Archives for the month of: November, 2009

Written by Chris Benjamin, director of food and beverage at the Essex Resort and Spa.

There’s quite a few things I would wake up at 3:30 a.m. to do: Go hunting, go to work, comfort my kids, stop a burglar, watch the sunrise…

But there’s one thing I would not get up at 3:30 a.m. to do– wait in line at shopping malls to get the best deal. I just don’t get it.

Is it really worth the aggravation, the frustration, the bruises and lacerations from getting hip checked to save a couple of bucks? In my opinion, not a chance.

For many Americans, though, Black Friday is a holiday in and of itself — my wife included (she was the cute, short one throwing her elbows out to get the latest fashion for her niece). Not me. On Friday I was at work.

If you’re like me, you’ll be happy to know there is an alternative to fighting the mobs in the malls this holiday season. You will still come home with fantastic and unique gifts that are often overlooked but never underappreciated: high-end liquor.

Instead of waiting in line for an hour, you can take a mere 15 minutes and have some spectacular gems that guests will simply love. Here are some of my top picks for gift-giving this holiday season:

Gran Patron Platinum or Gran Patron Burdeos — for the Tequila drinker in your life. There’s probably nothing else that I’ve tasted that comes close in terms of smoothness or flavor. Both come beautifully packaged (though the Burdeos is another level). The Platinum has a nice maple box and black velvet bag. The Burdeos comes in a handmade black walnut box, with a suede blanket, crystal bee stopper, and a corkscrew. The price tags are pretty incredible ($206 and $599 respectively), but this is a great gift for the folks who have everything and appreciate quality.

Jack Daniels Single Barrel Ducks Unlimited — You knew I would write about Jack, right? Not only is this a quality product, but it comes in a beautiful tin with two glasses and some very nice artwork. A great gift for the avid hunter (especially bird hunters), the Jack itself is smooth and delicious. Cost is about $76.50, which is very reasonable.

Amarula Cream Liqueur — A cream-based liqueur with hints of caramel and chocolate, a perfect drink for before bed or with coffee. Also, it’s said to be an aphrodisiac– Amarula trees are found in Africa, and supposedly the male elephant knocks down the fruit, devours it, and then goes off to find the ladies. Also, it is a tradition in Africa that getting married under the tree blesses the marriage with fertility. Pretty reasonable at just over $20.

St. Germaine — My newest favorite. This is an eau de vie that is extremely delicate and fragrant. It goes excellently with rose champagne and soda water and can be used in almost any wine. It’s great for the holidays and parties, and due to its fairly low alcohol level, it’s perfect for controlling the pace of consumption for your guests. Suggested retail price: $32.99.

Woodford Reserve Bourbon — This is the nation’s oldest and smallest bourbon distillery as well as the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby. It comes in nips as a great stocking stuffer, or for just over $30 you can get it in a gift pack.

Thatchers Apple Spice Ginger — New to Vermont (it will probably be out in a couple of weeks) is this new liquor that’s low proof and high flavor. Mixes great with vodkas or bourbons or even hot apple cider.

So, make this year’s holiday shopping easy, and check out your local Vermont Liquor Agency for these great liquors (if you can’t find it locally, stop by Winooski Beverage Warehouse; my friends George, Jennifer and Jeff can get just about anything you need). I’ll continue writing about some of the top liquors that you can buy throughout the holidays (they only give me so much space to write) so continue to read for more gift ideas.

Don’t forget to stuff the stockings with the little nips (Patron just released a 50 ml that is damn cute and makes a good bud vase when you’ve drank the Tequila).

Happy shopping!

Written by Chris Benjamin, food and beverage director at The Essex.

Of all the holidays we celebrate, Thanksgiving is perhaps my favorite. It’s the one holiday that isn’t over- marketed. It doesn’t require spending gobs of money, and it still holds it original purpose– taking time to reflect on the year and giving thanks for the many blessings we receive in our life.

It’s amazing how difficult it is to find the time to appreciate all the good things that happen in our lives, especially when the concerns of the world, economy, war and everyday struggles bare their full weight on our shoulders.

At Thanksgiving, appreciate not only the bountiful food and beverages that laden the table but the friends and family that you love and hold dear.

Every year just before dinner, we stand in a circle as a family and say one thing for which we are grateful. This year I would have to say that I’m grateful for not only my wonderful wife and two kids, but for the opportunity to share my recipe and thoughts with all of my loyal readers. I appreciate the encouragement, the compliments, and the questions that I receive from all of you, and look forward to continuing to bring you trendy concoctions.

In the meantime– for this week’s selection, I wanted to find something with mass appeal, that works as an aperitif before dinner, and is seasonally appropriate, and while I’m sure there’s a pumpkin martini recipe out there somewhere, the other fruit that comes to mind this time of year is the cranberry.

Sweet, tart and easy-to-come-by, these little flavor bombs are just the thing to drink before dinner. It will awaken the palate and get you ready for a sumptuous feast.

My best wishes for a very safe and satisfying Thanksgiving to you and all of your loved ones.

Cranberry Margarita

2 oz. tequila (try Patron Silver)
½ oz. Cointreau
⅛ cup frozen cranberries, rinsed
2 tablespoons sugar
Splash of lime juice
2-3 oz. cranberry juice

Combine ingredients in a blender and puree. In a shallow bread plate, mound some sugar. Using a lime, rim the edge of a cocktail glass or Collins glass and dip glass into the sugar. Fill with cranberry margarita, garnish with lime wedge. Sip and enjoy!

UPDATE 12/1/09: We’re sorry. This package has sold out and is no longer available.


Calling all fans of country superstar Keith Urban! (Heck… calling all fans of good music!)

The Essex is pleased to offer a special, exclusive package offer for you to see Keith himself at next year’s Champlain Valley Fair.

Our Keith Urban Ticket Package includes:

  • Two nights in Traditional guest room
  • Two center stage Gold Circle (center stage, 1st ten rows) tickets to country music star Keith Urban in concert at the Champlain Valley Exposition, September 4th, 2010
  • ‘Fresh Start’ Breakfast for two daily
  • Two-for-one dinner in Butler’s Restaurant & Tavern one night of stay
  • $25 Spa at the Essex Voucher*
  • Unlimited use of the indoor/outdoor heated pools, hot tub & fitness center
  • Discounts on golf at Links at Lang Farm and shopping at Essex Shoppes & Cinema
  • 20% discount on fun, hands on Cook Academy classes

Rate: $649.00*

* Plus tax. Limited rooms available. Two night minimum stay required. $200 non-refundable deposit taken at time of booking. $25 Spa voucher valid when booking $100 or more in services.

Click here to book this exclusive package now!


By Chris Benjamin. Benjamin, director of food and beverage at the Essex Resort and Spa.

It’s hunting season– that time of year when men set forth in pursuit of game, beer, and a return to nature, and the women gather to celebrate a break from the guys.

Though fairly new to hunting (I finished the safety course decades ago but only recently started hunting fervently), I have fallen in love with this time of year– the time when I can catch up with the guys, eat a little venison, consolidate my thoughts in the freezing cold while waiting for the elusive buck, and catch up on a little exercise. (Let’s face it– all these drinks do not come without consequence.)

I have learned that hunters have limited food groups at camp: beer, venison (if you’re lucky), beer, canned food, straight liquor, coffee, and did I mention beer? So, it may be difficult to put together a nice cocktail at camp. But then a light bulb went off. Everyone drinks coffee, but no one is adding flavoring agents.

So, this week, I’m adding a little twist to your regular cup of joe (but please don’t drink before the hunt. We certainly don’t need hammered people out in the woods with high-powered weapons.) One or two of these after the hunt can make the warmth last a little longer in your toes — especially if your boots, like mine, aren’t weather-proof.

This drink is also great for the “hunting widows”, because it’s not only low in alcohol but also very flavorful.

Best of luck to us all during this most wonderful time of the year!

The B&B Hot Chocolate/Coffee

6 ounces black coffee or 1 packet of hot chocolate mix and hot water
1.5 ounces Butterschnapps
1.5 ounces Baileys Irish Cream
Whipped cream to garnish (if you’re around a fridge)

Combine and serve. Garnish with the whip cream if you have it.


By Chris Benjamin. Benjamin, director of food and beverage, The Essex Resort & Spa

The holiday season is right around the corner, so here are some tips on stocking the home bar if you’re entertaining family and friends this year. If you’ve been creating the recipes in my recent columns, you’re certainly on the right track to building the perfect entertainment bar. There are certainly some things that every bar should have, so you can cater to most folks’ tastes:

1) Have the liquor basics.

Basic white liquors:

  • Vodka
  • Gin
  • Rum
  • Tequila
  • Triple sec

(You can also add dry and sweet vermouth for the martini and Manhattan drinkers).

With these base liquors and the right mixers, you can pretty much accomplish anything you need and most of the regular drinks friends will request.

Brown liquors:

  • Scotch
  • Bourbon
  • Whiskey

This should satisfy the requests of those pesky uncles or father-in-laws (my father-in-law is a big fan of Old-Fashioneds).

In terms of liqueurs, look for flavoring agents that also will serve as an after-dinner drink. Cream cordials, like Baileys, and chocolate-flavored liqueurs, such as Kahlua, are good mixes to have as they allow versatility for sweeter, cream-based drinks. They’re also are excellent flavoring agents for the after-dinner coffee or digestif.

2) “Well” vs. “Call”

I’m frequently asked which liquors are must-have (“call”) and which you can skimp on (“well”). Truth is, it really depends on the crowd, with a couple of exceptions.

Rum and tequila are almost exclusively used in blended drinks, so you can almost always go bottom-of-the-barrel with them.

Vodka and gin drinkers, on the other hand, tend to be very particular. If you’re making a basic punch, use the “well” version. For martinis, go with something better like Absolut, Ketel One, or the crème de la crème, Grey Goose.

Gin is very similar as most people like it with tonic. Use Bombay, Beefeater, or my personal favorite, Tanqueray.

Triple sec is mostly used as blending, so “well” is fine. Vermouth, too.

When it comes to Bourbon, Whiskey and Scotch, every person has a different taste. Jack Daniels and Jim Beam are safe Bourbon choices; it helps to have some Canadian LTD or Canadian Club around for anyone who has relatives from the north, eh?

For the Scotch drinker, it’s best to get a middle-of-the-road line like a Glenfiddich or Glenlivet, but be warned that Scotch drinkers are the hardest to please because the brands are so varied.

When it comes to cordials, you can get away with the lower-end stuff such as Kamora (for Kahlua). I’d stick with Baileys or Frangelico, though, if possible– the imitations are pretty poor.

3) Mixers

Some basic things will take care of your entertainment needs. Coke, Sprite and ginger ale are good soda choices. Grab some orange juice and cranberry juice (and pineapple, if you’re going all out), some half and half for cream drinks, and a few lemons and limes for garnish.

Keep in mind that you probably have some great garnishes in your kitchen already– chocolate syrup is great in White Russians and Mudslides, maple syrup can be used in tons of coffee drinks drizzled over whipped cream, sugar is great for rimming martini glasses and for muddling, salt is crucial for margaritas, and maraschino cherries work well for Manhattans and as garnishes on tropical drinks.

4) The tools of the trade

You don’t need a whole array of different tools here. A good pint glass and plastic keg cup work well for shaken drinks. A strainer is important for martinis. (If you’re more advanced, you can just hold the keg cup and pint glass horizontally to your drink glass, and make a small gap between the two to allow the drink to come out).

Use a channel knife for twists, but a paring knife can work, too. In terms of glassware, martini glasses are a must-have. Any sized tumbler should work for mixed drinks, and you should have at least a few small rocks glass on hand.

5) Have fun.

Bartending isn’t just about mixing the drinks, it’s also about the show that you put on. When shaking a drink, hold it high. Flip some glasses around if you can, and remember to interact with your guests. Cocktails taste a lot better when served with flourish, fun and a smile. I’ve included a recipe this week that’s pretty tasty, easy to make, and will appeal to a broad audience.




1 ¼ ounces vodka (the better the vodka the better the drink)
¾ ounces Dark Chocolate Godiva Liqueur (or any dark-chocolate flavored agent)
¾  ounces Navan Vanilla flavored Cognac
¾ ounces Toasted Marshmallow Syrup (you can find this in many coffee shops)
Chocolate syrup
Crushed graham crackers
Mini marshmallows


Combine vodka, Godiva, Navan and syrup in a pint glass filled with ice. Shake vigorously. Rim a martini glass with chocolate syrup. Add the graham cracker crumbles to a small plate and dunk the rim of your glass into the crumbles. Strain the drink into the glass and garnish with mini marshmallows. Sip and enjoy.