Friday, October 24, 2014

Very Old Fashioned

This isn't actually especially old - it's just the best name I could come up with on short notice.

1 1/2 oz Plantation 20th Anniversary Rum
1/2 oz Laird's Apple Brandy
1/4 oz mezcal (Vida)
1/4 oz pineapple syrup
3 dashes Bitter Truth Celery Bitters

Stir over a large ice cube in an old-fashioned glass.  FUCK GARNISH.  That's the kind of mood I'm in.  Booze in a glass, dammit, and fast!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

TC Cola Syrup

Holy crap, kids.  I didn't originally plan to post about this until after the event it's being designed for, but the first batch turned out so well that I just have to get it down.  In part, that's to remember the exact formulation, but in part it's also just to brag.

The background's simple: I got asked about a month ago to provide drinks for a Halloween party themed for "nostalgia" and decided to try my hand at remixed versions of stuff that would have been slung around in Midwestern dive bars in the mid-80s (it's a young crowd).  Basic, trashy stuff, done in a really thoughtful and original way; the irony is the most delicious part.

I'll share the other drinks later, but I immediately thought of doing a rum-and-coke, since that's one of the first drinks that I came up drinking at underage house parties and shitty dive bars (this was back before I knew about real, quality cocktails).  It would certainly be popular, I thought, and a good way to use up any random spirits guests bring, but it's too easy to grab some 2-liters of Coke and call it a day.  No: I'd have to make my own "cola" syrup for mixing.

So I did, and it's awesome.  A Cuba Libre made with this stuff is killer - I know this, because I'm drinking one right now.

The following will produce just over 2 cups of finished syrup.

2 cups water (use filtered if your tap tastes weird)
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise pod
1 whole nutmeg, smashed into several large pieces
15 cloves
1 tablespoon cut cinchona bark (yup, the same stuff as in tonic water)

Bring the above to a boil and reduce to a simmer.  Cover and let gently simmer for about 30 minutes, swirling occasionally.  In the meantime, add the following to a sealable, heatproof vessel such as a mason jar:

1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon citric acid
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon Fee Brothers Old Fashion Aromatic Bitters

Once the spice "tea" is ready (it should have reduced to about 3/4 of its original volume, be a rich amber color, and smell incredibly aromatic) carefully pour it through a fine-mesh strainer (and a funnel, if you wish) over the dry ingredients.  Stir vigorously to combine, let stand 30 minutes to cool, cover, and shake vigorously to dissolve any remaining sugar.  Keep covered and refrigerated until ready to use.

To dispense, combine 1 part syrup with 3-4 parts soda water to taste.  Stir, pour over ice, and spike with your liquor of choice.

Fuck and yes, kids.  I'm never buying store-bought cola for a party ever again.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Southern Side

I have kind of a contentious relationship with mint.  Keeping some around for use in juleps and such is great, but it always winds up on a top shelf in our fridge, where it remains forgotten until I notice its decidedly brown color.  At that point, it's just gotta get used.

Using up a near-empty bottle of mezcal seemed like an interesting merger, and I vaguely remembered a recipe from Speakeasy that sounded like a good fit - which actually wound up being a Prohibition-era classic from the Savoy Cocktail Book.  I swapped some mezcal in for gin to provide a smoky flavor, and at that point a pineapple syrup seemed only obvious.

1 1/2 oz gin (Tanqueray)
1/2 oz mezcal (Vida)
1/2 oz pineapple syrup
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/4 oz orange juice
2 bunches mint (about 15-20 leaves)

Shake well to pulverize the mint and strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with a strip of orange peel.

If you prefer, you could double-strain this to remove the tiny mint pieces, but I kinda like the texture they provide.  It also provides a nice visual impact, so you'll want to garnish with a mint leaf instead to keep the color.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


The highly-effective pairing of scotch and apple brandy in that last drink got me thinking about other options.  I'm pretty sure I've combined tequila and applejack before, so why not mezcal?  In fact, why not all three?

3/4 oz scotch (Dalmore 12 Year this time)
3/4 oz Laird's Straight Apple Brandy
1/4 oz mezcal (Del Maguey Vida Mezcal Joven)
1/2 oz sweet vermouth (Cinzano again)
1 dash Regan's No. 6 Orange Bitters
1 drop orange blossom water

Stir briefly over ice and strain into an old-fashioned glass.  I don't understand this "garnish".

I tried this originally as a scaffa-style unchilled drink, but the dilution (more than the chilling) really seems to help take the edge off.  I might try this with a bit of chilled water rather than ice next time.

Back To Normal

We had a few friends over yesterday for an evening of food and drink, including some couples that haven't joined us before.  I got to sling drinks all night, and at one point I assembled this one as a change from our pitcher of punch and the mostly bourbon-based cocktails I'd made up to that point.

A couple guys joined me in the kitchen during the processed and looked overly impressed, so I started explaining to them my theory of cocktail remixing.  I'll have to put together a detailed post on this sometime soon, but in brief: you can make any number of "original" drinks simply by swapping similar ingredients out for one another.  A lot of classics were created this way: bartenders started with the Manhattan, swapped out the whiskey for gin to make the Martinez, and then swapped out the sweet vermouth for dry to make the Martini.  It happens all the time!  I actually have a pretty neat book that lays out this entire concept (they even boil it down to about 10 master ratios) which I quite like.  It's a really good pick for novices and I really wish I'd come up with the idea first.

Anyway, this one's a remix of a Manhattan, or a Rob Roy, I suppose.  It substitutes scotch as the core spirit (I'll have to do a single malt scotch post soon...) with a touch of apple brandy for character, and splits the standard sweet vermouth with Cocchi Americano.  Easy.  Assemble as follows:

1 1/2 oz scotch (I used my Macallan 10 Year Fine Oak, but a decent blend's fine too)
1/2 oz Laird's Straight Apple Brandy
1/2 oz sweet vermouth (Cinzano, which is a pretty standard example)
1/2 oz Cocchi Americano
2 dashes Regan's No. 6 Orange Bitters

Stir over ice and strain over a large cube in an old-fashioned glass; garnish with a large swath of orange peel.

The name is a hopefully-recognizable tribute to Mitch Hedberg, specifically one of my favorite one-liners: "I remixed a remix, it was back to normal!"

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Spirits: Burly Bourbons

Well, here we go...

Above all else, I'm a gin guy, but I'll readily make an exception if offered a shot of bourbon, especially high-proof versions.  There's something about the burning, spicy intensity of single-barrel bourbon that I can't get enough of.  Or maybe it's how adding water a few drops at a time and/or plopping in a couple chips of ice is like your own personal study in dilution.

I've been slowly building a collection, and it's always fun to try and compare similar spirits against each other to get a feel for the variation within categories.  The four below are (some) of the bourbons currently residing in my home bar.

Four Roses Single Barrel

100 Proof (50% ABV)
About: Jim Rutledge is a pretty well-known name in bourbon (and golf, but that's a totally separate dude).  He's been Four Roses' brand ambassador and master distiller for over a decade of ownership changes, which is just the latest wild time in the history of a pretty storied brand.  It's a classic bourbon name, and a historic Lawrenceburg, KY distillery, which makes it all the more interesting that it's now owned by Kirin (based in Japan).  Perhaps they're looking for an inside track to cash in on the growing Japanese market for bourbon.  If so, they picked a good brand to start with; standard Four Roses is a solid middle-shelf brand that offers good quality for a reasonable price.  However, while the standard product is bottled from a blend of 10 different mashbills, this Single Barrel version comes from just one, a 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% barley formula which uses a specific yeast strain.  It's also bottled at a moderately higher proof which only enhances its tastiness.

Tasting Notes: Floral on the nose; notes of rose petal (appropriately) with cherry and sutble thyme. Mellow baking spices and caramel stretch out into a long, warm finish with some extended hints of oak and cherry, mostly at the very end. Opens up and mellows out nicely with a bare touch of water, but it's perfectly drinkable without.

Booker's Bourbon
130.6 Proof (65.3% ABV)
About: This is a cask-strength expression from the Jim Beam family of bourbons, named for Booker Noe, father of Fred Noe (the current Beam master distiller).  The Beam empire, which like Four Roses is now owned by a Japanese company (Suntory in this case) actually makes quite a few small-batch bourbons under different labels and names, so chances are you've had a Beam product at some point: Maker's Mark, Knob Creek, Basil Hayden's, and Old Overholt are all theirs, though obviously made from different recipes.  This product is uncut, unfiltered, and bottled straight from barrels aged between 6 and 8 years.  Apparently this comes from Booker's tradition of bottling a special bourbon for close friends and family, which is a fantastic idea (I like giving handmade gifts, but I can't top that).  I personally have a soft spot for Jim Beam; it was my go-to whiskey back before I started getting into spirits, but there's a lot to like here even without the benefit of nostalgia.

Tasting Notes: A big, monstrous motherfucker of a bourbon (which you might expect given the proof). Starts off with some notes of toffee, straw, and spice, then quickly opens up to an intense peppery and charred-wood punch that carries into the finish, backed up eventually by delicate maraschino and herbal notes. Water and perhaps an ice cube are recommended to smooth things out.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed

108.2 Proof (54.1% ABV)
About: Wild Turkey seems to get kind of a bad rap.  To be fair, it used to be cheap rotgut stuff, but today's product is much higher quality.  Their 101-proof Rye is one of my favorite mixing ryes because of how well its flavor stands up in cocktails, and I was sad to see it disappear from the market for a while.  Like Four Roses, it's produced in Lawrenceburg, KY, but it's owned by Campari's parent company (not a Japanese one!) and this expression is not a single-barrel product.  Instead, it's a blending of 6, 8, and 12 year old stocks, bottled without additional dilution.  This makes a very nice result that balances the spiciness of Wild Turkey's other offerings with a more refined richness.  Now, one thing worth noting is that there appears to be a newer release than the one I'm showing here, bottled at a slightly higher 112.8 proof.  I can't speak to that yet, but I found this opinion that it's not quite as good as the older label.  I have seen both on shelves, so you'll want to look for this packaging if you want your experience to match mine.

Tasting Notes: Smells like delicious, sweet caramel, and starts off the same on the palate with subtle vanilla character. Gradually builds to a spicy, oaky finish as it sits on the palate, then backs off slowly with lingering cinnamon, marshmallow, and a slightly vegetal character. I like this one more without water; dilution seems to strip away some of the subtlety.

Elmer T. Lee

90 Proof (45% ABV)
About: I have to admit that when I picked this for my tasting, I thought it was a bit higher proof.  But it's still a quality product, so let's run with it.  This is a Buffalo Trace product, named after their master distiller emeritus, and that alone is testament to its quality.  Buffalo Trace is one of the few well-known American-owned bourbon distilleries (now owned by the Sazerac Company) and they make some pretty wild stuff.  Among their stable is George T. Stagg, one of the most sought-after bourbons out there today, and a curious line of small-batch experimental whiskies that aim to test out a huge range of recipe and aging factors. No surprise, this is quite tasty stuff that's essentially an improved, richer version of their main label drawn from a single barrel.  

Tasting Notes: The lightest of the bunch, so no surprise that it's also the smoothest. Beautiful honey character at the start, hints of orange peel, marshmallow, oatmeal, and white oak later on. Stays light and sweet on the finish, with that same honey character backed up by chamomile flowers. A small amount of water brings out more oak and marshmallow, but also leaves things a bit thin. I'll take mine without.

I might add a few more here - I realized that I missed a big one, my beloved Willett Pot Still Reserve with its wacky, inconveniently-shaped bottle.  Or maybe I'll just have to save it for another round. In the meantime, drink these!