Sunday, February 28, 2016

Tommy's Old Fashioned

Recently, I bought myself a nice-looking decanter set, so of course I had to come up with a pre-mixed cocktail to fill it. Such concoctions, much like my now-standard mix-it-yourself party punch trick, are great for gatherings (or laziness) because they can be self-served, freeing up yourself as the host to mingle and partake yourself. This sort of thing is arguably even better because it can sit on the bar indefinitely and be simply poured to serve.

This one is named after my newborn son, because it's based on the three-part blend of spirits that I packed away in a flask for our stay in the hospital (because fold-out couches are horrifically uncomfortable and I needed some help getting to sleep after the first night). The liqueurs and bitters are bolt-on additions, but solid ones that I stand by.

The following will just about fill up a clean 750 mL bottle of your choice, because I'm assuming that you have such a bottle available. Dig an empty wine bottle out of the recycling and rinse it out if you don't. That will make for somewhere between 10 and 16 drinks depending on how liberally you pour them.

8 oz Cabin Still bourbon (another basic bourbon of your choice would be acceptable)
8 oz Laird's Straight Apple Brandy (no substitutions)
8 oz Mellow Corn (ditto)
1/2 oz maraschino (Luxardo, naturally)
1/2 oz Casoni 1814
1/2 oz cinnamon syrup
12 dashes Regan's No. 6 Orange bitters
12 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine in a decanter or empty bottle of your choice, stopper, and store on your bar indefinitely. To serve, pour over a large ice cube and stir to your desired dilution and temperature.

And yes: twenty-one years from now, I'll gladly serve him one of these, assuming that both I and the recipe survive to that day. At this point, that seems quite a long way off.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Spirits: Even More Weird Gins

That's right, kids: even more weird-ass gins for your perusal. I'm trying to build a very off-kilter catalog here.


About: From what I can tell, this might be an exclusive import from Total Wine & Spirits, who consistently surprise me by carrying some otherwise hard to find stuff. Information on how it's produced is a bit difficult to come by, but its listing at the retailer notes that it's a modern gin, flavored with cucumber and rose petals, which puts it into direct competition with the long-dominant Hendrick's. I was a little skeptical, but pleasantly surprised to find that it's less aggressively floral than expected. And it retails for maybe 60% of Hendrick's typical price. It's certainly not small-batch in any sense, but I don't let that bother me when I'm buying Tanqueray, so why should it here?

Tasting Notes: Esmé doesn't stray too far from the London Dry formula, and the nose is nothing too distinctive, except for some floral-perfume notes that blow off quickly. The palate is quite soft, with a creamy marshmallow character reminiscent of a decent vodka. The botanicals start creeping in after the sweetness eases, but they don't include much juniper flavor, more an indistinct mix of dried herbs and a bit of citrus peel. Pretty quickly, the bitter-grassy flavor of cucumber takes over, supplemented by a little pepper and capped off by a distinctive wash of rose petal. That combination isn't exactly my favorite, but it's not overwhelming here and there's not much competition from the other botanicals. Fans of Hendrick's or newcomers to gin will probably find this suitable, and I like it with a simple mixer, but it's no substitute for a London Dry.

G'Vine Nouaison

About: This one's a bit of a blast from the past for me; I originally tried this gin back in the very first days of this blog, way before I had a clue what was going on. Unfortunately, I didn't record any tasting notes, so it's impossible to know how much either my taste buds or the gin itself have changed. Regardless: this is another French product, distilled in copper pot stills from the same Ugni Blanc grapes commonly used to produce cognac. That distillate is then macerated with different botanical blends, which notably include the delicate grape flower, to produce both Nouaison and its cousin Floraison. The latter is a fresher, lighter style where the floral character is very prominent; Nouaison skews a little closer to London Dry territory, but still has a lot of distinct grape character.

Tasting Notes: The aroma on this one is distinctively, richly floral, stuffed with violets and fresh grapes; it puts me in mind of young French table wine, a Beaujolais maybe. The floral quality in particular carries on into the palate, which is... complicated. Initially, it's all violets and blueberries, powerfully floral and sweet, until the classic London Dry botanicals take hold. There's (oddly fresh?) juniper, coriander, cinnamon, and peppercorn, balanced and spicy through the finish, the texture dominated by rich essential oils. It's all layered with the rich, warm sweetness of vanilla and more of that fruity, young table-wine character, which lingers on into a perfumed and slightly hot finish. I dig it! It's most definitely unusual, and despite its billing not really anywhere close to a classic London Dry, but the vinous qualities pair nicely with vermouth and other aromatized wines, making it an interesting candidate for your next Negroni or Martinez.

Letherbee Autumnal 2015

About: We've talked about Letherbee's flagship gin before, with a passing reference to the 2014 Vernal edition. Since then, a full year has gone by; the 2014 Autumnal wasn't terribly impressive, and the 2015 Vernal was flavored in a tropical-ish style with papaya and coconut (hard pass, thank you) but these unique variants sometimes hit a real home run. Witness the 2015 Autumnal edition, which is aged in a used Buffalo Trace bourbon barrel and flavored with Vermont maple syrup. I'd feel bad about including this here if it wasn't so damn good; when I started drafting this post I had just bought a third bottle, but now I can't seem to find it anywhere. Perhaps that's not surprising given the limited nature of these releases, but it does make this review somewhat teasing. Let's just say that if you do uncover a bottle of this, you should buy it.

Tasting Notes: Perhaps it's unsurprising that this drinks pretty much exactly as it's described on the label. The nose is relatively restrained, straddling an odd line between the botanical presence of gin and the woody qualities of whiskey. The maple is foremost on the palate, initially sweet but turning to intense wood tannins and a sort of cherry-like warmth. At the same time, the vegetal qualities of Letherbee's flagship gin come in like an aquavit, with strong notes of fennel, cinnamon, and coriander. It's a bit like Linie, a bit like aged genever, not really much like a gin at all; perhaps it's not surprising that I like it given my usual penchant for weird spirits. Regardless, it's such an interesting and complex spirit with such rich botanicals that it does well in simple cocktails, like an old-fashioned made with a little bit of the syrup from a good jar of brandied cherries.

This is getting to be a pretty robust selection of damn weird gins! I don't know when exactly I'll get a chance to expand further, but it'll be detailed here if and when I do.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Antonin's Black Heart

Here's a commemorative drink, in the grand tradition of bartenders naming cocktails after memorable people. The person in question is one who I disagreed with on almost everything, but he was certainly influential and he seemed like a guy who would enjoy a stiff drink.

And I think we all need one of these now that an already insane election season just got crazier.

1 1/2 oz Laird's Straight Apple Brandy
3/4 oz Cynar
3/4 oz red vermouth
1/4 oz ruby port
1/4 Islay scotch (or similarly peaty, briny monster)
2 dashes Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas' Own Decanter bitters
2 dashes Fee Brothers Black Walnut bitters

Stir and strain into an old-fashioned glass over a single large cube. Garnish with a large coin of orange peel (I used blood orange, appropriately enough) and a few grains of sea salt.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Waiting Game

My wife suggested this as a cocktail name a few days ago, inspired by our current situation involving a baby who refuses to emerge on schedule. I haven't been drinking a ton of cocktails lately (being on call and everything) but this spontaneous variation on a simple scotch & soda fits the bill. The fact that it's fairly strong doesn't hurt.

1 3/4 oz blended scotch
3/4 oz Laird's Straight Apple Brandy (a product that I absolutely love)
1/4 oz blueberry syrup
2 dashes Bitter Truth Xocolatl bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine in a highball glass with large ice cubes and 3-4 oz of soda water to taste. Stir gently, drink slowly, and be patient.

All In

Here's a drink named after its construction. This started when I couldn't decide between a Negroni and a Boulevardier, and things escalated from there. The genever is a beautiful midpoint between gin and whiskey, and while I was at it I decided to split the modifiers as well.  The result looks overly complicated but is tasty as hell, enough to warrant its own post (which is kind of an event these days!)

2 oz Bols barrel-aged genever
1/2 oz red vermouth
1/2 oz rainwater Madiera (a medium-dry sherry might work too)
1/2 oz Cappelletti Aperitivo
1/2 oz Cynar
4 dashes orange bitters (Regan's No. 6)
1 dash maraschino liqueur (Luxardo)

Stir and strain over a large cube. A bit of lemon or orange peel would make a nice garnish here, but as you can see I skipped it (having neither readily available). A fancy glass sufficed for me.