also very healthy, recently linked to reducing the risk of colon cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and cavities (if you go sans-sugar).  Of course any beverage can be improved upon, in my opinion, with a little love from some distilled spirits, and liqueurs are the best marriage of flavors.

Liqueurs can be defined as any spirit (usually but not always low in alcohol) that are strongly flavored with either fruit, herbs or nuts and have higher than normal sugar levels (thus the lower alcohol).  Originally intended to be drunk after dinner as a digestif, these spirits are an ideal match for coffee as flavoring agents.  Examples of these types of liqueurs are wide and varied, and most have some an ancient, special recipe that’s been handed down for centuries (The Colonel’s seven herbs & spices has nothing on these guys).

One such liqueur is Grand Marnier, created by Louis-Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle in 1880.  It’s a blend of Cognac (more on this next week) and Citrus Bigaradia, a special orange hailing from the Caribbean.  It’s also one of the ingredients you’ll find in the Essex Warmer, this week’s featured cocktail.  While you’ll only find this at The Essex Resort & Spa, most restaurants carry their own specialty on their dessert menus, so take a look the next time you’re out.

I recommend sipping The Essex Warmer on the porch on a day like today, watching the leaves fall, or hosting friends for a celebration. While you can skimp and get cheaper liqueurs, I don’t recommend it.  The generics utilize more high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavorings than the real stuff, thus why they tend to be cheaper.


The Essex Warmer
3/4 oz Grand Marnier
3/4 oz Bailey’s Irish Cream
3/4 oz Kahlua
6-8 oz Your favorite coffee (6 oz if you want to really taste the liqueur, 8 oz if you’re looking for the sneak attack).

Combine all the ingredients.  Top with whip cream and garnish with three coffee beans (this is traditionally done in Italy with sambuca drinks. The beans represent health, wealth and happiness).

PineappleMartiniby Chris Benjamin, Food & Beverage Director, The Essex Resort & Spa

Vermont is known for producing high-quality products sought-after nationwide: cheese, maple syrup, apples, organic produce and lamb, among others commodities. While our wine program is slowly gaining ground, and our beer is perhaps among the best around, one of the newest ventures is the art of distilleries, or the making of alcohol.

While there are relatively few distilleries throughout the state (at least that are legal; no telling how much moonshine is being produced), the ones that have come to market are continuing with the same quality for which our state is known. One coming to the forefront of recognition and market share: Green Mountain Distillers.

Based out of Stowe, Green Mountain Distillers, with their most notable product being Sunshine Vodka, has recently attained certification as 100 percent organic. I have long been a supporter of this great product, featuring it in many of our drinks at The Essex Resort & Spa, but my support recently increased when I found out who were the masterminds behind it: Tim Danahy and his partner, Harold Faircloth III. Tim and I used to work together in a past lifetime at The Shed Pub & Brewery, where Tim was the master brewer. It was a great reunion and catch-up, and I learned of a couple of new products that have recently been released: the new Organic Lemon and Orange flavored vodkas.

Tim has long been, in my mind, one of the most talented brewers I’ve ever worked with, and I find that same talent has been applied to his vodka. Quadruple distilled for quality, the alcohol is combined with Vermont Spring water to give it a clean, distinct flavor that is perfect as a base for memorable cocktails. At the Essex, we use this vodka in many of our infusions, which is a huge hit and trend in the industry. While the following recipe might not help you for this weekend, it’s a great investment for future and can be brought out to impress your friends any time as it keeps extremely well (though I do recommend keeping it refrigerated to prevent spoilage).

I hope you enjoy the drink, and encourage you to seek out Sunshine Vodka, a great spirit consistent with keeping your buying local, organic and sustainable.


RECIPE: Pineapple Vodka Infusion
Created by Mark Elwell

1 pineapple, cleaned and diced into 1-inch chunks
3 bottles of Sunshine Vodka

Combine Vodka and pineapple in a large container that is tightly covered. Store in a dark, cool place for about a week. Remove the pineapple and push through a juicer (you can also just squeeze the fruit but this gets maximum extraction). If you don’t use the juicer, you can eat the fruit but beware the consequences (in other words, I wouldn’t jump behind the wheel of a car anytime soon).

RECIPE: Pineapple Martini
1-and-one-half oz. pineapple-infused Sunshine Vodka
Three-quarters oz. Malibu Rum
Three-quarters oz. pineapple juice

Fill a pint glass or tumbler with ice. Combine all the ingredients and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled martini glass and serve with a pineapple spear. Sip and remember summer or gulp and forget the winter.