Saturday, February 28, 2015

Randicot Punch

Here's just a random punch recipe; it was good at the time, so I'm recording it verbatim.  Upon further review in the cold light of morning (okay, fine: noon) it could do with a bit of tweaking, but that'll have to wait for later.  I'm out of scotch, or at least blended stuff worth infusing.  No way in hell I'm putting apricots in my Glenrothes.

8 oz apricot-infused blended scotch (Famous Grouse, I believe)
4 oz lime juice
3 oz citrus peel syrup
3 oz gin & tonic syrup
16 oz sparkling water

Combine in a pitcher over large but plentiful ice cubes.  Serve in small glasses.

So, the proportions aren't quite there.  I was totally misremembering David Wondrich's recommended balance of sour, sweet, and strong; first thing I'd do next time would be reduce the sugar.  Maybe simplify down to a combined syrup, but I'd also want to do the peel syrup as an oleo-saccharum if working in bulk, and I'm not sure how to integrate the juniper and tonic.  Or perhaps a little black tea, to emphasize the smokiness of the scotch and soak up some sweetness.  And, the apricot-infused scotch could easily be split into regular old blended stuff and some Rothman & Winter apricot liqueur (yum).  I dunno.  We'll get it there.

The name was just from me doodling around with this "random apricot-flavored" punch.  I like the abbreviated combination.  Sounds like an old Maryland vacation spot, someplace where rich fucks keep "cabins" the size of French chateaus.  Right?  That could just be me.  (Not the chateau, obviously, but the mental image.)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Subway Sour

So you followed my recommendation and turned an unimpressive gifted plonk into a syrup. Here's a nice, straightforward way to use the stuff.

Nothing complicated; this is just a streamlined New York Sour, one of my favorite uncomplicated classic cocktails. This version handily integrates the red wine that would be floated on top in the original.

1 1/2 oz rye or high-rye bourbon (I used Wild Turkey 101 myself, if you're forced to use something 80-proof then bump up to 2 oz)
3/4 oz mulled wine syrup
3/4 oz lemon juice

Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass. No, don't garnish - it's pretty enough on its own.

Saturday, February 21, 2015


Sometimes, in-laws bring over a bottle of red wine in an effort to be helpful. And sometimes, that wine is not good, but you don't want to dump it so as not to offend them. There is a solution to this quandary: make red wine syrup.

After taking that step, I had the bizarre notion for a cocktail composed primarily of altered wine-stuff. This was the result.

2 oz brandy (something decent, but not too fancy; a VS cognac would do nicely, I used Asbach Uralt)
1/2 oz mulled wine syrup*
1/2 oz amontillado sherry
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a large strip of orange peel (blood orange is what I had, so I used that; it looks very pretty in the glass).

*Take about 12 oz of the (red) wine in question, place it into a small saucepan, and place over medium-low heat. Add 1/2 teaspoon each cloves and allspice berries, and 1 1/2 teaspoon crushed cinnamon. Bring to a simmer; add brown sugar to taste (this wine was a sweet red, so it only took about a tablespoon; other reds may require as much as 1/4 cup for balance). Reduce to about half the original volume, strain, and allow to cool. Keep in an airtight container in the fridge.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Spirits: Serious Single Malts

I have extolled the relative virtues of blended scotch before, but truth be told I've increasingly meandered into the refined heights of the real deal: single malt. The term seems a bit arcane and intimidating, but it's quite simple. Legally, whiskey bearing the label must be produced from malted barley, be aged for at least three years, and come from a single distillery. That's it. Like "bourbon", it just denotes a set of standards, not a guarantee of quality or drinkability, although the stuff that makes it to our shores tends to be of decent caliber.

In fact, different regions and producers make such a range of different styles that it's tough to enjoy them all. I personally am blessed by a local pub with an impressive scotch list and a healthy pour, which has enabled me to sample my way about. My wife and I have cheerfully nicknamed the place "Four Scotches" after... well, you can guess.

Thanks to these shenanigans, I've managed to zero in on my own preferences, and collect a few bottles that suit me nicely indeed. Not all whiskey-producing regions of Scotland are represented (notably, there's not a single Islay or Lowland product present) so this very much represents my tastes. They also reflect my price point; single malt tends to be more expensive than blended, but nothing here retails for more than about $60 in my local market, making them relatively affordable. Fancy booze is all fine and dandy, but I'd rather have two bottles of high-quality stuff than one bottle of ultra-premium or limited-edition or whatever.

Speaking of: on to the high-quality stuff.

Glenrothes Select Reserve

About: Based in the distillery-rich region of Speyside, Glenrothes is a bit unique in that they frequently produce vintage bottlings produced only from a single year's malt. A lot of distilleries blend whiskies from multiple years to create a desired flavor (and yes, this is allowed under the definition of "single malt" - but the youngest malt in the blend must be as old as the year statement on the label). This specific whiskey, which appears to be their entry-level model, is actually produced with the blending method, to exemplify the "house style", and the result is intriguing. As scotches go, it's on the lighter side; still nicely complex, but lacking the overt smoky character that can drive away novice scotch drinkers. It's a fine one with which to start exploring the single malt world.

Tasting Notes: I get some really big notes of dried apricot on the nose with this one; it's weird for a scotch to be so aggressively fruity. There's also a little bit of coconut, oak, and vanilla there too, but damn, that apricot. (Fortunately, I really like dried apricot.) The palate starts off sweet, with vanilla, orange, dried figs, and a sort of amaretto-ish almond roundness. Things get more oaky from there, but not too much; there's a little bit of marshmallow and raw-spirit pepper character too. The finish hangs onto that pepper, and the amaretto sweetness comes back, but the whole thing fades out pretty quickly, leaving a curiously airy sensation behind.

Highland Park 12 Year

About: Highland Park is an intriguing distillery for a couple big reasons. It's located in Orkney, a northern island cluster that could arguably be construed as its own sub-region (though I believe it's typically considered part of the Highlands). The distillery malts their own barley, which as I'm reading in Adam Rogers' Proof is quite uncommon these days. (Malting, by the way, is the process by which barley is encouraged to germinate, breaking down some its starches into sugars that can be fermented by yeast.) Keeping with the cant towards tradition, the whiskey is aged exclusively in ex-sherry casks; a lot of newer producers adopt ex-bourbon casks as either a full or partial substitute. Those fun facts don't add up to an especially weird product; they produce a well-rounded, balanced scotch with an unmistakable smoky core.

Tasting Notes: The thing I dig about Highland Park is that it's classically, unmistakably scotchy, but not overpowering, as I think a lot of Islay whiskeys can be. The nose has notes of dried hay and almonds, with a little whiff of iodine and campfire; on the palate, there's a balance between apples, toffee, toasted nuts, grain, and a little touch of black tea. The peat largely comes out on the finish, which stays lingering and smoky. It's the kind of finish that invites another sip, which I am probably excessively happy to take.

Macallan Fine Oak 10 Year

About: Macallan is one of the bigger names in the single malt game, and their core bottlings (the 12-year is pretty common) are among my go-to scotches when dealing with a standard restaurant's limited selection. In the last decade or so, they've also started releasing a "Fine Oak" series, aged in three different types of barrels (European and American sherry casks, plus American bourbon casks) as opposed to their sherry-only core product. This makes for a somewhat subtler whiskey, especially this 10 Year version, which oddly enough is marketed for use in cocktails. I'm not one to turn down a cocktail, but single malt is generally overkill (when there are so many suitable blends out there). I prefer to think of this as an example of how pleasant a relatively-young whiskey can be; not everything has to be aged for a couple decades to hit its peak.

Tasting Notes: This is on the light and sweet side of scotch, but in a balanced and pleasant way. Citrus, grains and fresh hay are big on the nose. It's much the same on the palate, full of orange marmalade, honey, malt, and touches of vanilla, toasted coconut, and oak. That oak is a bit more dominant on the finish, which is where you're reminded that this is a younger whiskey with a slightly raw and peppery character, plus a sort of butterscotch note that reminds me of nothing more than a Worther's Original. Weird, but good with dessert.

The Balvenie 14 Year Caribbean Cask

About: This is a funky one, and a really good example of creative finishing, the practice of aging whiskey in a distinctly-flavored cask in order to bring its flavor into the resident liquor. Like Highland Park, The Balvenie (I guess it's always capitalized that way?) seems to be big on tradition. They malt their own barley, sure; but they take it two steps further by growing their own grain and by maintaining a staff of coopers (or barrelmakers) and a dedicated coppersmith for their stills. Dang, dude, that's commitment. And then they go and do a totally crazy thing like age this stuff in rum-finished barrels. I'm not quite sure how one follows from the other, but I'm glad they decided to occasionally buck tradition. Be warned: because of this small-batch nature, it's also the most expensive one of this little roundup, so you'll pay for the privilege. But...

Tasting Notes: There is no better way to explain than by saying that this stuff smells intensely like rum. Not just a little, but distinctively, predominantly. And not just your bullshit clean Bacardi stuff either - good, funky, sailor-style rum. It mellows out a little bit with time and exposure, revealing the oaky, nutty, leathery presence of the base spirit. The rum is also the first thing that hits your tongue with a spiced sweetness, full of molasses, allspice, and dried pineapple. But that transitions seamlessly into a more traditional scotchiness, with oak, grain, caramel, and a little cinnamon. The finish is all about dates and light smoke, plus a really cool lingering hogo character, the distinctive funk that you get from pot-still rum.

I'm sorry - can you tell I absolutely love this stuff? It pulls a really neat trick by successfully merging two categories of spirit that I would never have put together. But oh, what possibilities that opens.

Dalmore 12 Year

About: A cool bottle here, obviously, the stag's head on which always reminds me of Skyfall. This bottle gets the distinction of being the only northern Highlands whiskey on this list. Three out of the five are from the concentrated Speyside region; Glenrothes and Macallan are practically across the street from each other, and Balvenie isn't much further away. But the Highlands are the part of Scotland that you visualize when you think about the country, the green, misty part with rolling hills. They make an appropriately robust and rustic whiskey, and I also like the level of detail they provide about its production. When I want a nice, rich whiskey, I reach for this one; it drinks like it's years older than it really is.

Tasting Notes: The nose is especially rich on this one, a lot like a good brandy, with tons of butterscotch, toffee, and a little bit of roasted coffee bean. The palate features orange peel, hazelnut, raisin, vanilla, and some toasted biscuit; that turns a lot smokier as it sits, developing a hefty dose of peat and some burned-caramel bitterness with a little nutmeg. The vanilla and coffee flavors carry through into a long and smoky finish, which is there to make sure you damn well know you're drinking scotch. And the good stuff, too.

So, folks, there you have it. I can't claim that this is a super-refined list, but it was fun to put together, and I expect that it will only keep growing! Even while working on this, I've tried a few other whiskies down at my local watering hole and expanded my horizons yet further. If I find something really good, you can be assured that it'll show up here.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Valentine's Cocktail

I'm really not a big fan of Valentine's Day, it being, in my opinion, a manufactured holiday created mostly to sell sappy pablum in a ridiculous attempt to relieve post-holiday winter doldrums. (Wow, that got bleak quickly.) But, setting expectations low in the first place provides me with the ability to pleasantly surprise my wife by applying even a modest amount of effort.

On Friday, I took a much-needed day off from the day job, which pretty much committed me to making some kind of romantic gesture. So: flowers. And, playing more to my skill set, a drink utilizing both sparkling wine (the beverage of romance!) and blood orange, one of her favorite fruits.

Hence, this very pretty concoction! (Served in equally-pretty, recently acquired coupes!)

1 1/2 oz rose petal-infused gin*
1/2 oz spiced cranberry syrup
1/2 oz blood orange juice
1/2 oz lemon juice

Shake and strain into a coupe glass, then top with 1-2 oz sparkling wine to taste. Garnish with a large coin of peel from the expended blood orange. (I was going to trim the peel into a heart shape, but figured that would be a bit too much.)

*A relatively simple one: take 1 tablespoon of dried rose petals per 4 ounces of gin, combine in a glass vessel, and infuse for about 24 hours. Strain through a coffee filter, pressing gently to extract all the gin, and for every 4 ounces of gin add a drop (yes, a single drop) of rose water and three drops of Fee Brothers Rhubarb Bitters (easily omitted, but I like the bit of freshness they add).

So far as a name for this one, I'm leaving the post untitled because I can't decide between "Gun & Rose" or "Love Gun" (this being a variation of the French 75, a drink named after a cannon). The former is great as a reference, but I like the suggestiveness of the latter.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Gin & Tonic, Extra Short

I've had an odd idea rattling around my head lately. I thought it might be a fun challenge to try replicating the flavor of cocktails in a non-alcoholic syrup form. Hence, this afternoon I cooked up a tonic syrup with gin botanicals, aiming to mimic the flavors of a classic gin & tonic. This wound up quite convincing; the recipe's not perfect yet, but I'll reproduce it below.

Of course, beyond the obvious application of a G&T without any actual gin involved, this also offered the possibility of integrating those same flavors into different drinks. My first foray was simply inverting the ratios of gin and tonic, creating an old-fashioned formula that tasted like a compact version of the classic highball.

2 oz gin (Citadelle Reserve, to enhance the lovely golden color, but any London Dry would do fine)
1/3 oz gin & tonic syrup*
3 dashes Fee Brothers Orange Bitters (I would really have liked a quality lemon bitters here, but didn't have one)

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass; top with a scant dash of soda, just for a little fizz. Garnish with a lemon twist.

*Take the peel of 4-5 large lemons and muddle in a large bowl with 2 cups of sugar. Set aside and crush 1/2 cup of juniper berries, 1 tablespoon of black peppercorns, and 1 tablespoon of coriander seeds. Add these to a saucepan along with 1/4 cup of cinchona bark and 1 tablespoon of black tea leaves and bring the whole thing to a boil, then simmer until the volume reduces to about 2 cups. Add the lemon-sugar mixture, stir until the sugar dissolves, and pour through a fine strainer. Bottle in an airtight container and refrigerate. Next time, I'm planning to add a bit of fresh thyme and possibly a touch of lavender; maybe green tea instead of black, too.

Hey look, new glassware! My wife directed us to a thrift shop way out in a distant suburb searching for a coffee table, where I promptly got distracted by a surprising array of vintage glassware. A couple hours later, we arrived home with the coffee table plus enough new coupes to cover almost the entire thing. (Shown below. Not shone: the punch set, also vintage style. Yes, I bought a second punch set.) Yay! Expect these decorative varieties to start popping up in pictures here soon.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Negroni Bastardo

A nice, easy take on a Negroni Sbagliato, one of my favorite little-known low-proof wonders. A great patio drink, or a tasty way to avoid getting too drunk - your choice.

3/4 oz sweet vermouth
3/4 oz Casoni 1814 (or comparable; Aperol would actually be best)
3/4 oz reposado tequila (Espolon)
3 oz sparkling wine (a lovely gifted blanc de blanc this time; normally I'd be using cava)
3 dashes Bitter Truth Xocolatl Bitters

Build over copious ice in a tall-ish glass; doesn't really matter what kind as long as it will hold your beverage. Garnish with a grapefruit peel (that's lemon in the picture, because I didn't have any grapefruit around, but I'm expressing a preference for once).

I'm making this as a pitcher-sized cocktail for the first warm day when we have people over - just you watch. Nice easy proportions make this easy to scale up or down.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Honey Nut Manhattan

Another walnut bourbon drink. This took a bit more tweaking and I'm not quite sure if I'm happy with it yet. There may be some future versions of this one...

1 1/2 oz walnut-infused bourbon
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
1/4 oz amontillado sherry
1/4 oz honey syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash Bitter Truth Xocolatl Mole bitters

Stir and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cocktail cherry, an orange twist, or nothing at all.

(Update: I hate this name, for the record. This is what happens when you try to name drinks after having a couple.)

Walnut Blossom

I experimented tonight with a small batch of walnut-infused bourbon; this was one of the more successful results, a variation on the classic Bee's Knees. It's actually closer to the formula of a Gold Rush, but that's a more modern drink.

1 1/2 oz walnut-infused bourbon
3/4 oz honey syrup
1/2 oz lemon juice
1 small dash Angostura bitters

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist, if you insist; or maybe a walnut half dropped into the bottom of the glass.

I'd like to try this as a toddy too - but I'll need more walnut bourbon for that.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Peat & Molasses

We had what I'd have to describe as a dinner party last night, and in planning the menu I had a bit of a revelation. Instead of driving myself nuts trying to create individual cocktails for our guests while cooking at the same time, why not use what I learned about creating bottled cocktails and batch something out to keep everybody happy? This worked out as well as I'd hoped, though it was a thirsty bunch, and I had to refill the pitcher with my mystery cocktail and a pitcher-sized Corey Taylor in short order. Still, kept everybody's glasses full and kept me sane. Might be a new party trick!

I'll include both the full bottled proportion and a single-serving recipe below.

16 oz (2 oz) amber rum (Appleton VX)
6 oz (3/4 oz) blended scotch (Famous Grouse)
6 oz (3/4 oz) sweet vermouth (Cocchi Torino)
2 oz (1/4 oz) amontillado sherry
2 oz (1/4 oz) Casoni 1814 (Aperol or Cappelletti would work too)
8 oz water (omit for single-serving)

For the bottled version, combine everything and keep refrigerated until ready to serve, then add to a pitcher with several large ice cubes. For the single-size version, stir and strain over a large cube in an old-fashioned glass.

Corey Taylor

I followed Dave Arnold's advice for coriander syrup, which proves to be an interesting replacement for ginger syrup. It's a neat substitution in one of my favorite highballs.

2 oz blended scotch (Famous Grouse this time)
1 oz coriander syrup*
3/4 oz lime juice
3-4 oz soda water (to taste)

Build over ice in a tall glass. Large ice cubes are recommended.

*This is a simplified version of a recipe from Liquid Intelligence, but it's still a bit more involved than my typical syrup method, so I figure I should explain. Combine 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cups water, 1/2 cup of coriander seeds, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, and 1-2 whole dried arbol chilies in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring the whole thing up to a simmer until the sugar dissolves and then blend to break up the solids. You can do this in an actual blender (and I would have with a larger batch) or very carefully apply a hand blender. Remove from the heat and let the whole thing infuse until you're happy with the flavor, at which point run it through a strainer and a coffee filter while it's still warm.

I was terrified that this name would turn out to be a character from 90210 or something, but he's actually a heavy metal guy. Much more appropriate!